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Restoring police training program could restore faith in police

On the 18th of December, President Barack Obama signed an executive order creating the Task Force on 21st Century Policing. The Task Force will work closely with the Justice Department's Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office, a Clinton era program that provided hiring grants, training and technical assistance for state, local and tribal law enforcement.

Restoration of a previous COPS Office training and technical assistance program conceived in the last century could advance the Task Force's goal of building trust and confidence in our local police for the 21st century. We need to bring back the nationwide network of Regional Community Policing Institutes (RCPI).

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Developed in 1997, each RCPI was a partnership between the police, academia and a community based nonprofit organization. An atmosphere of trust and respect came naturally as the partners collaborated in their efforts to develop best practices and provide training and technical assistance to state, local and tribal law enforcement. But the RCPIs faded away one by one as COPS office budgets shrank and funding priorities changed.

Today, the growing mistrust of local police in many of our communities calls for a restoration of the RCPIs, which are uniquely suited to address trust and confidence in police as a national priority.

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Since the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio, and the death of Eric Garner at the hands of police in New York City, a wave of mistrust in our police has been sweeping the nation. It has brought public protests and calls for police body cameras and greater transparency in officer-involved shooting investigations and even changes in the use of our grand juries.

While a wide variety of reforms are being called for, few mention the elephant in the room: a police subculture predicated on violence and the use of force. At a time when violent crime has been trending downward for decades and fewer officers have been feloniously killed, a hyper vigilance over officer safety and increased militarization of police departments have become prominent parts of the subculture.

The number of officers feloniously killed in the line of duty has been in decline since the 1990s. The 27 officers feloniously killed in 2013 represent the lowest annual number since the 1960s. Though 2014 represented an increase, it will still be below the 10-year average.

The society we recruit our police officers from feeds on a steady diet of violence, in the news media, in crime dramas on TV, even children's video games. Police recruits are trained in academies patterned after military boot camps, having been hired in the spirit of adventure instead of the spirit of service. They are indoctrinated into a subculture that sees itself at odds with the community it serves. Society characterizes their role in terms of fighting the war on crime, the war on drugs and now the war on terrorism.

This has all contributed to a worsening of the negative aspects of the police subculture and widening the gulf between our police and the citizens they protect and serve.

If we are to restore community trust and confidence in our police it will take a national effort like the Task Force on 21st Century Policing supported by a nationwide training and technical assistance program like the RCPIs. During their operation, the RCPIs trained over 600,000 police officers, local government personnel, business and community leaders — including youth, volunteers, city employees and elected officials.

RCPIs were successful in bridging the gap between police and communities using collaborative training and technical assistance partnerships to address sensitive issues like racial profiling, ethics and integrity, cultural diversity and a variety of others while softening the rough edges of the police subculture.

Until we acknowledge and address the negative aspects of the police subculture, little substantive progress will be made in improving police community relations. The RCPIs can bring communities and their police together to solve problems and address quality of life issues while improving overall police community relations.

It is time to bring back the RCPIs to help in the restoration of trust and confidence in our police.

Karl W. Bickel is a retired senior policy analyst within the Department of Justice's COPS Office. His email is KarlBickel@comcast.net.

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