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Back to Archives | Back to November 2009 Contents 

Designing the Annual Training Curriculum: A Team Effort

By Patrick L. Bradley, Director of Baltimore, Maryland, Police Academy (Retired); Former Executive Director of the Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commissions; Member, IACP Education and Training Committee, Timonium, Maryland

ollaboration is the key to planning successful, effective annual training. Effective collaborators include risk managers, prosecutors, community members, advocacy groups, and officers themselves. According to the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training (IADLEST), 80 percent of the Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) agencies across the country require some hours of professional development training annually.1 Some POSTs specifiy the course material, while others allow the local jurisdiction to select the areas for training. Even in those jurisdictions where the POST, other state authority, or federal agencies mandate annual training topics, individual law enforcement agencies can add supplemental course material. In other words, each police department has a say in at least part of the training provided to its officers. Who then decides what topics will be presented?

Until relatively recently, the training available to police agencies was limited to curriculum developed and delivered in-house, locally available courses provided by a regional academy or POST agency, or commercial training programs prepared for broad/national consumption. Today, access to the Internet and computer-based training has significantly broadened police-related training courses’ availability.

However, just because a broader selection of training is accessible does not answer the question of who decides what topics will be presented. Rather, having a wider variety of instruction available only makes the dilemma worse by eliminating former limitations. The question remains: who determines what topics a department’s officers receive for their annual training?

This article identifies what processes and resources chiefs or their designees (for example, academy director or training coordinator) need to consider when selecting annual training topics, whether these selections make up the entire training program or supplement other mandated subjects.

“Annual” in-service training is not intended to imply that the identified training topics should be repeated each year, year after year. Rather, chiefs should use these processes and resources to select the relevant training each year. This choice may or may not result in repeated topics.

Many other concerns need to be considered when developing in-service training, such as, budget, scheduling, and availability of facilities and instructors, among others. Identifying what training topics are most critical and answer the agency’s needs is, however, the primary and initial step.

Command Role in Determining Training Topics

Training subordinate personnel is command’s fundamental responsibility. No matter whether the chief assigns training authority to a subordinate, the agency head is still responsible for training, same as with all other aspects of departmental operation and administration.

Command members do have a fundamental role, therefore, in identifying training topics. The chief should establish a departmental mechanism for supervisors and administrators to identify and submit potential areas for training. Training is a perfectly legitimate response when inspections or procedural audits have identified systemic shortcomings or performance failures. Separate and distinct from any disciplinary considerations, training can address those areas where the root causes for malfunction appear to be a lack of awareness or skill. Training topic suggestions such as implementing new policy and new procedures, as well as changes in criminal statutes and recent judicial rulings, should come from command staff.

Risk Managers

Whether a jurisdiction is self-insured or is covered against loss and liability by a commercial insurer, risk management plays a major role in the department’s overall fiscal constitution. The risk manager for the department or jurisdiction, or a representative of the insuring entity, can indicate where the department has been most vulnerable to claims.

Typically vehicular accidents will top the list, followed by inappropriate conduct on the part of officers leading to injury or death. Less frequent but prevalent are the claims for unwarranted destruction of property (such as those incurred during raids, warrant service, or evidence collection) and abasement of character/false arrest. The insurer or risk manager should also be able to provide information on regional and national trends in claims against law enforcement agencies.

Addressing these operational areas through remedial training demonstrates an agency’s responsiveness. Proactive training may forestall future claims. In some police departments, civil defense attorneys representing the jurisdiction and/or the defendant officer(s) meet regularly with the training coordinator to discuss the basis of the complainants’ cases, regardless of the outcome. Their purpose is to identify where training can address any underlying conduct that contributed to the claim and how that information can lead to better training. A risk manager’s assessment of potential training topics may look something like the matrix in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Training Criticality Matrix

Quadrant A: Little opportunity for performance-based assessment or reinforcement by supervisor. Situation should be simulated for training and performance evaluation.

Quadrant B: Frequently occurring, although consequences could be serious, or infrequently occurring, but consequences are not very severe. Selection for periodic retraining may be based on supervisor feedback and calculated “return on investment.”

Quadrant C: Frequently occurring with minimum consequences. Periodic retraining is usually unnecessary. Proficiency in this activity is monitored and reinforced by supervision.

Using this matrix, the risk manager can identify on the vertical axis continuum how often the procedure is used or the activity takes place. Documenting a preliminary investigation (field report writing) may occur fairly frequently, depending on the criminal activity in a particular jurisdiction or beat. Alternatively, service of a high-risk warrant probably occurs infrequently, unless the officer is a member of a specialized unit.

The horizontal axis continuum shows the value of the consequences of poor performance due to a failure of the officers’ collective knowledge, skills, and abilities. On this scale, a poorly written parking ticket would have lesser consequence than a poorly written statement of probable cause. By combining the relative frequency and consequence values, the risk manager can assess how critical refresher training is.

The risk manager will recommend training investments be focused first on the procedures or activities that intersect on quadrant A. Annual training to address topics relevant to quadrant B would be considered second. “Return on investment” is an informal determination as to whether the training’s effect is worth the time, effort, and expense of developing and delivering the lesson, particularly when compared to other quadrant B topics. If the assumptions regarding frequency, criticality, and supervisors’ roles are correct, the risk manager would recommend little or no training resources be expended for matters in quadrant C.

