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Effective Hiring Can Help Police Departments Build Community Trust


Baltimore is the latest city confronted with the key question of how to build trust between a community and its police. And that trust begins with how cities and towns recruit and train their officers. Dr. Maki Haberfeld has written critically of how police are prepared for duty in many parts of the country. She's chair of the department of law and police science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. She says the typical recruit is young - 20 or 21 - with a high school education and, in many police departments, can have a record of misdemeanors. Much of that aimed at having more police, but she says...

MAKI HABERFELD: It's not how many police officers we have; it's what kind of police officers we have. Police officers are always outnumbered by the population they police. So it's not about, you know - we know that we need 1,000 police officers. There's no empirical research that shows a clear correlation between the number of police officers and the tasks that they have to complete. But there is enough research already that shows that police officers who are more mature, who are better educated perform in a better way, have less complaints from the citizens, have less complaints internally within the organization.

MONTAGNE: Well, let's talk for a moment about training. What would be the average amount of weeks or months that is put into training a new police officer?

HABERFELD: In the United States today, somewhere between 15 to 16 weeks. That's an equivalent of a semester in college. So you can understand what tiny amount of knowledge an individual receives in one semester in college.

MONTAGNE: And what about the content of the training?

HABERFELD: Well, they learn use of force. They learn various local, state, federal laws. They have a couple of hours on various social sciences. But what they do not learn is emotional intelligence, social intelligence. And this to me, are skills that are completely essential and completely ignored during the basic academy training.

MONTAGNE: And how much difference does it make if the police force is diverse? We've heard so much about white police officers killing unarmed black men. On the other hand, there's Baltimore, which has got a police chief who's black, a mayor who's black, and then the same thing happens - a young, unarmed black man died in police custody. So what does diversity do? Or is it really something else that's going on here between police and the public?

HABERFELD: In my mind - and I've been saying it for years now - it's absolutely something else. The only thing that diversity does is it gives the impression that the community is represented on the police force. But at the end of the day, when there is an encounter between a member of the community and a police officer, the race of the police officer is only highlighted when it differs from the race of the person that he or she used the force against.

MONTAGNE: Is there, for you, a model police force anywhere here in the U.S.?

HABERFELD: There are quite a few forces that are doing the right thing. I observed the Department of Public Safety in Texas. They do not accept people with criminal records. They have very interesting in-service training. So, yes, there are police forces around the country that could be looked upon and learned from. But unfortunately, the recruitment age does not exist. NYPD comes as close as one could be because they require 60 credits, which is an associate degree. So at minimum, a police officer is the age of 22 before they start the academy.

MONTAGNE: Do they pay better then? And are there better benefits?

HABERFELD: They don't pay better, but there are more candidates because it is considered to be a prestigious appointment.

MONTAGNE: So are you saying that in other places becoming a police officer is not a prestigious career?

HABERFELD: Not necessarily, but again, depends on the type of police force. One thing that's important I think to understand is that out of 18,000 different police forces that we have in United States, 97 percent of these forces are very small - 50 officers or below. So you can imagine a force of 25, 30, 40 police officers policing a small jurisdiction. You know, the resources are simply not there. And it's harder to recruit to the smaller police departments.

MONTAGNE: Maki Haberfeld is chair of the department of law and police science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. Thank you very much.

HABERFELD: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.