How Police Training Contributes to Avoidable Deaths

To save lives, cops must be taught to think beyond the gun belt.

The AtlanticSETH STOUGHTON

There have been too many lives lost to police killings. Too many phone calls telling families that their loved ones, particularly young black men, won’t be coming home. But in most cases, it isn’t because individual police officers are consciously racist or think black lives don’t matter. It is because officers perform the way they are trained to perform.

Having served as an officer at a large municipal police department, and now as a scholar who researches policing, I am intimately familiar with police training. I’m not just relying on my own experience, though. I’ve had long conversations with officers and former officers, including firearms trainers and use-of-force instructors, at law enforcement agencies across the country, and they’ve all led to one conclusion: American police officers are among the best-trained in the world, but what they’re trained to do is part of the problem.

Police training starts in the academy, where the concept of officer safety is so heavily emphasized that it takes on almost religious significance. Rookie officers are taught what is widely known as the “first rule of law enforcement”: An officer’s overriding goal every day is to go home at the end of their shift.