In light of recent national scrutiny of police practices, community members in some cities have questioned the type, quality, and emphasis of training provided to their local agencies. Citizens have questioned whether their local department embraces community interests. We agree that citizens have a right to know about the curriculum that is taught to our newest officers. Each year, this curriculum is assessed for current trends, legal updates and best practices.
One of our goals is to offer an academy that is comprehensive; we place special emphasis on topics such as critical thinking, professional communications, crisis intervention techniques, legal procedures, ethics, cultural competencies, and a host of other items that reflect not only the mandates of the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Standards Board (LESB), but also embraces community feedback. Fundamentally, our academy shifts a national paradigm from that of a "warrior" mindset to that of a "guardian" approach.
In Madison, as in many other markets, citizen police academies have been offered to provide constituents an opportunity to get an overview of the workings of our Department. It is our hope that this experience will afford citizens an insight that will prove useful in understanding our mission and values and how we provide customer-based services. Historically, our citizen academies have attracted young adults, elected officials, members of the media, and those constituents who are seeking a deeper knowledge of the role of police in a free society.
Some critics of citizen police academies have suggested that these initiatives are nothing more than a mechanism for promoting public relations; and that these academies do not reflect any substance or resemble the actual training provided to recruit officers. We certainly don't believe that such is the case here in Madison, but we have still wondered if there is more we can do to show the sincerity of our efforts in a transparent way. We found an opportunity to open the doors to our pre-service academy and provide access to the "fourth estate," the media.
Earlier this past summer, we were approached by two reporters who made a request to cover the MPD Pre-Service Academy from start to finish. They were specifically interested in learning more about topical issues such as recruiting, our mental health response(s), and use of force training. These journalists wanted to experience the training through the eyes of those receiving the instruction, first-hand. We were thrilled with the chance to showcase our training regimen through the experiences of these reporters.
MPD Training Team representatives met with Bridgit Bowden from Wisconsin Public Radio and Abigail Becker from the Capital Times who proposed this initiative. The two journalists decided to tackle this as a joint project; and although they work for two separate entities, they agreed to address topics together while maintaining independent storylines. We agreed to this venture. Since September 12th when the recruits were sworn in, these reporters have been given unfettered access to our new officers and trainers, while being cognizant not to interrupt daily activities.
Some within policing, inclined to be suspicious of the media, have questioned why we would entertain the inclusion of the media into our academy life. Simply put, it is the right thing to do. We are very proud of our recruiting/hiring process and the MPD Pre-Service Academy. We are also confident in the skill-sets of our trainers who work in a multitude of positions throughout our Department, and we have nothing to hide. The proposal to "embed reporters" might be considered a risky venture by some, but for us it was an affirmation of the exceptional training being delivered to our officers.
Ms. Bowden and Ms. Becker are reporting from the Academy - not attending it. They have been allowed to participate in any aspect of the training, pursuant to their request(s). Despite the presence of the media, nothing has changed. No presentations, instructional materials, or class expectations have been altered. The two reporters are allowed full access and can come and go as they desire. We also recognize that the media must maintain a journalistic responsibility to cover all stories fairly and independently. At times this will result in critical and oppositional viewpoints. We certainly respect and understand the necessity for autonomous review, void of prior restraint by MPD.
It should be noted that the Madison Police Department is one of only a few police agencies within the State of Wisconsin that are certified to conduct in-house training of police officers. The State of Wisconsin Law Enforcement Standards Board (LESB) provides a varied curriculum of 720 hours of training. MPD not only meets this threshold, but we significantly exceed the hours required (864+). Additionally, following the academy experience, each recruit will be paired with a veteran officer handling real calls for service for three months before being assigned as a solo practitioner in one of MPD's five districts. This "communion" of both classroom as well as practical, hands-on experience, puts MPD among one of the most rigorous training programs in our country.
This blog was authored by Training Captain Thomas Snyder and Chief Michael Koval.