May 14, 2021

A former police officer on police reform

A former police officer on police reform
Photo by AJ Colores / Unsplash

What does the future hold?

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum — then “my take.” You’re receiving this email because you’re a paying subscriber who gets Friday editions. If someone sent you this email, they’re asking you to sign up. You can do that by clicking here.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about some police reform issues. Many readers replied frustrated that I did not include a robust breakdown of the abolition movement, so I interviewed Alex Vitale — one of the leading proponents of police abolition.

In response to that newsletter, quite a few readers also expressed an interest in hearing from a former police officer who was also an advocate for reform. Readers rightfully wanted to hear from someone who had done the job about what kinds of fixes they saw as potential solutions. They wanted to know what someone who had worn the uniform thought. So last week, I sat down with Randy Shrewsberry.

Shrewsberry is the founder and current Executive Director of the Institute for Criminal Justice Training Reform. He is a former police officer, Crash Reconstruction Investigator, and Certified Fire & Explosion Investigator. He has spent over 30 years in both the public and private sector criminal justice field and has attended basic police training in Ohio, South Carolina and Indiana as well as hundreds of advanced training programs.

Recently, Shrewsberry’s perspective on reform — which focuses on an overhaul of police training — has been gaining national attention. In this interview, I asked him about his vision for the future, where he has overlap with the police abolitionists, and heard about some novel ideas on how to restructure police education that he believes could yield powerful results.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Tangle: There is a ton, we could touch on, but I think maybe the most interesting place to start would be to hear a little bit about your organization. I think when people talk about police reform, a lot of people imagine activists and abolitionists and criminologists and op-ed writers. And not a ton of people's minds and really go to former police officers. So you certainly have an interesting background. I'd love to hear about why you started the Institute, what you guys are up to and what your mission is?

Randy Shrewsberry: So we are the nation's only non-profit advocacy organization that addresses reform through how do we educate police officers in the United States. We're heading into our fifth year and it came about with my career as a police officer, I attended three different training academies. And even early on, I was able to recognize that I was woefully unprepared for a lot of what my job was. And that there was a clear disconnection from what I was being trained and what the realities of the job were. I'll talk a little bit about that more later — about things like fear based training and this kind of warrior training.

So, again, a little bit over four years ago, I started the Institute because one of the things that I recognized is that when we see incidences of deadly force cases, especially when its revolving around individuals who are unarmed or for which there was a clear alternative for how the situation could have been handled without use of force, I recall the legal principle that police officer's actions are justified both legally and I would say morally, based around what their training experience is.

And my view is that it doesn't matter what job we have, right? Whether you're a journalist or a CEO or a janitor, how we're trained is central to how we’ll end up performing. And so I started the institute with a couple of things in mind. One is that we need to relook at training. The training models in the United States have really never been fundamentally changed, with the exception of one big intersection in the late 1950s and early 60s, when militarization and SWAT training was introduced. But for the most part, we've added a few hours here and a few hours there, maybe some changes in technology or classes like mental health response or implicit bias. But for the most part, the training curriculum has been pretty static.

So I knew that number one, we needed to have this re-examination of what police training would be in the 21st century. But in order to do that, we had to do a couple of things. And first and foremost was just research. We had to really have a good understanding of what is the state of police training in the United States. And we identified three really major areas.

First is untrained police officers. We have police officers who are working today in 37 states, which allow the police to be employed to work autonomously with full powers of arrest, full powers to use deadly force, prior to going to the training academy. And this is insane in our view. That would be like, you go into the doctor, you’re going to the hospital, and the nurse is going, “I'm going to nursing school next year.” If you live or you're visiting in one of these 37 States, it means that if you call 911, or if you're being pulled over by the police or you have a police interaction, the reality is that you don't know if that officer has even been trained.

They go through what's called a pre-basic training, which is maybe a week or two which is largely around learning firearms, a little bit on the law but then they have maybe up to a year, in some states it’s two years, for which they can go to the academy. So this is a clear problem in our view.

While we are an advocacy organization seeking reform, this isn't one-sided. These issues in police training impact the police as well. As an example, with the untrained officers, we have had a few instances where there's been deadly use of force cases. But the most recent event was a South Carolina police officer last year who was killed on a traffic stop who had not been to the academy yet. So thankfully, the legislators in South Carolina are looking at closing that loophole, so we hope they will and that others follow suit.

