Legislators review law enforcement training programs

Thursday , July 16, 2015 - 9:30 AM

Standard-Examiner correspondent

SALT LAKE CITY – Law enforcement representatives remind state lawmakers that the most valuable law enforcement tool is a “highly-trained officer.”

The Law Enforcement Interim Committee met Wednesday to review current training requirements for Utah law enforcement officers and receive suggestions on possible changes to that training.

Scott Stephenson, the director at the Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST), emphasized the importance of new training. He acknowledged, however, that training will not solve every issue.

Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) is not a panacea,” Stephenson said. “We (police officers) are subject to the same stress and tragedies that you are. But we are expected to go out and serve the public.”

Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, the committee’s chair, reminded the committee that despite public view the FBI records around 400 justifiable law enforcement homicides each year. He suggested the number has not changed significantly.

“It seems like since Ferguson we have had more media focus on police use of lethal force,” Weiler said.

He compared the reports with the media’s focus on shark attacks. Despite how uncommon and steady the number of attacks, shark attack reports constantly show up in the media.

Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, warned the committee against creating an environment where law enforcement officers hesitate to act. “We have a wall full of people who have given their life to law enforcement in the state of Utah,” Thatcher said. “We need to be very careful we do not make their job any more dangerous than it already is.”

Stephenson emphasized accountability from both sides. “Someone that we come in contact with has just as much responsibility in the outcome, or more, than we do,” Stephenson said. “We are reacting to the situation.”

He referred to the challenge to authority in society as “alarming.” He reported a recent police shooting occurred because the suspect would not show the officer his hands.

POST training helps officers to decide if an action “is ethical, logical, and practical” during every contact with the public. Stephenson hopes the training reduces the need to use any force. He reported that less than one half a percent of encounters with law enforcement result in the use of any kind of force in the U.S. POST trains officers to follow an incident progression pattern: an officer’s presence, verbal commands, non-lethal force, and finally lethal force.

Col. Daniel Fuhr, superintendent with the Utah Highway Patrol (UHP), informed the committee the training do not teach officers to put their life in danger unduly. He does believe the training the officers receive prepare them for the worst. “We take the highest risk and most infrequent situations and constantly train on that,” Fuhr said.

Tom Ross, Bountiful City’s Police Chief, feels the public’s perception believes police departments can always choose the perfect individual for each situation. “Officers that get sent on their call have their strengths and their weaknesses. We are people policing people,” Ross said. “The same emotions you feel, we feel.”

Fuhr believes the public perception of law enforcement discourages applicants. He reported almost 1,600 applicants applied with the UHP when he applied almost 20 years ago. They received 89 applicants this year, and the secretary position received the highest number of applicants.

Diversity in applicants and officers becomes even more difficult. “It’s getting harder to have diversity in law enforcement,” Fuhr said. “And that’s what we need to build relationships and trust (with communities of color).”

Utah Law Enforcement Training includes (not comprehensive list):

• Crisis Intervention Training: Three hours, focuses on handling a suspect with mental health issues, implemented last year

• Mental Health Crisis Training: Eight hours, includes a Drug Recognition training (DRE) to identify behavior indicative of suspect using a stimulate.

• Human Behavior Training: Three hour course, focused on reading behavior including body language and responding in kind.

• Conflict Resolution Training: Five hour course, focuses on de-escalation techniques and avoiding “triggers” to conflicts.

• Community Relations Training: first course, helps officers understand the mindset it takes to serve the community and develop empathy, even towards suspects.

• In-service Training: minimum of 40 hours a year, determined by local police department which training is necessary.

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