Four months into his job, a police officer in Mississippi holds a gun to the head of an unarmed teenager and puts him in a chokehold. A rookie officer in Illinois gets into a car chase that kills a driver. And a new campus policeman in Indiana shoots an unarmed student to death." So reads the lead paragraph of a story on an Associated Press report that finds some states are putting untrained officers on duty.
"The days of 'Barney Fife, here's your gun and go' are over."
- Brian Grisham, Tennessee Peace Officers Standards and Training
The report revealed at least 30 states let newly hired law enforcement officers hit the streets with a gun, a badge, and little or no training. While states such as Arizona, California, Texas, Vermont and Wyoming require officers to have academy training before being turned out on the streets, the rules of the force differ greatly in other states, such as Mississippi and Wisconsin, where new recruits are extended a grace period of up to two years before they must attend a police academy.
Those putting untrained recruits on the street defend the practice for reasons of money and manpower. They say they see the grace period as an opportunity to "try out" new hires and learn if they're going to work out before investing thousands to send them through academy training. They note it also gives new recruits an opportunity to bow out should they find policing isn't for them.
But this is like sending in a surgeon to remove a brain tumor before he's completed his advanced medical degree. No one should be armed with a gun and a badge until they've proven themselves in basic training.
This is not the way to save time and money, especially when you consider the legal costs incurred should a rookie officer make a mistake.
As Brian Grisham, executive secretary of Tennessee's Peace Officers Standards and Training, is quoted as saying, "The days of 'Barney Fife, here's your gun and go' are over. You have to be trained first. There is too much liability."