The second is that police officers, generally speaking, just aren't trained long enough. And so I always share this anecdote, that I learned this on a date with a hair stylist. I was down in South Carolina and she was telling me about what was required of her from a training perspective. And what was required on a continuous basis to maintain a cosmetology license. And I sat with my mouth open over my salad because I was shocked by what she was describing to me. By that time I've been to two academies and still had not had to complete the same amount of training that she did to be a cosmetologist.

Now, we've done further research on this, and we know that South Carolina is not anecdotal, this is the case in every single state in the United States. Cosmetologists, from a regulatory labor perspective outlined by the state, are required to have more training. But this is also true of plumbers and electricians, nursing, and in a couple of states, even massage therapists. So there's a clear disconnect when we look at this as a labor regulation issue about certification from the state and how long their training should be.

And so we see that, on average, police officers are required to train anywhere from six to eight months. Now to add onto this is that when we look at our international counterparts, and the institute has looked at over a hundred nations across the globe, we only have three countries that require less training than us. That is Iraq and Afghanistan, for which we train their police officers, and the third is Papua New Guinea.

When we look at Australia and New Zealand, we're talking about a four-year program. Germany has a three-year program. Across the Nordic countries are four-year programs. There is just simply not enough time in six or eight months to train police in over 50 different topic areas that officers have to learn.

To put this in perspective, I always give the example about law. It's in their name: law enforcement. So it's the thing we would think that they would be spending the most amount of time on. But police officers are given just a little bit over a week and a half of training related to law, on average. So a week and a half that requires them to learn constitutional law, federal criminal law, federal transportation law, state criminal laws, state transportation law, local laws and ordinance, and civil liability.

There's just no way that somebody can adequately understand the law in a week and a half period when we see attorneys having to spend years to be able to get this concept. I'm not saying that every police officer should be an attorney, but you would think that when we look at the primary responsibility of police to be law enforcement, that they would be given the time to be able to adequately be able to learn even just the basics of law.

And the third point that we look at is what we believe is the wrong focus on training. So when we do a breakdown of what police officers are focusing on and their training, if we include physical fitness, that means that about a third of their training is focusing around force. Primarily, this is on either the prevention of being killed by homicide or the utilization of deadly use of force or maybe even some less than lethal weaponry. We all want officers to be protected, of course, but the issue becomes that this becomes the overarching emphasis of what their training is.

So if we look at a third of the training to be around use of force, but we're only spending maybe eight hours on de-escalation or four to six hours on alternatives to arrest, then there's just an enormous imbalance. The other really big issue is that this is not what is most dangerous to police officers.

So when we look at how police officers die in the United States. And I always say take a second and just imagine in your head, “How many police officers would you guess may die by homicide each year?”

The answer is around 50, give or take a few. Now, don't get me wrong: 50 is too many, right? And it's 50 too many. But we see an equal number of deaths by traffic accidents, but officers are only given about a week's worth of training on emergency vehicle operations. They are three to five times more likely to kill themselves than to be killed by someone else, though most get no training on self-care identification of PTSD or depression and if they do it's generally no more than a day. Two, I think, is the most I've ever seen.

If we look at last year and probably this year as well, COVID-19 killed more police officers than all other causes combined. But there's no extensive training on reducing the transmission of a deadly disease. So not only do we have this third of training that's going to use of force, it's also integrated in almost every other area of the training. And the example that I give is with report writing, right? Officers are taught how to fill out the boxes, right? What questions to ask, what information is needed in order to complete a successful report. But simultaneously, they're also being taught how to stand. Make sure that you stand with your right side or your strong side to be able to pivot backwards. Be careful about handing an ink pen to someone, because they might jab it in your eye, or jab it in your neck, which has maybe happened in a jail setting, but I know of no circumstance that it’s ever happened in a regular patrol function.

So, when there is this overarching emphasis, and you watch video after video of police officers being killed or being seriously injured, then we have this kind of militarized regimen that's inside of the training, my line is that “if we train them like soldiers, dress them like soldiers and equip them like soldiers, then we can only expect them to behave like soldiers.”

And so our view is that as we re-examine what the curriculum needs to be, officers need to spend a lot of time learning about how to protect themselves from homicide, of course. But they also need to learn about how not to kill themselves, or how to deal with the stresses that policing comes with, and learn balance on things like de-escalation or dealing with the community.

