The Effectiveness of Academy Training – A Three Country Study

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The very first Force Science study on force training was commissioned to assess “use of force training” by a national police agency.  The agency sought Force Science’s expertise on a comparison of arrest and control training programs in three countries (Canada, United States, and United Kingdom) and an assessment on whether or not the instructional methods in these countries were based on modern (scientific) principles of training. The agency’s request was based on their experience with critical failures in the application of relatively simple psychomotor skills by their street officers, and the knowledge that these failures had a dramatic negative consequence to the citizenry, officers, and the agency.

…failures had a dramatic, negative consequence…


The most common application of force by officers occurs in instances when an arrest is being made or an officer, or anyone else, is being assaulted.  A high percentage involve individuals under the influence of drugs or alcohol or emotional distress.  It is a relatively rare occurrence when police officers are compelled to use force for their own safety or that of others (less than 1% in all arrest situations). However, it is imperative that officers be skillful with their arrest and control techniques and also integrate these and other force skills with assessment, decision making, command presence, communication, de-escalation, team work, etc.  The clinical integration of multiple skills is usually necessary to successfully solve problems on the street. If officers are unprepared to meet the various threats they face, it may lead to unnecessary injury to the officers or citizens. Also, there are few professions where inadequacies in fundamental skills may result in serious injury or death or cause full-fledged riots and possibly result in millions of dollars of penalties in civil suits against the officer and the department.

Officers also have to work with and be effective with a wider range of humans than just about any other profession.  In other professions, those who work with a similar range always have an option. If they can’t handle someone, they call the police.  But if the police can’t handle someone, whom do they call?  They are society’s last resort. They typically call other officers who have been trained in the same fashion as they were.

Subsequently, to be effective, officers have to have a wider range of skills than just about any other profession, and they have to be very good at the application and integration of all of those skills since they must work with some of the most difficult people in society.  Therefore, the results of this assessment are critical if we are to know whether the officers are to have any functional clinical effectiveness, if the department is to have credibility in the community, and if they can also indemnify themselves against the repercussions from a failure to train or perform.


In the law enforcement profession, the primary selection of which technique or system to teach is NOT based on a “clinical” or “real world functional assessment.” Instead it is based on the apparent utility of the technique or the “eminence” of the person(s) who developed the program.  

Currently there are only two ways to measure force training. Force Science has used both of these over the course of our studies.  The first method, which was used in this study, is to assess the methodology of the instruction, including time invested, complexity and sequence of instruction, number of repetitions, scientific foundation of the methodology, measurement of the skill, etc.  The second method is to establish an objective criterion to ensure that by actual measurement the skill has been acquired and then maintained, at least through graduation. Neither of these are an assessment or prediction of the eventual functional usefulness of skills by the recruit at some point in the future. 

A third method of measurement is impossible for law enforcement at this time.  Every study on force is conducted under this one major restriction.  There is not a single empirical study or piece of evidence on the success of any particular psychomotor skill set, tactic or approach in actual application.  Subsequently, there isn’t any way to determine whether or not, regardless of the skill of the recruit, that later, as officers, they would be successful in the realistic application of the technique.  Compare this, for instance, to medicine, dentistry, psychological therapy, or any other profession.  In these other professions, considerable research is conducted on the success rate and conditions of any “treatment” intervention.  There is a large body of data available on the usefulness of a particular vaccine in preventing the flu in 2017, or a type of surgery that is most effective for hip replacement on a particular type of hip disorder, or the effectiveness of a particular type of cognitive intervention with depression in psychology.

The average academy, at the point of teaching a skill or at graduation, never puts recruits in an all-out intense struggle matching what they would encounter on the street. 

The average academy, at the point of teaching a skill or at graduation, never puts recruits in an all-out intense struggle matching what they would encounter on the street. For example, recruits are often evenly paired according to size, strength, and skill, while in training to ensure a successful experience.  In one of the countries studied, training, including any resistance, was restricted by health and safety lest the recruit be injured in training. This meant that the first time the recruit met any resistance was in an actual encounter after graduation from training (most academies do this to some extent). No other professional area trains with these restrictions. Imagine a professional pilot who practiced flying under only the most favorable conditions or a firefighter who was never allowed to train near an actual fire.

