In our previous article, we explored how researchers studying officer wellness are responding to a more urgent need to understand the psychological and physiological factors that impact an officer’s health and job performance. As research expands and the body of knowledge concerning officer wellness evolves, this newly gathered data is being put into practice. Departmental leaders are basing their decisions on this research when crafting policies and creating programs designed to support and enhance officer wellness.

The Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act of 2017 was passed to give policymakers and police leaders more information to make these decisions. A significant component of the act was the mandate that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) make recommendations to Congress for ways to boost officer wellness. This multifaceted mandate focused on providing recommendations in three areas to improve officer wellness: how to best support agencies, their officers, and mental health providers working with law enforcement agencies.

Officer Wellness in PracticeTo understand the broader picture of best practices in officer wellness, the DOJ produced case studies of several departments throughout the country. The resulting report, Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Programs: Eleven Case Studies, utilized field interviews and site visits to document programs and support services currently in use. It emphasized a “continuum of mental health and wellness strategies, programs, and methodologies” that begin with the recruit and last through retirement. The strategies that the researchers investigated suggested significant efficacy in the departments that implemented them and have been held up as positive examples meriting further research.

The report looked at both common elements of these departments’ approaches to wellness and unique aspects of their efforts. Below are some notable examples from the case studies.

Indianapolis, IN

Leaders at the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department created what is now known as the Office of Professional Development and Wellness (OPDW) in 2010. The program emphasizes intensive peer-mentoring — provided by more than 100 experienced officers trained in peer support — that begins before an officer is sworn and lasts up to two years into their service. OPDW programs are specifically designed to help officers adapt to both the physical and mental demands of the job as well as provide ongoing support, connecting officers with mental health and counseling services. Leaders in the department credit the program with helping to change the agency’s culture by making it acceptable to talk about one’s personal and professional life and giving the mentor officers a sense of ownership of the department and in shaping its culture.

Bend, OR

The Bend Police Department began focusing resources on officer health and wellness in the early 2000s. The first major initiative was altering the shift schedule with sufficient overlap in shifts to give officers one hour a week of on-duty physical fitness programs. This early wellness effort eventually expanded into more comprehensive physical wellness programs for officers that, over time, correlated with a 40% decrease in on-the-job injuries. The department has employed an on-site psychologist since 2015 who is “embedded” with officers and engages in ride-alongs to build officer rapport and trust in an effort to “change the culture” around mental health in the department.

Dallas, TX

After a 2016 mass-casualty event affecting 14 officers, the Dallas Police Department greatly expanded its mental health services. It created the DPD Employee Support Program (ESP), which uses officer self-referrals and leaders’ referrals based on early intervention tactics. Referrals are confidential, regardless of source, and do not appear on an officer’s record with the goal of reducing the stigma of seeking support. Three staff psychologists provide services to support the research-based wellness needs of police officers and departments. These include pre-employment screening, family and marriage counseling, debriefing after critical incidents, and fostering peer-support networks. In 2018 DPD partnered with the Brain Health Brain Performance Institute at the University of Texas in Dallas to create a data-driven 12-hour mindfulness course to reduce stress, promote cognitive resilience, and improve focus.

Milwaukee, WI

In 2014 the Milwaukee Police Department began steps towards a substantial shift in the way they approached early intervention. Conducting focus groups with officers and drawing on research from the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), they moved their early intervention program out of Internal Affairs to its Training Division and changed its focus to officer wellness. This was complemented by hiring a full-time psychologist to assist officers in general referrals and work-related trauma cases. Along with the shift in early intervention strategy and a staff psychologist, the department’s non-denominational chaplains are a key element of a three-pronged approach to officer wellness. The lead chaplain is a retired MPD officer, sits on the POST board, and has a stellar reputation among the officers. The chaplains are covered by laws similar to attorney-client privilege, therefore providing a highly trusted source of peer and trauma support that is, in many ways, unique to the MPD.

Tucson, AZ

The Tucson Police Department was one of the first departments in the country to have a unit devoted to officer wellness in mental health when it created the Behavioral Sciences Unit (BSU) in the early 1980s. It presently consists of a psychologist and two sergeants acting as peer support supervisors. Owing to the unit’s importance in the department, its funding has been protected even during major budget cutbacks. The BSU provides a very comprehensive line-up of services to officers that are proactive, focusing on resilience and coping strategies to mitigate stress. The BSU hosts “Family Day” as part of a recruit’s training, taking this focus a step forward by recognizing the demonstrated importance that family support plays. In these sessions, BSU staff members help families understand the potential effects of a career in law enforcement and, most importantly, the confidential support services available to them.

Officer Wellness and Early Intervention

All of these departments are united in emphasizing a proactive approach to monitoring and improving officer wellness. Early intervention, especially in the case of trauma and work-related stress, shows up in many examples as a critical strategy in this approach. Benchmark Analytics’ First Sign® stands alone in its capacity to comprehensively analyze officer performance data for off-track behavior, which can be an important indicator of mental or physical health challenges, family issues, or workplace stress.

These distinct examples show that by following the research, encouraging top-down buy-in, and a willingness to try new methods, departmental leaders have the potential to make a real impact on their officers’ wellness.

Our next article will focus on some of the more innovative ways departments are promoting officer wellness.

Research Insights into Officer WellnessOfficer wellness is a perennial top-tier focus for law enforcement leaders as well as researchers and scientists. It is well understood that when one enters the profession, they will likely be exposed to an exceptional level of mental stress and physical danger — unmatched by almost any private-sector job. Although this danger is most frequently thought of by observers from outside the world of law enforcement in terms of vehicle pursuits, armed encounters, and the kind of tense, dramatic situations that make for headlines — this isn’t always typically reflective of an officer’s day-to-day experience on the job. Policymakers, the public, and officers themselves are increasingly recognizing that the psychological challenges of the profession are just as real as the physical risks and, in many cases, potentially more challenging to find solutions to address.

21st Century Solutions

As a result of this awareness, a new approach to officer wellness is now being discussed to protect officers in the same way their gear, equipment, and even community support can. Recognition of its importance reaches the highest levels, being discussed as one of the six pillars of policy recommendations the President’s Task Force made on 21st Century Policing in its 2015 report.