Tangle: So there's a ton there that I am interested in scratching at, given that you’re a former police officer. But I can't help but wonder, what's the response like to this? If a cop or someone who's responsible for training police officers was sitting in the room with us right now, would they agree with you about this stuff? What's your experience like in that regard? When you go to police departments, are they saying, “you know what, you're right, we can do a little bit better.” Is there momentum or energy for that or is there push back on this as framing police in a very negative light?

Shrewsberry: There's two camps. And I wouldn't say that they're equal. I would say that the vast majority would be in some agreement or largely be in agreement with me. I think that normally where there may be some split is around the idea about this warrior versus guardian training, right? A lot of especially diehard officers believe that this militaristic approach is what is keeping police officers safe, despite the fact that there's no evidence of it that we have been able to find, that police departments that have more stress training or more militarized training actually makes officers any safer than those that are more academically driven.

One of the things that I would say is that we can dispute a little bit about what exactly the curriculum needs to focus on, but I get no pushback on the need for more training. The problem — and this is our primary issue — is that when people ask me why cosmetologists are getting more training than police, the answer is that cosmetologists aren’t being trained by the state. This is a fiduciary issue. This is a budgeting problem. And unfortunately, one of the areas that gets hit very often, when we talk about defunding police, are training programs.

And so what I hear more than anything is from police chiefs or academy commanders or down to just the instructor level is that they want to do more, they want to have more training or be able to expand the existing training that they have, they just simply can't afford it, and there's not a lot of political will for it, unfortunately.

So, our solution is simple: what we believe is that we need to decouple police training away from the state and away from it being tax-funded, paid training programs. And this exists in law enforcement already. When we look at the District Attorney's office or prosecutor's office, if I want to be a DA, I don't go apply to the County of Los Angeles and say, “Hey, I want to be a DA,” and they say, “great, and I'm going to send you to your undergrad and then send you to law school and pay you during that time.”

Of course not. I have a responsibility to go get my education. They may have programs like tuition reimbursement, or some sort of benefit that allows me to recoup some of that cost. But it isn't the responsibility of taxpayers to pay for my education. And when we look at public safety, police and fire are the only two professions that I'm aware of at least that the state has a responsibility to pay for. When I say the state I mean us, right? Each one of us as taxpayers has a responsibility to pay for it.

We'd like to see it as a bachelor's degree program. But at minimum, a two-year associate's degree program for which the curriculum can be expanded and doesn't have constraints for taxpayer funding. Then we can look at this and have an honest assessment about how we need to expand it without the concern about whether or not a politician is going to sign on to it or not because this might require some sort of appropriations.

Tangle: I want to say this back to you, because I think this is really interesting and I want to make sure I understand correctly. The vision that you're hoping for is one where a police officer and aspiring police officers are going to a university that is providing police specific training. So you’d be getting a degree in policing, with police paying their own money for a two to four-year degree the same way we structure something like law or teaching or whatever, and then they are going to apply at departments with that degree. And having a certain kind of degree like that is going to be necessary in order to be hired at this department. Is that right?

Shrewsberry: Exactly. And so the major pushback that we hear about this is whether this is going to reduce recruitment, especially among people who may be struggling a little more on the socio-economic ladder. And here's what we know: what we know about college-educated police officers, just any college degree, not even necessarily college education for criminal justice, is that folks who have a college degree as police officers perform better. They stay on the job longer, there's fewer deadly use of force incidents, there is less civil liability, there's less criminality inside of policing.

And so, there becomes a huge savings to the state to transfer this, that allows them to have programs like tuition reimbursement or scholarships that they can give to folks that may have some challenges paying for college otherwise.

There is a professor at Cal State University, Dr. Christine Gardiner, who  did some work on this examining if recruitment levels drop when there were requirements for college education. And the answer is, no, it doesn't. What it does is it expands the pool.

I hear this all the time. In fact, I was on a panel just recently in which a union representative said, “you know, I can barely get folks now. So adding a college degree on top of that, it's going to make it even harder.”

