Use of Force Training: A Career-Long Commitment
By Leischen Stelter, editor of In Public Safety
When Dr. Charles Kelly’s son became a police officer in 1998, he became the seventh generation of police officers in the Kelly family. Each generation has experienced remarkable changes in law enforcement, particularly when it comes to the development and adoption of new and revised policies and procedures.
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Kelly himself spent 37 years in law enforcement, working in both the New Orleans Police Department and Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office. During his career, he held the position of confidential assistant, responsible for writing policies and procedures and providing policy guidance to the agency.
He has continued his passion for policy development both as both a professor and an independent consultant. He is currently a faculty member at American Military University, where he’s been teaching criminal justice courses since 2012. In addition to teaching, he is also a recognized expert in United States District Courts in police policy and procedure, use of force cases, interview and interrogation, and crime-scene reconstruction. He is often called upon in this capacity to provide expertise on use-of-force reports, incident reports, and after-action reports.
“Sometimes police do everything right and a plaintiff misconstrues the difference between use of force and excessive use of force,” he said. “Use of force is legal—it’s excessive use of force that is problematic. But every case is different and brings its own unique set of circumstances.”
Enact Strong Policies, Train Officers Regularly
To ensure officers understand exactly how they can legally use force, an agency must first have clear and concise policies. After those policies have been established and vetted, the agency must deliver regular and ongoing use of force training throughout the length of every officer’s career to ensure officers fully understand those policies, said Kelly.
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The problem in many agencies is that officers do not receive such ongoing training. Officers receive in-depth use of force training while in the academy. However, the system tends to fail when officers leave the academy and begin their probationary work training.
Kelly said agencies often languish when it comes to upholding strict training protocols during field training. An important, and often overlooked, element of officer training is putting enough emphasis on the professionalization and socialization of officers. “Socialization of an officer starts all over with field training,” said Kelly. “A young probationary officer wants to prove that they fit in and this is when bad habits and illegal and unethical behavior can take hold.”
How Diversity Relates to Use of Force Training
Another way to address use-of-force issues is through diversity training. Agencies must consistently build diversity training into their educational programs so officers are aware of cultural differences and nuances.
Kelly has designed and taught many diversity courses and believes this element of use of force training must start with the highest level of officers. Chiefs of police and sheriffs must always consider the best way to bring diversity to the agency. That often starts with diversity within the force itself.
“The U.S., by nature, is multicultural and diverse. The problem is, policing hasn’t caught up with that idea,” said Kelly. Therefore, agencies must actively recruit a diverse group of officers to reflect the populations they serve.
But Kelly emphasized that diversity means more than just trying to make sure that the percentage of personnel is reflective of the greater community. Officers must remember that assimilation can be very difficult for many people who enter into a new society. Also, diversity issues exist for those inside of the agency as well. Issues such as women in law enforcement, minorities in law enforcement, and gay men and lesbians have not been simple issues to deal with from administrative and front-line perspectives. Slowly, through training, understanding, and the search for justice, these issues will move in a positive direction, but it won’t be without a greater appreciation for compassion and tolerance of others.
While enhancing diversity and developing cultural awareness will continue to be a major challenge for law enforcement, it is increasingly important for agencies to take these steps as they work to build stronger relationships and trust within the communities they serve.