You're scheduled for in-service training next week, and you notice that the first morning is devoted to firearms training. It'll probably be the usual--the chief will come in and go over the policy on deadly force and permissible weaponry, the firearms instructor will discuss the importance of maintaining your weapon, and address causes of malfunctions, and the legal instructor will go over three or four recent cases of officer-involved shootings. Maybe you'll watch a video or spend an hour or so discussing tactics for armed encounters, and then (at last!) it'll be time for lunch.
Can you imagine firearms training that involves no range time? Ridiculous! Not only do we require officers to spend time at the range, we put them through tactical courses, induce stress and require them to make shoot/don't-shoot decisions. We wouldn't think of putting officers on the street without that kind of preparation--it would be tantamount to sending them out to be killed.
So why do we expect officers to meet ethical challenges that can kill a career with no preparation beyond classroom discussion of policy and case review?
But that's different, you say. Firearms use is a psychomotor skill. It involves both brain and body, and you can't learn physical skills without practice. It's not just learning a bunch of cognitive information.
Well, guess what? Ethics isn't just cognitive, either. While memorizing policy is a mental task, developing proper values and attitudes fall into the affective learning domain--emotion, values, and attitudes. Think about the headline issues that weekly rock the law enforcement world: brutality, corruption, racial profiling. Those aren't head issues--they're heart issues. The Wisconsin law enforcement memorial has four words carved around the base:
You don't learn those by listening to a lecture or reading a book.
Can Ethics Be Taught?
Some would say you don't learn values and attitudes as an adult at all. One school of thought holds that ethics cannot be taught--if you don't already have the proper values when you become an officer, it's already too late. Attitudes and values once established don't change. If that were true, there would be no such thing as "the police culture." I remember standing next to my squad car talking to fellow officer one evening after we had assisted in making an arrest. He said he'd like to go back to school one day, and mentioned that he had been set to start a master's degree program when he was hired by the department. I asked what field he'd been in, and he replied with a laugh, "Social work. But that career's obviously out the window now." Working as a police officer had sufficiently changed his values and attitudes that he could no longer see himself fitting into the mindset of a social worker.
But even if it were true that values and attitudes don't change, and the burden falls on the recruitment process to select for sound ethics, officers would still have to learn to apply those values and attitudes on the street.
It's not always cut and dried. Consider this situation. A rookie officer is riding with a substitute FTO. It's 3:00 a.m. The bars are closed, there's no traffic, and no one out and about. The FTO directs the rookie to pull the squad into a secluded park, reclines his seat, and nods off to sleep, telling the rookie, "Wake me if something happens." The rookie, having just gone through the academy, knows full well that policy prohibits sleeping on duty. He also knows that ratting out the FTO is a high-stakes decision. Is it worth blowing his reputation with other officers to report a sleepy FTO if no harm was done? Suppose he decides to keep quiet, and when they return to headquarters at the end of shift, the desk sergeant asks the rookie, "How did it go tonight? Did Joe [the FTO] give you any problems? How does he answer that?