“The wellness and safety of law enforcement officers is critical not only to themselves, their colleagues, and the agencies but also to public safety,” Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, 2015.

This section of the report offers several research-based recommendations for holistically addressing officer wellness to meet the challenges of a new era of policing. Action items address tangible needs, with calls for every officer to be provided with anti-ballistic vests and tactical first aid kits, smart car technology to reduce vehicle collisions, and reforms to pension plans to cover both duty and non-duty disability events. Notably, it also prioritizes calls for funding for accelerated research into all facets of officer wellness, specifically the study of officers’ mental health challenges.

The urgency to better understand the needs of officers and how policy recommendations can improve their sense of wellness has only increased with the added stress of recent high-profile incidents as well as a global pandemic that has created unforeseen demands on police departments. The effects of occupational stress and mental health are well documented, and new research aims to grow the understanding of how that impacts the bigger picture of officer well-being. In recent years there have been many studies and surveys that have created much-needed data to not only help law enforcement leaders anticipate officers’ needs, but also to create new and far-reaching policies that will make meaningful differences in the way they do their jobs.

Research into Officer Wellness

An officer’s work can often involve traumatic and intense situations during a shift. Although it is difficult to know a precise figure, the Department of Justice estimates in a recent publication that roughly 15% of officers nationwide experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms, which have the potential to impair decision-making and officer’s ability to do their job. The paper highlights scientific research looking at the effects of PTSD on brain function, notably studying police officers themselves and not a general population sample group.

Another manifestation of trauma-induced stress is burnout, which is defined by chronic exposure to these stresses. It can manifest as excessive cynicism, detachment from one’s work, emotional exhaustion, and feelings of low professional achievement, to name just a few of the most prominent examples. A newly conducted review from 2020 analyzed 108 research studies to better understand operational stress and burnout among officers. The need to increase understanding of officer burnout is evident, with 56% of officers reporting in Pew Research Center’s 2017 Behind the Badge survey that they have become “more callous” since taking the job. The same study found that the feeling of burnout is linked to generally negative feelings toward the job.

The stresses of policing have historically been challenging to address due to a workplace culture that does not always prioritize, or conversely can even tacitly penalize, an officer needing help. It is often said that no one understands a police officer’s work like other police officers, and when a network of peer-support is suppressed due to cultural norms, it can compound the stress officers are feeling. To help research a body of work to understand how officers and their departments can support stress reduction, the National Institute of Justice is funding a strategic research agenda, taking a multifaceted approach to fighting stress among law enforcement officers.

Building and Using a Body of Research

Common in the new studies, surveys, and literature reviews are calls for further academic research. Ramped-up funding for research, spurred in part by the President’s Task Force on 21st Policing, is creating new data, which allows researchers to contribute to the body of knowledge and ask new questions that will shed more light onto the conditions that impact officer wellness, but will also aid policing leaders in crafting solutions that address the issue.

Implementation of research findings is seen in projects like Northeastern University’s Institute on Urban Health Research and Practice’s Vicarious Trauma Toolkit (VTT). This multidisciplinary project, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Justice, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), and many other institutional partners, refocuses responses to officer wellness from individual actions and “self-help” to address the issue to a systemic approach leveraging agency resources to assist officers in need.

Policing will likely always carry specific risks not seen in most other professions. With the physical and mental hazards that officers face on the job, the need for more research into how organizations and leaders can best support their officers is clear. Through continuing research, data analysis, and recommendations based on this expanding body of knowledge, academics and police leaders are at the forefront of advancing officer wellness as a vital issue in policing.

Look for our next blog exploring how agencies are putting this research into practice. 

Police officer retention is perennially a hot topic in both the practical and scholarly discussion of policing. Departmental leaders have plenty of reasons to want to retain good officers. It saves on recruiting and academy training costs. Experienced officers have good relationships with the community they serve as well as their fellow officers. They tend to pass their experience along with other positive traits to their more junior colleagues. In the ideal case, they model the professional standards policing leaders and the communities they serve want.

leadership growthOur previous article took a broad view of the issue, looking at why officers leave their departments or the profession entirely. This article will look more closely at how a department’s leadership affects officers’ job satisfaction. As one might expect, this is a substantial predictor of an officer’s likelihood to stay on the job. We’ll also explore how departmental leaders view leadership in a more modern light and, using these new leadership ideas, train and advance the leaders of the 21st century.

Job Satisfaction Factors

Common sense suggests that workers who think highly of their workplace leaders will often have a generally positive outlook on their job and at least a modicum of job satisfaction. Recent research from 2020 suggests that, among police officers, the perception of the internal work environment of a department is significantly correlated with high job satisfaction. Factors like strong supervisor support were linked to job satisfaction to a similar degree as citizen treatment of police.  The same study suggests that a positive internal work environment with good leaders can help mitigate some of the external stressors of the job, like community relations, that lead to low morale and poor job satisfaction.

While many of the factors influencing job satisfaction among officers are outside of the direct control of police executives — such as the inherent dangers of the job, budgets, and community perceptions influenced by national news stories — upper management does have a substantial role to play in the selection, training, and continual improvement of direct supervisors.

What Officers Want in a Leader

Another often-cited study of research on police workplace concerns offers critical insights into how officers feel about the leaders of their departments. Officers were asked to rank ten responses to various questions concerning leadership development and performance and factors perceived to constrain the efficacy of leaders. Here are a few of the most illustrative examples:

  • Achieving key tasks, goals, and missions was important, with roughly a quarter of the participants ranking it as their #1 response and 72% ranking it in the top five responses.
  • Inadequate leadership development systems were cited by 47% of officers as being a top three constraint to the effective leadership in their department.
  • 69% of officers rank a leader’s interest in and ability to manage the “growth or development of [officers]” as one of their top five concerns.

It may come as unsurprising to most familiar with the profession that it is “dedication and effectiveness in fulfilling the mission” that registers as the topline-reported concern of officers in the field. What is especially interesting in this set of survey data, however, is that officers place a high degree of importance on the so-called “soft skills” of their leaders – the ability to support officers with feedback, recommend leadership and professional development opportunities, and generally showing care for the needs of officers. This speaks to a desire among officers for a more modern approach to leadership techniques and the necessity to take a more holistic and research-driven to leadership development.

