Law Enforcement Professionalism

Training Is the Key

By Anthony J. Pinizzotto, Ph.D.; Shannon Bohrer, M.B.A.; and Edward F. Davis, M.A.
A law enforcement leader stands at attention.

American law enforcement is professional, effective, efficient, and, often, regarded as a model to follow worldwide. Some would hold that a significant factor in the history of this professionalism is training, which imparts the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that form its foundation.

The recent deep economic decline in this country negatively affected city, county, and state governments. In response, these entities made drastic budget cuts that impacted most public service organizations in all jurisdictions. Law enforcement executives now must reduce budgets that, in many cases, they viewed as inadequate to begin with. Deciding what to cut while, at the same time, continuing to provide adequate safety to their communities and members of their agencies is a daunting task. Historically, chiefs and sheriffs have attempted to cover budget cuts by not replacing members who retire or leave their agencies. Today, this measure may not make up the budget shortfall. Some view decreasing recruit training as preferable to eliminating current employees. Additionally, in-service training frequently is reduced to the minimum state Police Officer Standards and Training (POST) requirements. While often hard to justify, however, training constitutes the glue of effectiveness that forms the foundation for successful law enforcement efforts.

Placing scarce resources up front in training can produce safe, effective, and efficient officers, supervisors, and administrators, which can lessen operating costs in the long run. As an old advertisement for oil filters pointed out, “You can pay me now, or you can pay me later,” the idea being that sometimes a small investment can result in large savings. The cost of an oil filter is minor compared with that of an engine. The same holds true for law enforcement training.

Dr. Pinizzotto, a retired FBI senior scientist, is a clinical forensic psychologist who privately consults for law enforcement and other criminal justice agencies.
Dr. Pinizzotto, a retired FBI senior scientist, is a clinical forensic psychologist who privately consults for law enforcement and other criminal justice agencies.
Mr. Bohrer, a retired Maryland State Police sergeant and range master for the Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commissions, is a self-employed law enforcement instructor and consultant.
Mr. Bohrer, a retired Maryland State Police sergeant and range master for the Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commissions, is a self-employed law enforcement instructor and consultant.
Mr. Davis, a retired police lieutenant and FBI Academy instructor, owns a private consulting company in Virginia.
Mr. Davis, a retired police lieutenant and FBI Academy instructor, owns a private consulting company in Virginia.


In many ways, these difficult economic times should cause agencies to reevaluate their training needs, including the topics covered, the methodology used, and the effectiveness achieved. With fewer available resources, law enforcement organizations need to ensure that with their training, they are doing the right thing and doing it the right way.1 What is the cost to a department for an illegal arrest, use of excessive force, or a wrongful death? It seems reasonable to assume that if training could prevent these events, it would be done. Of course, even with the right training, these still can occur. Conversely, without such training these incidents will take place and probably more frequently. Training is rarely viewed from the perspective of risk management, yet a direct relationship exists.


Thinking of police training as a house can illustrate how to divide the process into four categories. While each has a different purpose, all of the training is interrelated and interdependent, just as the foundation, walls, and roof support and form a structure.

  • Entrance-level training (initial knowledge, skills, and attitudes for new officers)
  • In-service training (maintenance of skills taught in entrance level, along with knowledge about new laws, enforcement procedures, and safety practices)
  • Supervisor training (specific information tailored to overseeing rank-and-file members and to developing instructional abilities)
  • Administrator training (influences direction and operational effectiveness of the organization)

The authors offer these four categories of training only as a guide that can represent the training in any agency. Not meant to be all inclusive, these do not encompass every possible training need, but give an overall view. When examining their training needs, agencies should take the overall view because training greatly influences and shapes the interdependency and interrelationships of their officers, units, and ranks and affects every law enforcement function.

Entrance-Level Training

Viewing police training as a house requires starting with sound raw materials: the recruits. The right training can shape the recruit into a potentially long-term effective and efficient employee. Entrance-level training does not end or finish the training process but, rather, allows the recruit to operate with minimum supervision and to continue learning through experiences and in-service training. Selecting quality recruits is like choosing the best materials to build the foundation of a house. After all, everything else sits on the foundation. Without the proper foundation materials (the recruit and the entrance-level training), the long-term product has no guarantee of success.

Maintenance Training

As with any house, police training must be maintained. This involves the in-service and specialized continuum of training that officers need. Selecting appropriate candidates and providing sound entrance-level training began the process of turning the raw materials (recruits) into the solid structure. When quality recruits receive the correct entrance-level training, they gain the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to become effective and efficient officers for a long time. However, if the training stops at that point, their efficiency can decline. Agencies should view regular in-service and specialized training, just like the initial recruit selection and training, as a long-term investment. Building a house well with a solid foundation creates a positive investment, but, without maintenance, unexpected problems will develop.

Supervisor Training

Even with the proper maintenance, at some point, a house may need remodeling. The same holds true in police training. Oftentimes, agencies select officers who excel at a particular skill to become supervisors and trainers, which does not always work well. Those who mold and build the raw materials (the recruits) into effective and efficient officers and who take seasoned professionals and form them into supervisors and managers need to receive specific training following an extensive selection process. Supervising and instructing others require not only subject-matter expertise but also the ability to accurately convey knowledge to others. Continued training for supervisors and instructors must include evaluating their training skills and how well they apply them. 

Administrator Training

The final category, administrator training, frequently is overlooked. Agencies often assume that officers who worked the streets, arrested people, and became supervisors or trainers have gained the necessary experience. Arguments have been made in both directions on this topic, with both having valid points. One argument is that all of the preceding training—as an officer, supervisor, or trainer—helped prepare the individual for the position. The counter argument holds that all of the previous training was targeted toward those previous assignments, whereas administrative positions require additional skills. Supervisors supervise people and managers manage programs, but administrators need all of these abilities plus leadership. Another valid argument could be made that administrators are the most important because they determine the training content, budget, and direction of their agencies. Administrator training also can prove difficult to obtain because only a few nationally recognized law enforcement training academies, such as the FBI National Academy, offer such courses. 

When comparing police training to a house, administrators represent the long-term investment potential that all home owners recognize as the bottom line. Using the best materials, performing continual maintenance, and remodeling portions when needed culminate in a structure that can last through many generations—so also can law enforcement agencies that understand the importance of well-trained leaders who can move their organizations forward through whatever challenges they may face.


Training should be viewed as an investment law enforcement agencies make for the present and future. With fiscal restrains, however, it often becomes one of the first casualties. Because training forms the center of law enforcement effectiveness and efficiency, administrators have a fiduciary responsibility to examine the resources they use to ensure that their citizens are getting their money’s worth. Questioning their training programs, content, and projected benefits can prove a better course of action than merely halting training altogether. After all, recruiting, hiring, and training officers who work a long and productive career—from recruitment to retirement—represents a lofty goal that every chief and sheriff tries to attain. By doing so, these leaders can safeguard their communities not only for the short term but for future generations.


1 The authors based this article on their personal experiences in the law enforcement profession and on three main references: Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization (New York, NY: Broadway Business, 1994); Walter Dick and Lou Carey, The Systematic Design of Instruction (Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman/Little Brown Higher Education, 1990); and Robert Gagne and Karen Medsker, The Conditions of Learning: Training Applications (Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1996).