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History and Current Practices of US Police Recruit Training

Info: 9862 words (39 pages) Dissertation
Published: 17th Feb 2022

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Tagged: HistoryLaw Enforcement

Introduction – Historic Context of Training

Modern American policing is less than 200 years old. In world history terms, it is still in its infancy. As with most all things, growing pains are natural and change is inevitable. In 1829, Home Secretary of the United Kingdom Robert Peel, who is considered the founding father of modern policing stated, “The police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.” Essentially, Peel is inferring the police and the community are one in the same and carry the same responsibilities of community safe guarding.

The foundation of policing itself rests on the very essence of community support of those who have chosen the responsibility to become police officers. The police must understand that they are hired to do their job only with the public’s consent and approval. Unfortunately, as many scholars have noted, America’s history with police has been one that has catered to the wealthy and majority (Walker, 1996; Platt, 1982; Reichal, 1992; Silver, 1967; Harring, 1983; Fogelson, 1977; and Potter and Jenkins, 1985). From the slave patrols of the south to the brutality of the politically controlled police in the north with regards to controlling new European immigrants and organized labor, policing has not always been what it has evolved into today.

During the last 88 years, there have been 3 major presidential commissions and several state commissions appointed to address police corruption and reforms. The common themes regarding each of these commissions primarily focused on 6 concerns: leadership, corruption, poor training, excessive force, police community relations, and police minority relations. Today, we are observing the same calls for change as those calls were in: 1929 – The National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement; 1967- National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders; and 2014 – The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Each era was experiencing a demand for discussion and change involving the police who are sworn to protect citizens.

It is clear not every community suffers from police wrongdoing, nor does every community feel the need for police reform, however, not every family suffers a member contracting cancer or AIDS, but that does not preclude us as a society to finding a cure for both.

Additionally, society empathizes with those individuals and families who suffer from these tragic circumstances. The evolution of policing in a modern society should not be one filled with political rhetoric and finger pointing, but instead approached carefully and methodically with intelligence, planning, collaboration, and overall good intentions. Change should not occur in response to wrong doing by a few, but should occur because we want to do what is right and in the best interest of the community and the police who serve them.

In the fall semester of 2016, I was asked by the President of College of DuPage, Dr. Ann Rondeau, to assist the Suburban Law Enforcement Academy (SLEA) with a review of their training and curriculum. In light of the State of Illinois adding 160 hours of training for police recruits; the ongoing discussion surrounding police recruit training amidst calls for police reform and questionable community relations, a review of SLEA is forward thinking and necessary. It is my hope this report will assist SLEA in enhancing the quality of police recruit training they have provided over the last 21 years here at College of DuPage.

It should be noted the training curriculum used by SLEA was developed and mandated by the State of Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board (ILETSB). College of DuPage did not have any input into the development of the training materials provided by ILETSB. This is an important note, as SLEA Director Ray Cordell indicated training must be taught as required by the state due to the assessment of recruits being directly related to training materials and outcomes provided by ILETSB. I, nor anyone else, have access to the final assessment being used by the State of Illinois to measure the understanding and application of academy training requirements of the police recruits. Therefore, recruit success on the state exam is the only measurement that can be used to gather SLEA success.

However, the test being used to assess recruits is not a good indicator of recruits being successfully prepared for police work. Instead, it only measures if the objectives set by ILETSB have been taught and retained (remembered) to some degree. The training and learning process at an academy is complex. For an evaluation to be effective, it cannot just be a multiple-choice exam, but instead take a multifaceted approach that allows recruits to actually perform tasks that are associated with the job of policing.

There has been a long standing sarcastic response to police academy training amongst law enforcement personnel. This is best demonstrated in the advice they give newly trained officers in their agencies, “Forget what you have been taught at the academy, we are going to show you how we do things here.” This seems to imply the academy does very little to prepare officers for the actual job of police work. Although the remark is meant in gest, it is clear to those in law enforcement that there is more than a little truth to the statement. Academy leadership should develop a set of objectives that clearly defines the mission and goals of basic police recruit training. The actual purpose of police recruit academy training may be unclear to some police agencies. If we continue to feel comfortable with the status quo and always do what we have always done, then we are sure to get what we already have.

Overview of Police Recruit Training in the U.S.

Formal police training is quite new to the United States. After the Wickersham report in the early part of the twentieth century, it was August Vollmer who ushered in a new approach to policing in the form of training and education. However, police across the United States would not be mandated by their state to require formal training until decades later. It would not be until after the Presidents Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice in 1967 that it was determined there was a greater need for the proper formal training of police officers across the United States. The commission recommended that no fewer than 400 hours of instruction were necessary to appropriately train a police recruit. They also recommended a 12 to 18 month probationary period to ensure newly trained officers were properly prepared and worthy of carrying such a tremendous responsibility. The commission recommended each recruit complete at least 8 weeks of field training. Today, many states have already increased their academy hours beyond 400 and the State of Illinois just recently increased theirs to 560.

