The preparation of police recruits for their profession includes practical training as well as classroom education. For example, it would be almost impossible to train officers to use firearms through educational approaches only. This particular skill will always remain in the domain of police training. However, as a concept, the use of force and implications of the use of firearms can never be learned through the training approach alone. It should and must be approached from a more academic and educational angle.


Although the profession of policing can be traced back thousands of years, the concept of training is a relatively new phenomenon; the education of officers is even more revolutionary in nature. Although larger police departments in the United States trace their training academies to the nineteenth century, training became mandatory for all police departments only in the late 1960s. A training council in California led the way, establishing the Police Officers Standards and Training guidelines in 1959. Although this was a state rather than a federal initiative, within approximately four years, many states throughout the country had developed their own standards for training (Christian and Edwards 1985).

In 1967, the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice recommended that a Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) commission be established in every state. These POST commissions or boards were empowered to set mandatory minimum requirements and appropriately funded so that they might provide financial aid to governmental units for the implementation of established standards. The two important charges of the POST commissions were as follows:

1. Establish mandatory minimum training standards (at both the recruit and in-service levels), with the authority to determine and approve curricula, identify required preparation for instructors, and approve facilities acceptable for police training.

2. Certify police officers who have acquired various levels of education, training, and experience necessary to adequately perform the duties of the police service (Bennett and Hess 1996).

In the 1960s and 1970s a number of blue-ribbon committees furthered the goals of police training and education. One of the outcomes of these activities was creation of the Law Enforcement Education Program (LEEP), which was funded by Congress to provide financial assistance for police officers who enrolled in various academic courses offered at more than a thousand academic institutions around the country. Although it was considered to be a major push in the direction of furthering the goal of professionalism in the field of policing, it had a relatively short life span and was removed from the federal budget, though without real justification.


Education involves the learning of general concepts, terms, policies, practices, and theories. The subject matter taught is often broad in scope. Typical relationships and practices within a given field are discussed, as well as hypotheses as to why these particular relationships and practices exist. Among the types of skills stressed in education are correctly analyzing different situations; communicating information and defending one’s opinion effectively, both orally and in writing; drawing insights from related situations in different settings; gathering information using various methods of research; creating alternative approaches and solutions to diverse problems; and learning new facts and ideas from others through various media (for example, lectures, topics, articles, conversations, or video presentations).

The goals of education include teaching people to recognize, categorize, evaluate, and understand different types of phenomena; to interact and communicate effectively with others; to think for themselves; and to predict the probable outcomes of competing solutions (Haberfeld 2002).


The goal of training is to teach a specific method of performing a task or responding to a given situation. The subject matter taught is usually narrow in scope. Training usually involves two stages:

1. Prescribed procedures are first presented and explained.

2. Prescribed procedures are then practiced until they become second nature or reflexive.

Training is focused on how to most effectively accomplish a task whenever a particular situation arises. Training is experiential and goal oriented.

Among the skills associated with most training programs are the ability to determine whether or not the circumstances warrant following a prescribed course of action, the physical and verbal skills associated with those actions, and the cognitive abilities needed to recall what steps should be followed and in what order for each of the situations covered in the training program (Timm and Christian 1991).

The Role of Training and Education in Law Enforcement

Both training and education appear to be essential regardless of the law enforcement position one holds within an organization (Timm and Christian 1991). Both play important roles in the field of law enforcement. Training provides unambiguous instructions on how to perform many of the tasks that an officer is expected to complete. As a result, trained officers often respond both consistently, using proven techniques, and automatically, even under emergency conditions. Education, by contrast, helps prepare officers to solve problems independently, as well as to communicate and interact effectively with others.

Different law enforcement positions may require different levels of education and training; however, a combination of both is needed in every position. Law enforcement officers, for example, often interact with people from a wide range of backgrounds, exercise considerable discretion in many critical situations (such as deciding whether or not to arrest someone, to shoot or not to shoot, whether or not to evacuate an area in an emergency situation, and so on), and must prepare written incident reports. These tasks can be effectively performed only through acquisition of some general evaluative and decision-making skills traditionally taught through various educational programs. Officers also need hands-on training in a wide range of specific physical tasks directly related to their positions (such as arresting people, shooting firearms, operating equipment, and handling emergency situations).

Middle- and top-level administration personnel also need practical training in certain areas, even though in performing most of their tasks they rely more heavily on knowledge and mental skills generally acquired and/or developed through formal education. For example, middle and senior police executives often need training in how to operate computers, use new software (such as crime mapping software) and other technologies that they will need personally, what reporting procedures to follow, and a number of other essentials that will enable them to complete the tasks for which they are responsible. Law enforcement executives may also participate in training programs to familiarize themselves with new evaluation tools and research findings.

Merging Training and Education

The term police academy usually refers to three main types of police academies in the United States: agency, regional, and college sponsored. Agency schools are generally found in large municipal areas or are established for the state police or highway patrol. Regional academies handle the training functions for both large and small departments located in a designated geographical area. The college-sponsored training academies operate on the premises of postsecondary institutions, particularly community colleges. These college-sponsored academies allow a person to take police training courses for college credit (Thibault et al. 1998).

There is no international consensus on the best possible model for police training and education, and even within jurisdictions several models may be employed. As one example of an approach from a diverse democracy, the Canadian police used four models of basic training for police recruits in the early 2000s:

• Model 1: Education and training in a police academy, separated from mainstream adult education.

• Model 2: Education and training on a university campus (with adult mainstream education).

• Model 3: A holistic approach, exposing recruits to the entire criminal justice system rather than just to the field of policing. It alternates classroom learning with field experience in a bloc program.

• Model 4: Police education integrated with adult education (the Quebec model). New recruits must complete a three-year college program to obtain a diploma of collegial studies, which includes general academic courses and instruction in criminology, policing, and law (Griffits et al. 1999).

The United States has more than nineteen thousand autonomous police agencies and thus a myriad of training and educational approaches, ranging from as little as eight weeks of training to as much as thirty-two weeks. On average, departments require 640 training hours of their new officer recruits (425 classroom training hours and 215 field training hours). While minimum hours are determined by the respective state’s POST, academies may add extra sessions to reflect particular agencies’ areas of emphasis or need.

In the United States, there is a lack of consensus on what constitutes the most important skills and requirements for police officers to acquire and hone. Lawyers, accountants, social workers, and medical doctors—all are required to be educated and trained in a consistent manner in order to practice in their profession. However, in the United States policing is subject to an enormous variety of educational and training requirements. Critics believe that in order for policing to be looked on as a true profession, its apprentices need to be educated and trained in a consistent manner. They disagree, however, on whether it should be done through training, education, or some combination of both. The academic community tends to push for more education for officers, while practitioners tend to emphasize the value of training. One approach toward bridging this schism would be focused on identifying the basic and mandatory standards that reflect police qualifications, but customizing them to reflect local need. If basic professional standards can be identified, then developing the methods to refine those skills will be a less controversial process.

The overall impact of education and training on quality of policing cannot be overstated. Modern police training has come a long way in just three decades. In 1975, the grim state of the police profession was reflected by the following quote: “Ignorance of police duties is no handicap to a successful career as a policeman” (Reith 1975). This statement no longer holds true. Progress has come primarily from the recognition that police officers must and will be trained and educated as professionals. The increasing sophistication of crime and criminals has made essential the development of academically oriented training, to enable officers to cope with the complexity of various criminal activities they may confront. Furthermore, as society has become more sophisticated, it increasingly resents the notion that force alone can solve problems. Policing is, first and foremost, about the use of force. Improved training and education means that officers now wield this ultimate tool in a more balanced and nonthreatening manner.

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