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Community Police Academy discusses the state of policing in America – Burlington Times News

Rachel Berry
 
| Times-News

Police Chief Jeffrey Smythe spoke to the Community Police Academy last week about the state of policing in America. 

To begin the class, he asked attendees to list qualities they think police should have before attending the police academy and what knowledge, skills or abilities they are expected to have once completing training. The class compiled a list of qualities like honest, respectful, trustworthy, compassionate, tolerant, fair/equitable, accountable, brave, helpful, disciplined, patient, knowledgeable and many more. Then they listed skills and knowledge like communication, law/the constitution, behavioral management, de-escalation, empathy, contemplating use of force and more. 

Smythe emphasized that those are high expectations for police, especially considering many officers are in their early 20s with a GED or high school diploma when they begin and have a starting salary of $38,000 a year. 

“If they’ve got all these skill sets, they’re going to do something that makes them a lot more money, perhaps,” Smythe said. 

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Smythe then laid out four pivotal moments in recent history that changed policing:

  • The Rodney King beating in 1991. This was filmed, which was more rare then, as no one had cell phones. This changed a lot about policing like how to handle pursuits, training and stress management for police officers, Smythe said.  
  • The Columbine High School massacre in 1999. At this time, police waited outside for a negotiator to arrive to try to reason with the shooters. This gave the shooters time to kill more people. Police followed the policy that was set at the time, but afterwards, this led people to reconsider those policies. 
  • Michael Brown’s killing in Ferguson, MO in 2014. After this, President Barack Obama formed a task force to study policing, which produced the 21st Century Policing Report, which focused on procedural justice and equity in addition to training and mental health resources necessary for officers. 
  • George Floyd’s killing in May 2020. This led to calls for police reform and the eight can’t wait campaign with people demanding things like bans on chokeholds and requiring a warning before shooting. Smythe emphasized the Burlington Police Department was already following these demands. The department changed three policies to be more explicit.

More: Alamance County cops address requests for policy review

Affect of trauma on police

A theme discussed at the meeting was the effect officers’ jobs have on them. The average police officer dies five years after retirement, which is much worse than the average on other jobs, Smythe said, attributing it to the stresses coming from their position. 

On average for the past five years across the country, 183.4 officers have been killed in the line of duty, and 173.8 have committed suicide, according to data presented during the class. 

“Suicide is a very real and significant threat to currently serving police officers just like being shot and killed in the line of duty is,” Smythe said. 

Smythe spoke about the mental health struggles of being a police officer. He described it as officers having a high every day at working, running on adrenaline, and then at home, they hit a severe low. This can have a detrimental affect on mental health and affect relationships and family life, Smythe said. 

Officer-involved shootings

Another topic discussed during the class was officer-involved shootings. 

The class watched two videos: one where the officer waited to shoot until a suspect shot at him and one where an officer shot at a suspect who was reaching in his car to get his license in response to a request from the officer. 

Smythe also told a story of his personal experiences with shooting a suspect in 1999. 

Smythe was working in Arizona when he was called to respond to the house of a man who had just shot an officer. Smythe and another officer stood in the man’s driveway when the suspect began shooting at them. Smythe ducked behind a car, and a series of bullets hit the car. Eventually, the officers shot the suspect. 

He died as a result of the shooting. 

Even though that person shot an officer earlier and was shooting at Smythe, the aftermath was hard for both Smythe and the other officer. 

“We both had to work through the mental hurdles that we had taken the life of another human being,” he said. 

Near the end of the class, Smythe showed a video put out by a news station edited to look like a young child was excited to get a gun to live a life of crime. The part edited out showed he wanted a gun to become a police officer and end the violence in his neighborhood. 

Smythe warned the class to be careful about what they watch or read and to do their own research before coming to a conclusion. 

What Burlington is doing

At the end of the class, Smythe presented data about how much training Burlington police officers receive. 

In North Carolina, officers must complete 24 hours of in-service training per year. 

Burlington officers have the opportunity to receive extra training on other topics such as radars, rifles, DWI investigations and being a SWAT team member. 

Officers receive an additional 60 or 70 hours of training on real-life scenarios to learn how to apply the law, Smythe said. Last year, the department had a total of 29,000 hours of training. 

“I call that insurance,” Smythe said about the amount of training officers receive. “That’s life insurance, not life insurance for the cops. That’s life insurance for the citizens. The people that we encounter know, or have the highest possible reason to believe, that we’re not going to be that tragic mistake. We’re not going to be the cops that shoot an unarmed man because of the level of training that we have.” 

More: Burlington Community Police Academy focuses on evidence collection, storage

More: How to call 911 and other lessons from week 3 of Burlington’s Community Police Academy

Source: Google | Insurance News

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