In late April, the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training reportedly launched in investigation into allegations of "hazing" taking place at Golden West College Regional Criminal Justice Training Center in Huntington Beach.
According to the Orange County Register, a former trainer there—Sheddi Skeete, a 28-year police veteran with 16 years served on the Anaheim Police Department—has submitted a letter to California POST indicating that misconduct by training officers included upending desks and tables in the classroom, forcing recruits to reassemble the room. He also alleged that recruits are subjected to lunch inspections during which training officers force recruits open lunch packs as officers identify restricted items such as sugary foods.
Skeete has since left his position as full-time trainer at the academy, citing some instructors' methods he described as "inappropriate, cruel, and punitive" as his reasons for resigning from the job.
Seven Terrible Words
Whether or not the investigators—who are expected to render a final report back to the commission within 60 days—discover real, actual misconduct or malfeasance on the part of instructors at the GWC Academy, police trainers across the country should give careful consideration to one of Skeete's observations.
Skeete sought to understand why some of the questionable practices were taking place, and upon inquiring with academy leadership he was reportedly met with the reply, "That's the way we've always done it."
Those seven words—used specifically in that order and in that context—should probably be banished from all police training.
"That's the way we've always done it" is a sure-fire way to be quickly outpaced by ever-evolving technology, suddenly changing case law, and perpetually fluctuating societal norms.
There are myriad examples of police training changing to meet the times. Consider the fact that...
- There was once a time when officers were actually taught to not wear seatbelts because they impeded rapid exit from the car when a pursuit transitioned from vehicle to foot.
- There was once a time when response to an active shooter incident prioritized setting up a perimeter and waiting for SWAT to arrive instead of rapid deployment to end the threat.
- There was once a time when police leaders—and public information officers—were routinely trained to utter the phrase "no comment" in response to just about any reporter's question.
These three specimens of ancient history—seemingly stuck in time like a mangled clock—aren't really that old. It wasn't too long ago that retirement parties were held for officers who were sworn in with a wheel gun as their sidearm (for all that is holy, no!) and walked a beat (for all that is holy, no!) without an ECD or an expandable baton on their belt (for all that is holy, no!).
Those officers were probably "hazed" during training.
Hardening police recruits for the rigors of police work is necessary—hazing them, however, is outdated and outmoded in modern police training.
The seven deadly sins were, are, and always will be pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth.
The seven worst words in police training were, are, and always will be "That's the way we've always done it."
There are two things cops hate: the way things are, and the prospect of change. But change is inevitable. In most cases, change is good. Making sure that police training changes with the times is absolutely critical—even if it's especially hard for the trainers who say, "That's the way we've always done it."