No other professional area trains with these restrictions…


Force Science (FS) reviewed training and curriculum throughout the various academies in all three countries.  FS then selected and intensively studied two equivalent and representative training programs from each country.  FS assessed instructional content according to a variety of criterion such as a point-by-point comparison of content, time dedicated to instructional units, and teaching methodology.  The primary coordinators and trainers were interviewed, and FS observed training in these and similar academies. In all but a few cases, the UK content was equivalent to that in North America but had fewer items.  The UK training, combining classroom and applied clinical instruction, averaged 43 hours. The North American academies averaged a combined 78 hours, with a range of 56 to 90 hours.


Across all academies in all of the countries studied, the instruction was in large chunks (block training from two hours at a time to days at a time) and in a silo approach, neither integrated within other psychomotor skills nor integrated with other skill sets such as communication.  For instance, cuffing would be taught separately from take-down techniques, and neither would be integrated with de-escalation. Control or defensive techniques were never combined with anything other than simple commands.  The academies that had more time taught more techniques but in the same “block and silo” fashion.  

FS concluded that not a single academy program in any country used modern principles of instruction to build and integrate force skills. Research conducted for over 100 years has informed us that the method of instruction used across academies in all three countries was less than effective.  It is the type of instruction which accomplishes teaching objectives but not learning objectives.  It produces in the learner a knowledge about the rules about what could or should be done and when. But at some point later when learners attempt to carry out the techniques in a dynamic or realistic encounter, they are incapable.  Characteristically, individuals taught in this fashion fail on the application of the skill and then try to recover.  They then try to repeat what they were taught but are again incapable of a successful application. This type of ineffective perseveration can be seen in many videos of officers using force.  Officers are not only perseverating on ineffective techniques but also on ineffective beta commands.

FS concluded that not a single academy program in any country used modern principles of instruction to build and integrate force skills.

Research on the time spent and methodology of instruction used in these academies predicted that within a short period of time, and definitely by graduation, recruits would be able to describe what they had to do and might even be able to do it slowly with a compliant subject but would be incapable of implementing the technique in a realistic, professional encounter.  Further, because of the silo nature of instruction across all disciplines in the academy, the recruits would also be at a loss as to how to integrate their skills in some functional fashion.

International Journal of Police Science and Management

Besides the instructional issues, the method of evaluation of the skills also raised concerns. The academy grading was sometimes based on group assessment. For example, did the group overall appear to demonstrate the technique?  Sometimes a recruit was evaluated individually by their performance within a group setting. Even when the grading was done individually outside of a group setting, it often was done immediately after the recruit was taught the skill.  To FS’s knowledge the skills were never tested later in an integration with the other techniques as would be required in a dynamic situation.

Another separate study was conducted by FS.  This was on handgun skills which was published in the International Journal of Police Science and Management.  That study compared civilians who had never handled a gun in their lives, with trained officers who had completed the academy and were at the end of their FTO training. The instructional methodology used by this department was also “block and silo”. After all their training, the officers were only ten percent better than the naïve civilians under the same test conditions, which included shooting rapidly and accurately at a human target at the most common combat distances.


All three of the countries studied had dedicated qualified instructors.  They had well-intentioned administrators who worked hard to ensure that the graduates of their training had been taught everything that had been prescribed. They had social pressure to ensure the officers were trained professionals. The average academy taught skills and measured them in a fashion that allowed the training institution to affirm they had taught the prescribed curriculum and that the recruit had acquired the skills to a satisfactory level of competence.  However, not a single academy that was studied in Canada, the US, and the UK taught psychomotor skills in a fashion that ensured most of their recruits would have a functional level of these skills after graduation.

All three of the countries studied had dedicated, qualified instructors.


The average North American academy teaches all “arrest and control” techniques in 78 hours. 

A high school football player who trains and plays a twelve-week schedule for one season (no pre-season training) would train approximately two hours per day for four days.  They would play an hour and half game on day five.  This totals nine and a half hours per week, or approximately 114 hours for one season.  That includes a full trial of their skills in all-out competition at least once per week.  It would likely be considered unfair to place them in a football game, or something similar, with an unknown opponent who doesn’t have to follow any rules on an irregular or unknown field with no referee. In the law enforcement profession, it is a good thing we hire good people, because no professional tries so hard and does so much with so little!