21st Century Leadership Development

The Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, released in May of 2015, continues to help set the plan moving forward for police training in the 21st century. The report calls for agencies to “provide leadership training to all personnel throughout their careers,” among many other recommendations and action items. A key example cited in the report is the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) Leadership in Police Organizations training course. The coursework uses research-driven behavioral science and leadership theories in a framework designed to “inspire a lifelong commitment to the study and practice of effective leadership.” It also addresses a critical action item calling for a “national curricula and instructional methodology” movement.

These efforts stand in contrast to some of the more traditional approaches to police leadership training that emphasize seniority and a more military-style order and discipline when selecting future leaders. Instead, this more modern way of thinking reflects practices seen commonly in the private sector and helps satisfy officers’ needs for professional development and career advancement opportunities. It is hoped that training every officer in leadership skills will promote a culture that “values ongoing education and the integration of current research into the development of training, policies, and practices.”

“It’s complicated. It’s complex, but it’s fixable. It’s going to really take an effort to really get serious about leadership development in police agencies…” Benchmark IACP Leadership Series Conversation with Chuck Ramsey.

Reimagining leadership development and training by moving in a direction guided by data and research first and foremost addresses the needs of the communities that departments serve. Importantly, it also addresses what the study suggests the needs of officers are – to be supported, shown compassion, and offered real opportunities for growth and advancement in the profession. By responding to the needs of officers and by incorporating science and the latest research in their approach, police chiefs and department executives can foster an environment where officers feel valued, have a greater sense of job satisfaction, and are less likely to leave their job.

Departmental leaders use tools like First Sign® Early Intervention (EIS) to help spot off-track officers and identify additional training opportunities to get them back to a positive career path. Benchmark Management System® (BMS) similarly harnesses the power of a department’s data to track an officer’s progression, training status, and performance, ensuring they are both in compliance with the latest training requirements but also being offered the right performance-based opportunities for career development and enrichment.

 

Police retention has long been a significant point of discussion and reflection among departmental leaders, researchers, and policymakers. Like so many issues facing police leaders today, there is no simple solution to this complex problem. There are, however, both established strategies and innovative new ideas to help leaders confront the challenges of retention, enabling their departments to fulfill their mission and serve the needs of their communities more effectively.

As was discussed in our previous article, there is a genuine need for departments to expand their current staffing levels to deal with rapidly evolving challenges facing policing in this country. Looking at the most recent figures available from research produced by Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), resignations have increased as much as 18% year over from the previous year, while retirements have topped out at a 45% increase over the same period. This level of police attrition combined with recent recruitment shortfalls has established police retention as a topic of urgent interest to police leaders.

Why is Police Retention is Important

One of the more easily quantifiable problems of insufficient officer retention is the bottom-line cost to agencies. With the cost of training a recruit surpassing $100,000 in many departments, the desire to not have that investment “walk out of the door” with an officer transferring between departments or leaving the profession is easily understood. This problem is especially prevalent, though not exclusive to smaller departments, which officers sometimes see as steppingstones to more comprehensively resourced agencies.

Police Retention

Less quantifiable but of vital importance is the departmental culture that a reasonably stable staff of sworn officers helps create. Though it is difficult to assign a dollar value to the institutional knowledge and expertise lost when officers leave a department before retirement, the loss is felt both within the department and the community it serves. Experienced and successful officers build up a rapport with their colleagues and the community, allowing them to promote a healthy agency culture and understand conditions in the field and pass that experience on to more junior officers.

 Why Officers are Leaving

  • Chiefs and other departmental executives report salary as the top reason officers exit the profession or join another agency. The problem is especially acute for small departments that often have more limited budgets when compared to that of larger cities and state or federal governments.
  • The public perception of policing is changing, driven to some extent by recent high-profile incidents. This degree of social pressure combined with mismatched expectations new officers may have about the nature of the job is a significant driver of early-career attrition.
  • Much like in the workforce on the macro-level, police departments face generational changes led by Baby Boomer retirements. While Generation X officers make up a sizeable portion of departments today, millennials are filling many of the vacancies left by retiring boomers. This new generation tends to look beyond the availability of overtime and retirement benefits as primary motivators to stay on the job. They are seeking work that offers personal fulfillment as well as opportunities for advancement and higher pay through skills development, education, and cross-training.

Police Retention Strategies

Though the problems posed by diminishing police retention can be seen as daunting, leaders in the profession are leveraging research from various academic disciplines to address these challenges.  Compensation issues are being addressed creatively without increasing base pay by offering benefits like performance bonuses, take-home vehicles, and subsidized education and enrichment opportunities. Departments are using in-depth behavioral interviews, job previews, and sessions with veteran officers to give recruits a 360° view of the profession to prevent them from leaving early in their careers due to a potential misunderstanding about the nature of the job.

There are numerous studies that suggest the younger cohort of officers is looking to satisfy different needs than previous generations with their career in law enforcement. Concepts like a sense of belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization typically rank higher among millennials than older generations. Departments with rigid hierarchical structures and transactionally based leadership can find themselves at odds with these needs. To address this, agency leaders around the country are taking cues from the private sector and emphasizing work-life balance by offering benefits like flex time off, maternal and paternal leave, and enhanced recognition for exemplary performance.

The evolution of workplace culture in policing cannot solely be driven from the top down. Best practice recommendations from the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) speak to the value of developing the leadership abilities of mid-level supervisors by offering clear career ladders and career counseling to help officers identify opportunities for advanced training and education. This not only helps to promote a positive departmental culture by placing officers that demonstrate these values in positions of influence where they will lead by example, but it also addresses the need for belonging and self-actualization – demonstrating a path of career advancement leading to more responsibility, more opportunity, higher compensation and, ideally, higher job satisfaction.

Data-Driven Tools

Using tools like the Benchmark Management System®, departmental leaders can get quick overviews of an officer’s level of performance while also having the ability to drill down much further into an officer’s conduct, levels of training and educational attainment, and public feedback, to get a much more holistic view of an officer. With a comprehensive view of their officers’ potential, leaders can make data-informed decisions when it is time to allocate resources for additional training, education, and leadership development. This approach helps officers feel a sense of belonging and mission through career progression and promotes a healthy work culture that recognizes and demonstrably values performance.

