One of the things I learned very early on in my police career was that the training I received in Marine Corps boot camp was not going to be the way I, as a police leader, was going to train new police officers.
First of all, most police recruits are not 17 to 18 years old. Over the years it seemed that the kind of police officer I was seeking was much older and had prior work experience – many of them as teachers, social workers, or who had worked in a corporate environment.
I new very early in my time as a police chief that the men and women I wanted to join me would need to have the best, adult-based training available. Additionally, the work environment needed to be collegial, not authoritarian, in order for that to happen.
When I put my vision out to my training staff many of them were unable to visualize a police training environment that did not look and feel like a military boot camp. “After all,” they argued, “this was the way we were trained.” Many of them simply could not envision a police academy that operated like a college because many of them never had the experience of a college education.
So orders had to be given: recruits will no longer be required to “brace” and salute the training staff and the training staff will not yell, curse or swear at new officers. The object of the academy is to impart our best known methods of policing. Is the academy stress-free? Of course not, because the nature of handling police matters can be very stressful. But stressful situations must be job-related: such as handling a family domestic, breaking up a physical fight, or making a high-risk felony stop.
Fully one-half of our nation’s police departments report that their training is “stress-based:” that is, using the military boot camp model. They are wrong and must be changed if we are to develop competent, well-manner, respectful, controlled police officers for this century.
A basic police academy should be no shorter than six months in length and then be paired with an effective field training officer program for at least the next six to twelve months. During this period of time, the recruit officer should be on a probationary status and only taken off that status when training staff recommend the officer is competent to period his or her duties unsupervised.
A very good example of what I am talking about is how Director Sue Rahr is leading the Washington State Police Training Commission which is responsible for all police training in the state (read an informative article HERE).
And, by the way, it’s one of the recommendations of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing (see Pillar 5: Training and Education).
The best way to look at the kind of atmosphere you wish to have your police officers experience is to take a good look at your department’s core values. Which style will be more effective in producing the type and kind of police officer you and your community wants in their neighborhoods?
Chief, I must respectfully but firmly disagree with this point.
I attended college with many fine people who flourished in the classroom. However, despite their success in that environment, I have doubts as to whether some of them could have been effective police officers.
We all recognize that cops will have to respond to critical incidents, some of which may involve violence. As a police leader, I feel I’d be unnecessarily jeopardizing everyone’s safety by putting new officers on the street without knowing how they function under stress. I’m not advocating abuse, but it’s important to expose them to a moderate level of stress in training before sending them on patrol.
Ashley, perhaps I have not made this clear: I am only against harassment,bullying and the kind of experience many of us had as military recruits in a police academy. THAT kind of “stress-inducement” has no place in a professional academy. Now as for job-related scenarios to crank up realism and stress in street encounters and situations I am greatly in favor of. Does this clarify things? Always nice to hear from you! Press on!
I too think it is critical that we prepare officers to function under critical incident stress and to mitigate the life-long effects of stress.
In my experience as a police officer and as a Special Forces soldier I do not believe that most police agencies do a good job of either. I can run off 90% of the people a police agency could hire without ever saying an unkind word or raising my voice. Most of the yelling and screaming I have seen in police recruit training seemed to be motivated by the instructor’s frustration and anger with the trainee rather than a planned and thought out attempt to stress the trainee. What the trainee learns is that it is OK to exercise authority to assuage your emotions.
Stress in training should simulate to the extent possible the environment in which the trainee will operate. There should be training evolutions in which trainees are being yelled at by role players, because that will happen in the real world.
I believe another unintended consequence of yelling at trainees stems from the environment in which that is most common – physical training (PT). I believe the unintended consequence is that the trainee learns to dislike PT and fails to maintain any level of fitness acquired during recruit training. Life-long fitness is essential to good performance as a police officer and will mitigate the well established emotional and health effects of police officer stress.
On a purely personal and emotional level; I do not really want to go into a gun fight with someone who has to be yelled at in order to motivate that person.
I agree, Mark. Thanks for this reflection!
I don’t why we can’t have police recruits spend three years at the academy before they are let out onto the street like they do in Sweden, Germany, and Norway. If we are the richest nation on earth, then surely we can spend the money on the recruit for three years.
A good idea. We seem to be locked into training less than a year for new police. Most likely inadequate given the demand of the day.
Mark, you make some excellent points.
Hey Chief, I would have to both agree and disagree with you and the model that Washington State’s CJTC is doing. Like one of the previous people who commented, I too come from a military background that includes Army Infantry and Special Forces. One of the things I learned is that not all stress is the same and sometimes there are very important reasons for some of the paramilitary aspects of an academy. I have gone through two LE academies and a corrections academy and I have seen the very different styles at each. What I really noticed from my first academy, which was a fairly good blend of paramilitary discipline and college learning, was the importance of attention to detail. Any supervisor in the Army can tell you about the importance of “corrective training” when soldiers (or recruits) fail to pay attention to detail and therefore make stupid mistakes that could lead to people dying. My second academy was run along more of an adult based learning model and the recruits who were not prior service literally left the academy as a danger to themselves and others.
I would argue that law enforcement is exactly the same as the military when considering that need for attention to detail in everything we do. Do we have recruits brace in the hallways or stand up in the classroom and snap to parade rest, because we want them to feel they are unimportant and are inferior to the cadre? No, I believe it should be done to teach them an important survival trait. Pay attention to your surroundings. Is that just an instructor coming through that door or a gunman looking to take out some cops? They don’t know if they don’t care to look and corrective training in the form of physical training is the best way to reinforce the behaviors that we are trying to be imparted. Tac Officers at my first academy actually came into the classroom at one point (right after lunch during the most boring class imaginable) and opened fire with a handgun filled with blanks. That got our attention real quick!
I also frequently instruct Defensive Tactics at my academy and am honestly appalled at the lack of fitness they show. The recruits there are not forced to perform group PT. I honestly feel physical training can be an unbelievably valuable tool to build teamwork and better prepare officers for the rigors of the job. Most of us start to slack off over the years of shift work. Imagine what these officers are going to look like once they are comfortable on the job if they start already abysmally out of shape? I feel fitness and a healthy foundation in defensive tactics can be the difference between being able to briefly wrestle somebody into cuffs or being so out of shape they have to immediately go to a higher level of force than may be necessary. But that is a different rant altogether lol. Thanks for the interesting post!
Again, I have enjoyed your comments. I am a big believer in both physical and mental fitness for police (something we both know is often lacking). I don’t mind tense and stressful training as long as we can demonstrate it is job-related and not just being abusive to police candidates. I don’ know if I would approve of the post-lunch class attack… what’s the lesson? You’re never safe even at the police academy? Anyway we all have a lot of work to do. My training in the Marines was greatly helpful — tactics, weapons, discipline, etc. But I did not permit the USMC boot camp model to be how we were going to train older, more mature, and educated police candidates.
Mr. the 42 cop. If you are going to insist on cops paying attention to detail, then we should make them pay attention to the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution and areas of policing like reasonable suspicion, lawful search warrants, gathering evidence without violating someone’s rights, etc. At least in Japan, the cops practice martial arts on a daily basis where it seems that many American cops don’t seem interested or care about taking martial arts.