In the law enforcement profession, it is a good thing we hire good people, because no professional tries so hard and does so much with so little!


In our next article, we will drill down into the actual skill instruction and the acquisition, maintenance or perishability of specific skill sets.  We will also report on the instructional methodology that ensured the minimal perishability of the skill.  That study took three years and resulted in an assessment of 10,000 videos of the process of skill evolution in a law enforcement academy.

23 Responses
  1. Don Black

    Anyone who has long experience in law enforcement can drill down to the problem without an extensive study. They can also tell you that the problem is unlikely to ever be solved. The number of hours of training are grossly insufficient. The training is only given because the courts have mandated training. It is not a means to an end. It is, in the minds of police administrators, a necessary evil and an end in itself. The same political flaws that affect how we pick our politicians affect the selection of police administrators. They are age old and have to do with human nature. To shorten this, let’s say that we pick the people who are worst for the job of running an agency. We have all off these individuals with enlarged egos running their own kingdoms. They are not qualified to make decisions on use of force. Their decisions on training have little to do with what is good for the citizens or the officers. They randomly choose systems of arrest control that often counterproductive. More often, they make up their own system. They pick instructors based upon who they like and not their skills or attitudes that are desirable. Beyond the basic academy, there is very little reinforcement of skills. The supervisors are not trainers since they lack the skills. On a daily basis, the supervisors should be drilling officers on basic skills. This only takes a few minutes. Repeated throughout the year, the officers gain skills. No where in the promotional process, is it necessary that you have the basic skills to teach, reinforce, or evaluate the skill of the officers. They would like you to have a masters degree but it isn’t necessary that you know basic police skills. So, the same people who came up through the system without any knowledge or skill, are now making decisions on use of force. The police efforts in crowd control demonstrate repeatedly that those in command know little about basic police work. To try to use realistic resistance when the officers have not had the time to learn the skills results in failure and injuries. Injuries doom the arrest control program. It is tantamount to moving the target while trying to qualify. We won’t have any idea whether you understood sight picture and alignment. Requirements that are created in this area usually result in nice formal lesson plans with stated goals and objectives but no improvement to the knowledge or abilities of the instructors or the program. We have a system with no standards with decisions made by the unqualified and disinterested.

  2. Carlos

    I have to disagree with this assessment and I do not know what “Academies” the writer visited. I will agree that each individual is different in how they approach, prepare, and complete their training, as well know that training does not stop at the Academy setting, but continues through real life experiences. Our Academy, and two others I’ve visited recently in the USA, do prepare well, and give excellent instruction to the recruits well for law enforcement work.

  3. Doug

    Thank you for researching a critical component of the flaws in Police training…the actual training. I have been saying for years that current Police instruction is akin to a professional footballer kicking a football once a year, with no actual games, to prove his “competence”.
    Policing is not a game, and the training of Police should receive a lot more investment.



  5. Jerry Staton

    As a good friend of mine often points out, a hairdresser is required to have far more training hours than most POST mandates before obtaining a license to cut hair. They do the same basic job several times a day with a cooperative client. Having to use force occurs with some regularity in some beats, rarely in others but never on a daily basis. If lucky (or perhaps unlucky) a life or death struggle for a LEO occurs one time in his/her career and neither event will be with a cooperative “client”. Thanks FS for all you do to provide real science to support what many of us know, police work ain’t for everyone.

  6. Stephen Rickeard

    Thanks for the excellent articles. I also agree with Don Black’s statements. I was a street police officer for 40 yrs. working in 3 large West Coast agencies. I was an Arrest Control/Defensive Tactics instructor in all the agencies I worked for.
    Nothing will really change in Police Training until we have a National standard for hiring and training for LE officers. Right now each state sets their own standards for academy training and the basic education level at entry is still a high school diploma. Most officers work for small agencies and get no or very little additional training after they leave the academy. You CAN NOT train someone in 78 hrs. to be able to use Arrest Control and Defensive tactics in street situations. Many officers can not even do many of the skill correctly at the end of the academy even in a no stress situations.
    May be if Police Unions and Associations start bringing lawsuits against their agencies/city/county/state for Lack of Training and these gov. agencies start loose millions of dollars they will increase the training hours.

