FREE e-Newsletter
Important News - Hot Topics
Get them Now!
Doug  Wyllie

Doug Wyllie

Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).
December 2018 (1)
November 2018 (5)
October 2018 (4)
September 2018 (3)
August 2018 (6)
July 2018 (4)
June 2018 (3)
April 2018 (1)
March 2018 (2)
January 2018 (1)
September 2017 (1)
August 2017 (1)
May 2017 (1)
April 2017 (1)
January 2017 (1)
November 2016 (1)
September 2016 (1)
June 2016 (2)
May 2016 (3)
April 2016 (2)
March 2016 (1)
February 2016 (3)
January 2016 (1)
December 2015 (1)
November 2015 (5)
October 2015 (1)
September 2015 (3)
August 2015 (3)
July 2015 (6)
June 2015 (3)
May 2015 (2)
April 2015 (3)
March 2015 (5)
February 2015 (1)
January 2015 (1)
December 2014 (9)
October 2014 (2)
September 2014 (2)
August 2014 (2)
July 2014 (1)
June 2014 (2)
May 2014 (2)
April 2014 (4)
March 2014 (2)
February 2014 (3)
January 2014 (3)
December 2013 (2)
November 2013 (2)
October 2013 (3)
September 2013 (5)
August 2013 (3)
July 2013 (3)
June 2013 (3)
May 2013 (4)
April 2013 (3)
March 2013 (5)
February 2013 (3)
January 2013 (3)
December 2012 (5)
November 2012 (2)
October 2012 (4)
September 2012 (2)
August 2012 (5)
July 2012 (4)
June 2012 (3)
May 2012 (5)
April 2012 (6)
March 2012 (5)
February 2012 (3)
January 2012 (5)
December 2011 (5)
November 2011 (3)
October 2011 (3)
September 2011 (3)
August 2011 (2)
July 2011 (2)
June 2011 (3)
May 2011 (4)
April 2011 (3)
March 2011 (5)
February 2011 (3)
January 2011 (3)
December 2010 (2)
November 2010 (4)
October 2010 (4)
September 2010 (5)
August 2010 (4)
July 2010 (4)
June 2010 (4)
May 2010 (4)
April 2010 (3)
March 2010 (3)
February 2010 (1)
January 2010 (3)
December 2009 (4)
November 2009 (4)
October 2009 (2)
September 2009 (3)
August 2009 (4)
July 2009 (5)
June 2009 (3)
May 2009 (5)
April 2009 (4)
March 2009 (4)
February 2009 (3)
January 2009 (2)
December 2008 (4)
November 2008 (3)
October 2008 (3)
September 2008 (3)
August 2008 (2)
July 2008 (3)
June 2008 (4)
May 2008 (5)
April 2008 (5)
March 2008 (4)
February 2008 (5)
January 2008 (3)
December 2007 (2)
November 2007 (5)
October 2007 (4)
September 2007 (4)
August 2007 (5)
July 2007 (4)
June 2007 (4)
May 2007 (5)

Why Schools Should Teach Students about Policing and Constitutional Law

In my version of civics class, students would not only learn about the United States Constitution and the law-enforcement-relevant Supreme Court cases, but also the content delivered in a citizens' police academy.

October 19, 2018  |  by Doug Wyllie - Also by this author

Embed from Getty Images

Earlier this week, it was reported that Texas has passed legislation—Senate Bill 30, also known as the "Community Safety Education Act"—that requires all high school students in the Lone Star State to watch a 16-minute educational video that seeks to teach them how to safely interact with police officers during traffic stops.

"The primary purpose of this instruction is to ensure the safety of both officers and citizens before, during, and immediately following traffic stops," says the Instructor's Guide that accompanies the video—dubbed "Flashing Lights."

The instructor's guide further states, "Drivers and passengers should be aware that unknown items in a citizen's hand may cause safety concerns for officers. The key point for students to remember is that officer instructions are focused on ensuring the safety of all involved."

The instructor's guide advises school teachers to "partner with a school resource officer or a representative of local law enforcement to provide this instruction."

The instructor's guide also suggests that educators assess students' attitudes toward traffic stops.

"Assess whether attitudes have shifted following instruction," the guide says. "Make sure to address any misperceptions."

"Misperceptions" is an interesting word, especially given the widespread misperception of law enforcement among a significant segment of the American population.

Lacking Basic Knowledge

"Only a quarter of Americans can name all three branches of government," according to a report by the Annenberg Public Policy Center. Nearly a third of Americans cannot name any [emphasis added] of the three branches of government.

