Our Opinion: State must address police training gaps

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Police department funding, resources and crime-fighting strategy come up for debate at every municipal election, as was the case in the recent Pittsfield city elections. The state shares responsibility for crime-fighting, and the state auditor maintains that Massachusetts has fallen short of that responsibility in terms of police training and funding for it.

A report released last week by Auditor Suzanne Bump found that even though Massachusetts requires 40 hours of in-service training for police officers, one of the highest hourly requirements in the nation, the state doesn't provide enough training opportunities to enable officers to meet this requirement and has no mechanism in place to assure that municipalities enforce the requirement. Communities that do are forced to dig into strained municipal budgets because of the inadequacy of state funding.

Police officers are often required to step into situations that require de-escalation to avert a tragedy. They must deal with situations involving people with problems related to mental health. The auditor expressed concern that officers are not receiving adequate training in these areas, and notes that Massachusetts is one of only four states that does not have a police certification process in place for in-service training. The study is called "Municipal Police In-Service Training: Funding and Cooperation across the Commonwealth" and its findings and conclusions are endorsed by Chief Brian Kyes of Chelsea, who is the president of the Massachusetts Major Cities Chiefs of Police.

Providing solutions involves both process and funding. Ms. Bump recommends that the Legislature establish a Police Officer Standards and Training system to address deficiencies in accountability. This would set standards for training and licensure and would regulate training programs. The chiefs of police organization estimates that only 38 percent of eligible police officers in the state received in-service training through the MPTC in 2019. Establishment of this system should boost this number.

However, the system won't produce results unless there is adequate funding to provide in-service training for officers, which means addressing a shortage of instructors and facilities for training. Beacon Hill acknowledged the reality of this problem in January when it voted to add a $2 surcharge on rental vehicle contracts with the revenue dedicated to police training. However, according to the report, the surcharge only generated about 60 percent of the $10 million needed for in-service training. Another revenue source is needed.

We urge the Legislature, which is soon to depart for its holiday recess, to address the shortcomings in police in-service training when it returns in January. It is evident every election season that voters are concerned about crime and crime protection and prevention, and adequate in-service training for police officers is needed if police departments are to meet their obligations to their communities.

This editorial has been updated. 



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