« Improving Police Department Practices

Policy 15: Improved Training

Police training in the academy and in the field tends to emphasize the technical and tactical aspects of policing, with insufficient focus on being community-centered. Balancing traditional training components with a broad focus on working with the community as partners to achieve safety is essential. Field training should support and strengthen community-centered policing practices by including role-playing scenarios that require critical thinking in the face of potential confrontations with civilians.


Training that addresses culture, diversity, mental illness, youth development, bias and racism, and mediation improves how police relate to the community and can help minimize use of force. Training elements should also emphasize skills that can avoid, prevent, or de-escalate a situation that might otherwise result in violence.

Without meaningful and timely disciplinary consequences for officers involved in misconduct, training alone can do little to curb police abuse or increase community trust. However, training can be an important reform when enacted with other changes to policing disciplinary procedure and departmental evaluations. Changes in training should be accompanied by changes in how departments evaluate the performance of officers. Officer evaluations based on the number of arrests or stops they initiate, as opposed to the how they have built community trust, or their ability to diffuse violent situations, incentivizes unproductive and abusive policing practices.

In order to ensure that internal policies and trainings effectively improve the safety of communities—specifically youth, Black and Brown, and LGBTQ communities—trainings should be developed in partnership with community-based organizations working directly with individuals affected by discriminatory and abusive policing practices. Police departments should not be directly funded for training; state and local funding should be earmarked for community-based trainers selected through an application process with public input.

In Practice:

The Seattle Police Department and Oakland Police Departments have implemented procedural justice and police legitimacy training programs. Oakland began its training process in June 2014 and has so far trained some 200 members of the officer and civilian staff. All Seattle Police employees received procedural justice training in a bias-free policing course in 2014 which also focused on implicit bias in individual decision-making. Institutional bias training will be provided to the SPD command staff in 2015, co-designed by the Community Police Commission and the Seattle Office for Civil Rights.

The police department in Richmond, California initiated a rigorous in-service training program regarding use of force in 2008. Since the program began, officer-involved shootings have occurred less than once per year. Tragically, the first fatal officer-involved shooting in seven years occurred when a Richmond police officer shot and killed 24-year-old Richard Perez in a confrontation at a liquor store on September 14, 2014.

The Oakland Police Department recently contracted with Stanford University researcher Jennifer Eberhart to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the department’s police stops and train officers to understand how bias plays out in interactions with the public. According to department figures, Black people accounted for 62 percent of police stops between April and November 2014, although they comprise just 28 percent of the population.

In May 2014, Connecticut enacted a law that requires all police officers to complete crisis intervention training. The University of Memphis Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Center provides resources developed in partnership with the National Alliance on Mental Illnesses, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and CIT International, intended for police departments that start their own crisis intervention team training programs. Today, nearly 2,700 sites in 47 states operate crisis intervention teams.

The Oklahoma City Police Department has made language training for officers a major part of its overall training effort. New recruits in the academy receive 70 hours of Spanish instruction. The Lexington, Kentucky, Division of Police partnered with a local university to develop a U.S.-based Spanish language curriculum and collaborated with two Mexican law enforcement agencies to establish a subsequent five-week Spanish immersion program in Mexico where Lexington officers are hosted by Mexican police counterparts. They return with improved language skills and an increased understanding of Mexican immigrants’ perspectives about interactions with law enforcement.

Current Arizona law requires that police determine the immigration status of someone arrested or detained when there is “reasonable suspicion” they are undocumented. According to Tucson police Chief Roberto Villaseñor, this policy places local police in an “untenable position” with regard to the Latino community. Villaseñor initiated steps to train the entire department in implicit bias in October 2014, using trainers and curriculum provided by the Department of Justice.

Best Practices:

Police departments should ensure that academy training, field training, and continuing education of officers reinforces community-centered values and skills. State and local jurisdictions should fund community-based experts to provide required training to new police recruits and in-service officers on:

  • Procedural justice and fairness in policing.
  • Implicit bias.
  • Institutional bias in enforcement patterns.
  • Relationship-based policing and community interaction.
  • Crisis intervention, mediation, conflict resolution, and rumor control.
  • Appropriate engagement with youth based on the science of adolescent brain development
  • De-escalation and minimizing the use of force in certain common situations, including vehicle pursuits, coping with mentally ill or cognitively disabled individuals, and encounters with youth.
  • Increase language proficiency and cultural competency among law enforcement officers to effectively engage and partner with immigrant communities.
  • Appropriate engagement with LGBTQ, transgender and gender nonconforming community members.
  • Documenting, preventing and addressing sexual harassment, abuse and assault by local law enforcement agents.