With local, state and federal money for training plentiful, and with little guidance on what officers should be taught, some speakers at training conferences tell officers that pushback against conventional policing is a media invention. Others demonize civilian reformers, describing them as loud voices holding minority opinions, the Washington Post reports. Still others say police should maintain a “warrior mentality” in the most dangerous job outside of military service. Law enforcement is the 22nd most dangerous occupation, safer than roofing and collecting garbage, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries. Trainers include many former law enforcement officers and military personnel, some of whom are linked to extremist groups and anti-government movements. To understand what officers are taught, the Post interviewed 18 trainers and experts, watched recorded sessions of a Street Cop Training Conference in October and joined the Cornelius Project, a Christian ministry focusing on mental health in law enforcement, at a November conference in Idaho. In some cases, police and sheriffs’ departments paid for officers to attend the conferences. In others, officers covered the cost.
While police reformers and legislators nationwide have stressed a service-oriented approach to police training that emphasizes de-escalation and the avoidance of physical conflict, many sessions at conferences present violent confrontation as a rite of policing and often the only path. “The curriculum is that you are a good person and reveling in violence and being an expert in violence is not morally wrong,” said Michael Sierra-Arévalo, a University of Texas at Austin sociologist who attended the Street Cop Conference. “In fact, it’s your moral duty because you’re a paladin. You are this kind of warrior.” The International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training is the closest thing to a national regulatory group for police training. Its national certification program has certified only about 5 to 10 percent of the law enforcement industry’s available training courses, chief executive Mike Becar said. The U.S. Justice Department issues tens of millions of dollars in grants annually that police departments can use for training, but the agency leaves it up to regional and local governments to determine what that training should be. At least some federal money ends up funding training that emphasizes violence over de-escalation and demonizes social-justice groups.