The challenges of police retention are as diverse as the agencies they affect. Budgetary constraints and the public perception of police are complicated, long-term issues that require multi-faceted solutions to address. Promoting a healthy departmental culture that values performance, integrity, and the drive to grow professionally is something within departmental leaders’ capabilities to influence. By nurturing this kind of positive workplace culture, leaders are taking an important step in improving officer retention and the overall effectiveness of their departments.

Law enforcement agency officers and leaders know that recruiting new police officers is an urgent need. According to Pew Research’s comprehensive Behind the Badge study, 86% of officers said their agency did not have enough officers to adequately police their community. That figure grew to 95% for officers serving in departments with more than 500 sworn personnel. Agencies across the country are seeing officers leave the profession for a number of reasons at a faster rate than they are being replaced — leading to an “all-hands-on-deck” approach from researchers, industry groups, and most importantly law enforcement leaders, to identify tactics to reverse this trend. In this article, we’ll explore some of the challenges currently being experienced in law enforcement recruitment as well as what agencies and their leaders are doing to address this trend.

A recent survey  on workforce trends from the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) paints a picture that speaks to the weight of the current situation. The topline of this report shows that only 93% of departments have filled all their authorized positions in the 2020-2021 survey period. Perhaps more troubling to agency leaders is the rate at which officers are exiting the profession — with a 45% increase in retirement rate across departments of all sizes and an 18% increase in resignations. These numbers are especially dramatic in larger departments (500+ sworn officers) where hiring has fallen by 36% during this period. While there are a variety of factors influencing these trends that we’ll cover in a later article, the fact persists that more officers are currently leaving the profession than entering it. With this in mind, agency leaders and officers alike recognize the need to ramp up police officer recruitment to meet this challenge.

Only 93% of departments have the officers they need

+45% increase in retirements across agencies
-36% reduction in officers hired in 500+ sworn agencies

Statistics from PERF Workforce Trends Report 2020-2021

The need for more officers is clear and leaders of agencies throughout the country are taking bold steps to boost law enforcement recruitment numbers. These are just a few of the forward-thinking tactics that leaders in the profession are using to drive the change needed to maintain and strengthen their agencies.

Promoting a positive agency culture

Reform efforts are changing the policing landscape at a faster rate than many in the profession have seen during their careers. An open and transparent culture is something that community members and new recruits want from a department. Look for recruits that will not only contribute to this culture but enhance it with diverse experiences and cultural backgrounds.

Law Enforcement Recruitment

Moving with purpose

Labor shortages are affecting just about every corner of the country’s economy right now. Hiring for government positions can take longer than in the private sector. Many candidates are job-shopping and pursuing multiple opportunities. Moving them through the hiring process increases a recruiting agency’s chances of success. On the flip side, don’t move too quickly or avoid doing due diligence on background checks.

Relaxing but not removing hiring standards

It used to be that physical characteristics like visible tattoos, facial hair were non-starters when recruiting in some departments. Many agencies have, when dealing with otherwise very highly qualified candidates, loosened such standards to reflect changing societal norms.

Striving for diversity

Some of the most demonstrably effective recruiting campaigns have involved reaching out to communities that have not historically been well-represented in policing. Over the last year, the NYPD engaged in a recruiting drive in traditionally minority areas of the city using the slogan “Be the Change” and waived the typical test fee for recruits. This netted the department an 11.4% increase in black applicants compared to the previous five years.

Commissioner Shea said that attracting a diverse pool of candidates was “incredibly important” for the NYPD and “…[a] priority from day one” Wall Street Journal, May 18, 2021

Rethinking the old ways

Policing is a profession that values its tradition. For an older generation of officers, overtime was seen as a desirable way to boost take-home pay. There is plenty of evidence to show excessive overtime and inconsistent shifts lead to burnout. Furthermore, the new generation of recruits (and workers in general) place a greater emphasis on work-life balance.  Allowing for some flexibility in scheduling and mandatory overtime goes a long way to making the profession more appealing to millennials and younger generations just entering the workforce.

A different kind of academy

Many departments are redoubling their efforts to attract potential recruits from colleges or universities via internships. Moving beyond the notion of interns as a source of inexpensive labor, agencies that look at internships as a recruiting tool allow potential recruits to experience more facets of the profession than a simple ride-along could hope to achieve. Taking a page from the private sector and military, some agencies are offering stipends or scholarships to interested students in exchange for a commitment to pursue policing as a profession, usually with the agency in question.

Recruitment from within

It is common in the tech world for companies to offer bonuses or “finder’s fees” for successful referrals in high-demand positions. This is a tactic that agencies are using, whether it be cash bonuses or extra time off, to attract “pre-vetted” candidates. Along these same lines, putting highly qualified and motivated officers on a leadership track increases retention rates as well as demonstrates to potential recruits that the agency is committed to opportunities for career advancement.

Law Enforcement Recruitment in the 21st Century

Owing to generational shifts and several other factors, retirements and officer resignations have increased to a level that merits serious study and evaluation. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to recruitment, it is the leaders of agencies that are driving true innovation in police recruitment methodology – discarding practices shown to be ineffective and, instead, employing new tactics to increase their ranks with high-quality applicants. By using the available data and research as well as sharing information through industry groups and gatherings, law enforcement leaders are redefining officer recruitment and building the agencies of the 21st century.

A research-driven data-management suite like Benchmark Management System®, First Sign® Early Intervention, and Case Action Response Engine® enable leaders to make well-informed personnel decisions by collating multiple data streams to produce a holistic view of an officer’s performance as well as highlighting areas of opportunity in coaching and supplementary training for those officers who could benefit from it.

Aside from being helpful in day-to-day operations, comprehensive data analysis tools aid leaders in managing their force strategically by allowing them to bring officers who exemplify departmental culture and performance into positions of influence within the organization. This helps not only with internal issues such as officer retention but also in outward-facing community relations and recruitment efforts.

