Officials Say More Training Needed To Prevent Embarrassing Police Episodes

Saturday, September 9th 2006, 5:16 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Administrators are renewing calls for more law enforcement training after a series of embarrassing episodes involving Oklahoma police officials and officers.

Last week was not a good one for image-wise for law enforcement in the state, acknowledges Jim Cox, executive director of the Oklahoma Chiefs of Police Association.

In Snyder, Police Chief Tod Ozmun resigned after an uproar over his 300-pound, tattooed wife posting nude photos on a Web site. The mayor and two city council members also quit as result of the spat over morality and 1st Amendment rights.

Meanwhile, District Attorney Brett Burns of Chickasha accused Grady County Sheriff Kieran McMullen and several officers of corruption after a raid on the Elks Lodge, where gambling machines were seized.

Burns called on the sheriff to resign and said he plans to present evidence to the state's multicounty grand jury.

Other troubling cases involving peace officers or former officers over the past two years include:

_ The alleged molestation of a teenager by a former Madill police officer, triggering an FBI investigation.

_ The suspension of an assistant police chief in Tonkawa after being charged with assault and battery and arrest without authority.

_ The suspension and fine given a former Wapanucka police chief accused of lying about being attacked by a Hispanic man. The ex-police official also pleaded guilty to felony embezzlement while in office.

_ An investigation in Grant County after a state audit said a sheriff's employee may have embezzled more than $11,400.

_ A two-year deferred sentence given a former Eufaula police chief and his wife after they entered a plea on felony child stealing and perjury charges.

_ The resignation of a Stillwater police officer after an investigation that led to her being charged with two counts of illegally obtaining prescription pain medicine.

Cox said police officers have high pressure jobs and develop personal problems like other members of society, but he thinks increased training will bring more professionalism to the occupation and prevent some problems.

Some small communities, he said, do not have the money needed to attract highly qualified police chiefs. He also said local officials make the call on the extent and quality of background checks on prospective police officials.

Cox says some progress is being made. ``We just passed this last session a statue that we have been trying to get passed for a long time which requires that police chiefs attend a 40-hour training class,'' he said.

Much more needs to be done because Oklahoma ranks near the bottom of states in the number of hours of training it takes to become a police officer, officials say.

It now takes 375 hours to qualify under courses offered through the state-funded Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training, known as CLEET. That's more than 200 hours less than the regional average.

Officials say Oklahoma City, Tulsa and other larger cities require their officers to have more extensive training than required by state law.

Cox, former police chief in Midwest City, says the state's standard for police training is ``woefully inadequate'' for officers who wield considerable power and face complex situations. ``To be a cosmetologist, you have to have 3,000 hours,'' he said.

``The president of the U.S. does not have the ability to totally suspend your freedom of action on the spot and enforce that with capital force,'' he said. ``Any police officer you see riding down the street in this country is authorized to do that. That's why it is so important to have well-qualified and well-trained police officers.''

Jeanie Nelson, director of CLEET, which is based in Ada, said her agency has pushed for years to increase the number of hours prospective officers receive.

Nelson said she would like to see more ``problem-solving'' courses where trainees act out how they would react in specific situations. That would produce ``more awareness of the consequences of their actions,'' she said.

``Ethics is another topic where administrators would like to see more emphasis,'' Nelson said.

Carolyn Stager, chief operating officer at the Oklahoma Municipal League, said she believes police training will be a higher profile issue when the Legislature reconvenes in February.

She said her group recently voted to support efforts to increase the number of courses required for someone to graduate from the CLEET academy.