  7. Dr. Bill Lewinski

    Carlos, you are correct in that each individual is responsible for their own training. This is particularly true after the academy as the research informs us that 2/3rds of officers do not receive any FTO after the academy and less than 1/5 of all departments provide any inservice training in arrest and control techniques.

    If you think this news is depressing and not true wait for our next issue to be really disappointed. The 10,000 videos of the acquisition and perishability of fundamental skills informs us that training done, in block and silo format, as a lot of academies do, is illusionary. It can and should be different as we have seen in some academies and we will address that in our last issue of this series.

  8. Wayne Boulier

    Dr. L
    Based on your research, what would a proper academy look like? ( Weeks, hours , classroom, scenario etc) thanks for your time.

  9. David Bissonnette

    I have the same question as Wayne Boulier. Our Academy program is one of the better that I have seen. Most of the techniques are based on gross motor skills and the program concludes with a very high stress, force on force test out that the recruit must pass if he/she is to graduate. But like Stephen Rickeard said above, you absolutely cannot effectively train someone in just 78 hours. Unless they continue to train the techniques after graduation, they are not going to retain them.

    So I guess my question is, other than more time, how do we structure our academy use of force program so that it is more effective and so that the recruits retain the information and techniques after they graduate?

  10. Raphael

    Dr. Lewinski, I agree with Wayne Boulier. What does the research say about effective DT training? Can you tell us how the science behind training would build a police academy training program? And a post-academy training program?

  11. Richard Sabo

    I also second Mr. Boulier’s question.

    In my time as an instructor for contract security officers, the clients always wanted significantly more training than what they were willing to pay. However, for the ones going to the highest legal liability contracts, mental health facilities and level-1 trauma centers, the amount of training the clients wanted still was far short of what the officers actually needed, in my opinion. I made magnitudes of improvements to the level and consistency of training they were receiving, which was not hard to do; it was horribly underwhelming when first I got there. Still, the best way that I could prepare them in the short amount of time allotted to train them, was to deliberately make the classroom portions more intense than client specifications, and put them on the hardest assignments available during their “field training.” We essentially moved the turnover rate from the operational environment to the training environment. That is not the way that it should be done, but that is the only way it gets done at all when departments are not willing to pay for the right kind of training.

  12. Dr. Bill Lewinski

    Thanks for your comments. The series is a four part series. The first one was an intro. The second one is our survey on time, content and quality of instruction. The third one coming up is the nuts and bolts of instruction and how it connects to performance and retention. The final one in the series is what we have found to be successful.

  13. SF

    Dr Bill –

    THANK YOU to you and everyone else who are bringing this information to light.

    Those of us in the trenches know this to be true. We have know it for a long time. But so many will not listen. We need help persuading them and a way forward.

    LE agencies and trainers need help with finding training approaches that DO work (evidence based).
    What agencies get it “right”? How can we emulate this and spread it across LE like wildfire so that every agency can change for the better?

    Looking forward to the next installment.

  14. Wayne Boulier

    Thank you SF, you it the nail on the head.

    Dr. L – Thank you for the reply, I will wait to read all 4 parts and then re-ask my question. I would like to see some “Evidence Based” data on what works and what doesn’t. Huge fan of your work, please keep the thought provoking articles coming. I would be very interested in any and all data you have on Academy level training.

  15. Thank you for the study. It covers a topic long worth discussing and rethinking. I will await the completion of the study to comment in full. I will say here, however, that I agree with many of the comments already made by readers. To that, I will add a caveat: This distinction you are utilizing historically is not quite accurate. One is not seeing Academies NOT applying Modern approaches to learning. In fact, to the contrary, one is precisely seeing the Modern paradigms at work in the Academies – the practice of logocentricism, the priority of the intellect over other human aspects, the use of “if/then” training paradigms, and the absence of principle-based training withthe use of block/silo pedagogic models. The problem you are trying to identify is ultimately a matter of unconscious competency not being cultivated – what pre-modern Man called “spontaneity.” The reason unconscious competency is not be cultivated and/or observed in Academy graduates is because the Modern pedagogy aims at conscious competency, what pre-modern Man called the obstacle to spontaneity.