The more than 2,000 new reform measures that have passed through state legislatures in the last 12 months have created new demands on officers and their leaders. Paired with this movement towards reform is ever-evolving research into the nature and practice of policing. A common theme in both the reform legislation and research is the need to expand and enhance the scope of law enforcement officers’ duties and capabilities – which requires that officers develop skillsets related to recognizing and responding to mental illness, de-escalating conflict, engendering good community relations, and so much more. Just as these officer responsibilities grow, training must evolve with it to suit changing community needs.

In our previous article, we looked at new training methodologies being implemented to respond to these needs. In this article, we will look at how the more established training framework is growing to meet the challenge of new policing reforms. It is important to note while there are many general similarities, training methods and requirements can vary widely from agency to agency and state to state.

Academy

For many (but not all) officers, training begins at the academy. Traditionally these are often bootcamp-style basic training courses not only meant to impart critical skills, but also to enculturate recruits to concepts like chain of command, rank, and an overall organizational style of discipline. Academy training is seen by many to be the first chance departments have to impart a lasting sense of culture and expectation on new recruits that will, ideally, guide them throughout their careers. New officer training costs can be as high as $200,000 so it is critical that initial training be as effective as possible.

For at least the last twenty years and, more recently in response to reform measures, some departments are rethinking the emphasis on the use of bootcamp-style training in their academies.  A recent paper published in Police Chief Magazine suggests that transitioning a portion of the instruction to a more a professionalized “adult-learning” model is worth considering for departments. Some elements of the more intense and traditional style of training are worthwhile and demonstrably effective, such as scenarios designed to induce stress in decision-making, and pushing recruits to the edge of physical limits. Other tactics, like instructors inducing via more aggressive tactics are seen as less effective as they model behavior and a relationship to power that is increasingly seen as counterproductive to the aims of reform measures and good community relations.

Research is providing new evidence as to the effectiveness of a modern style of academy training though. There is also survey data that may confirm that this evidence-based approach is also increasingly aligned with officers’ beliefs about their jobs. According to a 2017 Pew Research Center report, 65% of officers surveyed believe that officers should “show respect, concern, and fairness when they deal with the public”. Training that emphasizes the value of good community relations, especially in initial academy training, is likely to be a key factor in any successful reform effort.

In-Service Training

In-service education is also being thought of in a new light in this era of reform. Much like other elements of police training, reform and a stronger desire for evidence-based training methods is propelling these changes forward. The same Pew Research Center study mentioned above shows that, based on officer responses, that in-service training has typically dealt with tactical or procedural matters – firearms training and certification, nonlethal restraint methods, and other similar training. However, this same study also shows that training designed to expand awareness of mental illness, bias, and general community relations rank just behind these more tactical types of training.

law enforcement training police car

Requirements for new types of training designed to enhance awareness of such issues is a common element of many of the reform measures passed in the previous year. Some of these new requirements are highly targeted in their scope, such as HB162 in Utah which calls specifically for crisis intervention and de-escalation training related to the treatment of subjects experiencing a mental health crisis. Minnesota passed one of the more comprehensive packages of reform legislation that, among many other things, mandates new training to help officers in areas like recognizing individuals with autism and mental health needs. Others, like executive order 2020-11 in New Hampshire call for the establishment of a committee made up of policymakers and law enforcement officials charged with delivering new training recommendations.

Higher-Education

The efficacy of higher education in law enforcement training is something that is fairly well-understood in both the academic and agency leadership worlds. It has been shown that officers with higher educational attainment experience fewer sustained misconduct complaints and are less likely to be involved in use-of-force incidents. A higher level of educational experience often positions an officer on a leadership track within their agency. As in many other aspects of law enforcement, new methods of data analysis are complimenting leadership selection processes that were once driven largely by intuition. Aspects like interaction data, job performance, and education level figure prominently in these new methods of analysis that can determine an officer’s advancement.

The Power of Data Management

 Benchmark Analytics is a leader in research-based early intervention and police force management software systems. As reform measures are driving changes to the way training is conceptualized and executed, agencies are relying on comprehensive solutions that manage and make sense of the data they’re collecting. The Benchmark Management System (BMS) provides leaders a comprehensive view of their agencies incorporating training, community engagement, and educational data. These data points – when collected along with many others – create a holistic view of the performance of both individual officers and their agencies.

Using some of the same data streams, First Sign® Early Intervention system (EIS) goes beyond the limitations of a threshold or trigger-based EIS and is, instead, preventative in its design. Using a research-based approach to analyze officer interaction data, First Sign® is designed to spot off-track behavior early on. This empowers agency leaders to guide an officer towards appropriate in-service training or make other educational opportunities available to them to help get them back on track.

Reform Efforts and Law Enforcement Training

Reform measures coupled with new research are driving much of the rapid change officers and agencies are seeing in the scope of their responsibilities. With these changes in approach to policing as a whole comes a change to the systems and methodologies agencies use to train officers. No longer is relying on traditional concepts and tactics alone adequate to train officers for the ways in which they will serve their communities now and in the future. New data and research-driven approaches are placing an increased emphasis on law enforcement training that promotes a culture of respect and fairness, especially when dealing with the public, but also within departments themselves.

Though new tools and tech have continually changed policing there is one tool that has experienced few fundamental changes over the years: the human mind. Law enforcement officers practice their profession in some of the most complex working conditions imaginable. While the value of new, physical tools used by officers is hard to dispute, it is new research into the function of the mind in these demanding working conditions that is producing new thinking in the world of law enforcement. Relatively recent breakthroughs in neuroscience and in the social sciences are contributing to a new understanding of how law enforcement officers use their social skills, emotional intelligence, and empathy to better do their jobs. In this article, we’ll look at a few of the specific ways in which this new understanding is changing law enforcement training.

Research-Based Police Training

There is a long-standing practice in policing of incorporating the latest in philosophy, real-world experience, and social-science research into law enforcement training curriculums. This goes back to the foundation of modern policing in which new ideas and observations around industrialism and urbanism were, in turn, used as arguments for a professionalized approach to law enforcement. Moving into the 20th century, discourse and research emanating from the worlds of psychology, sociology, and criminology led to a deeper examination of the very role of police in society. Out of this grew technologies like COMPSTAT and philosophies like community policing which, respectively, served to better understand the broader societal problems facing communities as well as proposing a remedy for these problems.

law enforcement social science training

As science, technology, and our understanding of human interaction increase at a pace never before seen, these new areas of study are being applied to policing. Over the last 30 years we’ve seen the field of neuroscience emerge as a new tool to better understand how officers process the world around them. Using some of the same techniques and tools high-performance athletes use to evaluate their capabilities, researchers are studying the interplay of cognition, muscle memory, perception, and much more and how they relate to officer performance. These breakthroughs coming from the study of human interaction and cognition are leading to innovations in law enforcement training that will improve the working environment for officers as well as community relations and perceptions of law enforcement.

