Los Angeles Police Department taught the Canadian way when it comes to using force

The Los Angeles Police Department's six-month training course for new recruits — including when to use force — is guided in part by Canadian values imported from the RCMP and taught by a director of training from Red Deer, Alta.

Psychologist from Red Deer teaches L.A. recruits when to use force

Why did you shoot at him?: LAPD schooter scenario

7 years ago
The CBC's Kim Brunhuber participates in a police use-of-force training simulator for LAPD recruits. 1:11

Jogging across the academy campus in central Los Angeles, the city's freshest police recruits already fit one Canadian stereotype: they're unfailingly polite. They stop walking in the presence of an actual police officer and address even journalists as "sir."

Unbeknownst to them, the LAPD recruits are being guided in part during their six-month training by Canadian values and ideas.

RCMP guidance for LAPD

7 years ago
Inspired by RCMP training, tactical instructors with the LAPD are teaching rookies about the correct use of deadly force 2:39

During the next six months, they'll learn a variety of skills, like how to keep their police car on the road while chasing suspects, how to fire their weapons, and, most importantly, when to fire them. 

At a time when police shootings are in the spotlight in the United States like never before, Canada has a surprisingly large role to play in the U.S.'s third-largest police force.

'It comes from Canada'

Joe Johnson has been a tactical instructor for 21 years. Seven years ago, Johnson was asked to change his training course to put more emphasis on critical thinking and abstract ideas like community values. At first, he says, he resisted because he was worried it would make his recruits soft. But now he's fully on-board.

Luann Pannell, the Los Angeles Police Department's training director, is from Red Deer, Alta., and says she brings a Canadian perspective to the LAPD. (Kim Brunhuber)

"Trust me, the training is better," Johnson said. "It is constitutional policing at its highest level. So the fact that it comes from Canada? We'll take it!"

Luann Pannell joined the LAPD several years ago and has now become its director of training. She instructs everyone from new recruits to senior officers. She believes she is the first psychologist to head the training division of an American police force. And certainly, she says, she's the first Canadian.

An academy instructor demonstrates the Los Angeles Police Department's various weapons. Some of the training for LAPD recruits comes from the RCMP's incident management model. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

"I think I get to bring a new perspective," Pannell said. "I think in Canada there is a lot of emphasis on community and I think at heart we really do want to serve the community. Maybe when you live through a Canadian winter you know that the human spirit can persevere," she said with a laugh.

Some of the principles she's teaching were borrowed from her Canadian colleagues. She uses the RCMP's incident management model known as CAPRA: Community Policing Problem Solving Model. Even though fighting crime in Canada and the U.S. can be dramatically different, she says, she saw value in the RCMP's approach to community policing.

"There's very few agencies that are doing the same volume and level of training that we are, who are faced by the same number of things that we are," Pannell said. "They have to train for all different kinds of scenarios as well. So we appreciated the breadth of what they had to train to. We had the opportunity to go up to the RCMP and look at how they were integrating training. "​

RCMP model focuses on real-life situations

Another change Pannell based on the RCMP model: less classwork, more realistic and complex problem-solving.

There's a lot of learning to be done once you've kind of messed up a traffic stop. How do we learn from these mistakes?- Luann Pannell. LAPD director of training

"What we saw at the RCMP as well is just the effort on scenario-based training and problem-solving training where you put people in scenarios first. There's a lot of learning to be done once you've kind of messed up a traffic stop. How do we learn from these mistakes?"

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck says things used to be completely different when he was a cadet.

"When I went through the academy, everything was compartmentalized," he said. "Now, recruits are trained the same way they operate in the field: in teams.

"Training the whole person rather than training on a specific task, training so that the constitutional policing and use-of-force policy and all the things that are important to the public are contained in every exercise and everyone is graded accordingly."

'Why did you fire at him?'

Cadets are put through a $17,000 interactive video simulator, which runs through scenarios featuring a variety of suspects and assailants. In the scenario I tried, a suspect with a shotgun refused to drop his shotgun. Even though he hadn't pointed it at me, I shot him.

"You fired at him," Johnson said. "Why did you fire at him?"

"He seemed like a threat," I replied. "Did I fail?"

"I'm not going to tell you what to do," Johnson said. "My job is going to be to teach you department policy. That's what I do with the recruits. I teach them department policy. If they understand policy, they will be the one to make that decision when and if to use deadly force."

It's a lot to learn — and in not much time. Pannell and her team only have six months.


Kim Brunhuber

Los Angeles correspondent

Kim Brunhuber is a CBC News Senior Reporter based in Los Angeles. He has travelled the world from Sierra Leone to Afghanistan as a videojournalist, shooting and editing pieces for TV, radio and online. Originally from Montreal, he speaks French and Spanish, and is also a published novelist.


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