Police training has come a long way since the days when officer candidates simply paid the going rate to local politicians, received the tools of their job (a badge, a club, and a list of local ordinances), and hit the streets. Today, police officers typically receive about 720 hours of formal academy training on a wide variety of subjects, including firearms skills, criminal law and procedure, investigations, human relations, ethics and integrity, and several other topics that form the foundations of policing. Getting to this point took more than one hundred years of effort by police reformers, national commissions, legislators, and many others.

Largely spearheaded by August Vollmer, the “father” of police professionalism, reform movements in the early twentieth century sought to increase police personnel standards and training, in addition to numerous other reforms. Vollmer brought attention to the problem of inadequate training and advanced the goals of the reform agenda in a volume of the Wickersham Commission reports (National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement 1931). In particular, a survey of 383 cities reported in that volume found that only 20% conducted formal training for new officers.

The next major commission to study the police, the 1967 President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice, noted significant changes since the Wickersham Commission reports. The 1967 commission report on the police cited studies showing that the majority of surveyed agencies were conducting some type of recruit training, but that the content of the training was still lacking: “Current training programs, for the most part, prepare an officer to perform work mechanically, but do not prepare him to understand his community, the police role, or the imperfections of the criminal justice system.” The commission also noted wide variation in the length of training programs; whereas large city departments typically had programs running eight weeks, smaller departments averaged less than three weeks. Large proportions of officers in small cities still received no training at all.

The National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals (1973) subsequently recommended that each state establish mandatory minimum standards for basic training (including at least four hundred hours of academy training and four months of field training), as well as a state commission to develop and administer the standards. Seventeen states already had a state commission at the time, and by 1981, all states had a Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) organization.

Until just recently, however, relatively little was known about the operations and outputs of individual training academies across the country. Basic but essential information, such as the number of academies, number of annual graduates, curriculum content, and academy resources, were unavailable on a national scale. The remainder of this entry is a review of key findings from a recent national study of law enforcement training in the United States (Hickman 2005). This study, a comprehensive census of state and local law enforcement training academies, collected information about academy personnel, expenditures, facilities and equipment, trainees, and training curricula.

General Characteristics

At year-end 2002, a total of 626 state and local law enforcement academies were operating in the United States. These academies offered basic law enforcement training to individuals recruited or seeking to become law enforcement officers. This overall figure does not include academies that provide only in-service training, corrections/detention training, or other special types of training. Included are 274 county, regional, or state academies, 249 college, university, or technical school academies, and 103 city or municipal academies.

In addition to basic recruit training, many academies provided additional types of training such as in-service training for active duty, certified officers (88% of academies), specialized training such as K-9 and SWAT (84%), and managerial training for police supervisors (70%). Some academies also provide training for other public safety and emergency personnel. For example, 23% of academies provided training for probation/parole officers, 14% provided training for firefighters, and 13% for emergency medical technicians.

Academy Personnel

Overall, academies in 2002 employed about 12,200 full-time and 25,700 part-time trainers or instructors. Most academies, about three-quarters, employed fewer than fifty full-time equivalent (FTE) training personnel. Just 8% of academies had one hundred or more FTE trainers, but these academies accounted for nearly half (47%) of all fulltime trainers.

Academies typically had an education and/or experience requirement for their full-time trainers. About two-thirds of academies had a minimum education requirement for full-time trainers, most commonly a high school degree or GED (33%), followed by a two-year (12%) or four-year (11%) college degree. Likewise, about two-thirds required their full-time trainers to have a minimum number of years of law enforcement experience, ranging from one to ten years, with three and five years being the most common minimum requirements.


Training academies in 2002 typically held two basic recruit academy classes (i.e., a cohort of recruits) during the year. Larger academies (those with one hundred or more FTE trainers) typically held four academy classes during the year. Average class sizes ranged from about twenty to thirty recruits.

Among basic law enforcement academy classes that completed training during 2002, an estimated 53,302 trainees successfully completed their training program. Just over half (55%) of those individuals completed their training in county, regional, or state academies. Twenty-nine percent graduated from college, university, or technical school academies, and 15% from city or municipal academies.

Seventeen percent of recruits who completed training in 2002 were female, and 27% were members of a racial or ethnic minority, including 12% Hispanic or Latino, 12% black or African American, and 3% from other racial categories (including American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, and any other race).


The 53,302 individuals who completed their training during 2002 represent 87% of those who started training (i.e., an overall attrition rate of 13%). Recruit attrition varied only slightly by size of academy (ranging from 12% to 14%) and type of academy (12% among county, regional, or state academies; 13% among college, university, or technical school academies; and 16% among city or municipal academies).

Overall, males had a lower attrition rate than females (12% versus 19%). By racial/ ethnic categories, whites (12%) had a lower attrition rate than Hispanics or Latinos (17%), blacks or African Americans (19%), and other racial categories (22%). White males comprised 63% of the recruits who completed training, and had the lowest attrition rate (11%). Females in the ”other” race category comprised less than half a percent of those completing training, and had the highest attrition rate (26%).


A typical academy in 2002 provided about 720 hours of basic academy training, excluding any field training component. The greatest amount of instruction time was in firearms skills (median 60 hours), followed by health and fitness (50 hours), investigations (45 hours), self-defense (44 hours), criminal law (40 hours), patrol procedures and techniques (40 hours), emergency vehicle operations (36 hours), and basic first-aid/CPR (24 hours). Other common training topics included domestic violence (median 12 hours), constitutional law (11 hours), ethics and integrity (8 hours), juvenile law and procedures (8 hours), and cultural diversity (8 hours). Ninety-five percent or more of all academies provided training in these areas.

Thirty-eight percent of academies provided field training as part of their basic recruit training program, typically about 180 hours.

Training Environment

The training environments of state and local academies are quite varied. The training environment in some academies is similar to a military boot camp (often referred to as a “stress” model), while others are more like an academic campus (often referred to as a “nonstress” model). Just over half (54%) of basic academies in the United States, providing training to 49% of recruits, indicated that their training environment was best described as following some type of stress model, with the remainder indicating some type of nonstress model. Perhaps not surprisingly, most college, university, or technical school academies (62%) had some type of nonstress model. In contrast, most city or municipal academies (68%) and county, regional, and state academies (62%) had some type of stress model.

Cost of Training

During fiscal year 2002, training academies expended an estimated total of $725.6 million. Expenditures averaged about $1.2 million per academy, ranging from about $6.3 million among the largest academies (those with one hundred or more FTE trainers), to about $261,000 among the smallest (those with fewer than ten FTE trainers).

Based on annual academy expenditures, per trainee costs during 2002 were estimated to be about $13,100 overall, ranging from $5,400 per trainee among smaller academies to $18,800 per trainee among the largest. Per trainee expenditures were much higher in city or municipal academies, at about $36,200 per trainee. In contrast, county, regional, or state academies spent about $11,200 per trainee, and college, university, or technical school academies, about $4,600 per trainee.

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