For almost 50 years, police in the United States have essentially been trained in the same manor. The exception being the addition of more hours and a few new technological equipment advancements. New use of force techniques, that have been found to be effective, have also been added. However, there is some discussion surrounding a common practice being trained in use of force called the 21-foot rule. There is no scientific basis to this rule and trainers and experts around the country are encouraging academies to refrain from training this as a rule until more research and data can be collected. Most experts would agree that police training has progressed and excelled in the areas of officer safety and use of force tactics. However, community relations, crime prevention, communications, de-escalation, and response to people in crisis have all been primarily ignored during training. In other words, police training is very good at the what, while almost totally ignoring the why. Although training has evolved in terms of additional sections being added, the presentation of police recruit academy training has remained the same. Recruits sit in seats and listen to individuals who have worked in the field for a number of years tell them how things are done. Many of these instances are in the form of what is known as “war stories” from their experiences and little is gained by the recruits during these stories. These shortcomings seem to be in contradiction with Peel’s Principals or effective adult learning techniques.

There has been an ongoing debate in academic and policing circles regarding the type of police recruit training that should be carried out. Should police recruit training be grounded in the warrior or guardian theorem. The warrior supporters suggest having a warrior mindset is vital to officer and community safety. They argue it is essential to fight and defeat criminals while maintaining the utmost adherence to officer safety. These supporters believe the best way to maintain community safety is to be aggressive in their tactics and send a message to would be criminals that the police are tough on crime. Officers with a warrior mindset believe guardians are soft on crime and potentially could compromise officer safety with their laissez-faire approach to policing.

On the other side, is the guardian mindset, which contends that having a warrior mindset actually contributes to making officers less safe by producing more violence that is preventable.

Police citizen violence is already a rarity, but having a continuous warrior mindset, in regards to how you view your purpose and use your tactics as police, can possibly incite individuals. A warrior mindset is also seen as producing a negative or violent reaction, which was probably avoidable. The warrior mentality could cause further damage in the future between police and community interactions. Supporters of the guardian theorem believe that when treating every incident between police and community members with a warrior mindset, it could lead some officers to view every citizen as a potential threat or danger. This ultimately contributes to the deterioration of police community relations. In fact, a warrior mindset leads to distrust. When the community does not cooperate with the police, the job becomes more dangerous. Guardian mindset supporters believe officers can be trained to be tactically safe without viewing everyone they come into contact with as a potential threat.

Those with a guardian mindset, view the community as a partner. Guardians approach situations with the mindset to critically analyze, de-escalate, and problem solve. They understand the vast majority of police and community contact is actually peaceful and not harmful.

Guardians understand that they are not the cure for crime, but are the representatives of the community that are charged with responding to incidents and dealing with them in a respectful and effective manner. Guardians understand they may have to use force and even deadly force, but these options are certainly used only when they are absolutely necessary and they have exhausted all other options or had no other option.

Most police academies continuously train officers to be warriors, as if they are in a battle with the community. This is simply not the case. In fact, police spend only about 10 to 15 percent of their time dealing with criminal activity according to numerous studies. Over the past 25 years, we have seen the greatest crime drop (in particular, violent crime) since crime statistics have been gathered. There have been several academic studies regarding the crime drop. Claims that tougher policing strategies were a major contributor to the crime drop have been refuted (Zimring, 2008). Most experts in this area indicate that a multitude of policies, strategies, and other variables have all had an impact on reducing crime and violence. Understanding the United States has been in a prolonged decline in crime and violence, we should certainly take a different approach to training police that is ground with a more community oriented strategy that promotes prevention, partnerships, and problem solving.

What has been trending upward, is the amount of lethal force police have been using. In January 2016, approximately 200 of the nation’s most prominent police chiefs met with United States Justice Department officials and training experts and stated they believed one-third of police related shooting are preventable through better training. The chiefs stated these are situations that they believe are “lawful, but awful” and are probably preventable. In contrast, officer deaths by suspects has consistently been declining. In fact, since 1961 being a police officer has become much safer. In light of media reports and public perceptions, police must be careful not to allow media to influence their own perceptions and train accordingly to promote community relations and partnerships and reduce conflict with the public by deploying de- escalation tactics.

  • More officers were feloniously killed in the 11 years between 1970 and 1980 (1228 deaths) than in the 21 years between 1993 and 2013 (1182 deaths).
  • The rate of felonious killings per 100,000 officers has declined from about 18 in 1989 to about 5 in 2013. It was over 3 times safer to be a police officer in 2013 than 26 years ago.
  • In the five years between 1971 and 1975, an average of 125 officers were feloniously killed per year. Most recently, between 2006 and 2010, the equivalent number is 50.

That’s more remarkable given that the number of officers employed has increased considerably since the ‘70s (ucr.fbi.gov/leoka/).

