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It takes 600 hours of training to be licensed by the state of Colorado as a “nail technician” — a nail stylist. As of July of 2022, it takes 556 hours and a background check to become a police officer.
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Once hired, state law requires only 24 annual hours of training — for police officers, not nail stylists. Twelve are for “mandatory skills” or “perishables” — driving, firearms, arrest control — and the other 12 are for anything deemed “needed and acceptable” by the individual police department.
That is a total of six hours of training every three months, of which only three hours are left for training like anti-bias, community relations, de-escalation, advocate training, legal updates and anything else the department deems important.
Every police department in Clear Creek County — Idaho Springs, Empire, Georgetown and the Sheriff’s Office — say that these state mandated hours are not enough. But, most of them are limited by how much extra they can do themselves, and where they can focus that extra, being small, local police departments with limited staff.
To become a police officer in Colorado, being certified by the POST Board, or Peace Officer Standards and Training, is required. This includes going through a police academy — those minimum 556 hours — and then passing a POST certification exam. The state dictates that, to be hired, potential police officers must also pass a background check, with local departments allowed to add their own requirements such as a physical exam or polygraph test.
The state also requires 24 hours of annual training for officers to keep their POST certification, and this is where Clear Creek’s law enforcement sees the need to add more. Not only because they don’t see it as enough training for the skills that are required, but because of the lack of time for those softer skills like de-escalation.
“In a given month, we do eight hours of training,” said Idaho Springs Police Chief Nate Buseck. “And when you have to account for all the other things that are required, I would say it’s probably about eight to 16 in a given year would be spent on de-escalation, people in crisis, specifically.”
Buseck elaborated that his department does around 100 hours of training annually. This includes the required firearm, driving and arrest control training, in-person scenario training, along with daily training bulletins quizzing officers on relevant policy and best ways to react to different scenarios, and more in-depth online training classes.
“I’d say time is more difficult than even the cost, there’s always grants available for training,” said Georgetown Police Marshal Randy Williams.
But time isn’t the only major hurdle for this extra training.
“The other problem with training is the back-fill factor — if you’re trying to put somebody in training, you still have to have someone available to work,” said Williams. The Georgetown Police Department has four officers currently, with two positions that have been open for an extended period of time, according to Williams.
“When we’re fully staffed, we would have time to let persons go to more advanced investigative training, more advanced across the board training to become instructors. When we can barely cover the shifts, that can make it a challenge,” he continued.
Idaho Springs has nine officers, and Buseck spoke similarly. “It goes back into that issue of having enough people, and how much time can we allot for training in a given month, and still have enough manpower to cover the streets,” he said. “There’s only so many hours in a day.”
The Sheriff’s office does training every Wednesday for about eight hours, according to Captain Matt Brown. “We’re kind of understaffed, but still manage to put on training every Wednesday for the most part,” he said.
This training includes the mandated firearms, driving and arrest control, along with other non-mandated training like de-escalation and legislative changes. Brown elaborates though that they do more than the required hours in all aspects of the training, including the mandated aspects.
“If you gave your guys two hours of firearm training — which is all that is required — and two hours of driving and two hours of arrest control…that’s not much time for perishables, you know,” he said.
He continued that a large portion of their training is scenario training based off media events like the situation leading to the death of George Floyd, and handling people who may be in a mental health crisis. “Maybe this person is not resisting, maybe they’re having a mental health episode, or maybe they need some help,” Brown continued.
Idaho Springs, Georgetown and Empire all participate in some of the Sheriff Office’s training and scenarios, but this is still extra training, and, “unfortunately, with the short staff in the entire industry, there’s a lot of training that becomes a luxury,” said Williams.
What is included in this non-mandated training changes too, according to Buseck.
“In our profession, I think we see best practices shift, right now the emphasis is on talking to people,” he said. “So de-escalation is probably the No. 1 thing, along with encountering people in a mental health crisis.”
Empire Police Chief John Stein elaborated similarly that the type of training is “driven differently by the needs of the community, and the wants of the officers, beside the state minimums.”
He makes the point of trying to get extra training that officers may want too, but this still falls into the same issues of time, and also that it may only be accessible outside of Denver.
“What it comes down to is trying to find the training locally, or at a reasonable cost,” Stein said.
He gave an example of one officer wanting hostage negotiation training, but it being sparsely available in the Denver metro area — the closest is Las Vegas, Nevada.
“I can’t have all of us go out on training literally all at once, and then no one is available for the town. I can’t tell everyone, ‘911, you’re on hold, we’ll return the call in a week,’” he continued.
In comparison to other states, Colorado sits 39th out of all 50 states and Washington D.C. in terms of required hours for basic police academy, with no required field work. Connecticut has the highest required hours at 1,345 as of January this year, with 400 hours of required field work. Georgia has the lowest at 408 hours. The national average is 652 hours. This excludes Hawaii, which has no police academy requirements.
Part of the issues brought up by activists isn’t just the amount of time in training, but also the focus of the training.
According to the Police Executive Research Forum, a think tank for police executives, the median recruit in a police academy will spend 58 hours of training on firearms, compared with eight hours of de-escalation training. This, along with Colorado only explicitly mandating that firearms, driving and arrest control training for working officers.
Clear Creek county law enforcement go beyond Colorado’s few requirements, but as Buseck said, there’s only so many hours in the day, and only so much staff. As Williams puts it, “I wish there was an easier, more complete answer, but it’s just how it is.”
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