The GW Police Department reconfigured its police academy training requirements this month, increasing the number of required hours officers must train starting in 2021.
GWPD Chief James Tate said the department is now requiring “a higher level of training” than what was offered at the D.C.-based Campus Public Safety Institute, which provides police training to all campus police forces that belong to a group of 17 colleges and universities in the D.C. area. Tate said he decided to move training to 18 Maryland police academies, which offer more than double the amount of training compared to the D.C. program.
“After receiving feedback from campus stakeholders, and based upon my own observations, I realized the department would benefit from additional training that is usually routine in other state-regulated police academies across the country,” he said in an email. “Enrollment in and the successful completion of a state-regulated police academy is the best approach to increase each officer’s level of competency and capability.”
Tate said the Maryland-based academies, which are regulated, audited and certified by the state government, include about 212 hours of training in physical fitness, 99 in constitutional and criminal law, 63 in crisis intervention, 59 in patrol operations, 32 in emergency medical care and 25 in community-oriented policing. He said the Maryland training should “significantly increase officer competencies” on duty.
He said the CPSI academy training lasts only 11 weeks, but Maryland academies “typically” last for 20 to 26 weeks.
While universities and police departments in the District conduct the CPSI’s training privately, the Maryland training academies are state-certified, Tate said. He said GWPD will still remain members of the CPSI by providing them training instructors for skills like emergency-vehicle operations.
Tate added that he hopes the new state-level training will better prepare officers to serve the University community in light of calls for campus police reform and racial justice protests against police brutality this summer.
“After the turbulent summer we have seen regarding police/community relations across the U.S., one of the main things that always comes up in discussions is a demand for quality trained officers that can better defuse potentially tense situations,” Tate said. “Sending GWPD officers to an accredited Maryland police academy will meet that need in our University community.”
In an email obtained by The Hatchet, GWPD officer and union steward Jeffrey Kerch informed officers that Local 294 of the International Union, Security, Police and Fire Professionals of America, which covers GWPD officers, agreed to require training at any of the 18 Maryland academies, which includes locations at several police departments in counties like Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince George’s.
The email states that officers will start attending the academies in mid-2021 in rank of seniority with the most veteran officers completing training first.
Officers cannot complete training at an academy unless a member of the department’s supervisory staff has already completed the training, according to the email. Tate said supervisors will start attending the training during this spring semester, but the COVID-19 pandemic and class-size restrictions might delay that process.
A former GWPD officer, who requested to remain anonymous, said “officers are mixed” about the efficacy of the move to Maryland training, which will provide municipal certification that other local departments require – a certification the privately run CPSI never offered. The officer said while younger officers are happy to attain municipal certification because they have better chances of being hired at non-GW departments, officers are wary of returning to school and completing another fitness test.
“For newer officers, this would be an amazing opportunity,” the officer said. “It would open up a lot of career paths. If they decided they did not want to be with GW anymore, they could more easily move to a municipal police department.”
Experts in police training said GWPD must use the training at the Maryland academies to ensure its officers acquire better communication practices with members of the University community, a skill they said officers often struggle to possess.
Hyeyoung Lim, an associate professor of criminal justice at The University of Alabama at Birmingham, said the academies should allow officers to incorporate data gathered using dash cams and body-worn cameras to guide the training, depending on what the data indicates about behavioral patterns. GWPD started requiring officers to wear body-worn cameras earlier this year after an officer allegedly pushed a student down a set of stairs in February.
She said police trainees should also learn how to inform civilians of the best ways to interact with law enforcement officials.
“They teach what kinds of vocabulary the police officer can choose when they encounter a citizen,” Lim said.
Richard Bennett, the chair of the justice law and criminology department at American University, said police training has typically failed to prepare officers for de-escalation in tense situations, especially those involving race or mental illness.
“My feeling is you can never have too much training,” Bennett said. “We’re learning more and more about how to deal with especially police situations involving race, involving mental illness.”
Bennett said police academies have been noticeably lacking in de-escalation training for tense situations when officers must calmly resolve an issue. GWPD instituted its own one-week training program, which included de-escalation and unconscious bias training, this summer.
“Instead of sitting down with a textbook and saying, ‘OK, this is how you deal with a person who’s suffering from some kind of mental illness,’ create an environment and a situation where you actually have to work with it, look and see how we handle it,” Bennett said.