Officer Survival Spotlight
Wide-Reaching Benefits of Law Enforcement Training
As a profession, policing presents many dangers. However, proper training can help reduce the risks. Over the course of my 25-year professional career, I have instructed tens of thousands of law enforcement professionals within the United States and around the world. Currently, I am a training instructor with the FBI’s Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA) program, and I write about the importance of law enforcement training. While time, funding, and other resources prove necessary for training, its worth is evident in that it benefits not only the officer but also the agency and the public. Law enforcement instruction truly is important in today’s ever-changing environment.
Law Enforcement Officer
Police constitute the backbone of any law enforcement agency. On the frontlines every day, these professionals serve the department and the public. Worldwide, officers save lives and protect citizens from criminals, but they also face the potential of assault or murder every day. From an officer’s perspective, these deaths and assaults frequently result from limited, inappropriate, or nonexistent training. An FBI study showed that two-thirds of the offenders who killed or assaulted a police officer did so to escape.1 The same study showed that if the officers had received appropriate, up-to-date, and sustainable training, these violent encounters may not have happened.2
Police who have survived these violent incidents have explained that they reverted back to their training during the encounter and further stated that the instruction saved their lives. The collection of law enforcement data clearly shows how ongoing training helps to save the lives of officers in the United States and around the world.3
To effectively operate and function, each police agency has the responsibility to provide appropriate, up-to-date, and sustainable training. In every country where I have trained policing professionals, international law enforcement organizations have advised that they use American standards to ensure high-quality, effective training. These standards emphasize the importance of law enforcement instruction in the United States—not only for the benefit of American organizations but also for the impact it has on police agencies around the world.
In addition to helping agencies maintain high standards, training protects law enforcement officers by equipping them to handle many problems that create hardships, reduce morale, and affect the public’s respect. Examples include lawsuits, negative press, officer or citizen injuries, police vehicle accidents, and use-of-force violations. Officers who receive appropriate instruction can mitigate such challenges. Training also must cover matters sometimes unaddressed, such as officer-involved shootings, emotional stress, supervisory instruction to encourage upward mobility, and teamwork training. Taking extra steps to provide advanced instruction helps an organization to succeed.
James Burdock, a retired police lieutenant and a training instructor with the FBI’s Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted program, Criminal Justice Information Services Division.
Community members expect agencies to ensure that officers are properly trained and ready to make split-second decisions under tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving conditions. If a law enforcement officer makes a bad decision in cases, such as police brutality or wrongful death, the public will hold everyone in the agency accountable—from the newest officer to the highest-ranking member. Throughout history, encountering these types of problems often has resulted directly from a lack of law enforcement training within the organization.
Public perception often impacts the effectiveness of law enforcement organizations. When I began my career as a law enforcement officer, colleagues told me that I would feel like I was in a fish bowl, with everyone watching me and evaluating my every move and word. A law enforcement officer or organization lacking proper preparation or training will lose the public’s confidence and respect. Such was the case in the early 1970s when deaths and assaults of law enforcement officers in the United States rose sharply—to a rate nearly triple that of today’s—and the public’s respect for law enforcement reached an all-time low. However, the past four decades have brought about dramatic changes in law enforcement training, incorporating new equipment, tactics, mind-sets, and community programs. As a result of appropriate, up-to-date, and sustainable training, public opinion of law enforcement officers and organizations across the nation is much higher today.
When examining these three perspectives, it becomes apparent how law enforcement training provides protection, reduces risks, and fosters growth for officers, agencies, and, ultimately, communities. The high-risk profession of policing leaves little room for error; therefore, training is critical and should be the top priority of every law enforcement organization. It does take time, resources, and funding to make law enforcement training possible. However, everyone benefits in the end.
Mr. Burdock can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.