In the wake of George Floyd, a question looms: Who should be an officer?

Few job applications probe so deeply.

Have you ever called in sick when you were well?

Have you ever cheated on your taxes?

Have you ever sexted at work?

The application process for becoming a law enforcement officer – including a background check and psychological evaluation – is one of the most grueling, psyche-scrubbing examinations you’ll ever find.

At the Los Angeles Police Department, for example, recruiters can boot you if you’ve told jokes using a “derogatory stereotype” or used force to get your way.

So why do numerous recent studies, from the National Academy of Sciences and Texas A&M, among others, show rampant racial bias in police forces around the country?

Why do so many videos pop up showing police using violence against unarmed people like Eric Garner and Philando Castile and George Floyd?

With the coast-to-coast demand for social justice and the increasing pressure on law enforcement to reform or get defunded, an age-old question is being asked anew:

Who should be a police officer?

Evolving qualifications

Police leaders in California say hiring standards are tougher than ever, despite a drop in applications. Critics say good recruits might be getting hired, but they are ruined by old school supervisors who oversee their training and early work on the streets.

Police recruiters insist education and empathy are now more important than old-school attributes, like being able to drag a 165-pound dummy.

“(Change) doesn’t happen overnight,” said Los Angeles Councilman Gil Cedillo, who stresses matching officers with the right jobs and not expecting them to do things like COVID testing. “It takes time in the training, in the negotiations with the union.”

Recruiters for Los Angeles and other departments are betting that seeking new qualities for recruits will trickle up, creating a different mindset in the force.

“When I got into it, 20 years ago, fitness was a big deal; military (experience) was a big deal. Now, it’s the totality of the person,” said San Jose Police Lt. Stephen Donohue, who is in charge of the department’s recruiting effort. “We don’t want the guy that’s going to get into a bar fight. We want the guy that walks away.”

But concerns about officers’ character continue to emerge, like the video shot in May shows San Jose Police Officer Jared Yuen profanely antagonizing Black Lives Matter demonstrators, and allegedly firing rubber bullets at them.

Even reformers note that law enforcement hires from the human race and that basic human problems are bound to slip through.

“You can’t polygraph for racism,” said Charlie Scheer, an associate professor at the University of Southern Mississippi.

But Scheer also said while police might be looking for compassionate candidates, their recruiting campaigns often emphasize something else.

“There’s a disconnect in how we’re selling the career to these applicants, we ‘Starsky & Hutch’ them,” Scheer said, referring to a television show that portrayed police as streetwise action heroes.

A 2018 recruiting video for the La Habra Police Department is typical. The one-minute spot features numerous scenes of cool police equipment and rifle-toting SWAT officers in camouflage, but nothing showing a civilian being helped by a compassionate officer.

It’s …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Politics


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