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?