The historic and well documented brutal history between police and minority communities is also another factor to consider when reviewing police training. Each of the three presidential commissions, in particular the 1967 and 2015 report point to a strained relationship between police and minority community relations. These situations have often led to some of the more volatile incidents occurring. The shooting of unarmed black citizens and other polarizing events involving African-Americans and police have once again thrust the discussion into the national conversation. Very few policing academies have adequate curriculum to provide training in regards to policing in a diverse society. Additionally, the training does not address how to be culturally cognizant of the communities an officer serves and protects. The Police

Training Institute (PTI) at University of Illinois has been touted nationally for their curriculum enhance involving implicit bias training: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2016/08/05/theres-a-good-reason-why-this-police-trainer-tells-new-recruits-that-they-are-racist/?utm_term=.0a7c4c25c4fc . Other states such as Virginia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania have taken the initiative to do the same.

The Presidential Task Force on 21st Century Policing stated there is a need for expanded training curriculum and that more effective training has become critical. The top recommendations to law enforcement agencies included making training on crisis intervention mandatory for basic recruits and officers in the field and forming “training innovation hubs” between universities and police academies. The need for academia to be involved is to remove the entrenched attitudes that have pervaded police training for decades. More evidence based curriculum can be provided through an academy with a multitude of effective ideas that prepares new police recruits for the job.

In conclusion, SLEA has to decide what type of police academy it wants to be for suburban policing in Illinois. Will it take a warrior or a guardian approach? Will it find ways to incorporate the necessary course materials to train police officers for 21st century communities?

These would include, ethical decision making throughout the training curriculum, de-escalation techniques throughout the training curriculum, enhance communications, policing in a diverse society, crisis intervention techniques, understanding people in crisis, police community relations, and problem solving. In addition, adult learning techniques must be incorporated into the training. Recruits may not bring professional police experience to the classroom, but never the less they do have some type of experience that could be incorporated into the training and allows them to actually participate. This is perhaps why recruits do much better in firearms training, defense tactics, and scenarios. When recruits are involved and actively participating they tend to retain the information. This is the foundation of active learning. The academy must find ways to get recruits out of their seats and into scenarios with the rest of the traditional classroom training materials.

It is understandable that some of these suggestions may be difficult to implement initially. However, with more advanced, educated, and dedicated trainers, these suggestions can be properly inserted into academy training materials successfully. In addition, there may be union contractual concerns with some departments in terms of mandating after hours work. That being understood, SLEA is a training academy that requires recruits to be prepared for the duties of police work. Homework is a voluntary activity for any learner and is provided by the instructor to increase the learner or trainee’s knowledge base and critical analysis skills. Some recruits may choose to not study their craft when provided an opportunity to do so. The academy should not be complicit in that behavior by not assigning homework activities that could enhance the recruit’s skills and understanding of the important job they are preparing to perform. Police recruits only have a finite number of hours to train. It is imperative recruits are provided with the opportunity to enhance their skill level with thought provoking exercises outside of the classroom.

SLEA Overview:

My initial observation of SLEA is one of respect. The men and women who work to provide training and support for municipal police recruits throughout the State of Illinois do so with pride. SLEA has been operating as a provider or police recruit training for more than two decades and there is no doubt that employees put in their best efforts in order to yield the best trained police recruits they can possibly produce. Administrative support personnel work extremely hard to ensure recruits are provided the materials necessary to complete the academy.

From my observations, I determined SLEA trains police recruits more in line with the “warrior” philosophy. The training is heavily grounded on an officer safety position and builds all of its momentum from that perspective. With a focus and emphasis on a military-like culture using marching, exercise, and tone; the academy feels more like a boot camp rather than a 21st century police recruit academy. Police and military are two distinct professional services. One provides a nation protection from foreign threats and the other serves the vastly diverse American communities that have a complexity of issues that mostly involves social disorder.

SLEA’s style of training is more in line with 1970’s and 80’s models of policing, which have been or are being phase out of many police academies.

The policing profession has historically been dominated by repetitious training. Little attention is paid to the actual continuum of learning. This has allowed for tactics and actions to become stale and outdated. It has caused police officers and communities alike irreparable harm in some cases. Another training remnant that has been around for quite some time and is still exhibited in SLEA training, is the majority of the current trainer’s lectures are from their own perspective and experiences. These trainers use little to no theoretical or evidence based research to support their course related materials. The downside to this style of trainer is that all communities and officers are different. Getting the perspective of one individual provides little insight into how some of these materials would work or playout in other police academy recruit’s jurisdictions. These materials should be trained with the purpose of creating a theoretical foundation to work from, where the recruit can develop their own perspectives.

Progressive and highly successful 21st century police training academies have moved away from just focusing on technical skills. In the last two decades, these 21st century police academies have incorporated a more comprehensive approach grounded in the concepts of critical thinking and analysis. The elements of basic police recruit training undeniably require physical fitness, regimental drills and procedures, and hands on reflex skill-development. However, academy personnel and trainers must also understand and recognize the core of basic police work calls for the development of a wide-range of physical, cognitive, and analytical skills in the learning process. In other words, it is not about the physicality of training that will determine a recruit’s success, but instead, the training of the whole recruit. To produce the best prepared officer, you need a more comprehensive approach.

