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Back to Archives | Back to October 2005 Contents 

Building Training Capacity for Homeland Security:
Lessons Learned from Community Policing

By Ellen Scrivner, Ph.D., Deputy Superintendent, Chicago Police Department, Chicago, Illinois, and formerly Deputy Director, Community Policing Development, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.

heightened state of awareness of terrorist threats has been woven into the everyday experience of many Americans. Nowhere is this more keenly felt than in law enforcement. As law enforcement acknowledges the challenges of an expanded mission driven by global terrorism and a dual role, responsible both for prevention and response, it is becoming glaringly obvious that training capacity is lacking. Despite training efforts that are dedicated to building isolated skill sets, there is a lack of a coherent training strategy that incorporates all that is involved with intelligence-led policing. Consequently, there is a need to build a training model that integrates technical and site management skills required at different ranks, addresses changing mindsets, and provides simulated training experiences in complex real-world settings. Currently, there is limited access to this type of centralized training. Further, rather than coherency, training remains fragmented, and that poses serious risks to achieving mission critical antiterrorist objectives.

This article discusses how law enforcement faced a similar dilemma during the 1990s when transitioning to community policing and describes how a model was developed to build community policing training capacity across the country. Lessons can be learned from the development of that process and they can inform a coherent strategy for developing training capacity consistent with the needs of intelligence-led policing, the keystone of homeland security.

A Parallel Transition
Although the transition to community policing was more circumscribed and narrowly focused than the broad spectrum of requirements for antiterrorism strategy, there are certain parallels to what we are seeing today.

  • There was an urgency to respond to increases in crime and there was no time to waste. Community policing had emerged as the vehicle to meet that need.

  • As the law enforcement mission expanded to incorporate community policing, the law enforcement portfolio of skills was changing and a new way of policing was evolving. This is comparable to intelligence-led policing of today as a new policing evolution occurs requiring new skills.

  • A new federal agency, the Office of Community Oriented Policing (COPS Office), was created. Although considerably smaller than the Department of Homeland Security, it too was providing unprecedented levels of funding to state and local law enforcement.

  • Although chiefs and sheriffs concurred with the tenets of community policing, 600,000 police officers were asking, "What are we supposed to do and how do we do it?" Officers being told they are the front line for homeland security are asking that same question today.

  • Training was not changing to meet their new requirements. Consequently, there was a need to develop a model that would create a training capacity across the United States.

A similar capacity needs to be developed today to respond to the complex demands of antiterrorism. The factors just outlined culminated in the creation of a network of Regional Community Policing Institutes, what became known as the RCPIs. Tracking their development provides fertile ground for considering how similar efforts could build capacity for homeland security training and also demonstrates how new traditions in training can be created and sustained.

Historical Antecedents of the RCPIs
In 1994 the burgeoning needs of community policing created a need to build a new tradition in police training. At that time, in the opinion of many police leaders, the tradition-bound scope and methods of police training had begun to show a certain level of complacency. Although there were many examples of unique and creative police training programs across the country, for the most part police training in 1994 had not embraced contemporary techniques of adult learning. Training was largely instructor-centered, rather than learner-centered, delivery methods were becoming dated, and the law enforcement training landscape was ripe for change and fresh ideas.

The level of change needed to revamp training across the country and create a dynamic learning environment required more than just resources. As with the development of any national training program, there needed to be a well-defined vision, a design that would facilitate substantive change, and a strategy to ensure that the vision became reality. Those factors became the lifeblood of the RCPIs that have become somewhat of a legacy of the COPS Office. RCPIs continue today to deliver state-of-the-art training. Their capacity to continue the focus on community policing while meeting emergent needs, such as training on issues as diverse as DNA evidence and homeland security, attest to their success.

The COPS Office provided the resources that supported the development of the RCPIs. Established in 1994 under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, COPS's primary goal was to increase the number of officers on the beat by 100,000. But the law also required that up to 3 percent of the funding be devoted to training and technical assistance. Hence, this legislative mandate ensured that resources could be available to make significant changes in training. But in so doing, there was a need to think carefully about what could be accomplished with those resources, to acknowledge that there was a window available that would not stay open indefinitely, and also to be careful that the design and strategy not get caught up in the urgency to accelerate the distribution of COPS funds to the field. Consequently, a design was needed that that would maximize the reach of available resources as well as create a new tradition for training that conceivably could outlast the COPS Office.

