Seven years after LAPD rebooted recruit training, department officials Monday expressed confidence the revised approach is better preparing officers to deal with the challenges of policing and maintaining community trust in a multicultural metropolis.
The change had occurred largely under the radar. There was no big announcement at the time. But with extensive research, and the guidance of a clinical psychologist, the department implemented a curriculum designed to stress problem-solving, and to the strengthen the connection between core values and daily law enforcement duties.
"The new curriculum is about problem-based learning. It's about taking scenarios and applying them," said Dr. Luann Pannell, a clinical psychologist who serves as LAPD's director of training and education.
Training is structured to stress relationships between different focus areas.
"I'm working with the human relations instructor when I'm teaching tactics," said Officer Joe Johnson, the academy's senior tactics instructor. Johnson likes the approach and believes academy graduates are "more rounded" when they moved into patrol to work with training officers.
The new curriculum was introduced at a time when the department was operating under the terms of a federal consent decree imposed in 2001 and not lifted until two years ago. The U.S. Department of Justice had sued Los Angeles to compel reform in the wake of the Rampart corruption scandal. Training was one of the areas ordered to be improved.
In addition to the original facility in Elysian Park near Dodger Stadium, the LAPD Academy operates at two other locations, in Westchester at the Ahmanson Recruit Training Center, and in Granada Hills at the Davis Training Facility. The Elysian Park campus is temporarily closed for renovation.
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On day two of the six month program, the curriculum delves into issues of community perceptions, racial and ethnic stereotypes, the department's commitment to treating individuals with respect, and the negative legacy of past failures to do so.
Day two at the LAPD Academy now ends with — of all things — the recitation of a poem, Human Family, by Maya Angelou.
"I note the obvious differences
between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike."
Recruits are taught that never forgetting their own life experiences will help them understand the perspectives of those they encounter, said Officer Anthony Pack of the Human Relations Training Unit.
Officers are encouraged to take ownership of interactions, to assist victims and others affected by an incident.
"When we police well, when we police constitutionally, it creates greater trust, and we are all safer," Pannell said.
New attitudes are being embraced not only at the academy, but also after graduates move into the field, said Chief Charlie Beck.
This has not spared the department renewed controversies over deadly uses of force in cases involving minorities, including the shooting deaths last August of a man with mental illness, Ezell Ford, and more recently a homeless ex-con, Charley Keunang.