Speaking In Support of Police Training and Public Safety

By: Senator Katie O’Connor Ives – June 2013

Kathleen O'Connor Ives
Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives

May was a busy month in the Senate. It was my first budget season and per tradition in the legislature, a new legislator has to give a first formal speech – a “maiden speech” before being able to engage in discussion and debate on the floor. Senators choose this first speech carefully, because it’s on a topic of particular interest, and all members of the Senate are in attendance and pay close attention to the chosen topic and remarks. At the conclusion of the speech, fellow Senators give a standing ovation and the text of the speech is placed in the Senate Journal. I wanted to share the text of my speech with you, as well as the results of the Senate vote that followed the speech.

Thank you, Madame President, and through you to the members. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you and every member of this Massachusetts Senate for the warm welcome you’ve shown to me as a new member to this August body. I rise to speak on the floor of the Senate today in support of an amendment about which I feel strongly.

What is the worth of a well-trained police force? We know through recent experience about the value of providing consistent and high-quality police training. Now, we need to invest and support their efforts so our officers are equipped to respond to public safety challenges with confidence and success

Today, Massachusetts ranks 50th. We’re at the very bottom of the list of states in the U.S. for funding municipal police training. I speak in support of an amendment, to increase funding to the Municipal Police Training Committee in the amount of $500,000.

SCT grad 1.jpg
photo courtesy MASSLIVE.com

Funding has fluctuated greatly for the Municipal Police Training Committee over the past 25 years, making it hard to develop systems and efficiencies in training procedures. Not only does approval of this amendment send a clear message that we value recruit training and in-service training for our municipal police officers, the tangible result will be ongoing and refresher training to ensure officers maintain the knowledge and skill levels needed to keep themselves safe, and the public safe.

The problem is that the municipal police training committee has lost the ability to proactively train police for day-to-day challenges—let alone emerging issues. There is no reliable funding mechanism to support training, and municipal police officers rely solely on legislative appropriation.

Yet we know proper training is key to the quality public safety we seek. There isn’t sufficient funding right now to develop critical specialized curricula for best practices in the areas of search and seizure, incident response, SWAT team, officer safety and building searches, to reference only a few areas of increasing complexity.

In addition, resources are insufficient to meet the demand for statutorily-mandated classes like sergeant and detective basic training. Nor does the Municipal Police Training Committee have the capacity to evaluate training standards, or confirm that mandatory training standards are being met.

Fortunately, the State Police were sufficiently funded, so they may continue to respond to public safety needs with optimal systems. Today, I seek parity for municipal police training. Over 200 departments and agencies responded to the public safety needs and developments that ensued after the Marathon attacks, including officers from police departments in many of the districts of my colleagues here in this chamber.

In the example of police searches of buildings, it’s critical that officers implement the same tactics and terminology for successful outcomes. Each department should not apply individual methods for responding to incidents that involve multiples municipalities and jurisdictions. Quality training impacts how rapid, targeted, and uniform officer response will be.

The Massachusetts Municipal Police Committee seeks to update its curriculum. Their recruit curriculum hasn’t been updated since 1996. Staffing has been slashed from 60 employees during the 1980s, to a current staff of 21.

Counter to the trend of under-funding the Municipal Police Training Committee, adequate investment will enable them to advance important long-term goals, one of which is the ability to offer training to develop specific career-training paths for officers, such as K-9 units, school resource officers, and sergeants. Currently, specialized training takes place only when federal funding is available.

Moreover, continued investment in municipal police officer training lays the groundwork for an initiative with widespread support—and that is, to create a Peace Officers Standards & Training system. A POST system is a model adopted in most states throughout the country, establishing minimum standards for the training and certification applicable to all officers exercising police powers.

For example, in Connecticut, their POST system creates statewide, model policies and procedures, and adopts and enforces professional standards for certification and decertification of officers. There has been a Special Commission on Massachusetts Police Training co-Chaired by the esteemed Senator from the town of Walpole, which produced a July 2010 report recommending the implementation of a statewide Peace Officers Standards & Training system in Massachusetts.

This Commission also recognized that issues pertaining to mental illness in emergency response require specialized and updated training statewide. I’m confident that you’ve been contacted by your police chiefs, whether they serve small towns, suburbs, or large cities, voicing the need and importance of quality and consistent recruit and in-service training.

Police chiefs in my district have told me that supporting these training programs is one of the most important and lasting measures we can take in the legislature to support the work of their departments. All of the 17,000 police officers in our cities and towns deserve the same quality and continued training no matter what community they serve.

Currently, departments are often left to apply standards on their own. We don’t want 351 different ways to interpret and instruct standards. Funding to the Municipal Police Training Committee also means training for instructors, so they can attain certification in critical skill areas, such as firearms, defensive tactics, medical first responder skills, and CPR.

I ask you to appreciate that in years past, police chiefs could send officers to the Municipal Police Training Committee for instruction. Now, the Municipal Police Training Committee can only offer curriculum and not instruction. It’s now incumbent upon city and town police departments to fill the training gap, and determine how they will track training.

As such, Massachusetts lacks a comprehensive registry of training for police officers currently serving, and there are no mechanisms to track curriculum uniformity. This funding history is not conducive to fostering career staff for instruction continuity. The Municipal Police Training Committee has added web-based distance learning for logistical and financial efficiencies, but even with this successful initiative, officer interest has outpaced staff capacity and the training needs remain unmet.

Municipal police training is akin to an unfunded mandate. Where the public-at-large has high expectations for officer performance, and I imagine our individual expectations are high in each instance we encounter a police officer or ask officers to respond to an emergency. The time has come for us to meet their expectations and support an opportunity for access to the high-quality training they deserve.

We need to seize this moment to reverse the trend in funding and, instead, move Massachusetts to the forefront in leading the way for new recruit, in-service, and specialized municipal police training. Now is the time to demonstrate our value of world-class police officers by our actions in addition to our words. I request that when a vote be taken, it be taken by a call of the yeas and nays. Thank you, Madame President.

There was a unanimous vote in favor of the amendment to increase the Municipal Police Training line item by $500,000 in the Senate budget. Thanks to Representative John Rogers of Norwood, who had successfully filed an amendment to increase the House budget by this same amount. As of this writing, the House and Senate budgets are being reconciled in conference committee, but our amendment will very likely make it through because both the House and the Senate included them in their respective budgets. Our office will be posting video of the speech along with other updates on our facebook page: www.facebook.com/oconnorives.