According to the American Federation of Teachers, only nine states—and the District of Columbia—require one year of U.S. government or civics education, while 30 states require only a half year.

Eleven states have no required civics education whatsoever.

That's just sad.

I've long held the belief that a year-long civics class should be a requirement nationwide. Further, these classes should include more than just the basic structure of government. Curriculum should incorporate information such as that provided by the video now mandated in Texas.

However, how to safely interact with a police officer during a traffic stop is just the beginning.

Curriculum should include Constitutional Law and Supreme Court cases related to the Fourth and Eighth amendments, as well as police policies, procedures, and practices.

Lessons in Case Law

As it stands now, most public education institutions requiring some manner of civics class provide instruction principally on American history and systems of government. Given the stats above, it's questionable that this instruction is having much of an effect, but I digress...

Even when United States Supreme Court Cases are discussed, the focus tends to be on things like the 1803 decision in Marbury v. Madison, which established the authority of the Court for judicial review over acts of Congress, or Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 decision in which the Court declared the doctrine of "separate but equal" as unconstitutional.

That's all well and good—these cases helped shape our Nation, and having our kids educated on them is valuable—but what about cases such as Tennessee v. Garner, Terry v. Ohio, or Miranda v. Arizona, which govern law enforcement policies and procedures? What about Graham v. Connor, which defines how an officer's actions are to be judged after an incident?

It seems to me that woefully few Americans are even aware that such cases exist—much less understand their ramifications.

For example, if citizens had an understanding of Graham—which states, "The 'reasonableness' of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, and its calculus must embody an allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second decisions about the amount of force necessary in a particular situation"—we'd have a lot fewer members of the public and the press second-guessing an officer's actions with the clarity of 20/20 hindsight.

Or maybe not.

But trying to educate the masses—while they're young—seems to me to be a worthwhile enterprise.

Americans should know all 27 amendments (many high school students certainly take unlawful advantage of the 21st), but those indicated above—which directly relate to interactions with police—should be the mandatory minimum.

Police Policy and Practice

If I were King, I would declare that every person in the Kingdom must complete a 36-hour (minimum) citizens' police academy.

During a typical citizens' academy, students learn about various aspects of police policies and procedures—hopefully coming to an understanding that everything they learned from TV and movies is implausible, improbable, and/or impossible.

Most citizens' academies teach participants the basics of criminal law, defensive tactics, firearm safety, hostage negotiations, patrol tactics, SWAT, traffic stops, and many other subjects.

Most citizens' academies even allow students to go on a ridealong.


But this is not a Kingdom and I'm not the King (sigh...), and there will be no declaration of mandatory attendance to a six-week after-hours course at the local police academy.

However, we can try to teach some of those topics in our schools.

In essence, we can provide the citizens' academy via delivery.

Academy via Delivery

In my version of civics class, students would not only learn about the United States Constitution and the law-enforcement-relevant Supreme Court cases, but also the content delivered in a citizens' police academy. We can have law enforcement officers be the instructors—even if for just a portion of the class.

I think this is best done in the eighth grade.

The kids' brains are developed enough that there can be a reasonable expectation that they will actually grasp the material, but not "old and chiseled" enough to discount the information merely because of teenage angst and the urge for rebellion.

Indeed, such a class will not have the intended effect on every kid.

That's of no matter. Plenty of kids flunk algebra or chemistry and manage to graduate and go on to a productive life.

SIDEBAR: I know this truth firsthand. Fortunately for me, I need neither the knowledge of the periodic table nor an understanding of the quadratic equation in order to faithfully—and legally—serve my community.

Again, I digress...

The fact that we might only have a positive effect on a third of the kids we teach about law enforcement seems to be about par for the course—that's roughly the same percentage of kids who know that there's an executive, legislative, and judicial branch of government.

But a third is better than nothing.

It's certainly worth a try.

Be the first to comment on this story

POLICE Magazine does not tolerate comments that include profanity, personal attacks or antisocial behavior (such as "spamming" or "trolling"). This and other inappropriate content or material will be removed. We reserve the right to block any user who violates this, including removing all content posted by that user.

Other Recent Blog Posts

Foot and Hoof Patrol: Meaningfully Connecting Cops and Citizens
Foot patrol is the essence of community policing—officers on foot create opportunities for...
Arrive Alive: Police Must Reduce Single-Vehicle Crashes on Patrol
Too many officers are driving themselves into their graves—turning their cars into their...

Police Magazine