The number of required training hours for new police recruits in Georgia is among the lowest in the country. Officers in only four other states receive less than Georgia’s required 408 instructional hours.
But the Georgia Law Enforcement Training Review Commission, created by Gov. Nathan Deal last year, is recommending the state require more practical training. That includes a shift in emphasis toward de-escalation in use of force scenarios as well as communication and intervention.
The proposed changes represent a complete overhaul of the state’s aging curricula, much of which was developed in the 1970’s, according to Frank Rotondo, executive director of the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police.
“It takes away a lot of things that were very dated in the training program and makes it contemporary to today’s day and age,” said Rotondo, who added that much of the new goals are modeled on Barack Obama’s 21st Century Policing task force, a response to the growing perception and evidence of excessive use of force by officers.
Deal’s commission proposes 305 additional hours of training be required for law enforcement. Nearly half of those additional hours fall under the category of “physical readiness” for “job-related tasks that require physical exertion,” although the report said much of that training was already happening, but it’s just now being reflected in policy.
The commission also proposes 16 additional hours of training in situations of family violence, four hours of training in de-escalation techniques, 20 additional hours of training in use of force and when to use force, two hours of training in how to interact with people with cognitive disabilities, and two additional hours of training in how to interact with people suffering from mental illness.
“It’s not just an increase in hours that this committee was looking at,” Rotondo said. “They were looking at taking out old information that really shouldn’t be in there and duplicated information.”
To arrest people in Georgia, all law enforcement officers must be certified according to the requirements of the state’s Peace Officers Standards and Training Council (POST). Most officers are trained at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center (GPSTC) in Forsyth.
It’s been about a decade since training requirements for law enforcement officers in Georgia were last reviewed, and they’ve been tweaked along the way, according to Ken Vance, the executive director of POST and co-chair of the commission created by Deal.
Recent, high-profile incidents of violence between law enforcement and civilians in Georgia and around the country have led POST to review its training requirements, Vance said.
“Let’s use more hands-on-type, computer-based, scenario-based training than we have in the past,” Vance said. “You’re trying to prepare someone to be an effective law enforcement officer on the street. That’s it.”
‘A Major, Major Improvement’
Maria Haberfeld, Co-Director of the NYPD’s Police Studies Program and a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice calls the recommended changes “a major, major improvement.”
“Finally I see words like ‘emotional intelligence’ and ‘officer wellness,’” Haberfeld said.
However, she notes there’s likely to be significant implementation challenges if the new training isn’t coupled with changes in recruiting standards.
“The best training will not work if it is given to the wrong people, who are either too young and not fully developed from the emotional standpoint and/or have prior criminal records,” she said.
According to Georgia Code, peace officers in the state must have a high school diploma or GED and “possess good moral character.” They can’t have been convicted of a crime which could be punishable by prison time nor have enough non-traffic related misdemeanors “to establish a pattern of disregard for the law.”
In late 2008, POST did begin requiring recruits to pass a COMPASS test, a kind of placement exam for two-year colleges. A few years later, it also implemented vetting re-examinations every four years.
But higher recruiting standards can be a double-edged sword for many agencies, according to Rotondo. Many agencies in Georgia and across the country have faced recruiting shortages in recent years as a result of an improving economy and, many officers say, because of an increasingly negative public perception of the field.
Whether the proposals from Deal’s commission are actually implemented depends on the governor and the state legislature’s willingness to direct additional funding to GPSTC.
“The governor and administration officials are currently reviewing the report and its recommendations,” Jen Ryan, a spokesperson for Deal, said. “As the report did not contain cost projections, we’re unable to consider it for FY19 submission to the General Assembly.”
“I believe some of these costs would have to be shared between state and local entities,” Ryan said.
While POST can change training requirements for law enforcement, Vance said it won’t do so unless they’re funded.
“We’ve made our recommendations. Now it’s in the governor’s hands,” he said. “Obviously we’d like to get it all done, but politics, good politics, is the art of compromise, so if politically we have to make some compromises then we’ll certainly do that.”
There’s also the issue of potential resistance from police leaders.
“I expect the pushback from law enforcement administrators who are very concerned that they can’t get the recruit out of the academy quick enough to get them out on patrol,” said Rotondo.
“But if you’re not going to do patrol duties at the maximum level and effectively take care of whatever complaint it is, then you’re really losing time. So you’re better off training them well up front.”