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Cop-involved deaths lead to calls for change in South Carolina

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(MGN Image)(KWQC)
Published: Jun. 17, 2020 at 6:55 AM EDT
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Wednesday, June 17, 2020

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) -- The group in charge of training all law enforcement and corrections officers in South Carolina is discussing potential changes to the education of officers.

The South Carolina Law Enforcement Training Council governs the state’s training academy. It has 11 members, six of whom are appointed by the governor. Currently, the group includes sheriffs and chiefs from around the state, the attorney general, the director of the Department of Corrections, and the director of the Department of Natural Resources, among others.

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During a meeting Monday, members discussed a need for more training covering implicit bias, diversity and de-escalation.

Under current practices, academy director Jackie Swindler said officers are given about 42 and a half hours of training in those areas during their time at the academy. However, there is no mandatory continuation of that training.

The head of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) said his goal is to change that.

“The problem is we have officers that come to the academy today and graduate, and right now there is no mandated training in those areas after that,” Chief Mark Keel said. “We want to go ahead and mandate that annual training in some topics -- implicit bias, cultural sensitivity, de-escalation -- so they are not just getting it at the academy for that 12-week-basic, but they are getting it from now on every year.”

Currently, there are mandatory yearly training sessions for officers regarding legal disputes, domestic violence and mental health, Swindler said.

Yet, Keel mentioned that not everything can be taught in formal training. He said officers come to the academy from diverse backgrounds and some have less experience as adults than others.

“We can’t train maturity. Everybody is raised differently, everybody is brought up differently. So how do we train that?" Keel said. “We got to look and see what we can do in every area of the training to see what we can do better, but that’s just one of those characteristics that’s hard to figure out.”

At rallies in Columbia over the past two weeks, some protesters have called for more stringent psychological assessments for officers.

In response to those comments, Swindler said officers are given a psychological assessment when they enter the academy, but it’s not required after that initial test.

Once an officer graduates from the academy, it is up to their individual agencies to decide if the officer should be assessed after something critical happens in the field or they’re not behaving as they normally do.

However, Swindler said the assessments at the start of an officer’s training are effective.

“I can tell you a couple hundred applicants who went through psychological (testing) were not hired by agencies," he said. “So that affirms to me that we made the right decision in making that (test) available.”

The calls for change by activists and the proposed changes by the council come in the wake of the death of George Floyd. Floyd died in police custody after an officer kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes. That officer has been charged with murder.

“It makes me angry, every time I see it makes me angry,” Keel said. “This was not a split-second decision the officer made. This was a conscious decision he made. I don’t understand it.”

During Monday’s meeting, a member of the council acknowledged that what happened in Minneapolis in the death of George Floyd will most likely happen again somewhere around the nation -- but it is on them to make sure officers know they are accountable for their actions and to give them the training to do their jobs.

Copyright 2020 WIS. All rights reserved.

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