In order to move towards an effective style of police recruit training that trains the whole recruit and prepares them for the basic nature of police work, a shift in training philosophy must occur within SLEA. The philosophical transition will take time, planning, and effort in order to become reality. It may become necessary for SLEA to implement: better hiring practices and guidelines; effective evaluation processes of trainers and staff; and annual reviews of all training materials being used to train recruits. All SLEA personnel must be on the same philosophical page and work with surrounding law enforcement agencies to ensure the philosophical change serves the best interest of those consumers and communities that are directly impacted. A more blended approach to police recruit training, emphasizes the discipline while ensuring competence and confidence is being instilled into recruits as well. This approach tends to produce the most effective police officers who can critically think, analyze, and problem solve. These officers are also more likely to use force only when it is absolutely necessary, instead of using force inappropriately and/or as their first and only option.

Instructors and Instruction:

You can have the finest developed training materials and the best intentions, but if you do not have the proper instruction or instructors the curriculum becomes stagnant, useless, or mediocre at best. Just wanting to do the right thing is not good enough if you are not capable of carrying out the necessary duties to get the task done. Police recruit training should begin with having the right trainers (instructors) and the appropriate training materials. Training materials should go beyond the basic requirements of state standards. As a former member of a state law enforcement training and standards division, I am well aware of the minimum standards established. The minimum standards allow academies to incorporate other materials and innovative exercises to provide the best academy training and experience.

SLEA appears to be a close-knit group, but that should not come as a surprise as the profession of law enforcement itself is a close-knit group. With the exception of the new academy director, most of the academy staff and trainers have been with SLEA for numerous years. There are some concerns in that SLEA has a pattern of hiring personnel on a who you know basis rather than a process that is designed to bring in the best candidates for the job. This could put SLEA at a disadvantage in terms of finding personnel that could possibly provide a higher quality of training than is being produced as of today. This also poses an interesting conundrum, as colleagues and friends could evaluate other colleagues and friends. At the present time, there are no formal in house evaluation of academy instructors. In an interview with one academy instructor, it was revealed that many trainers were brought in based on who they knew.

This type of behavior could lead to more highly-qualified individuals not even being considered for SLEA positions. Additionally, with the current practice in place, many qualified applicants may not even apply.

Traditional police academy training spends little to no classroom time incorporating adult learning techniques into the instruction, and SLEA is no exception. In my numerous hours observing classroom instruction, recruits sat in their seats over 95% of the time. The majority of instructors discussed their experiences and primarily did not interact with the recruits. Interaction occurred only in a way so as to entertain recruits rather than to actually train them. Most academy instructors used PowerPoint as a classroom learning technique or tool for recruits to have something to focus upon. These PowerPoint slides are also provided to recruits in CLOUD software. On one occasion, the instructor used YouTube as means to entertain recruits rather than using some of the more valuable videos on YouTube as a source for training. The majority of the instructors I observed in the academy classroom did not use adult learning techniques. I am not sure if they are not familiar with adult learning theories or are just not willing to incorporate adult learning techniques into their presentations.

Malcolm Knowles was considered one of the foremost educational experts when it comes to andragogy or adult learning. Knowles (1980), addressed the importance of an adult learners’ need for self-concept and self-directedness, by suggesting that adults have a self-concept presupposing that they are responsible for their own lives and their own decisions. Therefore, if police recruits feel they are just being told what to do, they may reject or resist trainers who teach and train in that manner. The recruit may appear to be learning and retaining information, but perhaps they are just going along to get along.

The importance of getting recruits out of their seats during training and actively participating in activities is crucial to gaining valuable experience and knowledge. Doing so will allow recruits to be better prepared for the field. In addition, if recruits feel they can speak freely, ask questions, and inquire about information being presented, they are more likely to be honest in their behavior or thoughts. This honesty provides the academy instructors avenues to correct behavior and misinformation. By incorporating exercises that permit recruits to: participate and collaborate in groups; brainstorm; work on problem solving initiatives; make decisions; and participate in real life scenarios; it allows recruits to actively be a part of the learning. Thus, recruits take more responsibility for their actions, critical analyze, and retain their training goals and lessons. These ideas are paramount in regards to the adult learning methodology when training and or teaching.

Schunk (2004) examined the difference between training models involving the traditional, pedagogical, military model of police recruit training and the collegiate, andragogical (adult-learning) model. He found a statistically significant difference that indicated the andragogical style to be more effective. SLEA and academy trainers should become familiar with the important traits of the adult learner and find a way to incorporate these into scenarios, curriculum, and lectures. Understanding these traits could enhance an instructor’s course materials and lectures.

8 Adult Learners’ Traits


Adults feel the need to take responsibility for their lives and decisions and this is why it’s important for them to have control over their learning. Therefore, self-assessment, a peer relationship with the instructor, multiple options and initial, yet subtle support are all imperative.

Practical and results-oriented

Adult learners are usually practical, resent theory, need information that can be immediately applicable to their professional needs, and generally prefer practical knowledge that will improve their skills, facilitate their work and boost their confidence. This is why it’s important to create a course that will cover their individual needs and have a more utilitarian content.

Less open-minded and therefore more resistant to change

Maturity and profound life experiences usually lead to rigidity, which is the enemy of learning.

Thus, instructional designers need to provide the “why” behind the change, new concepts that can be linked to already established ones, and promote the need to explore.

