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Police Training

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Should the US mandate better police training?

Here are two videos (warning: both are fairly violent):

Here are some American police dealing with a suspect armed with a Machete:


Needless to say, the guy is shot dead by the police within minutes of the start of the encounter…which not the outcome we hope to get.

Here are some British police dealing with a suspect armed with a Machete:


They stall for time until backup arrives — bonus points for creative use of a trash can — then they use riot shields to protect themselves as they force the guy into a tight huddle where he can’t use his weapon. This time everything ends as we’d hope — with the crazy guy being subdued, handcuffed and taken away — and none of the police getting injured.

That guy (who could clearly use either sobering up or psychiatric help) wouldn’t have lasted five minutes in the USA, he’d be dead for sure. If you Google for “police” and “man with machete” or “man with knife” — you’ll find dozens of precisely comparable cases — and the result is almost always the same. US police all too often end up shooting the suspect — police in other countries do not.

Why is there such a difference in approach?

So why the difference? Police pay? Guns? Cultural diversity?

  • An average US patrol officer earns around $56,000 per year. A British constable earns around $42,000 (assuming pre-BREXIT pounds)— which when you adjust for cost-of-living is roughly the same as the US cop…so no — it’s not what we pay.
  • Guns? British police don’t even carry guns, most say they wouldn’t want to — but German police do — and they don’t have the same problems as the US.
  • Is it cultural diversity? Racism, etc? Well, the US and UK are very similar in cultural diversity scores. Wikipedia rates the UK and US as 109th and 85th most culturally diverse countries in the world — which isn’t a heck of a lot different…certainly not enough to account for problems of this magnitude.
  • So maybe it’s…


US police training is done at the city level — there aren’t widespread state and federal guidelines. However, there are some common approaches. This document describes the kinds of training most police officers get:

To summarize, US patrol officers get about 18 or 19 weeks of training — that typically includes:

  • 60 hours of firearms training
  • 44 hours of self-defense
  • 8 hours of mediation skills
  • 8 hours of ethics and integrity
  • 8 hours of cultural diversity
  • 6 hours of problem solving
  • 6 hours of officer civil liability training.

Can you see the problem here already? I bet you’re WAY ahead of me on this one! (Interestingly, only 17% of police training courses offer the mediation skills part at all!)

I don’t know about you — but this does seem to be a little heavy on the guns and violence part — and decidedly light on the elements that are likely to lead to relatively peaceful outcomes.

What about UK police training? Special programs in creative applications for trash cans?

Well, basically, they get two years of training:

  • 10 weeks of policies, professional standards and communications skills.
  • 18 weeks of legislation, witness and suspect interviewing skills, search techniques, role-playing in public shopping areas with community role-players.
  • 10 weeks with a tutor-constable for workplace assessment.
  • 2 more weeks on search warrants, etc
  • 60 weeks of attachment to neighborhood policing — under continuous supervision and assessment…and including three more week-long training courses.

So I think I see a clear difference here. When you train for violence — that’s what you get — when you train for softer approaches, things work out better. When you don’t train long enough — you get more problems.

The British approach is not atypical. Most police departments in European countries demand between one and four years of training — with heavy emphasis on communications skills, dealing with the public, de-escalation techniques and so forth.

Essentially all US police officers are trained in guns and physical violence with only the just a few days of the most cursory guidance for softer approaches to solving conflict.

I suspect that a large part of the problem in the US is that training is done on a city-by-city basis. There is no national standard — required curriculum — minimum number of training hours spend on ‘soft-skills’. It’s down to each individual city — and for those that are cash-strapped, it’s not going to end well.


You get what you train for — we shouldn’t be surprised.


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