Best practices, best officers

In North Carolina, a barber needs 1,000 hours of training to get licensed. A law Nancy Oatesenforcement officer receives 616 hours. As society and circumstances change — think the closing of mental health facilities at the turn of this century that left law enforcement officers to intervene when a mentally ill person posed harm to the public — officers could benefit from different training. But first, something would have to be removed from the curriculum.

Last week, the N.C. League of Municipalities and the N.C. Legislative Black Caucus co-hosted a panel discussion of “Best Practices in Law Enforcement Training.” The sheriff, two police chiefs and law enforcement instructor who composed the panel fielded questions from the moderator and the floor and responded with reassuring depth, pragmatism and intelligence.

The topics ranged from body cameras (they protect the relationships between law enforcement and the community, not to mention reducing claims against law enforcement agencies, thus reducing insurance costs that taxpayers ultimately cover) to implicit bias (it can’t be trained away, but officers and the public can learn to recognize it in themselves and temper their actions) and seized assets (don’t rely on them to fund operations; the state legislature needs to supply sufficient funding to train officers and run departments).

Chief Brandon Zuidema of the Garner PD noted that jail is the largest mental health facility in the state. In the U.S., said Chief Jeanne Miller of the Davidson PD, we allow people to be crazy in public, and officers have to juggle constitutional rights with public safety. Officers need Crisis Intervention Training, because when anything goes wrong, officers are called to make it right, regardless of whether they are trained for that situation. But even free training costs departments money to pay overtime to cover the shifts for officers away on training.

Officers in the riskiest situations tend to be young and inexperienced, because senior officers are not on the graveyard shifts that would have them pull over a car on a deserted roadway at 2 in the morning. And young people are not as adept at using an officer’s most trusted weapon: their mouth. Young people aren’t used to talking, said Jonathan Gregory, director of basic law enforcement training at Wake Tech, yet talking builds trust. Recruits need to be taught decision-making, but the emphasis of the training is on firearms.

For a law enforcement agency to be certified, it must adhere to 460 standards, half of which are about doing the right thing, and the other half are proving you’re doing the right thing. Making sure that what’s on paper is being followed is critically important, said Hoke County Sheriff Hubert Peterkin who recalls growing up as a young black man when officers didn’t feel the need to adhere to professional standards. Organizational culture eats policy for lunch, he said, and he holds his deputies to a zero-tolerance standard of behavior for racial and gender bias.

The panelists agreed on the need to expand the applicant pool for law enforcement positions, but the job is a hard sell: round-the-clock schedules, low pay, long hours of monotony interspersed with life-or-death situations with little warning, and no guarantee that when you start a shift you’ll return home alive.

Still, it’s an honorable profession. And every day, officers have the opportunity to make a difference.
— Nancy Oates

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  1. Plurimus

     /  August 22, 2016

    While training is critical regardless of what else is done, by the time things have escalated to police involvement the potential for tragedy is greatly increased.

  2. Nancy, what was the answer on seized assets? In NC, those are constitutionally supposed to go to school funding. The NCGA has an open case they lost against them 20 years ago and have yet to provide the funding required for civil fines. Did the law enforcement panel acknowledge that their responsibility is to provide funds from forfeitures to public schools? I know they have ways to work around this through the feds, but that’s blatantly counter to the intent of the NC Constitution.

  3. Nancy

     /  August 24, 2016

    James, no one on the panel mentioned the seized assets going to fund schools. The discussion was about the risk of relying on seized assets as operating funds. Some districts have more seized assets than others, and the consensus was that the Legislature should adequately fund law enforcement agencies to operate without having to find extra funds through seized assets or things like speeding tickets, which is what added to the tensions between police and the community in Ferguson, MO.

    Do you know how much the schools get from seized assets? Is that amount broken out statewide or by district? That might be a clue as to whether all of the seized assets are going to the school system, and whether the Legislature is reducing its contribution to the schools by an equal amount.

  4. Nancy

     /  August 24, 2016

    Plurimus, so is the potential for averting tragedy. Sometimes police come into a volatile situation, especially domestic situations and those with a mental illness component, and can de-escalate the tensions.

  5. Plurimus

     /  August 25, 2016

    Nancy, agreed. My comment was aimed at the dismal state of mental health services and the fact that problems society should be dealing with elsewhere are dumped on the police, often with bad outcomes. The expectations some place on our police are unrealistic.

    Mr.. Barrett’s question piqued my interest, so I looked into it a bit. Turns out asset forfeiture is not cut & dried. Here is how I think it works…

    To answer your main question; The NC constitution article 9, section 7 (b) says: “The General Assembly may place in a State fund the clear proceeds of all civil penalties, forfeitures, and fines which are collected by State agencies and which belong to the public schools pursuant to subsection (a) of this section. Moneys in such State fund shall be faithfully appropriated by the General Assembly, on a per pupil basis, to the counties, to be used exclusively for maintaining free public schools. (2003 423, s.1.)”. Also, GS90-112 says “…..fines and forfeitures to be used for the school fund of the county in the county”.

    Reading that it seems to me that fines and assets collected from criminal activities go to a fund to be uses by the county where the crime was committed. GS90-112 deals directly with controlled substances, so it is not abundantly clear how assets from other crimes are distributed. Further, with regard to controlled substances and depending on the asset type the LE agency gets to use it to combat crime, then when the LE agency is done with it the proceeds go to the schools. see § 90-112 (d) and § 90-112 (d1) when it comes to cash it looks like it goes directly to the school fund. Also see § 90-112.1 (c). Civil forfeiture still is in place at the federal level and if the LE officers are “on loan” working with the Feds and temporarily reporting through the federal agency then the federal forfeiture rules apply. I think this relationship is covered by § 90-95.2.

    If the crime is under the federal jurisdiction, then the Federal rules apply and civil forfeiture (preponderance of evidence) can be used. I think the Feds rules allow the assets to be split between jurisdictions and the NC constitution 9 section 7 is superseded by federal laws.

  6. Nancy

     /  August 28, 2016

    Thank you for that research!