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Abstract

Using original empirical research, this Article identifies deficient legal training in police academies as a latent cause of improper arrests or detentions. This often results in unnecessary conflict between police officers and citizens, leading to endemic distrust of officers in the communities they serve. With enhanced legal training, police officers can avoid these negative interactions. Although police officers need not be lawyers, they must have more than a cursory understanding of the law. Their primary responsibility is to enforce state and local laws, which often requires officers to interpret statutory language in light of constitutional limitations. Current police academy curricula leave police officers ill-equipped for this task. Through a multistate survey, this Article reveals that police officers receive little legal training. The number of hours devoted to legal topics in state police academies is roughly 12% of total academy hours. While academies allocate many of those hours to the state’s statutory and traffic laws, they devote little time to legal theory, application, and limitations of the law—which are critical to officers as they confront unanticipated situations. As this Article discusses, citizens and the courts have (or should have) higher expectations for police officers. To this end, this Article suggests changes to police academy legal training that will improve community trust by enabling police officers to make better, smarter decisions when interacting with citizens.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

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