Fact vs. fiction: Kaepernick's 'police training' comment and what it takes to become a cop

I have yet to meet an academy trainer or FTO who didn’t wish they had more time to train recruits and officers

Colin Kaepernick’s protest of racial inequality, including police use of force, by not standing for the national anthem during his team’s football games has garnered a lot of emotional response. I get the emotion. I’m a Marine Corps brat. I grew up with a statute of the six Marines raising our flag during the bloody Battle of Iwo Jima at the Quantico Marine Corps base entrance.

I’m not weighing in on our anthem or Kaepernick’s protest. I’m weighing in on his comment, “You can become a cop in six months and don’t have to have the same amount of training as a cosmetologist. That’s insane.”

A poor analogy
Kaepernick’s statement is a false analogy. His statement supposes that things sharing one thing in common share other things in common, like comparing apples to oranges. Just because they’re both fruit doesn’t mean they’re alike in any other way.

Kaepernick’s average salary is $19 million a year. The average yearly salary for a police officer is $56,810. For an elementary school teacher, it’s $43,466. That’s insane.

In a perfect world, the salaries of these professions would be determined by their contribution to the public good. But they’re not. Kaepernick’s is set by free market forces. Officers’ and teachers’ salaries are based on tax-limited government budgets.

Similarly, while cosmetology licensing requirements may be driven, in part, by public concerns (in this specific case, health), these students pay for their schooling thereby generating business and income for private cosmetology schools.

All of this is to say that policing is a public expense. Training recruits to become officers is mostly at public expense. Most recruits receive a salary and benefits while attending a police academy. Most academies are publicly funded or subsidized. The rare self-pay recruits don’t begin to cover the cost of police training facilities. 

Insane public expectations
What’s insane is what many expect from police for what they’re willing to pay. The general public expects officers, beginning day one on the job, to have mastered:

•    Physical fitness standards.
•    Emergency vehicle operations.
•    Radio communications.
•    First aid and CPR.
•    Proper evidence collection and handling.
•    Radar and data master use and the administration of SFSTs.
•    Firearms.
•    Defensive tactics – including martial arts, OC spray, expandable baton, TASER and handcuffing.
•    Survival skills that may include wilderness, water, extreme cold or heat conditions.
•    Traffic stops and other calls like drug trafficking, sexual assaults, domestic violence, threats of suicide and active shooter.
•    Their locale’s criminal code, constitutional, search and seizure and use of force law.
•    Communication skills that elicit voluntary compliance from angry, mentally ill or drug or alcohol-impaired persons.
•    Report writing that meets the prosecutor’s, defendant’s and courtroom’s requirements. 
•    Special needs of domestic violence, sexual assault and child victims.
•    Racial, cultural, ethnic, gender and age diversity and how to communicate across these differences.

In addition, the general public expects officers to apply these skills to make complex, tactically and legally sound decisions in milliseconds under rapidly changing, extreme circumstances. In addition, officers are expected to partner with their communities to come up with solutions to social ills like poverty, mental illness, homelessness, broken homes and disenfranchised youth. This is commonly known as community-oriented policing.

Police training reality
Police academy and field training varies from state to state and agency to agency. Academy training averaged 19 weeks, according to a 2006 Bureau of Justice Statistics report. The San Diego PD schedules four months of OTJ training alongside a field training officer. The Memphis PD requires one year.  The Philadelphia PD requires 32-weeks.  

The academy where I’m an adjunct instructor is a 15-week residential program. Days typically start at 0510 with PT, then eight hours of classroom and scenario training and often evening instruction in things like low light or night shooting, test reviews and re-takes and more scenarios. Training occurs most Saturdays and Sundays with the rare exception of a commander’s weekend off. The recruits are expected to keep the facility inspection ready. Amazingly, the program includes training on each of the above mentioned expectations.

The academy staff awes me with their energy, stamina and dedication to the recruits and exacting professional standards. The recruits humble me with their energy, stamina and dedication to the ideals of protecting and serving. I have yet to meet an academy trainer or FTO who didn’t wish they had more time to train recruits and officers.

Put your money where your mouth is
Now that Kaepernick has exercised his free speech, I’d like to see him organize a protest march for more funding for police academy training and longer FTO periods. He might even volunteer to have his taxes raised to pay for it or make a meaningful donation to the San Francisco Police Department Regional Training Facility.

I’d also like to see him accept the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office invitation to their Regional Training Center. He might discover that it makes his training camp look like a game of Candyland.

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