LAPD Needs to Forge New Sense of Professionalism

For Release

August 14, 2003

In order to improve its training and ultimately its performance, the Los Angeles Police Department needs to forge a new sense of professionalism among its officers, according to a RAND report released today.

RAND researchers urged LAPD leaders to adopt a vision of professionalism that is based on three principles:

  • “;Corporateness”—a concept that requires instilling an understanding of professional duty and creating a minimum level of expertise in an individual before the person is admitted to the profession.
  • A sense that officers are responsible to an increasingly diverse society. Much like physicians must place the needs of their patients over their own needs, police officers must be dedicated to the needs of their communities.
  • Dedication by officers to constantly develop their expertise. This includes areas such as interpersonal and verbal communications, in addition to traditional police skills such as those related to weapons or becoming an expert driver.

The new principles are designed to replace outdated notions of police professionalism from the 1950s and 1960s that overly emphasize technical proficiency and authority.

“The department's training and performance approaches need to be based more on effective education and putting officers in realistic stressful training situations, rather than relying too greatly on experience and outmoded techniques such as harassing recruits,” said Russell Glenn, a RAND researcher who headed the project.

The nine-month-long RAND study says that the new professional dynamic should be embedded into all segments of LAPD training, providing the department's officers with a firm basis that can help guide their actions in both on- and off-duty situations.

Glenn and his colleagues assessed the LAPD's training program under a provision of the federal consent decree that Los Angeles leaders signed with the U.S. Department of Justice in 2001 to settle allegations of civil rights violations by the city's police. Among other requirements, the decree required an independent review of police training in the areas of use of force, search and seizure, arrest procedures, community policing and diversity awareness. The city of Los Angeles paid for the study.

Researchers talked to LAPD commanders, officers and community members, observed many parts of the department's training efforts, reviewed the LAPD's written educational materials and protocols, and surveyed practices at other police departments, both nationally and internationally.

Many of the LAPD's training problems were tied “to a failure on the part of the LAPD to communicate clearly and consistently to its own officers what is expected of them as members of the Los Angeles Police Department,” the authors concluded.

“That the LAPD does not successfully communicate a unified message to its officers creates a dangerous vacuum that individuals fill with their own interpretations of proper behavior,” Glenn said. “While this may work most of the time, it is not a reliable means of providing the highest quality service to members of the Los Angeles community.”

In addition to urging creation of a new professional ethic, the RAND team made several other recommendations. They include:

  • Creation of a “lessons learned” office based upon programs found in the U.S. military. This new office would have a mission to identify and swiftly move lessons learned by a few officers out to the entire department. This could include varied items such as new weapons used by criminals and innovative methods to communicate with new immigrants.
  • Restructuring the LAPD's training group to allow the centralization of functions such as education planning, training and retention of instructors, and the most efficient use of the department's training resources.
  • Integration of elements of community-oriented policing and diversity awareness throughout the department's training programs, both in the police academy and in continuing education.

Several outside reviews have recommended changes to the LAPD's training methods, but too often they have mandated explicit steps such as increasing the number of hours of training on community policing, Glenn said. While those efforts have been easier to document and measure, they have not created the type of deep changes that are needed.

“Changes to the LAPD's training need to be designed to be effective, not designed to be easy to evaluate,” Glenn said. “It will be somewhat more difficult to determine whether the LAPD has made the changes we recommend, but these have the opportunity to make deep and long-lasting contributions.”

Glenn said the shortcomings noted by his team are not necessarily unique to the LAPD. Most metropolitan police departments have not created an updated version of professionalism that meets the needs of today's society.

“We saw clear evidence that the LAPD wants to improve its training and is taking steps to make many changes,” Glenn said. “I think the LAPD has a chance to reclaim its role as a national leader if it can make this transformation.”

Other members of the RAND research team include Barbara Raymond Panitch, Dionne Barnes-Proby, Elizabeth Williams, John Christian, Matthew W. Lewis, Scott Gerwehr and David W. Brannan.

About RAND

RAND is a research organization that develops solutions to public policy challenges to help make communities throughout the world safer and more secure, healthier and more prosperous.