Training Standards for Law Enforcement

More than ever in policing there is a critical need for science-based standards for all aspects of law enforcement training.

In this podcast Peggy Schaefer explains the root of the problem and the necessity of producing evidence-based training programs to Melissa Nee of Brooks Bawden Moore LLC Consulting.

Download Podcast (20-minutes)

Or read a transcript of the podcast below:

 IADLEST Podcast on Training - Transcript

Melissa:  Welcome back to the BBM podcast!  Today I’m here with Peggy Schaefer from the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training (IADLEST).  Peggy is our go-to on all things related to law enforcement training and more!  Thanks for being here, Peggy!

Peggy:  Thanks for having me, Melissa! I’m happy to talk about national training standards especially since so many listening today may not know we have them, and they are definitely improving the law enforcement profession – one course at a time!

I don’t know if our listeners know this, but there are over 800 tasks that officers have to perform perfectly.  That is what the public expects, but we don’t have the investment in training that other professions have. So our men and women in blue have to rely on training programs based on PowerPoint slides, case studies, articles written by single authors, and anecdotal circumstances. You know Melissa, in the medical field, doctors and nurses know exactly how to perform their jobs, how to do surgery, which instruments to use, which drugs to prescribe, which levels of oxygen will produce the best results, and on and on. Unfortunately, we do not have that in law enforcement, so we desperately need this independent third-party review of police training materials that IADLEST provides to ensure officers receive quality training.

Melissa:  Peggy, before we get too far into our training discussion, could you tell us a bit more about what you do?  IADLEST’s Executive Director, Mike Becar, was here a few weeks ago, talking about the National Decertification Index, which IADLEST manages – we’ll leave a link to that podcast in the description box.  But we’d love to hear a bit more about IADLEST and what you focus on!

Peggy:  We are a non-profit association with our members coming from State POSTs, Academy Directors, Trainers, and training providers.

Melissa:  And a POST is?

Peggy:  POST stands for Police (or Peace) Officer Standards & Training.  Almost all 50 states have a POST responsible for determining the hiring and certification standards for the officers in their states.  The POST Directors work directly with a “Commission” made up of members of the community, Chiefs, Sheriffs and Council of State appointees.  So each state has a governing entity that approves the employment and certification standards for officers, corrections personnel, detention officers and telecommunicators.

Melissa:  OK, got it.  Thank you!   Tell me more about IADLEST.

Peggy:  As a collaborative association, we work to improve training standards for basic academies, in-service providers, and agencies. In addition to managing the National Decertification Index – the national database for decertified officers, which agencies can access for FREE, we also do independent training academy audits, and we have a robust accreditation program. And, of course, we develop and deliver best-in-class training!

Melissa:  Thank you for that.  And like Peggy said – please, please check out our podcast on the NDI.  OK, let’s get into training.  We’ve spent months – years – talking about policing reform and the best ways to improve policing practices across the country.  One of those ways is training.  Can you tell me more?

Peggy: I don’t know if the public understands how critical training is for the profession. Standards vary from state to state, based on directives from the Commissions I mentioned earlier, but most have annual training requirements that officers must meet to stay certified.  These differ from 10 to 24 hours per year. But all officers start with a basic academy experience varying from 404 hours to over 1000! So, this inconsistency between states is where IADLEST helps. We collect and share statewide standards for basic and in-service, and this helps states improve their respective standards as they compare theirs with others. We are able to share curriculum, and IADLEST has been a conduit by developing several OJP and COPS office-funded programs and are starting to distribute these across the US.

Melissa:  But all training is not equal.  That’s where IADLEST comes in.  Can you tell me about the National Certification Program?

Peggy:  Absolutely! IADLEST launched the National Certified Program (NCP) in 2015 to independently assess training programs delivered to police agencies. The NCP sets minimum standards for vendors providing police continuing education and we ensure training content meets those quality standards. The standards are designed to meet or exceed any individual State certification requirements which ensures that IADLEST certified training will be accepted by all participating POST organizations in the Nation for officer training credit.

Many of our member POSTs do not have enough staff or subject matter experts on staff to assess the training providers coming into their states, so this service helps them with that process ensuring that the courses are current, correct, and legally defensible. As a matter of fact, the Washington POST published an article a few weeks ago addressing this critical issue, especially as it relates to “Warrior versus Guardian” training.  The country is certainly shifting to a more “Guardian” philosophy for officers, but many training providers have not kept up with this trend.

So, as a result, we have certified over 400 courses, with many renewing because they see the program’s value. In addition, we are working with over 450 providers, helping them improve their training programs. It is very gratifying to know that we are making a difference for officers, agencies, and the communities they serve.

Melissa:  What do you want policymakers to think about when looking at baseline standards and training models?  What are some of the big pieces that have to be factored in?  I guess more simply, what are you all focused on when you’re reviewing a training program?

Peggy:  Well, Melissa, there are still way too many police training programs built on some concepts and PowerPoint slides and police “war stories.” For training to be legally defensible, providers need to develop scripted instructor lesson plans that outline every concept taught in the program. These concepts need to come from current sources and reflect best practices. Student guides should be developed as well.  We can’t expect officers to see a PowerPoint slide six years ago and know it today.  

In addition, the training programs need to be developed with adult learning principles to include engaging activities, like discussion, case studies, classroom problem solving and realistic scenario-based training based on what officers really do in the field. We want officers to master course content and skills, so all training should have tests that measure competence. Officers need to be held accountable for what happens in the classroom or in an online environment.

Training also needs to be developed in a non-discriminatory manner – not be sexist, racist and with an independent look at the bias in the program. And all of the materials for every class they complete need to be archived for the officer’s entire career.  So in a nutshell:

    • Engaging activities
    • Scenario based training
    • Pre and Post Testing to measure training transfer to include skills based testing
    • Be Non- discriminating
    • Archiving Course materials
    • Using current concepts that are evidence-based as much as possible and certainly those reflecting ‘best practices’

When the course is certified by IADLEST, all of these issues and more are addressed.

