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National Security Situation:  The evolution of Law Enforcement and Public Safety (LE/PS) Training within the U.S.

Date Originally Written:  April 7, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  April 24, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  Author is a graduate of both University and Federal LE/PS training.  Author has two years of sworn and unsworn law enforcement experience.  Author believes a reform of LE/PS training led by institutes of higher learning such as colleges and universities is necessary to meet evolving LE/PS challenges.

Background:  Over the past twenty years the U.S. has seen a major shift in public opinion and media coverage of LE/PS operations.  As a result of this shift, there have been ad hoc changes in LE/PS training on various topics to address a lack of specialized training.  But because LE/PS basic training and advanced training is conducted and designed at a local level, the added training can vary from city to city and state to state.  A look at the basic training of LE/PS is important in the context of how LE/PS organizations are preparing to respond to contemporary changes in U.S. culture and the massive scale of resources and time it takes to train a LE/PS Officer[1].

Current LE/PS basic training varies from state to state with varying hours, types of training, and style of training conducted[2].  This mix of training hours, types, and styles produces a varying level of LE/PS Officer upon graduation.  A LE/PS Officer in one state could lack hundreds of hours of training compared to their peer the next state over when beginning their initial field training.

Significance:  The Bureau of Justice Statistics observed in 2008 that there were sixty-one thousand new LE/PS Officers hired in the United States[3].  Due to the nature of attrition, retirement, and LE/PS budgets, this hiring is only expected to increase over the coming years as a younger generation replaces the “Widening Hole in the Bucket” that is staffing levels in departments nationwide[4].

Option #1:  Establish a system of National Law Enforcement Colleges within university systems throughout the U.S. that not only train and certify LE/PS Officers but that do this as part of a wider degree-granting program.  Option #1 is similar to in-depth and standardized training of LE/PS personnel that countries such as Germany and Sweden have developed.

Risk:  With a rising average number of LE/PS recruits in the U.S. each year, sixty-one thousand hired in 2008[4], a series of colleges would have to have enough capacity to handle one hundred to two hundred thousand trainees across the country at varying years of study if a multiple year degree program is established.  Option #1 could also be viewed as a “Federalization” of LE/PS since the undertaking would inevitably involve the Federal Government for funding and certification.  It has also been noted, albeit with limited research, that university-educated LE/PS Officers experience higher levels of frustration and lower levels of overall job satisfaction[5].

Gain:  Option #1 would increase the minimum education of LE/PS Officers allowing them to be educated in various social science fields that the university systems already employ subject matter experts in.  Option #1 could also offset certain costs of training LE/PS Officers as the program could be run as a self-pay system as any other university program or limited scholarship program such as the U.S. Military Reserve Officer Training Corps program.

Option #2:  Developing and implementing a national standard for basic law enforcement training to be met by currently existing training academies.

Risk:  This would increase the cost of LE/PS training to states that have below minimum standards.  If an extended length of training is chosen it would cause a bottleneck in training new LE/PS Officers that agencies are in need of immediately to boost low staffing numbers.  A national set of minimum standards could lead to simply a change in what is taught during basic training instead of an actual increase in training provided as academies may be inclined to abandon non-mandated training to shorten program time.

Gain:  Concerns with the lack of certain types of training, such as social services and crisis intervention, would be resolved as mandatory training hours could be set for these topics.  LE/PS Officers operating on an inter-agency level (City to County or across State Lines) would have been trained initially to the same set of standards and would be able to better cooperate.

Other Comments:  While the lack of certain academic topics in LE/PS training does exist as a current problem, it must also be understood that in a human-services profession such as LE/PS, that informal training through actual field experience is still the most significant way that adults learn in challenging situations[6].  No amount of academic or basic training will replace the need for actual field experience by the trainee to become competent as a LE/PS Officer.

Recommendation:  None.


[1]  Stanislas, P. (2014). Introduction: police education and training in context. In P. Stanislas (Ed.), International perspectives on police education and training (pp. 1-20). London: Routledge.

[2]  Reaves, B. (2016). Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) – State and Local Law Enforcement Training Academies, Retrieved 7 March 2017, from

[3]  Reaves, B. (2012). Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) – Hiring and Retention of State and Local Law Enforcement Officers, 2008 – Statistical Retrieved 7 March 2017, from

[4]  Wilson, J., Dalton, E., Scheer, C., & Grammich, C. (2017). Police Recruitment and Retention for the New Millennium (1st ed.). Santa Monica: RAND Corporation. Retrieved from

[5]  Stanislas, P. (2014). The challenges and dilemmas facing university-based police education in Britain. In P. Stanislas (Ed.), International perspectives on police education and training (pp. 57-71). London: Routledge.

[6]  Giovengo, R. (2016). Training law enforcement officers (1st ed.). CRC Press.