Let’s Hear It Once More About How To Train Police

images (3)Training matters.

In fact, it’s a critical factor in improving our nation’s police.

Maybe I can’t get police leaders in the country to read my book, but will they listen to someone like Karl W. Bickel, a senior policy analyst in the COPS office?

I sure hope they will. Here are some of his more important findings about making community policing work. Bickel questions how we are training (and attracting) new officers in his article “Recruit Training: Are Preparing Officers For a Community Oriented Department?”.

“As many law enforcement agencies embrace the community policing philosophy and continue to strive to achieve the goal of full implementation, they may want to examine how their academies are preparing their new recruits. Are they developing collaborative problem solvers? Or, are they creating obstacles to their community policing efforts? Are they creating barriers to bringing their customers, the citizens they serve, improved quality of life by addressing crime and public order problems through partnerships with community stakeholders? Some recruit training programs may actually be creating impediments to success.”

He goes on to strengthen a point that I make in my book about the dominance of “para-military stress-based” police recruit training today and how it works against community oriented policing. So if leaders are really committed to instituting the benefits of a community oriented police department in their city, they had better take a deep look at how police recruits in their city are trained.

“Questions surrounding the efficacy of stress training for police recruits are not new. From 1967 through 1971, Assistant Sheriff Howard H. Earle conducted an experiment on stress vs. non-stress training in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Academy. Though dated, his findings could be relevant to the development of today’s police officers—officers who are expected to work collaboratively with citizens in their communities to identify and solve crime and public order problems.

 “Earle found that ‘non-stress trained subjects performed at a significantly higher level in the areas of field performance, job satisfaction, and performance acceptability by persons served.’  Higher levels of performance in all of these areas are attributes that can lead to improved relationship building and collaborative problem solving with community stakeholders.”

Another point I made in my book was that such a “para-military stress-based” orientation will, in fact, dissuade many of the men and women that can best do community oriented policing.

“Another unintended consequence stemming from a stress academy approach may be the loss of good police recruits who have a knack for community policing but who are uncomfortable with a militaristic boot camp environment. There is some evidence that a more collegial training environment increases the graduation rate of recruits, particularly female recruits…. For female recruits the challenge of a predominantly stress focused training academy are even greater. The completion rate for females in a predominantly non-stress training environment was 89 percent in the BJS Report, the same as their male counterpart. However, the completion rate for female recruits dropped to 68 percent for those in a predominantly stress-focused academy setting.”

Let me state this strongly. There is no reason today to conduct police training in a stress-based atmosphere (a “drill instructor approach to training that includes indiscriminate verbal abuse, debasement, humiliation, confrontation, harassment, hazing, shouting, and the use of physical exercise as punishment”).

This is what I argue about in my book — the obstacles to police improvement include anti-intellectualism (the failure to value research and promote higher education), violence (which is implicit in stress-based training environments), corruption (not doing the right thing when you know you should), and discourtesy (which is also evident in these environments — trainees are not respected and yet are expected to respect citizens upon their graduation).

[To read Karl Bickel’s full report CLICK HERE.]



  1. First of all, the assumption here and in Bickel’s report is the community policing is the way to go. This idea has been questioned since its initial offering by many individuals including Taylor, et al. and Oliver.

    Interesting that research from LA CO is noted and yet they have a stress-based academy. If they’re own research says it’s not good, why do they continue doing it?

    Community policing assumes the community wants to collaborate with the cops, a questionable assumption to be sure. It also assumes the role of the cop is to do more than just hook and book. Not entirely sure even Peel would agree with that.

    There are many problems with the training of rookies, not sure this is one of them though.


    1. That’s my assumption, too. Why COP is the way to go is because it (in my experience) works! Police culture (the way we have always done it) trumps research every time — that’s why stress-based training continues (also my argument about the first police obstacle to improvement — anti-intellectualism. It may be that the community does not now what to collaborate with their cops. But why is that? Is it because few departments are willing to truly collaborate and overcome the other three obstacles to police improvement — violence, corruption and discourtesy? Let me also add that Robert Peel’s Principles of Policing goes far beyond “hook and book.” Nevertheless, I thank you for your comments and willingness to dialogue. Be careful out there…


  2. If we need to train police right, we need to knock off that military style training in the police academies. In addition, we need to demilitarizes the military culture that ex -military people still have in their minds and need to be drill into their heads that they are now civilians and that they can not expect the general public jump to and obey their commands without question. Furthermore, the police cadets should be train that under reasonable circumstance, the public have a right to challenge police authority especially when it is that police that are being out of line in the first place and provoking fights with the civilian population


  3. Community policing may be all well and good, but at the end if the day, a good cop needs to be tough. If he or she is not tough enough and disciplined enough to make it through a rigid police academy, then they do not need to be on the street. Put it this way….when you hear someone coming through your window at two o’clock in the morning, which kind of cop do you want to respond? The one who proved themselves to be tough, or the one who went through a college-style academy, where no one was yelled at, forced to do PT, and never was exposed to any form of stressful training?

    I have been teaching at a major regional police academy for 15+ years now, in addition to still working the streets. I know what it takes to make good police officers, and I know that in our style of training, we help many realize that this field is not for them, and that they need to pursue another endeavor. This, I feel, is better than turning, out a police officer that is not capable of handing the harsh realities of the streets, and life in general.


    1. Thanks for your comment. I guess it’s what we define as “tough.” We can be tough in our police training as long as it is job-related and does not destroy the self-confidence and dignity of the officer. Let me share a story about how I came to see training more as turning out successful police officers than tough ones. When it comes to tough, there is always someone tougher than you out there — that’s why thinking cops are important.

      This is the story: One day I was observing our recruit training and it concerned making felony stops. One of the instructors worked very, very hard at trying to trick the new recruits — hidden guns, knives, explosives. More frequently than not, the recruit officers would fail the test.

      It was then that one of my newer instructors said to me, “Chief, I used to train police dogs. We had a rule, we never let the dog loose. Maybe we should think about that when we train our new officers.”


    2. Police need to be disciplined enough at the academy to respect people’s rights, the US Constitution, and the Bill of Rights and people like you need to instilled that into them.. Our Founding Fathers did not create those documents due to their experience with so called “impartial” King Justice.


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