An in-depth look at State Police’s use of force training, why one supervisor says funding is necessary

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — As protests continue around the country, so do conversations about use of force and training. So what does that look like here in Pennsylvania?

The supervisor who handles use of force education for the Pennsylvania State Police says training is constantly evolving. Among the areas recently expanded are communication and de-escalation.

“For police officers, most of the time when they are making decisions, it’s done in a split second for primarily with the application of force, and that’s an entirely different decision-making process,” said Sgt. Timothy Fetzer, the supervisor of the use of force unit for the Bureau of Training and Education.

To try to make sure those decisions are made right, Pennsylvania State Police cadets spend more than 1,100 hours in the academy. Three hundred of those are geared toward use force.

Plus, each year troopers are on the job, they’re required to do in-service programs.

In stress response training, instructors serve as role players.

“We also have classes for our cadets on cultural diversity and inclusion, prevention of profiling behaviors, and then obviously our weapon systems, so we provide our cadets very detailed instructions on the use of firearms,” said Fetzer.

Troopers are tested with use of force simulators and are trained to assess threats, movements, and patterns of behavior.

Identifying signs and symptoms of mental illness is key.

Policies are developed and updated through information from the U.S. Department of Justice, the International Association of Chiefs, psychologists, community relations consultants, and other experts.

“I wholeheartedly feel that our training for years here at our State Police Academy, because of the program that we have, really does do a good job of preparing our troopers in today’s current society,” said Fetzer. “But is there always room for improvement? Certainly, there is.”

But Fetzer says his decades of experience shows police reform needs to start with training, which requires funding.

That’s something protestors around the country are urging political leaders to take away, in an effort to stop police brutality.

“I hate to see the narrative right now that there’s talk of defunding the police because I think if overall… if we really want better police officers, we’ve gotta throw some money toward the funding and the training of those police officers,” said Fetzer.

Watch the video below for more of abc27’s conversation with Sgt. Fetzer regarding training and policies.

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