Figure 2: Training Criticality Matrix


Prosecuting criminal charges is a natural outcome of law enforcement operations. Whether in traffic, misdemeanor, or felony court, the police officer’s performance is pivotal to successful prosecution of the accused. Procedural failures by police doom prosecutions. Successful prosecutors meet to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of their cases before trial and/or plea conversations with defendants. Prosecutorial “autopsies” also occur when prosecutions fail.

These debriefings among prosecuting attorneys often identify areas where police performance should and could have been better (for example, documentation of the preliminary investigation, crime scene security, collection and processing of evidence, identification of witnesses and documentation of statements, interrogation of suspects, and documentation of “articulable suspicion” or probable cause).

One error by an individual officer and/or in a particular case may not warrant an in-service training session. However, chiefs should have open lines of communication with the prosecutors’ office to identify systemic failures addressable through retraining. In many instances, such training constitutes reiteration of fundamental police practices.


The community is the primary and direct recipient of law enforcement services. Therefore, community members should have input into the training their officers receive. Many people do not know that annual police training is required or how the training topics are decided upon and delivered. Community relations council meetings, town hall meetings, and citizen police academies are ideal settings for identifying areas the community members feel should be subjects of training or retraining.

These sessions also provide a forum for explaining the process for involving others in a collaborative approach to police training. Elected officials are a subset of the community. Like the police chief, elected legislative and executive officers are publicly committed to safety and security. Their insights may be helpful. If a chief can ask the jurisdiction’s elected officers for feedback without becoming immersed in a political quagmire, then the chief should certainly do so.

Advocacy Groups

Another consideration is the interests of special advocates. No police agency is immune from the request of public interest organizations or support groups that would like every officer to be familiar with their constituents’ special needs. A positive response to each such appeal is a practical impossibility. However, failing to at least consider including these topics invites indictment for lack of compassion, insensitivity, and detachment. Such a position may also invite advocacy groups to seek recourse from a higher political (that is, elected official) or administrative authority (such as, POST, legislature). Suggested topics from advocacy groups may be prioritized by applying a training criticality matrix (see Figure 1) or similar decision support device. Topics may be merged (for example, special needs victims), or incorporated into other, more critical subject matters (such as, documentation of witness statements, to include sensitivity to traumatized victims). When determining what to include in police officers’ annual training, ignoring special advocacy groups or dismissing them entirely is a mistake.

The Locker Room

Frequently, the persons consulted least or last about topics for in-service training are the officers themselves. This is particularly true when the training approach is onesize-fits-all and there is little or no attention given to the officer’s assignment, specialty, strengths, weaknesses, and/or interests.

Within the culture of each police department, the “locker room” knows the strengths and weaknesses of the workforce. Officers can quickly (and usually accurately) identify which training topics will actually help them do their job better, more efficiently, and more effectively. Progressive police agencies, attuned to the locker-room phenomena, will actually construct their in-service program like a scaled-down version of a college curriculum. Required or mandated courses are prescribed for all members. In some cases, supervisors will direct particular officers to attend or receive specific training to address an identified performance weakness (such as, defensive driving). Thereafter, officers are permitted to select alternative, job-related training courses or electives of their own choosing from those locally or regionally available or from those available via the Internet or other approved medium. As a result of this flexibility, officers are more likely to attend training that is relevant to their needs and interests.

In jurisdictions where annual training is provided or hosted by another provider (for example, a larger agency’s academy, community college, and so forth), chiefs should request and receive the results of course evaluations, particularly those portions where officer-students indicate the topics they would like to see covered in future classes. Notwithstanding any fees involved, departments should have direct input into the content of annual training programs to which they send their officers.

Response to the “Collaboration”

A cynical view of the process for selecting in-service training offers two pictures. The first shows a group of police instructors. One of them, while reaching for some dusty binders on a high shelf, comments to the others, “OK, here’s one we haven’t done for a while.” The other depicts a group of officers in the chief’s office. The chief is on the phone to a local training center saying, “I’ve got a bunch of officers who need in-service. Whaddya got?”

When the concept of annual professional development training first started, the resources available to a police department were relatively limited. Internet-based training has now demolished that limitation. Nearly every professional law enforcement organization of national stature offers traditional, in-person training programs and/or Web-based training course work. In the forefront of these are IACP’s own programs. Federal law enforcement training providers generously distribute training courses in-person, by hard copy, and electronically. Universities, colleges, and community colleges broadcast new training programs all the time. Some of these courses are specifically geared for police. Others, designed for the general student, have obvious law enforcement or public safety applications. Many mainstream advocacy groups have their own Web sites. While their information may not fit the traditional in-service lesson plan format, the information provided is no less accurate, useful, or testable.

The availability of these broadened training sources eliminates the budgetary, convenience, or operational priority excuse for failing to provide meaningful in-service training. Chiefs must identify the training topics that their communities, their agencies, and their officers need. Unilaterally selecting these topics ignores or even insults the availability of meaningful resources for insight and “intelligence” into what training is most suitable. Most U.S. law enforcement officers will receive in-service training during 2010. What training they receive cannot be simply a matter of a chief’s guesswork. ■


1International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training (IADLEST), 2005 IADLEST Sourcebook, (Meridian, Idaho: 2005), part 13 (1a): 193.



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXVI, no. 11, November 2009. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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