Virginia’s attorney general is rolling out his plan to improve relationships between police and communities. In a press conference in Arlington Tuesday, Attorney General Mark Herring said his office is making new training programs available to police officers across the commonwealth.
The announcement comes after a difficult period between certain communities and law enforcement. Herring said he was motivated to act over the last year after rioting in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore. He acknowledged that Virginia has had incidents of its own that have called into question whether police have used excessive force or might be targeting minorities. Herring said he’s hoping to offer police more resources amid this national discussion.
Starting next year, his initiative will address issues like use of force and implicit bias. Herring’s office is in the process of arranging the training program. It will focus on identifying biases, promoting professional behaviors, determining the appropriate use of force, and embracing de-escalation tactics to neutralize tough calls.
“This is a huge project. It’s going to have a positive and a sustainable impact on public safety throughout the commonwealth,” he said.
Another training topic gaining momentum in the commonwealth and beyond is figuring out how to respond to a person in a mental health crisis. Herring says that’s another issue he would like to see highlighted in the training sessions.
According to Herring, the training will not be mandatory but will be made available to police agencies across the state. He says while the goal is to make these lessons available to all police officers, he wants to see smaller departments under heavier budget strains take advantage of this program. He says overall this will complement what many departments are already doing.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Commonwealth of Virginia – Office of Attorney General News Release:
RICHMOND(September 29, 2015)-Attorney General Mark R. Herring today announced the first in a series of initiatives to promote safe, impartial, 21st century policing in Virginia, and to promote mutual trust and positive relationships between Virginia law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve. After months of discussions with stakeholders including law enforcement agencies, community leaders, and others, Attorney General Herring will be launching a dual-track training initiative to provide current and future law enforcement officers with opportunities for contemporary, evidence-based training on topics including impartial policing, bias awareness, situational decision making, de-escalation, and use of force.
“Here in Virginia, we all share the common goals of ensuring that police can safely and effectively protect our communities, while guaranteeing that everyone is treated fairly and equally,” said Attorney General Herring. “Those two goals are not in conflict. In fact, they’re inextricably linked, and we have to get them both right if we’re going to have the safe, successful communities we all want.
“Events across the country and even in the Commonwealth over the last year have tested the relationships between law enforcement agencies and their communities, maybe like never before. Fatal encounters between law enforcement officers and citizens, and the resulting community responses, have forced every community to take a close look at the way we police ourselves. I believe that we as a Commonwealth are strong enough to ask those hard, fundamental questions and seek the truth, wherever it leads.
“Over the last year, my team and I have met with community leaders, law enforcement officers, and other stakeholders to see what we should be doing as a Commonwealth to promote safe, impartial, 21st century policing, and to help bring communities and their law enforcement agencies closer together.
“Based on these conversations, I am launching a dual-track training initiative that will promote safe, impartial, 21st Century policing both in the short term and in the years to come. This dual-track training initiative will give new and experienced officers additional skills and tactics for safely dealing with potentially confrontational situations, and for ensuring that each member of the community is treated fairly and equally. These are the skills that can build trust, encourage communication and interaction, bring communities and their police departments closer together, make communities safer, and ultimately, save lives.”
REGIONAL TRAINING INITIATIVE
During conversations with law enforcement leaders and community stakeholders, it became clear that there is a common interest in expanded professional development opportunities for law enforcement officers, particularly on skills that promote equal treatment, safety, and positive relationships between law enforcement agencies and their communities, such as impartial policing, bias awareness, situational decision making, and use of force.
To meet a need that has been identified by both law enforcement leaders and their communities, Attorney General Herring will host a series of regional, multi-day training sessions for experienced officers focusing on the skills that are necessary for effective 21st century policing. The trainings will be targeted to agencies in underserved areas of the state that may have difficulty offering these opportunities to their officers.
“During my most recent statewide public safety tour, I discussed this type of training with law enforcement agencies that span the full range, from big city and county police departments, to small and midsize departments that are under constant budget stress,” said Attorney General Herring. “The departments that have done this kind of training say it’s essential in modern community policing. I also heard from many law enforcement agencies, especially in rural or less populated areas, that would love this kind of training, but candidly, they told me they lacked the capacity to plan, fund, and execute these training sessions. Community leaders also told me that if we only did one thing to promote safe and impartial policing and to promote mutual trust and respect, this was what they wanted to see.”