Slower learning, yet more integrative knowledge

Aging does affect learning. Adults tend to learn less rapidly with age. However, the depth of learning tends to increase over time, navigating knowledge and skills to unprecedented personal levels.

Use personal experience as a resource

Adults have lived longer, seen and done more, have the tendency to link their past experiences to anything new and validate new concepts based on prior learning. This is why it’s crucial to form a class with adults that have similar life experience levels, encourage discussion and sharing, and generally create a learning community consisting of people who can profoundly interact.


Learning in adulthood is usually voluntary. Thus, it’s a personal choice to attend school, in order to improve job skills and achieve professional growth. This motivation is the driving force behind learning and this is why it’s crucial to tap into a learner’s intrinsic impetus with the right thought-provoking material that will question conventional wisdom and stimulate his mind.

Multi-level responsibilities

Adult learners have a lot to juggle; family, friends, work, and the need for personal quality time.

This is why it’s more difficult for an adult to make room for learning, while it’s absolutely crucial to prioritize. If his life is already demanding, then the learning outcome will be compromised. Taking that under consideration, an instructional designer needs to create a flexible program, accommodate busy schedules, and accept the fact that personal obligations might obstruct the learning process.

High expectations

Adult learners have high expectations. They want to be taught about things that will be useful to their work, expect to have immediate results, seek for a course that will worth their while and not be a waste of their time or money. This is why it’s important to create a course that will maximize their advantages, meet their individual needs and address all the learning challenges (https://elearningindustry.com/8-important-characteristics-of-adult-learners).

Observation of academy related course materials:

The most foundational element of policing is working with the public. The public’s trust, respect, and support is paramount in effective policing. Police officers spend the majority of their time in public, but spend less than one quarter of their time training and learning how to work with and for the community. This means the classroom activities in the academy needs to move from traditional academy classroom settings and towards a more effective model of training the whole person. In other words, SLEA should not be developing robots to do the same thing the same way. Instead the focus should be placed on creating critical thinkers who can apply their knowledge and training to respond to and address community concerns appropriately and use their problem-solving skills to resolve ongoing problems in an effective and efficient manner.

The vast majority of my time was spent observing classroom training lectures. The classroom lecture materials cover 90 percent of what police officers actually do and does so in a short period of time. This makes it very difficult for the academy to be effective in those critical areas of police and community relations, ethics, de-escalation, and crisis intervention. To be clearer, police officers use physical force less than 10 percent of the time on the job, but academies spend well over 50 percent of training time on use of force techniques. This is quite similar nationwide and is at the forefront of the debate in regards to police academy training.

SLEA can only follow the parameters that have been established by ILETSB.

Due to specific national and professional training standards, I did not find it necessary to observe firearms training, defense tactics, vehicle contacts, field sobriety, emergency vehicle operations, and a few other sections. The academy staff in these areas are more likely to be nationally certified and train to national requirements. These particular areas are where SLEA tends to excel in terms of training, as many local police agencies will note. These are also the area that uses the most scenario based and hands on training modules and exercises.

The ILETSB provides the curriculum objectives for SLEA training, but the state does not dictate how the training is to be taught or trained to police recruits. In other words, how the curriculum is trained is up to each individual academy. The culture of SLEA is grounded in the concepts of discipline and officer safety and that tone is set on day one. SLEA operates with a military/warrior style, but should be cautioned that such an approach can lead to the wrong mindset for police recruits. Although it is important for police recruits to be aware of officer safety, the foundation of policing is in their ability to work with and serve the very public that gives them the consent to protect and serve them. Research continues to show that a military approach is not the best approach for training new police recruits. Military style academies have a tendency to provide excellent training in the area of tactics and officer safety, but they do little to promote decision-making skills, critical analysis, effective communication, and community relations.

In addition, the type of discipline I observed was one of taking and following orders. This is more of a military style of discipline approach. The philosophy of policing should take on a different approach to discipline. Police officers need to be: discipline with their emotions; flexible and not rigid in their decision making; trained to critically analyze and problem solve; and understanding that they are community caretakers and partners and not at war with the very communities they serve. These messages should be established on hour one of day one of the academy. Course materials, instructor knowledge and attitude, and the relationship that is developed with recruits, will all have impacts on the culture and success of the academy.

Day one of the academy should be filled with building recruit’s confidence, not tearing them down. On day one of the academy, I heard things that separated the police from society.

Statements such as “We are different than everyone else.” This begins to set a tone that somehow the police are separate from the community. The reality is that people who choose to serve as police officer are only a microcosm of the community they serve. Recruits should not be influenced in a manner that distances them from the community. Police academies actually should incorporate training curriculum that encourages establishing relationships and working with the community. In addition, recruits were told their first names were not important. An individual’s first name is quite important, as it was the name they were given by their parents and what they are known by to friends and family.