Countering Implicit Bias

Common in reform dialog are calls for training to address implicit bias. The goal is to counter unconscious biases people hold about others that impact reactions and split-second decision-making. These biases exist throughout different countries and cultures, affecting everyone from doctors and police officers to more common professions like store clerks and restaurant servers. The challenge for educators and law enforcement trainers is finding meaningful ways to counter a bias that for most is, by definition, a product of the unconscious mind.

The prevailing notion is that by being aware of and understanding these biases, people can take the first steps in learning to work to improve reactions based upon them. While there is some research that suggests these trainings can be helpful, there are other studies that indicate these types of training, if executed poorly, can actually have the opposite effect. Research into the efficacy of implicit bias training is ongoing and it is generally agreed that further research is needed to fine-tune learning approaches for maximum benefit.

De-escalation

It has been stated that “with the possible exception of implicit bias training, no other training is more demanded by policymakers, police executives, […and] citizens than de-escalation training”. Often, these two types of training work hand-in-hand as a part of a broader effort for training-led reform efforts. De-escalation is also often seen as an outgrowth of the core values of community policing, another prominent and ongoing reform effort.

Training typically focuses on elements like verbal and non-verbal communication styles (body language, etc.), building rapport with subjects, and, when needed, physical intervention techniques that minimize the risk of harm. As a relatively new type of police training, there is still much to learn about the best practices and methods by which to instruct officers on de-escalation. A primary point of discussion in research as to its efficacy revolves around maintaining officer safety and that of the general public.

Interpersonal skills

 Not so much a defined training curriculum as it is a philosophy, there are many researchers in the field of policing that believe a more holistic and multi-disciplinary approach in policing starts with an emphasis on recruiting and training officers for interpersonal skills. Policing is an extremely complex profession that requires officers to be prepared for a huge variety of interactions at the beginning of each shift. A growing body of research is showing that officers benefit from employing emotional intelligence and empathy much in the same way their other technical training prepares them for the unpredictability of the job.

Much of the fundamental framework of this philosophy relies on research that shows empathy is critical for building public trust on both the micro and macro levels. Using empathy on the job can be a critical factor in many instances; for example, responding to a domestic violence call – where gaining the trust of the victim is crucial. It can also foster growth of compassion and the reduction of compassion fatigue within an agency which tends to promote a culture of peer support that is vital in helping officers deal with the stress of their profession.

Always Improving

The likes of threat assessment techniques, intelligence gathering, and technical expertise will always be major components of law enforcement training. However, as researchers continue to hypothesize and gather evidence, it is the study of the role of the mind and human intelligence that’s arguably growing the quickest in terms of its importance.

While more research is, as always, needed to refine our understanding of the importance of the mind and emotional intelligence in policing one thing is becoming clearer – officers and departments that embrace training focusing on these factors tend to see better outcomes for their officers and the citizens within the communities they serve. Benchmark Analytics supports these departments and their leaders by providing research-based police force management and early intervention systems aimed at elevating the profession of policing.

Calls for policing reform, the adoption of new law enforcement technologies, and changing community needs all require high standards in officer training and education. Put simply, as citizens and policy makers ask more of law enforcement agencies, additional training and greater education for officers is required. This is nothing new in the world of law enforcement. Since the professionalization of policing nearly 200 years ago, training and ongoing education have been one of the defining features of law enforcement and have generally been a marker of its progression as a profession over the years.

Now two decades into the 21st century, the way law enforcement training is thought of has advanced past simply academy and field training. Mirroring the rest of the country, experience in higher education, whether it is a two- or four-year degree, is increasingly seen as a valuable qualification. This is especially true in law enforcement in which, during any given shift, an officer may be required to draw on skills from the fields of psychology, sociology, social work, criminology, law, and much more. Higher education gives an officer a broader selection of not only tools but experiences to draw on to better equip themselves for this reality.

Looking Back

As explained in detail in a 2020 IACP Leadership Series conversation between Bill Bratton and Benchmark Analytics CEO Ron Huberman, policing in the United States has constantly evolved to better suit the needs of the society it serves. As the country grew in the 19th century and the Industrial Revolution took hold in American cities, a population shift occurred along with a shift from a largely agrarian society to a more industrialized one. Driven by new technology and a changing economy, people sought newly created jobs near urban centers. With many American cities seeing rapid growth, a need for law and order surpassed what volunteer constables and night watchmen could reasonably provide.

These societal changes spurred by the Industrial Revolution occurred on the same scale but earlier in the United Kingdom. Recognizing the need to rethink the role and scope of policing, Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel, now widely thought of as the father of modern policing, established the Metropolitan Police Force in London in 1829. Most notably, this moved policing away from informal, volunteer units to a trained and professional force. These ideas spread quickly to the United States and in the following years with most major cities professionalizing their departments in the next two decades.

Reform as a Constant

“The Reform Era” of policing is generally thought to have started in the 1930s when both internal and external factors led to another major shift in how departments functioned. The Evolving Strategy of Policing, a landmark study jointly published by Harvard University and several federal law enforcement agencies, describes this era as when police departments became “law enforcement agencies” — in that the training, services, and operational scope once again moved further towards uniform standards. This era continued through the 1970s. During this time, things like emergency medical transport and social services, once provided in one way or another by police departments, were delegated to more specialized professionals (EMTs, social workers). Advances in technology, most notably 911 dispatch, changed not only the public perception of police capabilities, but also the demands on officers and their departments.

From the 1980s onward, efforts have been made to develop a more holistic view of crime and how policing addresses it. CompStat brought in a new, analytical frame for viewing and responding to statistics, and researchers used this new wealth of data to understand policing on a more rigorous academic level than had even been pursued before. With the events of September 11, policing once again shifted from a predominantly community-based focus to one incorporating international intelligence-sharing and data gathering.

