In the digital age of communication, the new generation of people becoming police officers need more training in how to communicate with the public. That’s according to leaders at Montana’s Law Enforcement Academy. They say having a conversation as a cop is different than what many new recruits are used to.
As Administrator Glen Stinar walked around the Montana Law Enforcement Academy during a tour of the 20-acre campus in Helena, this week, he said educators have noticed a trend in new cops.
“The more people email and text and Snapchat, they’re really reducing their communication to really as very few words as possible. But that is not how law enforcement operates. So, how do we have meaningful law enforcement conversation with a person in crisis. You’ve never had to look somebody in the eye who has just been sexually assaulted, or a suspect in a burglary," Stinar explains.
Stinar says that means new cops are given more scenarios to run through in their training to work on interpersonal skills they’ll need for their new job.
In one scenario, cops are given headphones that mimic voices a person with schizophrenia might hear, and they’re told to wear them for half an hour. This way, when they meet a person with schizophrenia they might be able to understand a little better what that person is going through.
"We’ve probably added 24 hours [of training] just in communicating between people, between mental illness, how do you have a safe cop conversation. How to talk to you, interview you, to make sure you don’t get my gun or pile drive me, you know."
Stinar says that in the last two years Montana’s law enforcement training academy has increased its focus on communication skills for new officers. He says training courses are always changing as educators see what works with new recruits and what doesn’t.
Stinar says while this next generation of cops work on their people skills, a big test for them, and every young recruit, is how they handle what they have to talk about.
“This job isn’t for everybody. Sometimes relatively new officers get jammed up in a bad call and they say, 'I don’t ever want to go through that again. I don’t ever want to see a dead body, or explain to someone why their loved one has died, or go to a horrific car accident, or deal with a traumatic violence.' Younger officers with less life experience have a greater learning curve once they get on the job," says Stinar