Well, that may be true based on the pool of candidates that they have now, based around what the job is now, right? And the reality is that not all, but many police departments, if you look at the recruiting pages, many of them look more militaristic than the Army's hiring pages. And so that's who you're attracting, right? And I understand the pushback from police officers when there's outcry about their performance. They're doing what they were hired to do, right? They're doing exactly as they were trained to do.

And then there becomes this confusion as to, “wait a minute, you know, I signed up on a website which showed me in military tactical gear, maybe showing me rappelling out of a helicopter.” So that's what they're signing up for.

But if we professionalize policing as an educated career for which they're given ample time to be able to understand the complexities of criminal behavior, why does crime exist, what are the historical problems that policing has had within the community — especially communities of color, balanced with learning about de-escalation, about dealing with people in mental health crisis, then I think that is going to bring about a who new pool of people that will ease recruiting problems.

Tangle: How did you experience this as an officer? I'm curious. I imagine that you witnessed some of these issues firsthand and that is what inspired you to sort of pursue this work. I don't know if there's a story or two that comes to mind for you that kind of illustrates some of the issues that you are trying to address now. But I'm curious to hear from your on-the-ground, first-hand experience. Because I write and read about this issue a lot, but I don't hear from police officers a ton about critical reflection of their time on the force in my experience.

Shrewsberry: I think it's important, I do have criticisms of American policing, and where we’re at today, that some of it has gotten worse, since my time, and I’ve been out of this for 13 years, but I do think it’s important first and foremost, to acknowledge that we are asking police officers to run towards danger which the rest of us are running away from it. When we see mass shootings like we did in Indianapolis just a couple of weeks ago, that meant a team of officers had to run towards a situation in which somebody was just slaughtering other human beings.

So I think that in reflection, yes, it was important for me to understand and it's important today to recognize those officers who continue to do those things.

However, the first story that I will share that I see in hindsight was the level of fear that I had as a police officer.

Especially in the first couple of years. And I'm not exaggerating as I tell this story, this is verbatim exactly what happened daily. I worked overnights for the most part. On my drive home, I would get about halfway home and I would flip U-turns in the road or I would turn down side streets or dead ends or residential areas that were off the beaten path. Because I was told that the bad guy would follow me home and kill me. Kill my family.

There's an underpinning of stress that goes along with this idea that at any second, someone is out to murder me. I don't believe that policing even made it into the top 10 of jobs for which people are killed by homicide on the job. If they did, it was really close around the tenth.

But there was just this constant refrain of conversations, trainings and debriefings that all circled around this idea that at any moment you can be murdered. I've since learned that there's been no officer for which this has happened. There's been police officers that have been killed at their homes, but not because someone followed them at the end of their shift to their house to kill them.

So I saw pretty early and I especially see it now, there's this emphasis of training on what was possible versus what was probable. And then when we examine what's possible, well, it's endless, right? There's an endless possibility of ways that somebody could die or die by homicide.

I wrote an op-ed that was published on Huffington Post a couple of years ago called ‘I was a racist cop.’ A lot of this was not at the time that I was doing the work. But in reflection I really realized that the emphasis for which my job was, was not on prevention of crime. There's really not a lot of evidence that the police prevent a whole lot of crime, maybe some by visibility. But other than that, modern policing today doesn't doesn't really prevent crime. And in the way of crime prevention, we did very little in the way of investigating crimes. I now know there are 500,000 — literally 500,000 — unsolved homicides in the United States. We see murder or we see sexual assault clearance rates. Chicago released their data last year and that was less than 10 percent. We see on average only 60 percent clearance rates. There's not a class that you could take for which you're going to pass at 60 percent, right?

So instead, there was this intersectionality of racism inside of the criminal justice system, there was this kind of proactive policing where our focus really was on petty events. And a lot of policing of poverty. Where we were pulling over poor people because poor people are most likely to have a suspended license or maybe an unpaid traffic ticket. And so therefore have a warrant.

I started out in Ohio at a department with five police officers, right? Our department doesn't exist anymore, they've since disbanded, but I always laugh and say that my sergeant was also the school bus driver. He had dual jobs. There was no need for a police department in that town. We would go days without one single call for service. So what our job was, was this proactive policing which were really kind of fishing expeditions of pretextual stops pulling somebody over for a headlight violation or some sort of minor event in hopes of maybe finding some dope, or someone with a suspended license or a warrant or something like that.