A Culture of Self-Improvement

What these leaps forward in policing scope, technology, and philosophy all have in common is that they involve greater demands placed on the officers, leaders, and departments charged with enacting them. At the intersection of all of this is an emerging consensus on the benefits for formal education among officers. Additionally, police officers – like social workers and medical professionals – also have a long history of continuing education and training requirements that reflect the profession’s commitment to continual self-improvement. Education and Law Enforcement

Beyond simply upholding a tradition of ongoing education and training there is an increasing body of evidence that shows higher educational attainment produces all manner of positive outcomes for police officers, their departments, and, most importantly, the communities they serve. Research over the last two decades, compiled in an article appearing in the October 2020 issue of Police Chief published by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), has shown that a correlation exists between officers with two- or four-year degrees and “…avoidance of situations that have recently brought so much public criticism of policing, such as the use of force, miscommunication, and accountability”. Further studies add to the body of evidence that officers tend to receive fewer citizen complaints overall, fewer policy violations, and are less likely to be involved with “severe or career-ending” misconduct.

On the more subjective side, it is well-understood higher education plays an important role in exposing students to points of view and experiences unlike their own. It has long been held in the world of higher education that this exposure to different ideas plays a vital role in increasing one’s ability to empathize as well (more on this in a future article). Furthermore, college or university experience is generally thought to improve the critical thinking skills of those who have completed even some curriculum. Studies show as many as 92% of students at large intuitions reporting they’ve made some gains in critical thinking which, in turn, is linked with “higher levels of self-control, analytical thinking, and reduced impulsivity”.

As demands on law enforcement continue to be a part of an ongoing evolution reflecting the changing needs of the communities they serve, officers with a broad scope of knowledge derived from formal educational experience will likely find themselves better positioned to manage these expectations. In conjunction with tactical, hands-on training as well as new approaches to community relations, higher educational attainment has been shown to generally improve law enforcement interactions and outcomes. Though the job of policing has changed dramatically since its professionalization, the need for more rigorous training and higher educational standards is certain to remain a constant.

Look for our next article focusing on new training methodologies focusing on interpersonal relationships and de-escalation.

 

A crucial element of the police reform discourse is the rising cost of police misconduct settlements and the impact they have on municipal budgets. Elected and agency officials must contend with these costs though taxpayers in most instances are subsidizing the funding used in settlements. There is ample reason for law enforcement personnel, lawmakers, and taxpayers to all be keenly interested in the cost of these settlements. What do misconduct settlements look like? What is being done to mitigate the costs of misconduct settlements? These are questions this article endeavors to answer.

Misconduct Settlements: A Nationwide Concern

Even tracking the overall costs of police misconduct settlements has proven a significant challenge for researchers. There is currently no national reporting database and municipalities’ approach to record-keeping can vary widely. On a national level, the data just doesn’t exist to present a broader picture of how much misconduct settlements cost taxpayers. In an effort to address this lack of data, in March of 2021, the Cost of Police Misconduct Act was introduced into Congress, which seeks to compel reporting to federal authorities. Whether or not this bill will be passed into law is presently unclear, but it does represent one of the most high-profile efforts to explicitly tie the costs of settlements with the pushes for reform.

Despite the lack of specific data, it is well-understood that the costs of misconduct settlements are quite substantial and create strain on city budgets. In a recent survey of 31 of the 50 cities with the highest police-to-civilian ratios in the country, available data shows settlements cost these municipalities more than $3 billion over the last decade. Though the dataset is incomplete, it illustrates the substantial figures municipalities are contending with in settling misconduct allegations. Until recently, these costs were not typically figured into municipal budgets for policing and related costs.

City Budgets Misconduct SettlementsFurther complicating matters is how municipalities pay for misconduct settlements. In general, many small to medium-sized cities carry some form of liability insurance or risk-pool while the largest cities are either self-insured or will issue bonds to cover settlements and their related costs. Both approaches have their drawbacks. Bonds accumulate interest and servicing fees while insurance typically is funded via property taxes or other public user fees. In either model, it is once again taxpayers that ultimately bear the cost.

These settlement costs appear to be trending upwards too. In a survey of ten cities, the Wall Street Journal found misconduct settlement amounts rose from $1 billion between 2010 and 2014 to $1.6 billion from 2015 to 2019. There is no one reason for this rise but it is generally thought that things like increasing public pressure in favor of reform efforts and the widespread use of smart phone cameras have contributed to this rise. Additionally, some agencies and municipal governments look towards a settlement as a way to avoid a drawn out and expensive court battle.

Agencies Respond

Law enforcement leaders, elected officials, and taxpayers all have an obvious interest in controlling misconduct settlement costs. These unplanned expenses can significantly impact municipal budgets and can force unexpected reallocation of funds. Agencies and municipal governments are employing a number of different methods to control these costs. Here are some of the most common and effective examples:

  • Additional training is a strategy agencies and municipalities are using to reduce the likelihood of an adverse event leading to a settlement. Training requirements are frequently a component of new reform legislation being passed at the state level. De-escalation training and coursework related to identifying and responding to mental health crises are becoming more prevalent as are new standards in use-of-force training. Effectively managing and tracking officer training is seen as a proactive tool aimed at preventing law enforcement encounters that end up in settlements.
  • In recent years, the companies that insure small to medium municipalities are responding to the growing cost of settlements by exerting more control over agencies’ operations. This insurance risk management oversight takes on many forms such as policy audits, use-of-force simulators, and even ride-alongs to observe officer behavior. In some cases, insurers can even influence staffing decisions. Other municipalities participate in risk pools in which they “share” risk. The Association of Government Risk Pools connects member cities and facilitates collaboration while providing best standards and education.
  • Improvements to data collection are furthering policymakers’ and agency leadership’s ability to base decisions on rigorous analysis of data. This encompasses everything from body-worn cameras and audio recording devices to Internal Affairs and Use-of-Force metrics that are tracked and monitored via software. With more comprehensive and smarter data collection, policymakers and agency heads can be more confident in their decision-making, knowing it is based on a holistic view of performance and personnel data.
  • Early Intervention Systems (EIS), are software suites designed to help agency leaders monitor officer behavior and, ideally, intervene before any issues arise. Benchmark Analytics’ First Sign® Early Intervention System is preventative by design and more sophisticated than other, trigger or threshold-based systems, allowing leaders to identify off-track officer behavior before it rises to a level of seriousness that could involve an out-of-policy incident.
  • Once an EIS has alerted an agency’s leadership to the potential for performance issues, it is up to them to implement corrective measures to get that officer back on track. This often involves additional support like further training and mentorship. Benchmark’s Case Action Response Engine® (C.A.R.E.) helps track not only that assigned interventions are being completed but that officer performance is in fact on a path to improvement.

