Police pre-employment training in the U.K and U.S.A

In his report into his Review of Police Leadership and Training, Peter Neyroud (2011) provided impetus to the development of police pre-employment training schemes in England and Wales. He argued that, as with other professions, such as medicine and law, individual cops should take responsibility for their own training and development beginning before entry. He recommended that a new national pre-join Police Initial Qualification (PIQ) should be implemented and that this should be equivalent to an academic Level 4 qualification (i.e. foundation degree). To help deliver this qualification (and police training and education more broadly) Professor Neyroud envisages a central role for the higher and further education sector.

In March last year, Tom Winsor (now HMCIC), published his report into his Review of Police Officer and Staff Remuneration and Conditions, which also concluded that there is a need to introduce a requirement for police pre-employment qualifications. Whereas Neyroud had argued that the PIQ should be at Level 4, Winsor recommended that individuals seeking to become police officers should have either a Level 3 qualification (equivalent to A levels) or some other nationally recognised police qualification. Currently, the only nationally recognised pre-employment qualification is the (Level 3) Certificate in Knowledge of Policing (CKP).

For some, the debate surrounding the level of the PIQ may seem somewhat academic (excuse the pun). After all, the primary reasons for having a police pre-employment qualification include shifting a proportion of the cost of training onto individuals, along with a laudable aim to professionalise policing. A well structured PIQ framework should achieve these objectives, so why should anyone worry about what level it is?   There is, however, much at stake here, particularly for higher and further education providers who are trying to establish which direction the police training policy wind is blowing in order to plan ahead and develop programmes and partnerships. A Level 4 PIQ launches police pre-join education into the orbit of the higher education sector, whereas a level 3 award more likely leaves it predominantly in the realm of commercial training companies, FE colleges and police training academies.

Any uncertainties surrounding the future development of police pre-employment training and education in England and Wales will be resolved by the nascent College of Policing (Cop) but presently several different approaches for pre-join training are emerging. The time therefore seemed right to conduct research in a country which has an established tradition of police pre-employment training and qualifications to find out if there are any useful lessons which might be learnt.

In 2012 I was awarded a Fulbright Police Research Fellowship which enabled me to spend three months in the U.S.A researching the American approach to pre-employment training. I was hosted by the University of Cincinnati (UC) School of Criminal Justice and the Cincinnati Police Department and I would like to acknowledge the tremendous help and support which both institutions provided me with at all stages of this project.

Perhaps the most challenging methodological issues which confront anyone setting out to research policing in America relate to the sheer size of the country (the third largest in the world in both population and geographic size) and the fact that it has an extremely diverse and fragmented police system.  The U.S constitution, in place since 1787, establishes a federal system of government with relatively few powers reserved for national government and many powers delegated to the states. One consequence of this federal system, with a strong emphasis on local governance, is that the U.S. has over 18,000 separate law enforcement agencies, most of them local and small.  Although many colleagues in the U.K will be aware of some of the major agencies in American law enforcement, such as the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), it is perhaps not always appreciated that these large and well resourced agencies are not necessarily representative of the majority of policing organisations in the U.S.A. Approximately 50% of all police departments in America employ less than 10 officers and almost 75% have less than 25 sworn police. Whilst it is understandable why an agency such as the LAPD – with a compliment of approximately 10,000 sworn officers – chooses to have its own state-of-the-art police academy, clearly this is not an option for a local police department comprised of 12 cops.

Consequently, a mixed market model of police entry-level training and education has also evolved in the U.S.A which reflects its diverse system of policing. Police academies exist in every state and at the federal level and each state has an agency which certifies and closely regulates police academies and their programmes.  In the state of Ohio, for example, where I was based, that agency is the Ohio Peace Officer Training Commission (OPOTC).

During my three months stay I conducted observations at a range of police academies in Ohio (and the neighbouring state of Kentucky) and consulted with many people (including students, academics, police practitioners, etc) on a country wide basis about police training in America.

There are two ways for someone to enter a police academy and undertake a basic police training programme in the U.S.A. The first is to be employed by a law enforcement agency and attend an academy (post-employment). The second is for a person to self-fund their basic police training pre-employment and to be admitted to an academy through a system which is commonly referred to in the U.S.A as open enrolment.

Published statistics show that out of the 648 state and local law enforcement training academies operating across the U.S.A, a total of 292, (45%) were operated by an academic institution.  Some of these police academies are operated by major universities (such as UC), whilst others are run by community colleges or technical schools. Some of these institutions deliver programmes for other public safety professionals, such as the Fire Department, whilst others specialise in law enforcement.  Whilst the majority of the programmes are operated as stand alone police basic training courses, others form part of a higher qualification such as a criminal justice degree. Many of these privately run academies deliver the full basic police training curriculum, including, for example, instruction in firearms, defensive tactics and driver training.

In summary, key findings from my research include:

  • A  mixed provision approach appears to work well, whereby some police  agencies train officers on a post-employment basis, whilst others rely on  pre-join training programmes.
  • A  mixed market approach works well for pre-join training and education,  whereby some police academies are operated by major universities, whilst others are run by small colleges, technical schools and law enforcement agencies.
  • The  pre-join training delivered within academic institutions is based on the police academy model. In other words, these campuses based academies duplicate the curriculum and approach of ‘traditional’ police academies found in police departments.
  • Pre-join training in the U.S.A is tightly controlled and regulated at the state level by a governing body (i.e. OPOTC).

As U.K police finances continue to be squeezed  it is likely that an increasing number of constabularies will look to only recruit individuals who already have a policing qualification and/or prior police work experience. As indicated earlier, a number of different institutional arrangements for police pre-join training and education are emerging in England and Wales.  Several commercial training companies and FE colleges are now approved providers of the CKP qualification and the Metropolitan Police Service will only consider applications from prospective recruits who hold a pre-join award.  In contrast, Sussex Police, for example, are delivering their own pre-employment training programme. At the other end of the spectrum, HE institutions such as, for example, the University of Central Lancashire and the University of Chester are delivering a more comprehensive police initial  learning curriculum which forms part of a foundation degree programme and which also involves vocational experience serving as a special constable. On the other hand, many constabularies in England and Wales currently have no provisions in place to recruit individuals who hold a pre-join qualification and they continue to train their sworn officers on a traditional post-employment basis.

Indeed, whilst the implementation of pre-join training remains an option for many police forces in this country, America’s diverse and fragmented system of policing could not function without it. Although on the face of it, police initial training in the U.S.A also appears to be similarly fragmented, the training is, in fact, well organised around the police academy model and is in many ways more closely regulated and consistent than is currently the case in this country. The fact that 292 American police academies are operated by an academic institution suggests that this is a successful model for delivering police pre-employment training.

Sergeant Richard Heslop, West Yorkshire Police, U.K

As part of my commitment to share all information about my Fulbright project I have created my own blog site at http://www.richardheslop.net/blog.html. The site provides further details about my visit and experiences and contains copies of all my research documents including my full report into this research project: A study of police pre-employment training in the United States of America.   



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