Tearing an individual down only to rebuild them is a military theorem. Police in a democratic society does not require this style nor type of training. Police training should take into account the intellectual talents and skills these recruits possess and use them to assist in preparing these recruits for the work of a police officer. Telling a person their name does not matter is demeaning and disrespectful. I am sure disrespect was not the intent, however, in a learning environment it may not be the best way to build rapport with recruits. It could have a negative impact where the recruit tunes out that particular instructor or have them question everything being trained in the academy.

During my observations, I found instructors using outdated course related materials, some used language that could certainly be construed as inappropriate and even offensive (constantly referring to females as “chicks”), outdated language found on a PowerPoint referring to (African Americans as “Afro-American”), and personal experience stories being used as training related materials. These were all ineffective and useless in regards to the academy’s specific block of instruction for that given day and time.

There was an odd two-hour block of instruction specifically related to Muslims. This was a surprise for me, as ILETSB does not require this particular type of training. I found this training to be out of place and inappropriate as no other religion or group was singled out in the academy. This could be misconstrued as profiling training more so than Muslim awareness. I asked academy officials how this particular block of training was implemented and why Muslims were specifically singled out? No one knew the answer to those questions.

Many police training experts consider community policing to be one of the pillars of the academy. The SLEA trainer of this particular section stated at least three times that they did not really know anything about community policing. In fact, the trainer went on to state the agency they worked for did not have any good community policing programs. Some of the course materials used in this section were from the 1980’s and most were not relevant to community policing. It was clear the trainer had no idea what they were talking about.

Cultural diversity is practically non-existent in SLEA training. Another of the foundational pillars in police training is barely touched upon and the trainer that provides the instruction clearly is limited in their ability to train and educate the recruits in this particular area.

It was more of a non-academic, one sided discussion about race. One of the few class exercises I saw was during this section where recruits wrote on the white board. Recruits were placed into groups and asked to list as many cultural stereotypes they could. After doing so, the instructor provided his own take on some of the stereotypes listed and informed the recruits of the damage that it does. I found the training and exercise to be insignificant and useless without substantive details and significant reference to policing. Cultural diversity goes far beyond race. Issues such as sexual orientation, religion, age, soci-economics, gender, gender identity, and ethnicity were never discussed in the context of police and their community.

The Police Training Institute (PTI) in Champaign, IL and other academies around the country have added specific sections with regards to police and race relations; in particular, the relationship between police and African-Americans. However, I do not believe just discussing police and minority communities goes far enough. Multiculturalism and police training should address the vast diversity we find in all communities. The complexity of policing in the vastly diverse American society we all live in should be trained appropriately with the proper materials and instructors. The stakes are too great and the outcomes matter.

Another pillar in police training is ethics. SLEA must find a way to incorporate ethics into every aspect of recruit training. The ethics section lacked depth, interaction, and failed to define ethics properly; especially, as it relates to the day to day operation and decision making of policing. There were no training materials, nor discussions involving: how one even develops ethics; how socialization attributes to bias and prejudice; and how we define what is just and ethical. Ethics is a critical training section and it must be relevant to the profession and the situations officers may find themselves facing. Having to make difficult decisions is a part of the job, so recruits must be thoroughly trained in this area complete with scenarios and interactive exercises. In addition, SLEA promotes what is good about policing, but practically ignores all of the unethical behavior the profession has seen overtime. Unethical decision-making by some officers causes citizens to question officer’s actions and behavior and negatively effects the sanctity of the badge. The lack of discussion and examples surrounding unethical behavior does not allow these new recruits to view the realistic aspects of unethical behavior.

The tactical communications section was very similar to the ethics section. Communications is a subject matter that must be woven throughout the fabric of the academy. Communications is arguably the most important aspect of policing as speaking with victims, witnesses, suspects, and the general public is the key to police legitimacy. The tactical communications section primarily focused on police suspect communications. This section could use an update with materials that discuss effective officer communications or perhaps the art of communications. There is also section on communication in the police environment. As the name suggests, it focuses on the police environment and pays little attention to the importance of communicating appropriately and effectively with the general population. This particular section of recruit training in communications is ripe for scenarios. In addition, report writing is a huge part of communications and could be incorporated directly into the training along with ethics.

The lack of classroom interaction, exercises, and outdated course materials, is indicative of the following: instructors being with the academy for a long period of time and are comfortable knowing they will be training every new recruit class; instructors not being properly evaluated; instructors not taking the initiative to update their training materials; and instructors who do not continue their own professional development. In an academy, instructors should be encouraged to obtain a degree in a related training area or take new and relevant course work.

For example, a classroom traffic portion of the academy is being taught by a police chief who stated they had been a trainer in the academy since 1998. Although the trainer was entertaining, the course materials seemed to be outdated and should be more contemporary. In addition, a police chief, who probably rarely makes traffic stops, may not be the most effective individual at this time in their career to be training new recruits in this particular area.

There were many occasions during classroom training that I found the instruction to be more of a storyteller and rambling on than actual information being disseminated and discussed.

I observed that the proper training materials and information during several blocks of training were not even used or mentioned. It is unclear if the materials were available or even if the instructor actually knew the relevant information. Lastly, the vast majority of each training section did not explain the training objectives and why they are relevant to policing. By explaining the relevancy and objectives, this allows recruits to begin constructing an idea of why the information is important (critical analysis) and how it can be applied in real life situations in the policing profession.

