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Roundup: How police training is being reformed

A look at some of the discussions and legislation that has been passed in major training areas over the past year


States have implemented or are working on a number of significant changes to how LEOs are trained.

AP Photo/Julio Cortez

By Police1 Staff

The death of George Floyd in May 2020 sparked a push for extensive police reform. Among those reform initiatives was a call for adjustments to law enforcement training.

From expanding areas of focus in the academy to more robust programs for ongoing training and recertifications after cops get out of the classroom, states have implemented or are working on a number of significant changes to how LEOs are trained.

Here’s a roundup of some of the discussions and legislation that has been passed in training areas such as crisis intervention, implicit bias and de-escalation.

Crisis Intervention training/Mental health outreach

Crisis intervention training (CIT) and mental health outreach programs have received much of the focus of the past year, with calls to expand the level of training officers are required to take on a regular basis, as well as explorations into how officers can better respond to these situations with the help of outside experts. On the latter issue, many agencies have begun to pilot or are developing programs in which LEOs respond in tandem with mental health and other social workers – plans which have their share of critics, as well as advocates.

On the training side, numerous states are looking to expand what’s required of officers both before and after they’ve hit the streets.

Lawmakers in California have discussed requiring officers to take college courses addressing mental health. York County, Pennsylvania, has rolled out bracelets people with mental health conditions can wear to help LEOs identify their needs, while officers who have undergone CIT training now wear bracelets that signify they are certified. In Utah, a commission to address reform in Salt Lake City recommended adding a requirement that all officers are re-certified in CIT after accreditation expires two years after the academy. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, only 41% of the force chose to recertify after their training accreditation lapsed. Additionally, the commission recommended lateral hires are CIT-certified. In April 2021, Governor Spencer Cox signed a reform bill that included annual training in mental health response.

Police1 resource: Documentary provides perspective on police mental health response

Implicit bias

Many states have strengthened their implicit bias training requirements over the past year, changing them from one-off training sessions or informal discussions into more robust programs.

In Nebraska, police are now required to undergo two hours of anti-bias training annually. Utah plans to add additional implicit bias training hours to the academy. In Louisiana, a bill was passed that requires agencies to implement anti-bias training programs or risk losing out on state grants. Police training in Aurora, Colorado, now features community members from various cultures who speak to officers about their experiences with law enforcement. At the Criminal Justice Training Center at Golden West Community College in Orange County, California, recruits are now mandated to visit the Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance.

Police1 resource: What does successful anti-bias training look like?

Virtual reality training

Some agencies are utilizing new technologies to a greater extent than they were before as part of training reform, like virtual reality.

The Sacramento (California) Police Department takes elements from recent controversial shootings and implements them into virtual reality training that focuses on topics such as de-escalation and implicit bias. The PD can create these scenarios quickly after an incident arises. Police in Phoenix, Arizona, are using the tech for empathy training.

Police1 resource: How a virtual world can improve police training and public perception


One of the most prominent training programs to gain attention amid training reform efforts is the Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement (ABLE) Project, itself an offshoot of the New Orleans Police Department’s Ethical Policing is Courageous (EPIC) program.

Developed by the Georgetown Innovative Policing Program, this peer intervention training is being adopted statewide in places like New Hampshire and Washington, as well as in numerous major cities like Baltimore and Boston.

The scenario-based training is designed to break down potential intervention inhibitors such as rank and teach officers techniques to look out for their partner – whether that means stepping in when an officer needs to de-escalate an encounter or promoting health and wellness when a colleague is showing signs of harmful habits.

In Utah, the police academy is adding additional training hours focused on fighting with hands instead of a weapon.

“You’re seeing a lot of videos where officers just panic,” Major Scott Stephenson, the academy’s director, told KSL. “They don’t feel comfortable using their hands and so they go right for the tool belt.”

Police1 resource: Police de-escalation training project a team effort