Roundtable: What has had the biggest impact on police training over the past 20 years?

For two decades, Police1 has delivered training content for LEOs. We asked our long-time columnists to discuss how police training has evolved during that time.


A lot has changed in the delivery and content of police training since Police1 launched in 1999. We asked some long-time Police1 columnists to share their thoughts on what has had the biggest impact on the evolution of police training over the past two decades. 

Instant access

By the year 2000, law enforcement training had eclipsed the range and the classroom and was being delivered to hundreds of police agencies throughout the US via satellite on the “Law Enforcement Television Network.” We were training both in-person and by video, but the internet was about to change the delivery of video forever, thanks to Police1.

The continued evolution of immediately deliverable training via video review is the best thing to happen to police training in the past 20 years.
The continued evolution of immediately deliverable training via video review is the best thing to happen to police training in the past 20 years.

Fast forward 20 years, and we live in an era where police officers not only regularly view video training courses, but they can interact within the video, answering test questions, tracking their progress and receiving certifications in countless areas of knowledge.

Law enforcement personnel now have instant access to nationally recognized trainers and subject matter experts who discuss everything from officer safety to constitutional law, and the training can be done at their desk, in their patrol car, or even on their smartphone.

The evolution of dashboard cameras, body-worn cameras and even cell phone and security videos has also given us vastly more material to analyze. In the days of satellite training, if we were fortunate enough to obtain a “VHS tape” of an incident (if you’re under 30 you may need to Google that), we would have to spend a day in the studio to produce 20 minutes of video training. Today we regularly produce volumes of video segments like “Roll Call Reality Training” providing up-to-the-minute training and information that can be viewed by the individual officer or as a group at roll call briefing to include further discussion and analysis.

We continue to receive incredible feedback about these video productions as we travel around the country; we’ve met many cops who tell us that a particular “Roll Call” segment has literally saved their lives.

Classroom training will always be valuable, but as we face budget cuts, personnel shortages and more, the continued evolution of immediately deliverable training in the best thing to happen to police training in the past 20 years, and we’re incredibly proud to be a big part of it, thanks to Police1.

Dave Smith and Betsy Smith, instructors & consultants, Winning Mind LLC, Police1 contributors since 2006

Police1 resource: How to use body-worn cameras to train new cops

The human factor

Without a doubt, the biggest impact on law enforcement training is the incorporation and research into the human factors of police performance under stress and the best methods of delivering training based on that knowledge.

That body of research and knowledge grows on a daily basis, and in another 20 years, I am certain it will still have the greatest impact on law enforcement training, because until we truly understand human performance and apply the principles that optimize that performance we are simply wishing for better outcomes.

Duane Wolfe, instructor, Law Enforcement Program, Alexandria Technical and Community College, Alexandria, Minnesota

Police1 resource: How human factors impact police safety during emergency driving

Dynamics of training varied greatly

Before Police1, the dynamics of police training from agency to agency were as markedly different as the sloth and the cheetah.

Many department’s defensive tactics training consisted of officers watching the gut-wrenching video of Constable Lunsford as he is taken down, beaten, disarmed and killed with his own weapon. Often the video was shown without any follow-up, hands-on training.

Progressive departments conducted realistic physical trainings.
Progressive departments conducted realistic physical trainings. (Dan Marcou)

While some departments would use this video as a primer, then take officers through a series of physical trainings to enhance stance, movement, hands-on control and ground fighting. They would follow this up with realistic scenarios, padding up officers and/or trainers with RedMan or Fist Gear to make it real.

Firearms training varied as well. Some officers were brought in once a year for bullseye and/or silhouette qualification shoot. After successful completion of one course of fire, they would leave “trained” and “qualified” for another year.

Other departments trained often and gifted their officers with the knowledge of when to use force defensibly, as well as the skills to be able to draw and fire accurately while under stress, while moving, in varying light/weather conditions, and at moving threat targets, and identify the need and possess the ability to reload and clear malfunctions.

Firearms training has varied drastically among agencies.
Firearms training has varied drastically among agencies. (Dan Marcou)

Additionally, they trained them to radio for assistance and direct that assistance safely to the scene. Once proficiency was achieved, trainers built scenarios and used equipment that allowed officers to realistically apply what they learned safely in a simulated real-world setting.

Police1 not only spread the gospel of this preparation but also shared the inspirational success stories of survival of those men and women officers, who were properly prepared for their time in that mudroom between life and death.

Lt. Dan Marcou is an internationally-recognized police trainer who was a highly-decorated police officer with 33 years of full-time law enforcement experience.

Police1 resource: The benefits of the train the trainer approach

The impact of technology

The short answer to the major change in training over the past 20 years: technology. Crime will be going up in the next few years because criminal justice reform almost always means increasing crime rates as offenders are released or not held accountable for minor criminal offenses. This will create increasing demands on law enforcement to make good cases on those offenses that are still prosecutable.

Intelligence-led policing and developments in technology need to be fully integrated into patrol and investigative operations for greater efficiency. "Connecting the dots" has never been more important than with the current level of availability of GPS tracking, surveillance camera availability, social media, license plate readers and DNA. Public concern about child exploitation and identity theft will demand an ever-increasing need for digital investigative knowledge. Staffing will either need to increase in the investigative specialties or training to use these investigative tools needs to be part of patrol officer training with a bigger burden for follow-up falling on initial reporting officers. 

Chief Joel Shults operates Street Smart Training and is the founder of the National Center for Police Advocacy. He retired as chief of police in Colorado.

Police1 resource: 10 steps to effective intelligence-led policing

The emergence of scenario-based training

From 1999 to 2017 I was on staff at a state police academy, so I dealt with police training full time for most of the past two decades. My answer is simple: REALITY.

In both basic training and in-service training, much of the time once spent in a classroom trying to stay awake is now spent in scenario-based training.

Most of my time was spent developing leadership training for new field leaders. Focusing on lessons learned at the Columbine High School attack, we taught field leaders to do the opposite of a traditional police response where everybody shows up and self-initiates a task that seems important to them at that moment. During realistic, scenario-based events, officers were taught to assume command (say so out loud on the radio), assemble a team of officers and respond to the scene.

Bringing together a team of cops who have spent most of their career as solo responders is difficult enough, but the street-level leader must at the same time come up with a plan of action. This is how the military trains new leaders. Take command, communicate a hasty plan to your team and then LEAD them into the response, adapting the plan as needed. 

This type of training cannot be taught sitting in a classroom. You must put officers in the field practicing the skills in a situation as close to reality as possible.

Dick Fairburn has more than 40 years of law enforcement experience in both Illinois and Wyoming, working patrol, investigations and administrative assignments.

Police1 resource: How to buy training simulators

What do you think are the biggest changes in police training over the past two decades? Email editor@police1.com.

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