Preparing for a 21st Century Academy:

There are many improvements SLEA can make immediately and some will take time to implement. However, there must be a commitment to making these changes and they will take careful planning. The suggestions below will help improve training and assist instructors with developing the skills necessary to be effective. More importantly, these suggestions can assist in developing the best prepared police recruits possible.

Suggestions for Enhancing Classroom Techniques:

  • Develop SLEA training manual (book)
  • Add more interactive scenario based exercises
  • Provide more relevant information than just the instructor’s experience(s)
  • Provide reading materials/articles prior to instruction to allow recruits an opportunity to develop ideas and thoughts for classroom participation
  • Use contemporary information that is relevant today
  • Allow time for discussion with recruits
  • Stay away from your own war stories
  • Be aware of who is in the room and what they bring (Adult Learners)
  • Allow recruits to do presentation of materials as individuals or groups
  • Use demonstrations where possible for those who are visual learners
  • Make more use of the building and get out of the classroom and be creative

Suggestions for Trainer Enhancements:

  • Understand learning is like communication and is a two-way street
  • Continuously update instructor and course materials
  • Take an adult learner course to enhance skills
  • Develop a formal evaluation tool for instructors and instructor materials
  • Develop your own goals and outcomes for what you want to achieve as an Instructor
  • SLEA should develop a cadre of instructors where there is a good rotation of academy instructors to keep everyone fresh
  • Take an instructor development course
  • Provide a mandatory instructor development course for all SLEA trainers

Suggestions for Training Curriculum Enhancements:

  • Use Blackboard as a source of housing training materials and interactive exercises i.e. PowerPoints, videos, research articles, professional articles, discussion boards,
  • Give out homework assignments
  • Trainers should consider developing interactive classroom exercise that involve recruits.
  • For every one hour of lecture there should be at least a half hour to an hour of classroom activities to allow recruits to participate in active learning
  • Trainers should ensure their course materials are up to date for the 21st century police recruit
  • Trainers should use the worst examples of policing to promote the best examples and practice.
  • Trainers must ensure lectures and materials are relevant and use examples that apply to the jurisdictions in the academy.
  • Group exercises
  • Incorporate report writing into every hands-on exercise and classroom activity.

This allows for instant feedback opportunities, critical analysis, decision-making process, and problem solving.

Recruit Interviews:

Interviews with former and a few current SLEA recruits reveal they too had concerns with some training materials, instruction, and hands-on activities. Recruits were apprehensive in their responses and in no way wanted to be viewed as being critical of the academy. Recruits stated they were intimidated from day one of the academy and the culture of the academy made them feel they could not and should not anything. They were afraid that if they questioned anything that they would be reprimanded or punished.

Some recruits indicated they and many of their fellow recruits felt the evaluations of academy instructors were not really taken seriously, as they were afraid to speak their true feelings. There were many areas they felt they did not learn much at all. The topics of ethics, community policing, gangs, and diversity were most often mentioned in particular. Other areas they could not remember at all such as crime prevention. These current and former recruits said they felt on edge most of the time and that the academy seemed too rigid sometimes. The recruits were not somehow suggesting the academy should be “easy” but felt it was unnecessary to treat them like they were not adults and had to be told everything to do and how to do it. In other words, they had no voice or opinion. Additionally, they added it was important for them to give me their comments if it meant the academy could do better in certain areas of recruit training for future officers.

Recruits indicated sitting in seats was a waste of time and more scenario based activities should have been used to demonstrate the objectives in a more practical manner. In particular, former recruits said they were not as prepared as they should have been when they were in field training at their agencies and even points afterwards. These former recruits believe that more scenarios and an in-depth analysis and explanations of concepts and procedures could have prepared them better for the job. The recruits stated the scenarios they did participate in were not enough, as they only got to go through most scenarios once or twice with little explanation of what went well, but instead the focus was on what went wrong. They indicated they often got bored and drifted off in scenarios and the classroom. I actually observed some recruits checking their email and other websites during training lectures inside the classroom.

Several former recruits indicated they were concerned that the majority of scenarios, if not all, were no win situations. They stated, these types of scenarios do not lend themselves to de-escalation because more force was always necessary. They believe that there should be more scenarios where you can actually de-escalate without using force. They understood that force will be necessary sometime, however, they realize that on most occasions force will not be necessary and they can actually calm the situation. Recruits also stated there were no opportunities to breakdown the scenarios and discuss more thoroughly how it could have been handled differently or better. Instead, it was all about what went wrong. In other words, more critical analysis was needed after scenarios take place, but for lack of time, it does never occurs.