And so as I progressed through my career, the very last agency that I worked for in Indiana was either the largest or second-largest in the state. And while there were certainly more calls for service, it still for the most part was about the same thing, right? It’s that the emphasis overwhelmingly was on petty crimes or property crimes, minor property crimes like theft or vandalism, quality of life policing, which is like dealing with panhandling or homelessness. The Los Angeles Times recently did a study of 911 calls here in L.A. and found that less than 10 percent of what police officers are responding to are crimes in progress or violent crime.

So that means 90 percent of the calls for service that they're doing are things for which they aren't chasing the bad guys or, you know, solving rapes and murders. But dealing with whether or not someone is a nuisance for standing in front of the 7-Eleven begging for change. Or whether or not someone’s sleeping on a sidewalk and those kinds of things.

Tangle: Let's talk about that 10 percent though. I mean you know I mentioned to you before we got on the show that I had Alex Vitale on a couple weeks ago and he talks a lot about the abolition of police. You said, and I'm hearing a little bit of it now talking to you, that oddly enough there are intersections where you guys land on this. I'm interested in what role you think police should play in society? I guess that question sort of has the pretext that you don't think that we should abolish the police, and maybe you can correct me on that if I'm wrong. But I'm curious. What's the vision for you in terms of why we keep police around and what we want them to be doing?

Shrewsberry: So I'm not an abolitionist. I think in a utopian circumstance, yeah, that would be great if we could handle things non-punitively. And maybe this is something from a really long-term perspective that, you know, we can chip away at the edges on some of the police's role in our society. And this is where Alex and I do agree. I think that we need to reduce the thumbprint of policing in a handful of different areas, right? I don't think police have a role in schools. I think we need to end the war on drugs and treat drug addiction as what it is: a public health crisis that’s a failed policy. It's a racist policy. It's never worked. It's never going to work. I believe that we need to do reinvestment in the community. You know, we know that the three predictors of crime are poverty, education, and mental health. So, these are all things that are preventable.

Isaac, when you asked earlier, what are some of the things that I noticed? When I was in my very first academy, an instructor said, “Whatever illusions you have about policing, dismiss them. Because what you really do is deal with the 3 Ds: the drunk, the drugged, and the deranged.” Now, you know, not the most politically correct term today. But his point was probably about the most accurate depiction of policing that I've ever heard. But one of the things, even at a time when I was far more conservative than I am today, that struck me about that, is that these are all issues that we can get ahead of, right? We can get ahead of addiction issues. We can get ahead of mental health problems. We're not gonna solve them, but we can mitigate them for sure.

And what we know and, you know, we've done this for 40 years now, is that what we've done — regardless of where you sit on the war on drugs — the one thing we have to agree on is that it hasn't worked, right? Now, I'm not advocating that we have Randy's cocaine store at the corner. But I also don't think that locking up an addict makes the community safer or has a net positive impact on our society. When I hear about the funding… I mean, when I just see the raw numbers of policing, like the budgets of a billion dollars or one and a half billion dollars I think it is in New York, that seems startling to me. But my issue is more about allocation. It’s, what are the priorities of the police department?

So I'll give two examples about here in Los Angeles county. There's 25,000 unsolved murders here in L.A. county. But we’ll see helicopters flying around, which are about 10 grand an hour. That doesn't seem like a good use of funding. We see detectives, property crimes detectives, who are setting up bicycles, right? Chaining them to a pole, in a poor area, and then doing surveillance to see who comes and steals it. I don't think that's a good use of funding.

And then the third, in fact I just saw a video about this the other day, and this is the second time I've seen this: there are these sting operations near bar areas, where an Uber driver or a Lyft driver will drop someone off. And these undercover officers will run up and say, “Hey, I forgot my phone, will you give me a ride home and I'll just pay you cash?” And then when the Uber driver says yes, then they bust them for a violation of taxi regulations.

Now, here's what I say, could you imagine that your wife or your husband, or your mom, or dad, or your child was murdered and that murder has gone unsolved? And you see things like this? You see that the police have said this is what our priority is. When we're spending 10, 12 maybe 15 percent tops on investigating crimes and the rest is this silly nonsense, right? So, when I talk about abolishing police, I don't care if there's five times the number of police, if they're investigating crimes, if they're truly bringing justice to people who are victims of crime.