  16. MB

    Dr. Lewinski

    Thank You for all you and your staff do to educate and represent the Law Enforcement community. I have been employed for over 20 years with a major west coast sheriff’s department. During that time I have witnessed the evolution in training in an attempt to provide deputies with the most effective “real life” training available. Kudos to the department training professionals that research and provide the training. Unfortunately, to much responsibility is placed on the department and not enough on the deputy or officer performing his or her duty.

    During my time as a patrol deputy, training officer, weapons instructor, and detective, I continue to train. It is MY responsibility. As FS has proven many times, we are at a disadvantage going into a situation that requires an immediate response. The department can provide the best cutting edge training available but unless we as individuals embrace the “TRAIN, TRAIN, TRAIN, concept, it’s all for not. Individually, we have to be MENTALLY AS WELL AS PHYSICALLY PREPARED TO REACT. If it can happen, it probably will.

    We will not win in every situation. But we must try. We must continue to educate ourselves and just maybe, we can survive.

  17. Kevin

    I echo my colleagues comments, thank you for this research and all that you do to defend, train and educate our profession. I agree with many of the comments here, but I’m also afraid that this issue can never truly be resolved. We can identify and promote more effective training methodologies, we can try to educate administrators, and even allocate increased funding. But in my 23 years in law enforcement, training officers in use of force, tactics and various other disciplines, I’ve come to realize that trainers and administrators alone can’t fix this deficiency. You can’t train people that don’t want to train or do not believe that the training will make a difference or even that they need to keep training so much.
    The research presented in this series makes it clearly evident that skills decline over time, and this is exacerbated by the frequency and quality of training. But even working in California, with extremely high training standards and specifically for an agency that is very committed to providing far more training than is “required” my folks still are not where they should or could be.
    If you never use force, you don’t think you’re going to so you don’t see the need to train because “that will never happen to me”. Unfortunately this mindset occurs way too frequently. And then officers fall victim to thinking that when it does happen, they’ve been a cop for so long, they will be able to handle it because they often have an overinflated sense of competence….complacency kills.
    We too have shifted our focus to gross motor skill training (Caveman D-Tac) because those skills are the easiest to maintain and refresh. But despite that, I’ve consistently seen 10% train on their own and the other 90% don’t, with a large percentage of them, trying to avoid training or even petition to reduce training because it costs too much, people get hurt and/or it reduces the time we are working the streets…this argument has been made by line officers as well as administrators in my agency so its no just the folks minding the pursed strings.
    This is a complex issue because there are so many contributing factors, that I sure that we will still be having this discussion in another 20 years, only the focus will be on different causal factors….just my 2 cents. Stay safe everyone!

  18. WarriorMonk

    Finally research on academy training and why it’s not effective ! Over ten years ago I was doing my own research as a police academy instructor to prove to my chain of command they were failing to train! I had all sorts of amazing data. We need more aggressive combative skills training hand to hand and shooting , and tons of scenario training ongoing throughout a career.

    Breaks my heart it’s taken this long for some real attention to be made about this failure to train issue as I see it. Wish I could have kept collecting data as well as training cops properly. When I left my programs crumbled from what I heard, no one wanted to fight the battles with admin and a chain of command who may not understand training (often because higher ups were not
    the aggressive street cops, SWAT, K9, Narcs, Gang and other specialty units prior to climbing the career ladder). It is hard work to maintain a hard core strength and conditioning program, lots of force on force scenario training, regular gross motor defensive tactics integrated into workouts, imagery/visualization, mindfulness and breathing practice, all integrated into one system. But isn’t it worth it?!

    It drove me crazy that so many police academy instructors or the chain of command, didn’t want to evaluate training or work hard to make it more effective based on lots of available science in different fields. Plus as the articles touch on, admin wants to reduce tactical skills training (that already is too little) to do more liability classroom PC stuff to cover the departments rear more so than keep cops alive and proficient at violent encounters. Ultimately our entire communities suffer when cops aren’t prepared for the worst.

    I pray your articles and research make departments re- evaluate their ways.


