Former police chief emphasizes the urgent need for better officer training

GASTON COUNTY, N.C. — The death of Tyre Nichols after an altercation with police is reigniting calls for police reform.

Channel 9’s Ken Lemon spoke to the former chief of the Gaston County Police Department, who agrees there’s a urgent need for better training.

James Buie Jr. retired from law enforcement in 2015. He now is chief of security at Gaston Day School, but he carefully follows big events in policing across the nation.

“I believe that over time, policing has slowly lost its legitimacy,” Buie said. “People have lost trust and faith in what law enforcement has done.”

Buie said police do -- and have done -- great work. But sometimes, that work pales in comparison to the bad things done by those who wear the badge. He said police have been slow to change, which sets an atmosphere of mistrust.

“We can rebuild what we have,” Buie said. “For better or for worse we are here and it’s time we deal with it.”

Buie said the best way to deal with it is by establishing codes and standards that are consistent between every department across the country. He said training for officers has to be longer before they can start policing.

He said often, trainees come in with biases or preconceived notions that have built up for decades, but they’re given as little as three months of training to overcome them before hitting the streets.

Buie pointed out that’s less instruction time than a college freshman gets in the first semester.

“We are dealing with lives here,” he said. “So wouldn’t it make sense to give the time to that person, that officer, that human to train to go out there to deal with a complex society?”

That’s one of the ideas he addresses in his book “From the Ground Up: How To Refine American Policing Now.” He said there is one important ingredient for mending the divide between police and the public.

“They are always dealing with someone on their worst day. So the biggest word we can use more of in law enforcement is empathy,” Buie said.

But the public also has to have empathy for police, he added. He said the public can’t forget that officers face difficult decisions every day, and the right answers are not always readily available.

“Badge or no badge, it has to work on both sides,” he said. “We got work to do together and we can’t do it on opposite sides of the fence.”

His proposals may sound familiar. Some of the ideas he covered are included in the 21st Century Police Reform Act, which was developed after the death of George Floyd. There is still a fight on to get those changes passed by Congress.

>> Former Chief James Buie Jr. is one of the officers highlighted in Lemon’s hour-long special, “A Conversation with Black Officers.” It airs Wednesday at 7 p.m. on Channel 9, and also on the WSOC Now app however you stream.

(WATCH BELOW: Local leaders hold ‘Day of Unity’ after release of Tyre Nichols video)

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