The Community Policing Consortium (CPC) had established one paradigm for community policing training. A cooperative effort of the five major law enforcement professional organizations,1 the CPC had been operational since 1992. Originally established and funded under the auspices of the Bureau of Justice Assistance, U.S. Department of Justice, the CPC had developed community policing curricula with a focus on partnerships. They were delivering customized training to a small number of BJA grantees when the COPS Office assumed oversight for the CPC in June 1995.

The CPC training was designed for organizations seeking to transition to community policing. Curricula emphasized organizational culture, community policing philosophy, principles of problem solving, cultural diversity, and strategic planning. In 1995 they expanded the training to a select group of COPS grantees, those agencies that had special training conditions requiring them to access CPC training in order to make the best use of their grants.

Exploring New Models
The COPS Office saw the need to create a new training model that would build on the success of the CPC but also expand training beyond selected grantees. Further, COPS could make a sizable investment in training since the resources available through the 3 percent monies amounted to 35 million dollars. Although 35 million was a small amount in the context of the COPS overall budget, it was large enough to make an impact in training officers nationwide.

There were more important questions: What kind of impact should be made with these monies? How should it look? What was the best way to go about it? And how could it be sustained? Several options were being considered in light of their capability to deliver comprehensive and innovative training while ensuring the best use of the funding. These options, all of which had related concerns, included the following:

  • Provide training funds to 17,000 police departments and encourage them to develop partnership-based training.
    Related Concern: The deliverable might result in a proliferation of two-hour community policing training modules sprinkled across the country.

  • Invest all of the funding in the state peace officer standards and training (POST) commissions to ensure state mandated training in community policing.

    Related Concern: Community policing could get lost in the press to fulfill state mandates and insufficient training time would limit, instead of maximize, the impact of the funding.

  • Outsource training to groups with strong education or community backgrounds but not identified as police training entities.

    Related Concern: Gaining credibility with law enforcement might be difficult and credibility would be an imperative in this type of training.

  • Invest only in the CPC as the primary training venue.

    Related Concern: CPC's training targets involved chiefs, sheriffs, and command staff. Was it realistic to expect the CPC also to accommodate the needs of the 600,000 police officers across the country?

Preliminary Field Testing
The COPS Office field-tested the above options in 1995-1996. Funding was provided for a state POST, to educational groups, to community groups, and to two regional law enforcement-partner initiatives. All demonstrated good results but the regional-partnership centers appeared to be more closely aligned with the philosophy of community policing and showed the most potential to sustain and institutionalize community policing. Given that the other projects had demonstrated innovative features that enhanced training, something of a hybrid was born. Hence, the groundwork was laid to develop a new regional partnership-based model that uniquely reflected the principles of community policing. It was believed that this model would provide a needed alternative to traditional training and would facilitate the institutionalization of community policing in departments across the country.

Once that decision was made, the next question involved flushing out the details of the regional concept and determining what the model should look like in terms of training delivery and curricula. If it was to be successful in meeting law enforcement requirements, those requirements needed to be framed from the user's perspective in contrast to those of the federal government. Clearly, stakeholder input would be critical to a successful outcome.

Stakeholder Input
Given the urgency of the mission of the COPS Office, there was literally no time for a full-fledged needs assessment that could have taken over a year to complete. Moreover, it was clear that it was important to reach beyond the needs of 100,000 new cops and to address the requirements of those police officers who were seeking to make a difference through their community policing efforts. Although the underlying components of the community policing philosophy created a foundation for a training paradigm, developing the paradigm had to be infused with the real-life experiences, including the struggles, of the cadre of change agents in law enforcement-the chiefs and sheriffs who were working to make community policing the dominant philosophy in policing.

Instead of a systematic needs assessment, and consistent with the COPS Office tradition of seeking input from the stakeholders, field test data were combined with opinions sought from the COPS Office constituents, the police chiefs and sheriff change agents throughout the country. Believing that they were in the best position to know what was needed, opinions of chiefs and sheriffs were sought out at public meetings and through phone interviews as a way to gather relevant data in a time-sensitive environment.

A central question was posed to all. In addition to solid law enforcement skills, what do you need your officers to do to if you are to be successful as a community policing department? The focus on department needs conveyed the message that this was more than skill building for law enforcement officers. Rather, a broad spectrum of training that was integrated across all ranks was needed to institutionalize community policing.

