Not one, but two police training academies have now been suspended for what appears to be teaching the use of excessive force — as the norm — captured on video.
After an investigation by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE), the Lower Rio Grande Development Council (LRGVDC) Regional Police Academy and the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office Training Academy have been suspended until two further investigations are concluded.
“During a defensive tactic training session, video was conducted for the purposes of cadet instruction and feedback,” the Lower Rio Grande Development Council told local station CBS 4 News in a statement. “Video feedback had not been previously utilized by LRGVDC Police Academy and after evaluating this practice and as a result of this incident, this method will not be used in the future.”
Though CBS 4 blurred the faces of cadets and instructors to protect their identities, video shows cadets being taught to use an elbow to strike directly under the chin of a suspect to bring the person to the ground. Other clips show a strike to the face using an extended-arm slap, which also grounds throws the suspect to the ground. Similar techniques show blows to the top of the head and more.
Prior to the academies’ suspensions, CBS 4 released footage of students training as part of a police academy course conducted at Texas State Technical College in Harlingen as part of a Continuing Education program organized and taught by LRGVDC.
A cadet who trained in the sixth-month basic peace officer course informed LRGVDC of the specific incident in question on May 17.
After viewing the footage, Primera Police Chief Manuel Treviño, whose career in law enforcement spans 26 years, said he was surprised to see training conducted in this manner:
“I’m pretty sure this individual is certified, I mean the academy has to do some sort of background before allowing them to be an instructor, but after seeing this I think they might want to make some changes, especially to have them wear some sort of protective gear.” Treviño also noted some of the officers on his force had been through this training course.
Details surrounding the separate suspension of the Hidalgo Sheriff’s training academy have not been released.
Though the vast majority of police training in the United States involves stress-based, paramilitary, boot camp-style indoctrination, multiple studies have proven these warrior techniques ineffective in policing.
As the Department of Justice’s own website on American policing noted, some scholars say “that the high stress paramilitary model of training results in police practices that are contrary to democratic governance and that a structure utilizing university connections, experiential learning, and critical thinking would be significantly more effective.”
President Obama’s official directive for law enforcement embodies ‘community policing’ — but such training courses, as evidenced in the video, are antithetical to the very idea of collaborative problem-solving, community trust-building, and integrating police into the localities in their charge.
In fact, those few academies not employing militaristic stress techniques have a higher number of cadets completing the entire program — 89 percent, compared with just 80 percent from warrior training. Female recruits fare poorly in less collegial training environments, as well, where “the idealized conception of masculinity” stands at the center of most police training.
In a decades-old study cited by the DoJ, Assistant Sheriff Howard H. Earle concluded “non-stress trained subjects performed at a significantly higher level in the areas of field performance, job satisfaction, and performance acceptability by persons served.”
Yet, as the Texas academy’s video shows, law enforcement training has instead moved away from the altogether more effective methods of training recruits.
Despite ongoing significant support for American police by the general public, brutal incidents of violence carried out by law enforcement continue to increase. While opposition understandably vilifies the individual officers for such violent acts, the single most effective means of halting the general police culture, which often emphasizes an us versus them atmosphere, has been largely ignored.
Police advocates and those infuriated over killings and brutality would best be served to unite behind a call for an end to training that does nothing but perpetuate the problem.