Commission approves more officer training in unbiased policing

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JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission (POST) approved measures on Tuesday to increase the number of required training hours for police officers.

The commission raised the required officer training hours from 48 hours over three years to 24 hours per year statewide.

POST Commission Chief Paul Williams said, "We need to make sure continued education is continued education. It's about making sure people maintain their standard."

Williams said enforcing a yearly training requirement will help reinforce officers to continue to train. 

The training will require continued education on topics such as de-escalation techniques, fair and impartial policing, bias recognition, handling individuals with mental health issues and officer well-being.

POST Commission Chairman Capt. Ron Johnson said, "I think training makes you better. Any learning you can do will make you better, so it will make us better, but it will also increase consistency across the state."

The changes come after Gov. Jay Nixon's directive in August to POST. Nixon ordered POST and the Department of Public Safety (DPS) to put forward new rules for effective and ongoing training in these areas by Dec. 1. Nixon said they must revamp standards after the fatal 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson prompted a national conversation on police training.

"One thing we have heard throughout this nation is that, law enforcement and the community, we need to reconnect, and I think this is a step toward reconnecting," Johnson said.

However, Atchison County Sheriff Dennis Martin raised concerns about what the new training regulations could bring to smaller departments.

"The office, the county, they are going to be the ones paying for this. The officer can't afford to pay for this stuff out of his pocket," Martin said.

Martin has four certified officers in his department, and he said training is not the issue when problems occur.

"Every day that you are on the road to go train, every day you are in a seat, whether it is computer training or in a classroom, those hours are not spent on patrol," Martin said.

DPS Director Lane Roberts said there will be a burden on smaller departments, like the Atchison County Sheriff's Department, but they will continue to work through the issues to improve training across the state.

Martin said he would rather the commission address training needs department by department, rather than issuing a statewide mandate.

"The issue doesn't exist in my county, or most rural counties. It's kind of one of those things, if you go to the doctor because your right knee hurts, you don't expect him to work on your left hand."

During the meeting, POST and DSA approved regulations to allow officers to carry over eight hours of training from year to year, but a minimum of 24 hours must be met annually.

Also, the commission decided not to cap the number of hours that an officer can complete online as a part of training. One member who spoke at the meeting said he was concerned about allowing officers to complete large amounts of training online because it would reduce social interaction. Johnson said he sees that side but he views computer-based training as an advantage.

"We are becoming a lot younger. A lot of younger officers have a great knowledge of computers," he said. "We just need to make sure that computer-based training gives that knowledge they need to become better."

Even with the changes, Johnson said it is a long process.

"We'll continue to listen to our citizens," he said. "We'll continue to listen to our law enforcement agencies to make sure this policy is the best thing for our state and to make sure it gets better."