The OAG has already started working with Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran and the Department of Criminal Justice Services to plan and secure top subject matter experts and resources for these trainings, which should begin in the Spring of 2016.
DEVELOPMENT OF CONTEMPORARY BASIC TRAINING ACADEMY MATERIALS
To ensure that Virginia is a national leader in modern, evidenced-based policing, the OAG will work with DCJS and public safety stakeholders to develop new, high-quality basic training academy materials that will target elements required by DCJS in a manner that emphasizes the skills necessary for successful 21st century policing, such as bias awareness, professionalism, use of force, de-escalation, and impartial policing. These training materials will be made available and accessible to all local and regional training academies.
“This is a huge project that is going to have a positive and sustainable impact on public safety throughout the Commonwealth, and working together, we will make sure Virginia is a national leader in promoting safe and impartial community policing,” said Attorney General Herring. “In Virginia, we don’t want to just meet the standards. We want to set them.”
“These initiatives are in-line with the recommendations of President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, and with training initiatives supported by the U.S. Department of Justice and its Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. They will also complement numerous efforts by local agencies that understand the value of these trainings and have begun pursuing them.”
Law enforcement, public safety, and community leaders from across the Commonwealth expressed their support for these new collaborative training initiatives:
“More comprehensive and evidence-based police training and implementing representative and community-based policing will ultimately provide better protections for both law enforcement and the citizens they protect and serve,” stated Congressman Bobby Scott. “I commend Attorney General Herring and Secretary of Public Safety Moran for working together to launch this new initiative, which will ensure that Virginia is leading the way in promoting better and safer policing.”
“I wish to thank Virginia’s law enforcement agencies that have spent the last 20 years building collaborative partnerships and trusting relationships with their communities,” said Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran. “This collaborative initiative with the Attorney General’s office presents an outstanding opportunity for those who have been successful in their community policing initiatives to help those who are looking to strengthen their efforts. They, along with my office, will be available to help them seek additional resources, training and new tools for building trust and legitimacy in policing in their communities.”
“As President of the Virginia State Conference of the NAACO (VSC-NAACP), I wish to thank Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring for including VSC-NAACP in the proposed review of necessary changes and implementation of new procedures within and from the State Attorney General’s Office,” said Carmen Taylor, President of the Virginia State Conference of the NAACP. “I am proud that his office has recognized that the VSC-NAACP can be and should be a valued ally in his efforts here in Virginia.”
“The Virginia Sheriffs’ Association applauds the Attorney General’s effort to enhance relationships in our communities between law enforcement and the citizens of the Commonwealth,” said John W. Jones, Executive Director of the Virginia Sheriffs’ Association. “As Virginia’s only local elected law enforcement officers, Virginia’s sheriffs understand firsthand the importance of this effort and look forward to partnering with the Attorney General in this effort.”
“Every officer in Virginia deserves to receive the best quality training we can provide to ensure their safety and the safety of our citizens,” said Williamsburg Chief David Sloggie, President of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police. “Our goal is to ensure that the critical components of our basic and in-service training are consistent statewide in both content and quality.”
“The VACP looks forward to this opportunity to work with Attorney General Herring on this important training initiative,” said Dana Schrad, Executive Director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police. “Virginia is poised to lead the nation in ensuring that our law enforcement officers receive the best professional training possible.”
“The National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives support Attorney General Herring in the efforts being made by his office to safely and effectively protect our communities while ensuring that everyone is treated fairly and equally,” said Morris Roberson of the Central Virginia Chapter of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executrices (NOBLE). “This is not just an opportunity for the police to receive the additional training noted by Mr. Herring, but for our communities has a whole to get involved in our own safety and the safety of each other.”
The OAG will soon be issuing a “Request for Proposal” for development of contemporary materials for basic training academies and will work with stakeholders throughout the process, including the Department of Criminal Justice Services, to ensure the Commonwealth’s public safety goals are met. This is a large, transformational project that is expected to take 12-18 months.
In the coming weeks, Attorney General Herring plans to unveil additional strategies to promote safe, impartial, 21st century policing in the Commonwealth, and equal justice under the law.