How Reform Efforts are Changing Law Enforcement Training

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.