My dad always said to me, don't put more on your plate until you finish what you have. So the idea that we're out chaining a bicycle up to a pole to see who's going to steal it when we probably have a clearance rate of 30% of all other property crimes anyway, just seems nonsensical to me, let alone the abysmal violent crime clearance rates.

Tangle: It strikes me as so obvious when you say all of this the way you do. And I asked Alex this question, so I'll ask you the same. Why is it the way that it is? I mean, what the hell are we doing? Why, when you’re in LA County, why isn't the mayor sitting down with your organization to talk about how to change policing, what's the holdup? If you're saying that a lot of police agree about how we need to change the training, all these things are there. Is it just the culture war? Is it the politics of it? What's going on?

Shrewsberry: Well, the answer is yes, to each of those, and there's pushback from the unions of course, there is a lack of imagination, right? I read something on Twitter not too long ago and I wish I knew who it was so that I could give them credit, because I cite it quite often. But someone said, when we talk about reimagining public safety, think of this: think about driving down the road and you have a taillight out. Instead of an armed police officer pulling you over to write you up a punitive citation, which you may not even be able to afford to pay which is going to create this spiral effect of an unpaid ticket, a suspended license, maybe lose your job, you can go on and on and on — what if we had a highway worker help you change the bulb, right? Doesn't that solve it? And so I feel really good that we're having these conversations about this.

Now where Alex and I probably separate is that I think that he sees where this can be done in much broader ways, where I don't. I mean I don’t think that when we talk about response to individuals with mental health crises, I think that the police are always going to have a role with that because very often, or maybe not proportionally very often but by raw number very often, these are folks who may be violent. So when we talk about let's stop traffic stops as an example, we saw Daunte Wright, that event started over an expired license plate.

The police themselves very often push back on this idea of hey, why don't you just focus on moving violations, and stop headlight violations, expired tags, these kinds of things because they view that as, no pun intended, but kind of handcuffing them in being able to do the work that they are used to doing, which they use these for the most part as pretextual stops. You might need to let someone know their tags are expired, or head lights out, but the reality is most police officers will tell you that most of these kinds of stops, not all, but most of them are really because they want to see if somebody has a warrant, or has a gun, or has dope, or a suspended license or whatever it may be.

So when we propose the idea, and there's a few departments that are picking up on this, but when we propose the idea that we just need to stop or limit this interaction, and it's just in one one particular area, then they feel a little shackled about whether or not they're able to perform their job.

The other thing too is that we have a deficit of the acceptance of scientific consensus, sometimes in policing as well. When we talk about the War on Drugs as an example, I've been a part of an organization, it was formerly called LEAP, law enforcement against prohibition, which is a collection of police officers, or former police officers, who are against the War on Drugs. Like I said earlier, pretty much any officer would agree that this is a failed policy, but because it's such a intricate part of their day-to-day job, then it’s very difficult for them to see a world in which everything is not just going to go to hell if they're not out enforcing someone with a little small bag of heroin in their pocket.

It's almost like this zero sum of if we’re not out arresting someone with a little bit of dope, then that means that simultaneously we’re advocating for Randy's cocaine store, and that's not true.

Now the other reality is the current model of policing is good money, right? You know, fines, generating court costs, that employs a lot of people, that keeps a lot of budgets flowing and not just directly into the institution itself, but there's a lot of residual money, when we look at CCA and the Geo Group, these are two private prisons in the United States. If you remember a few years back in Arizona, there was the “show me your papers” bill, that was heavily pushed by for-profit, private prisons.

So we then now have outside influence of people who are wanting to do tough on crime or keep things kind of status quo. But what I would say especially relative to training is what is that while it continues to be a responsibility of the taxpayer, then there's always going to be resistance,

Tangle: Got it.

But let me add one more thing. Because some of this is cyclical, and that is we have to also understand that ‘tough on crime’ has always been a big payoff politically in the United States. Now, it isn't as much as it once was but used to be, you know, someone like Larry Krasner in Philadelphia, the D.A., or George Gascon here in Los Angeles, who's talking about ending mandatory minimum sentencing or enhancements, I mean they're getting huge blow back even at a time where, arguably, the entire nation knows that we need to have some reforms.

Even with the struggles that they have now that would’ve just been absolutely a deal-breaker, they would have never have been able to have the conversations of saying, “okay, locking up someone for a little bit of dope, is that the right path?” Because then they would be viewed as soft on crime and wouldn't ever get elected or re-elected.

