Police Officer Academy Training

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All police departments support formal training to introduce recruits to basic legal concepts and police procedures.  These rigorous training programs are designed to push recruits to perform their best physically and cognitively.

Most states have some form of governmentally mandated training regimen that law enforcement officials must complete.  These programs are usually held at department-specific police academies or state law enforcement training facilities used by all law enforcement agencies within the state.  Completion of these four to eight month long programs is rewarded with a certification and in some states, college credits as well.

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Practical Police Training: Driving, Firearms, Apprehension and Arrest

Most police academies are modeled on military training programs which instill a high regard for physical conditioning and performance.  Active police officers must be prepared for anything, from pursuing fleeing suspects on foot and physically restraining unruly individuals, to pursuit driving and discharging their sidearm. The rigors of the intense police training programs are highly demanding and require candidates at peak physical, psychological and mental condition.

Firearms Training – The ability to effectively and safely handle a firearm is expected of all police officers. While the service sidearm is the most frequently used in service, officers will also receive training in the use of shotguns, which are frequently used in building assaults.  Snipers and SWAT members often receive additional training with .308 rifles, as well as short barrel guns such as the M4 or MP5 .

In most police training programs, recruits must be prove to be accurate marksmen capable of hitting a target that is still or in motion. Many training programs instruct recruits on when to free a weapon from the holster, how to aim, and how to respond to multiple attackers with a handgun.  In some states, 90 percent accuracy is expected with handguns and shotguns.

Close Combat and Handcuff Technique Training – Recruits will be expected to rise in the early hours of the morning and participate in several mile runs regularly to build the stamina necessary to handle a foot chase.  Many training programs emphasize core and upper body strength. Some states require recruits to be able to bench press 99 percent of their body weight and complete at least 38 sit-ups in a minute to graduate from the police academy.  While the physical fitness test administered during the application process is rigorous, the graduation exam is often significantly more challenging.

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In addition to brute strength tactics like wrestling, police recruits will be instructed in lethal close combat techniques designed to disable and restrain single or multiple attackers who may be armed with knives, blunt force weapons or chemicals.  These techniques have been adapted from centuries old martial arts as well as newly developed methods developed by the world’s elite combat units.

Taser, Mace and Baton Training – Tasers, Mace and collapsible batons are important tools in subduing individuals and officers will receive expert instruction in how to effectively use them.  These non-lethal tools are often the first weapon of choice for officers when they are attempting to arrest an unwilling individual.

Vehicle Operation Training – Training will also include extreme driving.  Much of the time police engage suspects while operating a motor vehicle, so knowing how to operate use a cruiser effectively can be critical to officer survival. Police driver training will instill in recruits a respect for the lethal power of the vehicles they operate on a daily basis.

These courses typically provide instruction in

  • Skid control
  • Emergency response driving
  • High speed pursuit
  • Vehicle dynamics
  • Radio operation while driving


Academic Police Training: Law, Ethics, Procedures and Protocol

Unlike the military, police recruits are also expected to utilize their knowledge of the law to identify criminals and illegal activity. They must also be mindful of the repercussions of improper handling of a criminal situation.  Not only can a legal case be dismissed, but in some cases civil or criminal penalties may be enforced against the officer or the police agency.

In order to minimize these mishaps, police academy training programs devote significant portions of their curricula to the education of recruits. These may include introductory topics like constitutional law, civil rights and authorized police procedures, as well as more advanced courses in court testimonials, media management, and hostage negotiation.

One of the most important areas of instruction is ethics.  Ethics training prevents officers from exceeding their authority, which can result in charges of civil rights violations, profiling, or police brutality. All police organizations provide strict guidelines on how to respond to sensitive situations and when it is appropriate to use force, so that officers are protected from administrative and legal penalties.

Field Training for Police Officers

Following graduation from an academy, recruits are usually paired with a Field Training Officer who facilitates the transition to active duty.  This probationary period may last from several weeks to months.  Rookies are exposed to the actual application of police procedures like witness questioning, searches and seizures, and traffic stops.  New officers also learn the internal processes of the organization and may be tasked with entry level assignments.

Although introductory training for a police officer may be completed at this time, most police officers engage in some form of training periodically throughout the rest of their careers.  These courses may take the form of departmental seminars or they may be formal courses provided through third party institutions like local colleges.  While many of these programs may assist officers in the performance of their duties, others are often critical to obtaining promotions and select assignments.

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Among the most common training programs available to veteran officers are detective classes.  These courses are usually only a few weeks long and help candidates review the most likely topics on the exam.  The majority of detectives possess a bachelor’s degree or substantial number of college credits in criminal justice topics.

Third party organizations may also provide police training that is critical to career advancement. The Federal Bureau of Investigations offers courses in bomb disposal, but selection for these programs can be very competitive.  There are also schools which provide knowledge about advanced topics in law enforcement like digital forensics and criminal psychology.

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