More racial bias training could be required for SC law enforcement officers

Updated: Jun. 19, 2020 at 5:06 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The state’s law enforcement training council is considering more racial bias and diversity training for officers in South Carolina following the death of George Floyd, which has sparked calls for police reform across the country.

In South Carolina, officers complete over 40 hours of education on racial bias, discrimination and de-escalation within a 12-week training period at the SC Criminal Justice Academy.

However, law enforcement leaders want to see that training continue once officers hit the streets.

The state’s top law enforcement officer, Chief Mark Keel of the SC Law Enforcement Division, asked the academy’s sanctioning body, the SC Law Enforcement Training Council, this week to move forward with recommendations and actions to mandate recurring training for such topics on a yearly basis.

“The problem is, we have officers that come to the academy today, they graduate, and right now there’s not any mandated training in those areas after that,” Keel said. “We want to mandate that annual training in regards to those same topics, implicit bias, cultural diversity sensitivity, de-escalation, so that they’re not just getting it when they come through the academy and come through the 12-week basic, but they get it from now on every year.”

Some agencies already offer this type of expanded training within their own departments, however there is concern that smaller agencies can’t afford to do the same if it’s required.

Officials are considering how they can offer the training for free to the more than 12,000 law enforcement officers in the state. One option could be a web-based video.

“We can take initiative on our own and do something,” Keel said. “This George Floyd incident…when I watch that, it makes me angry. That is not a split-second decision that was made that we have to deal with at times, investigations where officers have had to make a split-second decision. That was a conscious decision that was made by this officer and no excuse for it.”

At rallies across the state and the country, some protesters have called for measures to defund law enforcement agencies and redirect money to other community-based services.

However, expanded training, like what’s being considered by the training council, will require more funding.

“I think it’s an overreaction,” Keel said. “Law enforcement has been asked to do more and more and more...We have to be social workers. We have to be mental health counselors. We have to do so much…I understand the anger and I understand why people are saying that. But I would not want to live in a world where there is no law enforcement, and I don’t think anyone else would either.”

SCCJA Director Jackie Swindler agreed.

“Some of the things I’m hearing from people wanting and demanding, well that requires more funding,” Swindler said. “If every officer has a body camera, that requires more funding, if every officer has a psychological test more than that first time, more funding. If you want more advance training, that requires more funding. So, that’s not defunding, that’s increased funding with a proper use.”

Law enforcement officials also want to review the basic training officers receive through the criminal justice academy to make sure it’s thorough enough to prepare officers for situations regarding race and cultural differences they may encounter in the field. However, there’s one area instructors struggle to address.

“We can’t train maturity. Everybody is raised differently; everybody is brought up differently. So how do we train that?” Keel said. “We got to look and see what we can do in every area of the training to see what we can do better, but that’s just one of those characteristics that’s hard to figure out.”

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