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Why do US cops get less training than hairdressers?

Jeff Gritchen/Digital First Media/Orange County Register/Getty

How can we get American cops to stop killing people? Here’s a crazy thought, says Noah Smith on Substack: let’s train them properly. Police in the US receive a paltry 672 hours of training before hitting the streets, compared to 2,250 in England and Wales, 4,000 in Germany and 10,400 in Portugal. Hell, even beauticians – who don’t typically make “life-and-death decisions” – require around four times as much instruction. “Do we really think a police officer needs 2,000 fewer hours of training than someone who cuts hair and paints nails?” Perhaps that’s the reason American cops too often resort to “demonstrative displays of aggression”, which often escalate out of control: they “just don’t know how else to react”.

But training alone isn’t enough. What’s really needed is to “professionalise” the industry by insisting recruits have a certain level of education. At the moment, policing is largely a blue-collar profession: in California, only 42% of officers went to university. Of course, not all Americans wanting a decent job should have to “sit through some lectures on Plato and do a bit of algebra homework”. But we surely ought to apply a higher standard to the people who keep the peace and decide “when to deal out violent death to citizens on the street”. None of this would come cheap, of course – the extra training would be expensive and better-educated officers would need higher salaries. But this, of all things, seems like “something worth spending money on”.