In the five-decade span of my law enforcement career, I have seen major changes to the way police services are provided to the public.
The demands on today’s peace officers have increased significantly. As recently as 50 years ago, most small California police agencies did not initially send their new officers to formal academy training.
Today, all prospective officers are required to first complete a highly structured POST certified academy where the recruits must demonstrate a mastery of multiple disciplines on multiple levels.
They must demonstrate academic proficiency in 42 courses of study and demonstrate they can apply their knowledge in a practical setting. There is continual pass-fail testing.
After the academy, the recruits continue their education with a five-phase structured field training course which can last up to a year. Many people don’t pass training.
Tenured officers must regularly complete professional training throughout their career.
That’s important because we all want someone who knows what they doing to respond when we need the police. We want the best to solve our problems.
If we needed heart surgery, we want the best heart surgeon. If we need the police at a life and death situation, we want the best.
The Fontana Police Department has been recognized as one of the best departments in the state and nation for cities with a population over 200,000.
One reason it’s so good is the support and leadership of the mayor, City Council and executive management of the city.
Second, is the superb leadership of the chief and his command staff.
Third is the superior quality of rank and file officers -- corporals, detectives and police officers who provide hands-on response to calls for police services.
There is a relatively small pool of people who qualify to be a police officer. Candidates must be qualified to perform academically and physically and have a demonstrated record of integrity and good character.
Most applicants meet one or two requirements but not all three.
The small pool of police candidates is made smaller because there are so many options for young people who possess the abilities to become an officer.
They can make much more money in other professions. Many find the irregular hours, days-off and working conditions to be unacceptable.
They don’t want to live a life which is constantly bombarded with death, injury and social discord.
Prospective officers compare the salary and working conditions to other professions and chose not to go into policing.
Consequently, the inability to recruit qualified police officers has become a national problem. Competition among agencies for both recruit officers and tenured officers is intense.
The success or failure of a city is based on business and commerce. The success of business and commerce is based on whether people feel safe.
Policing is a profession. It requires competitive compensation to attract and retain the best.
As the late distinguished criminology scholar George Kelling often said, “You can’t police on the cheap.”
(Dr. Ted Hunt is the former chair of the Commission on Peace Officers Standards and Training.)