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Training / Academy Life

Training ClassReceiving an offer of employment obviously is not immediately accompanied by a badge, uniform, and set of keys to your new cruiser. Completion of an academy and field training program will be your final hurdles to becoming a full-fledged officer.

Each state and each jurisdiction has different training requirements. In some areas, you can go through basic law enforcement training at the local community college or other state-sponsored institution first and then apply to the agency of your choice. Other jurisdictions may require you to complete their in-house training program after successful completion of their hiring process or sponsor you to attend an academy elsewhere. Still others may accept your external academy certificate but also require completion of an abbreviated version of their academy. Regardless, you can count on receiving extensive training prior to hitting the streets. The majority of your initial training will be classroom based, supplemented by practical exercises and scenarios. You will hold the rank of “cadet” or “police trainee” during this time, and if sponsored by a hiring agency, receive your first paycheck, and be eligible to receive benefits.

There is no standard national curriculum, but the state may guide agencies in developing training programs. Each state has a Commission on Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) or similar entity which establishes minimum selection standards for law enforcement officers, sets minimum education and training standards, and serves as the certification or licensing authority for sworn personnel(1). These agencies may be helpful in getting an idea of your state’s approach to law enforcement training.

People at gun rangeAccording to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) Census of State and Local Law Enforcement Training Academies, in 2002 there were 626 state and local law enforcement academies operating in the United States offering basic law enforcement training to individuals recruited or seeking to become law enforcement officers. These include

  • 274 county, regional, or state academies;
  • 249 college, university, or technical school academies; and
  • 103 city or municipal academies.

According to BJS, the median duration of basic recruit training - excluding any field training component - was 18 weeks across all academies with a range anywhere from four weeks to six months. The average class size among all academies ranged from 21 to 32 recruits with larger academies generally having larger class sizes.

Following is a summary of training topics, the percentage of academies providing each, and the median number of hours.

Academies Providing Basic Instruction on Various Topics, and Number of Hours of Instruction Required, 2002

Training Topic Percent of
providing training
in topic area
Median number
of hours of
Firearms skills 99% 60 hrs
Basic first-aid/CPR 99 24
Emergency vehicle operations 99 36
Self-defense 99 44
Criminal law 98 40
Domestic violence 98 12
Ethics and integrity 98 8
Investigations 98 45
Patrol procedures/techniques 98 40
Juvenile law and procedures 98 8
Constitutional law 96 11
Cultural diversity 95 8
Health and fitness 95 50
Officer civil/criminal liability 93 6
Human relations 92 11
Use of non-lethal weapons 91 12
Community policing 90 8
Stress prevention/management 86 6
Hate crimes/bias crimes 85 4
Mediation skills/conflict management 83 8
Domestic preparedness 78 8
Problem solving (for example, SARA, CAPRA) 64 6
Computers/information systems 59 8
Basic foreign language (such as survival Spanish) 35 16
Note: SARA stands for Scanning, Analysis, Response, Assessment. CAPRA stands for Clients, Acquiring and analyzing information, Partnerships, Response, Assessment.
Source: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), Census of State and Local Law Enforcement Training Academies, 2002


Officers taking driving trainingAfter completion of the academy, field training will be the final component of your training. During this time you will likely be paired with a training officer and accompany him or her on routine patrol. Many agencies make an effort to rotate recruits through different shifts (day versus night; weekend versus weekday) and different areas of the jurisdiction to ensure maximum exposure. According to BJS, among agencies conducting field training, the median number of hours in the field training segment was 180 hours or about eight weeks.

Your training does not stop with graduation from the academy and completion of field training. Most states require a number of continuing education hours to maintain certification. If, after a few years on patrol, you decide to apply for a special assignment, additional training will be involved. Likewise, advancement in rank will involve training on leadership and supervisory skills.

(1)International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training, Model Minimum State Standards For Post Administration, on the Internet at http://www.iadlest.org/standards (visited March 18, 2008).