Education is key to curbing overly aggressive policing

To the editor:

It’s the position of popular media and many politicians that what is needed to curb overly aggressive policing is better and/or more training. What is missing in this communication is the simultaneous role of troublesome educational outcomes. This begs the question, what is the relationship between training and education, and what does it have to do with fulfilling the objective of curbing overly aggressive policing?

Training has to do with the steps required to perform specific tasks when specific circumstances are encountered sometime in the future. Training is a process of conditioning that originates from an application of principles of behaviorism. It does not consider emotional involvements, stages of development, or higher levels of learning; it expects spontaneous and automatic responses because of training.

Effective education on the other hand is expected to facilitate development of individually unique attitudes, beliefs, values, and personal orientations with life. These parts of personality are thought to be actualized through unconsciously motivated patterns of response applied in a multitude of circumstances, including acts of compassion, empathy, and self-control, as well as acts of overly aggressive policing.

These differing patterns of response to events in life are constructed from each person’s past experiences. These constructions become the unconsciously motivated forces that can enter and/or shape the responses of police, contrary to whatever their training requires of them.

Consistent with psychiatric insights, when faced with the expectation to perform a prescribed task, that task will likely be spontaneously overridden by unconsciously applied responses that occur with limited or non-existent conscious awareness.

Unless education addresses early emerging patterns of aggression by developing in-depth self-understanding, unconscious patterns will be repeated and repeated by those whose education has failed them. These educational outcomes must be altered, or overly aggressive behavior will predictably and spontaneously continue regardless of extended participation in training programs.

Robert L. Arnold

Professor emeritus of education



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