Anyone wanting to become a police officer in NSW needs to complete an undergraduate degree in policing and undertake specialised training at the police academy, which is designed to equip new recruits with the skills they need to deal with the demands of the job.
Police training concentrates on a number of different areas including police procedures, investigation techniques, defensive skills and firearms training.
In spite of the training however, police officers do still make mistakes, especially when it comes to the instigation of criminal charges and application of procedures for criminal matters.
A number of recent incidents have prompted discussions on whether or not police should be provided with more legal training, especially in certain areas where a lack of understanding of the law by officers could have serious implications for the community.
Some of the areas where it has been suggested that everyone would benefit from police having more legal training include:
The recent death of TV presenter Charlotte Dawson, who took her own life after being on the receiving end of ongoing cyber harassment and bullying, has highlighted the need for reform when it comes to dealing with cyber bullies.
According to anti-bullying campaigners like John Caldwell, although there are laws that could potentially prevent cyber bullying, they are rarely enforced because police don’t have a sufficient understanding of them and how they work.
Police officers having better knowledge when it comes to harassment and stalking laws may mean that cyber bullies can be successfully convicted and long-term damage can be prevented.
As a result of Charlotte Dawson’s death, there have been calls for federal and state governments to take a strong stand against cyber bullying by enacting the existing laws that are in place.
There is a very strong argument that police should undergo more legal training and be more accountable when it comes to arrests.
A number of recent cases against the police for wrongful arrest or for excessive force and violence during arrest has led to some controversial new laws being brought into force in NSW.
The new laws have given police increased powers of arrest but many legal advocacy groups have spoken out against the legislation, saying that rather than giving police increased powers, officers should be given more legal training about arrest rights and the procedures they should follow when making an arrest, and should be disciplined when they breach those protocols.
A lack of police understanding of arrest rights and lack of compliance with legal procedures has likely been responsible for the spate of wrongful arrests and people being injured during arrest.
When it comes to arrest rights, legal training is essential for police so that they can avoid infringing the rights of people in the community.
While police may be quick to arrest someone, a better understanding of the law and the other options that are available, especially concerning marginalised groups, could potentially lead to them issuing a penalty notices or suggesting diversionary programs instead of forcefully arresting people.
If police increased the amount of diversionary measures that took place and issued penalty notices for minor matters instead of arresting people, it could free up police and legal resources for more serious cases while still protecting the community.
Giving police more legal training would have a number of benefits for both police and the community as a whole.
Having a solid understanding of the law can help police work to the full extent of the law, and reduce wrongful arrests, and people being unfairly prosecuted on charges that aren’t appropriate.