Taking Paths Less Traveled

Joyful Hiker. Mother. Teacher. Adventurer.

A Teacher’s Solution to a National Problem

It is day seven of civil unrest as the citizens of the United States mourn the loss of George Floyd. Floyd, murdered in broad daylight by the police officer sworn to serve him, is one more black member of our society that was killed by police under unlawful circumstances. The US has an extensive history of US riots, and only a handful are listed to have extended past a few days.

How much longer will citizens be taking to the streets? What is needed to stop this current flood of uprisings? Is more police brutality our government’s only solution to this problem? What can be done so that every citizen has access to high quality, equitable law enforcement?

Recently emerging from his presidential bunker, Mr. Trump threatened military deployment on cities with continued unrest. Some say the military wouldn’t be deployed unless the riots last for another two weeks. But Mr. Trump’s numerous tweets are calling for states to engage in more forceful acts against protestors to make the unrest stop.

Peaceful protest in Riverside, CA.

Sending the military to patrol US Citizens is an extreme step that should be a last resort. The military hasn’t been deployed since 1992 for the Los Angeles riots calling for justice in the brutal beating of Rodney King. It would be in the best interest of our nation if the federal government would intervene in a more problem-solving fashion.

Teachers are a lot like police officers. Both are expected to serve, educate and protect others. To become a teacher you need to earn a 4-year college degree, and spend an intensive year to obtain a credential. Credentials consists of targeted educational training, supervised teaching in a variety of classrooms, and numerous tests. To maintain teaching credentials, applicants are required to engage in professional development trainings and undergo a series of yearly evaluations and protocols. Teachers are required to teach nationally aligned standards in addition to state standards.

Police officers, holding an even greater responsibility in protecting and serving communities, should be required to meet even more rigorous expectations than teachers.

This undated Department of Justice Community Relations Services Toolkit for Policing offers insight to the complex world of law enforcement protocols. The sections on Officer Hiring and Officer Training indicate that there are no federal standards to which states are required to follow. It seems that every state, and possibly every jurisdiction can have different standards for qualifications to become a figure of authority over others in the form of a Police Officer.

Some departments require mandatory in-service trainings. For example, The New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice posted a list of mandatory in-service trainings. The two mandatory trainings are titled “Firearm Recertification” and “Domestic Violence”. None of the courses offered address areas of racism, bias or police brutality.

Research shows stark behavioral differences between officers with a 4-year college degree and officers without a degree. Citing a 2015 study published by Journal of Criminal Justice Education, Christopher Adkins of Eastern Kentucky University Police Studies writes: “Following 120 officers over a 5-year period, the researchers found that individuals with a 4-year degree had a significantly lower rate of citizen complaints than those with some college but no degree.  Officers with degrees also had significantly fewer complaints of rudeness than their peers.”

So, the solution could look something like this:

A rigorous nation-wide standards-based system of requirements that regulates qualifications, maintenance, and consequences for poor performance.

If teachers, armed with chalkboards and glue can jump through these hoops to to teach children, it isn’t a far stretch to ask for similar requirements for police officers, armed with bullets and batons. Of course this idea isn’t going to be popular with those that do not value education, but that is also a systemic problem that needs additional conversation.

Police force recruits need to have a college degree plus a year credentialing while they work with communities to create relationships before they go on patrol. Current officers need to be placed into a program, based on evaluations, to fill in any gaps in their education. A federally standardized education program needs to be developed that includes anti-bias, unconscious bias, and anti-racist training in addition to community-building assignments. New officers should undergo several years of objective evaluations before they are given tenure, when their evaluations could be extended for 3-5 years. All law enforcement personnel could be required to participate in furthering their education in order to stay up to date with best practices in human relations. Incentives in the form of federal funding for cooperative states need to be established on the state or district level. Individual incentives such as a leveled pay scale will encourage further education.

The penalty for officers with substantiated complaints from the public could include removal from patrol duties, requirements to complete additional training, and reinstatement of annual evaluations. Officers need to be assigned to actively work to enhance relationships in the communities they serve. Whistle blower protections need to be considered and evaluators need to be held accountable to avoid favoritism, bias, and corruption.

Officers that commit murder or other crimes need to go to jail. A comprehensive review of laws regarding police protections and violations needs to be conducted with the intention of removing loop holes that enable unjust acquittals.

Since the riots of 1992, many law enforcement jurisdictions have come a long way in making changes in their communities. Surely a multitude of studies have been conducted that evaluate best practices to follow.

It’s time for a nationwide systemic approach to end police corruption and brutality so all citizens of the United States have access to high quality equitable law enforcement.

Lawmakers need to immediately begin working toward a sustainable and fair solution so that US citizens can find peace knowing that justice will prevail.

Have thoughts, ideas or other points of knowledge that will help bring about a solution? Share them in the comments section.

Demonstrators show solidarity from parked cars in Riverside, CA.

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Taking Paths Less Traveled

Joyful Hiker. Mother. Teacher. Adventurer.

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