    I collected tons of data from full days of scenario training and many days of putting officers through active shooter school shooting scenarios. You can totally see that regular patrol folks often aren’t prepared for worst case scenarios. Their behavior. Freezing. Fleeing the scene – literally even in something they knew was a scenario with the surprise firing of blanks cops will bolt right out of a school. Verbal skills gone to hell in a hand-basket. Their heart rates. The time it took to complete scenarios, like it may take 14 minutes for a patrol until to handle a call that SWAT did in 3 minutes with no heart rate spikes for example and no errors. Patrol cops make all kinds of errors in scenario training. And will deny it so that’s why we started filming it to show them yes you shot a hostage for example. And let me be clear, my agency actually had legit academy training and ongoing in-service training far far far more often than most agencies in this country. In my opinion plain and simple cops are not prepared for the streets in an effective manner, yet everyone wants to armchair QB and sue them.

    My point wasn’t to dog patrol (and I didn’t to patrol but did explain this to commanders), my point was to show the department we were failing to train those who will be on scene for active shooters or worst case calls long before SWAT can show up. That patrol needs more training similar to SWAT. Police recruits need many reps in skills, then using those skills in unknown extreme stress scenarios, and ongoing regular scenario training their entire careers. Experience matters! Think about it like an athlete, they train and practice, have scrimmages long before game day. In law enforcement we often do not prepare our cops for game day. Those with more years on the job in a high crime patrol area perform better in scenarios- makes sense they have reps. Military combat vets usually Perform better in scenarios. Makes sense, It’s not their first rodeo. I presented all sorts of this data and explanations begging for more aggressive training from the academy on up and regular ongoing DT, combat shooting and mandatory periodic scenario training. But it’s a hassle logistically in a large agency to coordinate all that so once I left it died sadly.

    I had daily regular workout sessions for different specialty units, for patrol, for cadets, recruits etc. I had regular full one day scenario training programs that were intense but only voluntary, the department wouldn’t make it mandatory. Anyone who went Thru it gave feedback best training of their life. Basically I was training cops like Division One and MMA athletes in the gym, and having more aggressive range and scenario training just like a high speed tactical unit would be doing on a regular basis. Heck for example I got high schools to donate their old football sleds (if you are familiar with those), and we would have cops do full contact drills on the sled as if it was a close attack and then draw and live fire at the range. Put patrol Thru shoot house scenarios. Just crank it up, and all the instructors were my fellow SWAT and tactical narcotics guys who did this for a living. It wasn’t the academy instructors who maybe haven’t been on the street in ages, or never were on a tactical unit or in a high crime patrol area.

    My heart is broken for the state of law enforcement in this country even though I’m retired. Cops are public enemy and targets of politicians, and training standards seem to keep getting lower and lower at a time it seems more people are less apprehensive about resisting arrest or attacking cops violently.

  19. WarriorMonk

    Here is another article from ten years ago. Obviously written to compliment Tony Blauer’s system but touches on points your articles are highlighting. Like do we want the first time a cop gets punched in the face being on the street all alone with no backup? Do we want the first time a cop shoots while moving at a moving target in the dark, being a real officer involved shooting on the street?!

    I did two six month academies. A six months residential live in the barracks in one state, and six month day commuter academy in another. I was top police academy graduate etc etc. Did I remember handcuffing techniques or DT moves? No way. I did well on the streets because of tons of other training I put myself thru before I was even a cop and the ongoing seeking out intense training on my own. My department had some great driver and shooting training for sure. When I was on SWAT we had awesome training. But even at that time our higher standard training than most departments wasn’t even close enough for what cops needed when they hit the streets. The scary reality the public doesn’t understand is that a ton of cops can’t shoot well under stress or fight (go hands on) effectively…


  20. Riley

    Our academy runs us through scenarios based on actual events that have happened in our fair city… The instructors we use are generally not academy staff but street cops who volunteer their time. Generally big, strong men and women with backgrounds in wrestling and martial arts. The scenarios combine various skills and decision making, so I’m not sure but I feel like it’s not so block and silo as all that… We also get ongoing scenario based training every year. I still don’t feel we get enough training. I can train on my own, but if I apply techniques learned elsewhere, what is my liability?

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