Melissa:  We talk a lot about de-escalation training and best ways to interact with those who are in crisis.  Why is evidence-based training so important, especially when it comes to these areas?

Peggy:  One of the problems with a substantial amount of police training is that it is NOT evidence-based. IADLEST published a digital report, “Why Law Enforcement Needs to Take a Science-Based Approach to Training and Education” last year addressing this very issue. And unfortunately, our profession has not had the rigorous research we need for all of the actions and activities police are called to respond to – remember over 800 different tasks!

As an example, in the de-escalation area, Dr. Robin Engle and her team, from the University of Cincinnati, conducted an excellent research study testing the effects of the Police Executive Research Forum’s (PERF) course, called ICAT: Integrating Communications, Assessment, and Tactics. This was one of the first research efforts to show that officers can reduce their use of force with citizens by using effective de-escalation strategies. The study was published in 2020, and it is significant for our profession. We need more research, collaboration between academics and police agencies, to help us determine the best communication methods to use with individuals in crisis and with mentally ill individuals. We need more research on the best handcuffing techniques and the best way to make a vehicle stop or to safely extract an individual who refuses to get out of their car, or the best methods to train in officer decision making.  We currently do not have this science.

Melissa:  What about using technology to replicate real-world situations.  Why is scenario-based training so effective?

Peggy:  Traditionally, academies have tried to conduct scenario-based activities, but they are time-consuming. If you have a class of twenty students, it might take 4 hours for everyone to perform one scenario - just one. I can’t be proficient if I only get to do a skill one time, which happens in many in-service and basic academies.

But, it’s an exciting time for police right now to have access to simulators so officers can practice multiple times until they master the skill. I know about the VirTra system because they have over 20 different courses that are nationally certified, which is pretty impressive. Their training modules allow officers to try and try again to learn and practice these skills.  They get to make mistakes using the simulator and not ON THE JOB!

I’m waiting to see how Virtual Reality headsets improve police response. Again, technology is coming to our police world, and we desperately need it! I think of the technology pilots have access to with their flight simulators. We wouldn’t want to get on a plane if the pilot only practiced landing one time. I’m not sure that folks understand that when officers have to make a shooting decision, that this isn’t a skill they have practiced multiple times.  When officers are at the range, they are generally shooting at a static target that isn’t moving or threatening.  When officers have to make this critical decision, its usually their first time, so any help we can get from simulators and VR Technology will help our decision making and accuracy as we explore other less lethal options.

Melissa:  We obviously know that good training requires resources – the technology, the instructors, the space to do the training, the officers to be away from their work to complete the training, ongoing training, and more – it all requires resources, which can be a challenge.  Can you talk to that?

Peggy:  Certainly, training is expensive. For every hour an officer is doing their mandatory training, another officer is paid to replace that officer in their job.  Adequate facilities are expensive, in the millions of dollars. And developing a solid training program with the attributes I talked about earlier is also expensive. So providers have to charge upwards of $500 per class to cover their travel, printing, and time. In some states, like my home state of NC, the legislature funds our NC Justice Academy, which is where I worked for twenty-four years.  The academy develops basic and mandatory training at state expense. And this is done so that agencies can afford to have their officers trained with quality products in their departments to minimize travel time. But this isn’t the norm across the country, which is why agencies depend on all of these different training providers. I know this might sound circular, but this is why IADLEST developed the NCP to help those agencies and states that do not have the staff to develop quality training.  Our independent reviewers are experienced curriculum developers with content expertise, so they do the job that State POSTS haven’t been funded to do.

Melissa:  And even with all of the training in the world, law enforcement is expected to perform hundreds of tasks perfectly on a minute-by-minute basis – many times under incredibly difficult circumstances.

Peggy:  It is easy for all of us to watch a viral video from all different angles and speed and try to speculate and determine if an officer made a mistake or not, and sometimes we tend to be judgmental about that.  But in most of these cases, we have less than three seconds to react, shoot, or be killed, and no officer puts on her uniform and begins her shift believing that today is the day I’m going to have my first armed encounter. If that were the case, would anybody go to work?  No, we believe that we are as prepared as possible and that we will make good decisions throughout the day to serve our communities because that is how our shift goes most of the time.  People rarely see all the times we help individuals and families, and victims.  It really is a calling and a willingness to serve.  But, as we see almost daily, how quickly these situations can turn, and then its back to making the best decision you can in less than 3 seconds.

Melissa:  But resources for certified training will help to make significant improvements.  How can IADLEST be relied on as a resource to make sure the training that departments are investing in will help to further their goals of strengthening relationships and protecting the communities they serve?

Peggy:  We are the nation’s experts in police training because of who we represent – all of the academies and Training Directors.  Unfortunately, I read too many times in articles reporting that there aren’t any national training standards, so I’m hoping that this pod cast will shed some light on this topic.  WE DO have national training standards and if you are listening today reach out to to see our standards or have your training program independently reviewed.  If you are a Chief or Sheriff listening, look for our NCP seal on the training program.  If it doesn’t have the seal, ask yourself, WHY?  Then send the provider our way.  Don’t sponsor or host a program without the seal, because you don’t know what type of training your officers are going to receive.  And with training budgets being cut, you can’t risk spending a lot of money on programs with unreliable tactics, ones that are biased and ones that don’t advance law enforcement professionalism.  

Melissa:  Thank you for being here today.  Will you come back to do this again?
Peggy:  I sure will, enjoyed talking with you and I hope to hear from some of our listeners today.

God Speed everyone!

February 2022