Use Of Force: Dallas police overhaul training after shootings

Published on Saturday, 4 January 2014 21:20 - Written by From The Associated Press

DALLAS — The Dallas Police Department plans to overhaul its use-of-force training program after criticism stemming from recent shootings by officers, according to a published report.

The Dallas Morning News reports the department is preparing to replace its current crop of rank-and-file instructors with sergeants, increase the frequency of training for veteran officers and consult with experts about best practices.

Police Chief David Brown said the overhaul is designed to rebuild public trust.

The department dismissed two officers in two months, citing internal investigations that concluded both violated the department’s deadly force policy when they shot suspects without apparent provocation. But critics say reforming the training program that teaches officers how and when to use deadly force amounts to only a simple cosmetic change amid public pressure, and won’t address deeper issues.

Deputy Police Chief Albert Martinez told the newspaper that the department doesn’t believe there are major flaws with its training, “but we know it can be better.”

The overhaul is among many policy changes the department has implemented since a July 2012 shooting of a South Dallas man nearly sparked a riot.

The department has also modified its foot chase policy, is field testing new cameras worn on uniforms and has begun alerting the FBI of all shootings.

Those reforms were accelerated in October, after a neighbor’s surveillance video captured Officer Cardan Spencer shooting Bobby Gerald Bennett. Bennett had a knife and was mentally ill, but was standing still with his arms at his sides at the time of the shooting.

Currently, veteran officers go through four hours of live simulations of potential deadly force encounters every two years. Martinez said the new goal is to have officers complete annual training, though he also said the department will need more trainers to cycle 3,500 sworn officers through the program.

Martinez said the sergeants will undergo the same certification process as the previous instructors, who were senior corporals, and will meet with experts across the country to learn about what policies and practices work best elsewhere.

“We want supervisors to be able to critique the officers and be able to talk with officers who may not have performed at the level we want them to at those training scenarios,” Martinez said. He said that senior corporals have a harder time doing that because they are instructing peers.

Retired Dallas police Sgt. Keith Wenzel teaches street survival classes nationwide and once ran the department’s training program. He called the overhaul “nothing more than political grandstanding.”

“I don’t think it will have any effect on the culture of the department, and if it did, it would take two to 10 years to make a difference,” he told the Dallas Morning News.

Wenzel said more frequent training and more supervision is positive, but said rank doesn’t affect training ability.

“A good trainer is a good trainer,” he said. “Are you telling me that because he’s a police officer that he doesn’t possess certain skills? It’s a skill set, not a rank set.”

Information from: The Dallas Morning News,http://www.dallasnews.com