Tangle: So, I guess with, with all that being said, I mean, where do you think we are in this, right now? I mean what's in front of you guys? What are you focused on as the next couple steps.

Shrewsberry: What I will say is that first we have to accept this is not going to be a fast process. And I think this is one of the problems that I have with the abolish movement is that it assumes, and I don't mean that in a condescending way, I'm sure the advocates in this know that it's an uphill battle, but the platform assumes, not the individuals, but the platform assumes that we can flip this around pretty quickly, and in some areas we can. So like I mentioned earlier, there's 18,000 agencies in the United States. Half of those are departments with less than ten people, so if I were to look at abolishment as an example, that's probably where I would start. Asking do we need all these little tiny departments for which their major function is revenue generation.

From a training perspective, of course, we’re in the midst of a campaign because we want a federal prohibition actually against untrained police officers being able to work. Again it's just absurd and the arguments for it hold no water. I think there's no one on this planet who, if they had the choice of an untrained police officer or a trained police officer to show up when you call 911, no one who's going to pick an untrained officer including the police chiefs or sheriffs who are advocating to be able to keep this loophole.

So for us a lot of our work is research based now because this has never really been examined. And in some regard, some areas we knew this would take a while and some areas we didn't realize the length of time that it would take because there was either a lack of data or the complexities that we want to make sure that we consider. So our organization, we have what is called a community impact team.

And so, one of the things that we want to make sure of is that when we sit down and have a curriculum recommendation, as an example, that number one, it's science-based, it's data-driven. But number two is that we want to make sure that we know anyone who could be impacted by this, which is everyone, right? This is an area that impacts all of us because we all rely on this in our system, and so we want everyone to have a seat at the table. Not all the seats. One seat does it, you know? Not one that gets more seats than the other, but everyone has a voice to be able to examine this.

And so we have a very large group that when we say okay, does implicit bias training work? As an example, one of the things that we're looking at, and our early information is it doesn't, not in its current form, but then we have to explore further to say, okay, maybe this eight hour class of implicit bias training isn't working. NYPD did a report recently showing that they didn't see any meaningful change in officer behavior after they took implicit bias training. But what if it was a 40-hour class? Or what if it was a month long as part of, you know, a college curriculum course, would it matter then?

And so we have research programs such as that, we have ongoing research right now, which is a longitudinal study, measuring what are police officers’ perceptions of threat? And again, as I mentioned at the earlier onset of the show, we see that officers have a heightened belief of how many police officers are killed every year, or what circumstances which police officers are involved in when they do encounter a violent response.

But we're also looking at things like a program that we have that's called greater danger. And that is how do we reduce police suicides? How do we tackle this issue with substance abuse? And alcoholism and domestic violence that we know are rampant inside of policing. And are there training components through which we can counter some of this, you know? Of course, I believe yes. Because I think that most everything can have a training and influence from training.

The challenge that we face though, is that, as someone emailed me the other day and said, “remember culture eats training for lunch.” And I don't disagree with what he said, so we have to have buy-in from the politicians. We have to have buy-in from the police administrations through policy.

What I would say is that there is a greater optimism today, than at least I've had in my lifetime, so from the ashes of the horrible events around George Floyd's death, I think, this has reawakened a conversation about training. And one of the big issues that we face about training is that this has been a broken promise for decades and decades and decades, right? Anytime from back to Rodney King. Immediately out of the gate, we had police administrators saying, “well, we'll do better and different training,” and the reality is that they nibbled around the edges, but it just hasn't been changed.

So for us, our major program, that we’re conducting, we’re probably a few more years out on, is a 21st century curriculum recommendation that says here is a scientific backed data-driven curriculum, which we know works either from current experiences here in the U.S. or perhaps one of our International counterparts has been able to utilize it effectively.

Tangle: Randy, if people want to keep an eye on your work and follow some of this stuff, where's the best place to do it?

Shrewsberry: Sure, our website is and we're on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram, and it's @trainingreform on each of those platforms as well.

Tangle: All right. Randy Shrewsberry, the current executive director of The Institute for Criminal Justice Training Reform. Randy, thank you so much for the time I appreciate you coming on.

Thank you, Isaac. I appreciate it.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.