Policing has changed dramatically, but one aspect of the profession has remained stubbornly unchanged: how we train our recruit officers, says Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF). For the most part, the basic approach to training new officers is much the same as it was decades ago. Many academies treat recruits more like soldiers in a boot camp than students trying to master a profession. Curricula are strong on firearms skills and defensive tactics but short on other essential skills such as decision making, critical thinking, and communications. Training facilities are often antiquated and not conducive to modern, technology-driven teaching methods. The lack of quality field training remains a major shortcoming.
In a new report, PERF examines the state of recruit training, and presents 40 "guiding principles" for transforming how new officers are taught. The principles were developed after an extensive research effort that included a survey of PERF members, interviews with experts, a review of literature, and academy visits. A few of the principles: Critical thinking and values-based decision making should be at the heart of recruit training. National standards for recruit training are needed to bring greater quality and consistency to the hundreds of police academies. Academies should embrace “Monday-morning quarterbacking” as a way for recruits to think critically about challenging incidents and learn from them. Recruits should learn the history of policing, with an emphasis on racial justice issues and local community concerns. Physical fitness should be treated as a career-long aspiration. Field training should be centralized and standardized, and should undergo a thorough vetting process and annual requalification.