Options to Evolve U.S. Law Enforcement and Public Safety Training

The Viking Cop has served in a law enforcement capacity with multiple organizations within the U.S. Executive Branch.  He can be found on Twitter @TheVikingCop.  The views reflected are his own and do not represent the opinion of any government entities.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


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.


Endnotes:

[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, 2013Bjs.gov. Retrieved 7 March 2017, from http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=5684

[3]  Reaves, B. (2012). Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) – Hiring and Retention of State and Local Law Enforcement Officers, 2008 – Statistical TablesBjs.gov. Retrieved 7 March 2017, from http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=4514

[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 http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2010/RAND_MG959.pdf

[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.

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