Some recruits with and without military backgrounds questioned why they had to learn marching and the use of exercise regimen for punishment. They believed this was unnecessary and not realistic in policing today. They understood that discipline is important, but felt it could be done in a more professional way as to relate to police and their communities. I have often observed students doing push-ups in the hallway during my courses in the Homeland Security Education Center (HEC). I asked recruits why they were doing exercise in the hallway and they would indicate that they were being punished for not saying good morning to someone or not saying yes sir or ma’am. On some occasions, it was because a shirt was not tucked properly or some other trivial manner. This type of training is questionable. SLEA may be unintentionally teaching a recruit that if someone is not doing something you are telling them to do as an officer, go ahead and punish them. There were at least 3 academy instructors who told the recruits to ignore the requirements of yelling their names and other “non-sense.” The instructors clearly were annoyed with that type of culture. One last concern that came up was that recruits felt some instructors were teaching to their own department’s culture of how they do things instead of making the training broad and adaptable to all agencies.

One of the most shocking and concerning aspects of the training that was unethical and unnecessary was trainers were providing direct answers to the weekly test questions. Trainers would either tell recruits exactly what they needed to know what was on the test or the test question would actually be provided. This is inappropriate to say the least and has no training value. It also allows the recruit to zone out during training and wake up when they hear the words, “You might want to remember this or take a note.” Remembering and understanding are two vastly different concepts of learning. One allows you to perform a task simply from memory. The other allows you to know the significance and importance of why you are performing the task. This practice must stop immediately.

New Updated ILETSB Curriculum:

The ILETSB has added 160 hours to the existing 400-hour recruit academy. These additional hours have added new training materials, while increasing hours in existing areas. It is clear the ILETSB is trying to influence police recruit training to move towards a more community policing focus that trains new recruits in regards to the importance of police legitimacy, procedural justice concepts, and community relations. This focus is directly related to the recommendations of the Presidential Task Force on 21st Century Policing. The new focus does not take away anything from officers and in fact adds hours to these areas. It actually strengthens officer safety by adding training materials that are relevant to developing a positive relationship with the community and encouraging a more analytical approach to performing their duties.

It is important that SLEA finds well qualified candidates for the current and new curriculum. The philosophy of policing and the foundational concepts can have a major impact on recruit attitudes towards the job and the type of relationships they will have with the communities they serve. By having a clear understanding of what the purpose of policing is and maintaining legitimacy amongst those you serve, recruits develop a sense of pride and purpose.

This draws on the fundamentals of why they wanted to pursue this profession in the first place and that is to help people. Another part of the new training hours is criminology. Criminology, trained in the proper manner can have an incredibly positive impact on recruits by assisting them in understanding patterns, victims, perpetrators, and locations of crime and disorder. The importance of having the most well qualified trainers in these areas cannot be understated. These particular areas are the foundation of the academy.

Other areas that ILTSB added includes: orientation to the criminal justice system, social media, neighborhood/community profiles, police community relations/implicit bias, and procedural justice. It is clear what ILETSB is trying to improve. ILETSB realizes that training academies were clearly focused on the what instead of the why. They knew the shortcoming of hours that were dedicated to 90 percent of police work and are trying to influence academies to move towards the foundational components of policing.


Policing is one of the most noble professions in the United States and new recruits deserve the best training to prepare them for the job. Suburban police chiefs have long maintained that community oriented policing is a clear direction their agencies must move towards and partnerships with their communities are of the utmost of importance. To that end, these police executives would like to see their new officers trained in a fashion that promotes that philosophy while maintaining a balance with officer safety. ILTSB has recognized these concerns as well and has added more hours to meet these needs.

It is clear SLEA has a warrior philosophy when it comes to police training and must decide if that is the proper culture they want to provide to police recruits. My observations of SLEA reveals there are many areas that can be improved upon to assist in bringing the academy to the forefront of training in Illinois and lay the foundation for the challenges 21st century police face. Training that addresses de-escalation tactics, diversity, mental health, youth, cultural bias, and racism, will assist recruits in developing the proper mindset that leads to positive police community relationships and reduce conflict to citizens and police.

SLEA must be able to provide a basic recruit with a training that prepares them to use their analytical, communication, and problem-solving skills to effectively respond to the needs of the communities they will serves. Police academies can no longer afford to take the traditional approach to academy training that emphasizes the technical and tactical aspects of the job, but pays little attention to community policing concepts. These traditional models of training have often led well intentioned police officer to make decisions based on the limited training they have been provided.

SLEA should make a commitment to hiring the best trainers possible instead of primarily hiring individuals based on who they know. In addition, a more effective way of evaluating instructors and instructor curriculum must be implemented. SLEA should also be careful not to base their success on how many recruits pass the state exam. It is impossible to determine if the exam effectively measures the outcomes for what a new police recruit should understand and be able to demonstrate in accordance with the duties of a police officer.

Finally, police academies in Illinois primarily operate on their own accord. Although the ILETSB provides the training mandate in terms of hours and curriculum, it primarily allows the academies to carry out their training in whatever manner they choose. With this in mind, it is possible for SLEA to cover all of the required foundational concepts necessary for new recruits.

Critical thinking, legitimacy and trust, multi-cultural understanding, decision-making, ethics, community policing, crisis recognition and intervention, de-escalation, officer safety, and wellness, are the pillars of the academy and should be inner woven throughout the curriculum.

These changes will not happen overnight, but they can be implemented over time with the proper planning and dedication of SLEA and its personnel.

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