The answers to this nontraditional and informal information gathering approach confirmed that change was occurring in policing. Several trends emerged in the responses that provided support for the development of a new model:

  • There was a need to build capacity in officers and deputies to engage in critical thinking in contrast to simply reacting to situations.

  • There was a need to develop officers as problem solvers who would be capable of applying problem solving to community crime and disorder.

  • Officers needed to learn that arrest was not the only form of crime control and they needed training in how to explore and implement other alternatives, particularly when it came to prevention.

  • Officers and deputies had to become proactive but not lose the capacity to react when necessary.

  • Officers and deputies needed to learn how to collaborate with community partners. After years of being taught to be emotionally controlled and develop distance from the community, officers were now being asked to do something quite different, namely, engage the community in working partnerships.

  • Organizations had to do a better job of empowering on-the-street decision making that could lead to flatter organizations and relinquishing some control.

  • Appreciation of diversity in the community was critical, and there needed to be a collateral emphasis on ethics and integrity. Credibility as partners with the community could only be strengthened by this emphasis.

  • Officers and deputies needed more than new curricula delivered in a classroom. Rather, a structure was needed that would change behavior and create a groundswell for institutionalizing community policing.

  • Finally, there was concurrence on the importance of talking about more than training in new skills. Rather, there needed to be an emphasis on breaking down barriers and changing the mindset of American policing.

This compendium of information and the field test results framed the vision for the RCPI initiative. That vision would drive design and create a strategy to institutionalize a new tradition in training. Vision, design, and strategy were considered to be the building blocks that would lay the foundation for RCPI success.

RCPI Vision
Without vision, you have business as usual. The vision for the RCPIs was to push the envelope and create a new training model capable of transforming the police industry and changing mindsets to transition to community policing. By supporting a training model that addressed the needs of all police ranks and went beyond the walls of a traditional police academy, the vision involved engaging collaborative partners in the design, delivery, and oversight of innovative community policing training that would be real world oriented and encouraged officers and their community partners to develop new solutions to public safety and crime control.

RCPI Design: The regional training approach was the foundation of the design and it would be populated by a cohort of training institutes in each region. An institute would need to demonstrate inclusion of all relevant partnerships in every aspect of the design from the beginning of the grant process to delivery of training and ongoing oversight. Initially, 35 RCPIs would be funded within four regions and they would have the responsibility of delivering community policing training for departments in all 50 states.

At the center of each institute was a threefold partnership to be composed of law enforcement, education, and community. Consistent with the philosophy of community policing, the partnership would be the driving force in creating a dynamic training environment where curricula development and subsequent delivery would be shaped through the blending of perspectives of these different groups. This structure involved all three partner groups in the planning, staffing, and management of the institutes. Further, it was designed to encourage an environment defined by cutting-edge experimentation and interactive learning using adult learning models that engaged the learner in contrast to traditional classrooms. Talking heads and tired PowerPoint presentations could not be part of the equation. The design also required each institute to develop a core of community policing training in addition to a specialty area of training that would serve as their signature. Thus, a nucleus of community policing core competencies would be provided across the country and the signature specialties would identify each institute as the go-to place for particular types of community policing training.

RCPI Strategy: A coherent strategy was critical to achieve the vision, maximize learning capacity, and create substantive change. Therefore, from the outset, it was important to convey to grantees that they were involved in a strategy that that was quite different from a traditional training program. They were creating training institutes and would be faced with accelerating the availability of training and creating a new way to approach training. Also, they were signing on to become part of a national network of training institutes, in contrast to functioning as 35 isolated training programs, the goal being to create a critical mass of innovative community policing training across the country.

Making the RCPI Strategy Work
An idea that becomes a vision and is articulated in a design is one thing. Making it work is quite another. Thus, the RCPI strategy had to go beyond simply providing funds for new kinds of training and drive home the requirements that the threefold partnership had to be more than window dressing to secure funding and represented a significant change from traditional grant programs. Some leverage was provided by entering into cooperative agreements with each institute, in contrast to a grant, but there was a need for concentrated upfront activities to get the process off to the right start:

  • Concentrating attention on upfront activities that would help to solidify the institutes from the very beginning

  • Creating the message of change, organizational development, and mutual governance by the partnership team

  • Providing a cadre of consultants to ensure that the stakeholders and not the federal government drove the training

  • Facilitating ongoing communication with participants across the network

  • Sharing information through meetings such as curriculum conferences

  • Providing opportunities for evaluation

  • Enhancing the role of COPS Office project managers assigned to each region so that they not only monitored compliance with conditions of the cooperative agreements but also monitored the development of the network

