Training in the Era of De-Policing: Adjusting to Shifting Public Opinion

De-policing in America has led many cities to record-high homicide rates, along with tragic increases in every manner of crime. But perhaps the tide is turning. Perhaps However, the mounting toll of lost lives, lost property, and lost sense of community safety seems to scream for "refunding" the police.

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Earlier this year in this space, we've examined some of the impact the "defund-the police" movement in the United States. In sum, de-policing in America has led many cities to record-high homicide rates, along with tragic increases in felonious assault, rape, robbery, burglary, car-jacking, and so-called "quality of life crimes" like vandalism and vagrancy.

We've contemplated the importance of identifying, training, and cultivating the next generation of police leaders—in essence, creating a culture of leading—that will enable agencies to thrive despite challenges such as the current environment of de-policing.

We've considered the vital role of field training officers (FTOs) in constantly preparing young uniformed patrol officers to adjust to an ever-changing landscape of public opinions and expectations.

Here, we'll calculate—or at least, attempt to calculate—where we are in this de-policing movement, and what might be on the near horizon.

Policing in the Time of COVID

One of the interesting things about the pressure toward a withdrawal from proactive policing in recent years is that it happened to coincide—at least in part—with the global COVID-19 pandemic.

In the first few months of 2020, the entire world was suddenly confronted by a frightening and unknown new communicable disease. It was deadly. People were told to stay inside—to shun any unnecessary contact with the outside world. Schools were abandoned as children were forced into isolation. Businesses were shuttered—some permanently—and streets were all but abandoned. Police were told to limit contact with the citizens they protect.

"A lot of officers were told by their departments, 'Cut back on public contacts, make more phone contacts, do less traffic stops, less field interviews' and it snowballed. So now we have people that were either early in their career—just coming into law enforcement as a career—who learned not to work," says Todd Fletcher, owner and lead instructor for Combative Firearms Training and 2022 ILEETA Trainer of the Year.

Officers were forced to don masks and stay in their cars, exiting only in response to the most urgent of needs and the most exigent of circumstances. The men and women behind the badge—already dehumanized by years of anti-police propaganda from the press, the politicians, and the protesters—became further dehumanized.

The sharp decline in positive police-citizen contacts due to the COVID-19 pandemic—coupled with the purposeful withdrawal from proactive policing due to the "defund" movement—had a negative effect on officer mindset toward their jobs and their safety.

Reserve Deputy Bobby Cummings says, "Every law enforcement officer I know still wants to go out and do their job the way it needs to be done. However, each of us—every time we make that traffic stop—cannot help but subconsciously think, 'Okay, who's watching? Who has a cell phone on this?' Does it make us not do our jobs? No, I don't think so, but it does make us think."

Cummings, who serves as managing principal at police training facility designer Clark Nexsen, continues, "When that happens—when we were thinking that—is causes maybe a delay in our reaction [time] and it could be dangerous for the officer."

Cummings says that this can be overcome in how law enforcement training is conducted. He adds that this new pressure must be incorporated into training—fully baked into the scenarios and the debriefs.

"It used to be we'd set up a scenario and say, 'If this happens, this is how you react.' It was cut and dry," Cummings says. "Today we know that our law enforcement officers are concerned about the ramifications of their actions, so part of our training has to be to discuss that. Let's talk about what the reaction of the public might be."

A Turning Point

However the mounting toll of lost lives, lost property, and lost sense of community safety seems to scream for "refunding" the police.

Oh... yeah... and the pandemic has ended.

Fletcher says, "I think we're kind of at the bottom of this swing. I think that the tides are changing. I think that our communities are going to demand change. I think that our families, friends, our neighbors, our business owners, our teachers are starting to mandate that we get back into getting the bad guys off the streets."

Fletcher adds, "Unfortunately, it's going to, to be very expensive at this point—it costs a lot of money to recruit, train, and retain good people."

Indeed, the Phoenix City Council is considering a proposal that would—if approved—raise the annual starting pay for a police officer by $20,000. The potential pay increase is intended to make the city more attractive for qualified recruit candidates.

In Virginia, the City of Richmond will raise its starting salary of $44,000 to $51,000 to compete for top-notch recruits. In Washington, the Spokane County Sheriff's Office is offering a $15,000 signing bonus.

This trend is certainly not pervasive, but it exists, and may be the start of something larger and more widespread.

Along with potentially increasing salaries, there will also necessarily be an increased cost—along with commensurate changes—in police training.

Fletcher says that officers who had been in the early years of their careers when COVID hit—and even some senior officers—essentially learned that the job was about keeping back and doing very little (if any) proactive police work.

"They were told by their departments, 'Hey, cut back on these public contacts. Do more phone contacts and less field interviews.' It's going to take good leadership in the field supervisor position. It's gonna take good leadership in the instructor and trainer positions to rekindle the flame of going out there and protecting our communities. We have to retrain a lot of our people to go out and learn how to do police work once again."

De-policing is an outcome. De-policing is the direct result of protesters, politicians, and members of the press applying immense pressure on police to do less policing—to pull back on proactive patrol tactics such as traffic stops and Terry stops.

But de-policing also creates outcomes. When the police have been litigated out of effectiveness or legislated out of existence, the bad guys enter the void, creating a "society" in which lawlessness and mayhem abound. Every manner of crime increases.

Gun battles between rival gang bangers claim the lives of innocent men, women, and children who simply want to live in peace.

But perhaps the tide is turning.

Only time will tell, but regardless of what lies ahead, law enforcement leaders and police trainers must make ready for any possible eventuality.

Author's Note: Thus concludes this series on Training in the Era of De-Policing. If you haven't yet had an opportunity to see the other two installments you can review them via the links below.

Training in the Era of De-Policing: Developing Law Enforcement Leaders

Training in the Era of De-Policing: FTOs Facing (and Overcoming) Challenges

It's all but certain that future events will necessitate revisiting this issue. If you have comments, suggestions, or feedback, email me at

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