POLICE Magazine

JAN 2019

Magazine for police and law enforcement

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6 POLICE JANUARY 2019 RECENTLY, TEXAS PASSED LEGISLATION—SENATE BILL 30, also known as the "Community Safety Education Act"—that requires all high school students in the Lone Star State to watch a 16-minute educational video that seeks to teach them how to safely interact with police of- ficers during traffic stops. "e primary purpose of this instruction is to ensure the safety of both officers and citizens before, during, and immediately following traffic stops," says the instruc- tor's guide that accompanies the video, dubbed "Flashing Lights." e instructor's guide advises school teachers to "partner with a school resource officer or a representative of local law en- forcement to provide this instruction." e instructor's guide also suggests that edu- cators assess students' attitudes toward traffic stops. "Assess whether attitudes have shifted following instruction," the guide says. "Make sure to address any misperceptions." "Misperceptions" is an interesting word, especially given the widespread misperception of law enforcement among a significant segment of the American population. "Only a quarter of Americans can name all three branches of government," according to a report by the An- nenberg Public Policy Center. Nearly a third of Americans cannot name any of the three branches of government. According to the American Federation of Teachers, only nine states—and the District of Columbia—require one year of U.S. government or civics education, while 30 states require only a half-year. Eleven states have no required civics education whatsoever. at's just sad. I've long held the belief that a year-long civics class should be a requirement nationwide. Further, these class- es should include more than just the basic structure of government. Curriculum should incorporate information such as that provided by the video now mandated in Texas. However, how to safely interact with a police officer dur- ing a traffic stop is just the beginning. Curriculum should include Constitutional law and Supreme Court cases relat- ed to the Fourth and Eighth amendments, as well as police policies, procedures, and practices. As it stands now, most public education institutions re- quiring some manner of civics class provide instruction principally on American history and systems of govern- ment. Given the stats above, it's questionable that this in- struction, as it's taught now, is having much of an effect. Even when United States Supreme Court Cases are dis- cussed, the focus tends to be too narrow. What about cases such as Tennessee v. Garner, Terry v. Ohio, or Miranda v. Arizona, which govern law enforcement policies and pro- cedures? What about Graham v. Connor, which defines how an officer's actions are to be judged after an incident? It seems to me that woefully few Americans are even aware that such cases exist—much less understand their ramifications. For example, if citizens had an under- standing of Graham—which states, "e 'reasonableness' of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, and its calculus must embody an allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second decisions about the amount of force necessary in a particular situation"—we'd have a lot fewer members of the public and the press sec- ond-guessing an officer's actions with 20/20 hindsight. Or maybe not. But trying to educate the masses—while they're young—seems to me to be a worthwhile enterprise. Americans should know all 27 amendments, but the ones that directly relate to interactions with police should be the mandatory minimum. In my version of civics class, students would not only learn about the Constitution and the law-enforcement-rel- evant Supreme Court cases, but also the content delivered in a citizens' police academy. We can have law enforce- ment officers be the instructors—even if for just a portion of the class. Such a class will not have the intended effect on every kid. at's of no matter. Plenty of kids flunk algebra or chemistry and manage to graduate and go on to lead a productive life. e fact that this might only have a positive effect on a third of the kids being taught about law enforcement seems to be about par for the course—that's roughly the same percentage of kids who know that there's an execu- tive, legislative, and judicial branch of government. But a third is better than nothing. It's worth a try. Doug Wyllie is contributing web editor for POLICE. In my version of civics class, students would learn about the U.S. Constitution and LE-relevant Supreme Court cases, as well as the content delivered in a citizens' police academy. DOUG WYLLIE Nearly a third of Americans cannot name any of the three branches of government. GUEST EDITORIAL TEACHING POLICING AND CONSTITUTIONAL LAW

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