Rather than send out congratulatory letters and then distribute funding, there was concentrated attention on upfront activities to ensure that the institutes got off on the right footing. As part of the strategy, the message of change was introduced at an initial three-day meeting with grantees. In contrast to a traditional grant managers meeting, this meeting was developed as an organizational development and partnership building event that came as something of a shock to some of the participants. The goal was to consistently reinforce a clear message that the grantees were building a new organization in contrast to simply developing law enforcement training. As such, representatives from all partner groups were required to attend the meeting and they participated in team building exercises and developed integrated action plans spelling out their involvement upon their return to their jurisdictions.

A critical byproduct of this approach was getting partnership concerns on the table. A nexus emerged that balanced mutual concerns about losing control of the training agenda and funding with a respect for what each brought to the table. Notwithstanding that it was a delicate balance at first, over the course of three days it began to solidify and the partners left with a clear picture of expectations for working collaboratively to develop and manage an institute. This meeting introduced the concept of mutual governance, which was critical to sustaining the institutes, and it was reinforced through subsequent meetings convened over the course of the year.

The RCPI strategy clearly recognized that a three-day meeting, regardless of how successful, could not ensure success in resolving the complex issues attendant to getting an institute up and running and creating and delivering innovative training across a region. Hence, the COPS Office contracted with the Institute of Law and Justice to create a cadre of consultants to provide services to each institute. The consultants were either law enforcement executives known for their involvement in community policing or well-respected researchers with particular expertise in community policing. Their mission was to provide onsite assistance on issues related to developing the institute and on creating innovative curriculum and accelerating delivery. This element of the strategy not only facilitated development it ensured that the training was shaped by professionals from law enforcement, education, and the community in contrast to the federal government.

As training delivery was initiated, curriculum conferences were introduced as another element of the strategy to make the RCPIs work. These conferences provided a much needed opportunity to discuss curricula, what was working and, equally important, what was not working in developing the core competencies of community policing. They also provided a forum for sharing curricula, particularly the signature specialties that eventually would be delivered to all 50 states. Subsequently, these meetings developed communication capacity across the network and enhanced its strength.

The RCPI strategy also built in an evaluation component and each institute was provided funding to work with an evaluator during the course of development. These evaluations provided process information that differed from the onsite guidance provided by the cadre of consultants.

The final piece of the RCPI strategy involved the role of the COPS Office project managers. One manager was assigned to each region and they were required to do site visits to all institutes in their region. But rather than focus only on compliance activities, they also were required to assess the strength of the institute partnership, assess mutual governance concerns, and to review the performance of the regional network.

With these elements of the strategy in place, at the end of the first year of operations, 30 of the 35 institutes qualified for refunding based on their capacity to create and manage an organization and to deliver innovative community policing training in their region. That was just the beginning. As of 2005, 29 Regional Community Policing Institutes remain as part of a viable network that has trained over 400,000 law enforcement officers and their community partners. Although there have been many modifications to the program, as would be expected with a flexible model, a training capacity was created that has entrenched the core competencies of community policing in the law enforcement training landscape.

Lesson Learned for the Future
Given the success of the Regional Community Policing Institutes, lessons can be learned that can inform the development of a similar training capacity for homeland security and intelligence-led policing. The urgency for undertaking such an enterprise is underscored by ongoing terrorist attacks, which signify that September 11 was not an isolated incident or a fading memory. Community fears when crime was spiraling out of control pales in comparison to fears of suicide bombers or chemical attacks that kill innocent people going about their everyday lives. Further, the need for collaborative partnerships goes beyond community member stakeholders and now involves partnerships with complex organizations with public safety, emergency response, and public health missions. Hence, adapting a model similar to what was done with the RCPIs will do more than create the training capacity that is needed to facilitate intelligence-led policing. The potential is there for that type of model to develop a comparable network that is focused on public safety protection of the homeland. Just as the ongoing communication and information sharing provided through the network was key to the RCPI success, it is even more critical today if law enforcement is to meet its expanded mission brought about by threats to homeland security and global terrorism. ■   

1 The Community Policing Consortium comprises representatives from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Police Executive Research Forum, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, the National Sheriffs' Association, and the Police Foundation. For more information, visit the consortium's Web site at (



From The Police Chief, vol. 72, no. 10, October 2005. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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