Elected officials, taxpayers, and agency leaders all have a vested interest in seeing the costs of misconduct settlements minimized. Data collection and analysis pertaining to officer performance are vital parts of the conversation around reducing the overall costs of misconduct settlements. By using new research-based software tools to better understand this wealth of data, agency leaders are empowering themselves to make the decisions necessary to ensure police funding is wisely spent on things like agency growth and training — and ultimately reducing the likelihood of problematic behavior that can potentially contribute to the rising cost of misconduct.

In our previous article we examined the brisk pace in the passage of new state-level reform legislation and how it’s impacting law enforcement agencies. Often driven by high-profile law enforcement incidents, these new mandates frequently result in agencies updating their training, certification, and data-gathering capabilities. At the intersection of these new laws and the agencies they impact are POST organizations.

What are state POST organizations?

Police Officer Standards and Training (POST) organizations are tasked with implementing elements of new legislation, especially as it relates to tracking data involving training and certification of officers based on these new requirements. POSTs operate at the state level, administering training and officer certification. These organizations are not exclusively known as POSTs either. For example, in Tennessee the equivalent certifying body is known at the Tennessee Law Enforcement Academy; in Illinois there is the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board; and in Texas the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement manages training and certification. Despite the varying nomenclature, the scope of these organizations is roughly the same – to administer and certify the training of officers, provide guidance on best practices to agencies, and, increasingly, to collect large sets of data on police interactions.

Reform State POSTIn the last 12 months alone, the National Conference of State Legislatures has tracked approximately 3,000 bills at introduced or passed at the state level related to police reform. Many of these bills recognize a shortfall in centralized data reporting encompassing everything from training certifications to officer interactions in the field. As a result, demands on state POSTs and their data collection capabilities are expanding, requiring them to modernize the ways in which they deal with this data.

On the national level, The International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training (IADLEST) is an organization of POST directors and leaders in law enforcement training from all 50 states. IADLEST does not govern training standards, however, they do certify courses through the National Certification Program which ensures coursework is accepted by most state POSTs and is transferrable if an officer joins a new agency. They also maintain several resource databases like the National Law Enforcement Academy Recourse Network, a center for training materials, best practices, and discussion among public safety trainers and officials.

New State Legislation and POSTs

Many of these new laws seek to standardize certification and training at the state, rather than local level. How POST organizations meet the challenge of new statewide requirements is going to be a key factor in determining the overall success of new law enforcement legislation. Here is a look at several prominent examples of the role state POSTs will play in enacting new laws.

  • Beginning in 2022, Colorado POST will, among other things, create and maintain a statewide database of information related to an officer’s “untruthfulness, repeated failure to follow POST training requirements, decertification, or termination for cause”. This new mandate is part of broad news efforts contained in SB20-217, signed into law by Governor Polis. (In 2019 Benchmark Analytics was selected as the provider of record for Colorado POST’s training and certification management system and is responsible for the implementation of a new Learning Management System designed to track the training, employment status, and certification of approximately 40,000 personnel statewide.)
  • This year, Utah’s state legislature passed a pair of POST-related bills that became law in May. SB106 mandates that the POST council create statewide minimum use of force policies while SB13 calls on agencies to provide information about certain internal investigations of officers to the state POST. Both bills were constructed to more thoroughly establish statewide standards administered by POST.
  • In New Hampshire, Governor Sununu signed an Executive Order on Law Enforcement, Accountability, Community, and Transparency. As a result of this executive order, Benchmark Analytics was selected by the New Hampshire POST to head up a statewide capture of employment, training, and certification data across the state’s more than 200 law enforcement agencies.
  • As a part of a larger law enforcement bill signed by Governor Baker, Massachusetts established, for the first time, a statewide POST commission. The nine-member commission will be charged with creating certification standards for officers as well as investigating misconduct allegations.
  • SB2 was recently approved by the California state senate, establishing the state’s POST commission as the authority for certifying peace officers. The bill also mandates the creation of a nine-member Peace Officer Standards Accountability Advisory. This board will be responsible for reviewing findings of POST investigations and making recommendations on de-certification. Furthermore, the POST Commission voted in February to add a new four-hour use of force training requirement for officers.
  • New training mandates in Missouri, passed into law by the state legislature, were approved by the state’s POST commission. The mandates require that officers complete two separate one-hour classes covering de-escalation techniques and coursework on recognizing implicit bias. These two new hours of instruction are included in the 24 hours of annual training officers must complete on an annual basis. Additionally, the POST commission has established a committee to study pre-employment background checks and to make recommendations on their statewide implementation.
  • Signed into law in July of 2020, the Minnesota Police Accountability Act contained several provisions aimed at providing the state POST with the financial resources and leadership needed to enact new legislation. The bill called for the expansion of the POST board to 17 members to be appointed by the governor. The legislation also provided nearly $4 million in funding to POST for the expansion of its data collection efforts, training, and associated operational costs.

With these new resources, the Minnesota POST undertook a comprehensive audit led by IADLEST. The purpose of this audit was to modernize POST business processes, provide data for strategic planning, and to clarify procedures surround training and certification. As a part of these efforts, Minnesota POST partnered with

More data collection, greater uniformity in training, and the monitoring of officer certification status have been, and likely will continue to be, key provisions of law enforcement bills being passed throughout the country. Much of this legislation requires state POSTs to enhance their abilities to not only track both training and officer certification but create new systems and procedures for capturing and reporting data. As more of these bills become laws, POST organizations will likely continue to see their roles grow even further in enacting these changes.