Training police in the knowledge and skills necessary to support the rule of law and protect their publics is a substantial component of the activities of the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), cognate agencies in other countries, and international organizations that provide foreign assistance. As it designs and delivers training in partner countries, INL depends on the best evidence about both content and methods of training to develop and sustain competent and legitimate criminal justice systems.
However, there are several challenges facing organizations like the INL that support police training in other countries, particularly in the Global South. Significant challenges arise with the wide range of cultural, institutional, political, and social contexts within the countries supported by INL. For example, some countries receiving donor funding may have authoritarian regimes with weak or no commitment to a rule of law (ROL), let alone a priority on protecting the public. In many such places, the police mission is highly focused on protecting the regime in power, by any means necessary, including what may be considered abuses of human rights. In other places, there are modest or even strong signs of movement toward a ROL, and toward greater emphasis on protecting the public. Yet, even these latter countries face myriad institutional obstacles in implementing sought-after reforms. (Institutional obstacles to reform are even present in countries, like the United States, with stronger democratic institutions.)
Another challenge is that foreign assistance donors often have to leverage programs and capacity in their own countries to provide training in partner countries, and there are many examples of training in the Global
North, including the United States, that do not rely on the best scientific evidence of policing practices and training design. Studies have shown disconnects between the reported goals of training, notably that of protecting the population, and actual behaviors by police officers. These realities present a diversity of challenges and opportunities for foreign assistance donors and police training.
As part of its efforts to strengthen policing in the countries it supports, INL asked the Committee on Law and Justice of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to convene an ad hoc committee to gather scientific evidence and assess research needs for effective policing in the context of the challenges above. The task of this committee is to review, assess, and reach a consensus on existing evidence on policing institutions, police practices and capacities, and police legitimacy in the international context. The committee was assembled with expertise in criminology, economics, international and organized crime, law, policing, and political science. Its members bring knowledge and experience from a portfolio of work that spans four continents (see Appendix).
The committee was charged to produce a series of five reports addressing questions of interest to INL and the State Department. This second report in the series responds to the following questions: What are the core knowledge and skills needed for police to promote the ROL and protect the population? What is known about mechanisms (e.g., basic and continuing education or other capacity building programs) for developing the core skills needed for police to promote the rule of law and protect the population? Two commissioned papers and a public workshop, called forth by the committee to address these questions, served as the primary sources of information for the committee’s deliberations.
The committee’s organizing framework for its review, described extensively in the committee’s first report,1 stems from an evidence-based approach to policing. Evidence-based policing is an approach to police practice and management that involves using scientifically derived knowledge to strengthen police departments’ decision-making, tactics, strategies, and overall agency functioning. To promote the rule of law and protect the population, an evidence-based policing approach requires: (1) a reliable body of knowledge about myriad police practices for both contact with the public and internal operations; (2) the ongoing practice of targeting, testing, and tracking of police resources for achieving legitimate outcomes; and (3) the institutionalization and implementation of knowledge into police practices.
The committee recognizes the inherent challenge of its charge: the unknown extent to which knowledge primarily developed in the Global
North (mostly in the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia) can be generalized to police practices in the Global South and within different cultural, economic, educational, political, and social environments and contexts. Such differences can alter both the implementation and the impact of practices tested in one context and applied in another. What this report offers is a starting point toward developing stronger knowledge about how overseas assistance can help improve training outcomes for police institutions in these varied contexts.
In considering its broader charge and the landscape of policing reform, the committee notes that training alone cannot undo or repair a culture of mistrust or corruption in a government or police institution. If training is decoupled from other core elements of police institutions, its effects can be minimal—or worse, they can be detrimental, as when trainees see that what they are taught is not consistent with the strategy, systems, and processes in place. Training effects on a police agency’s performance always depend on how training is articulated and coordinated with other institutional elements.
The committee identified this issue as the difference between “reform-based training” and “training-based reform” (see Chapter 2). The committee believes that much of the training supported by donor nations and in the Global North constitutes training-based reform, which uses training as the primary aspiration for seeking change. Training-based reforms are often provided in isolation from other policies or organizational adjustments that could limit or enhance the impact of the training. Reform-based training begins with the specific reform that is sought, and then considers all elements needed to achieve that reform, including creating or redefining units or appointing new leaders in an agency, changing organizational tasks, priorities, incentives, and strategies, strengthening management and accountability within a police organization, providing new technologies, creating partnerships with local community groups, and winning political support in the national legislature or from civil servants in key ministries. Such reform planning would address what training is needed to support such reform efforts. New approaches to training therefore need to be launched in concordance with improvements to other organizational systems to reinforce and sustain a new direction for policing improvement. Reform-based training emphasizes that training alone is not enough to ensure reform.
CONCLUSION 1: Training needs to be launched in concordance with other organizational systems to reinforce its message, so that it becomes
part of a comprehensive policing transformation, including changes to incentive, accountability, supervisory, and deployment structures that support training goals.
FIVE PRINCIPLES OF TRAINING
The evidence-based policing anchor of the committee’s work provides a framework for reform-based training. Specifically, the committee reached a consensus on five connected principles of police training that are grounded in an evidence-based approach and that can support the rule of law and the protection of the public. These principles, which are interconnected, are:
- Training must do no harm. Training must not only focus on the evidence about what is effective in protecting the public and promoting the rule of law, but it also must not contribute to negative consequences, abuses, or harms. The uses of training must be monitored for positive outcomes, negative consequences, and misuses. The remaining principles operationalize this goal.
- The content of training should be based on good evidence to the extent possible. The policing strategies, tactics, knowledge, and skills that officers are trained on should be supported by evidence showing that they are effectively linked to supporting the rule of law and protecting the public. Both existing scientific knowledge and scientific approaches can help identify effective policing strategies and activities that officers should be trained upon.
- Training must also use evidence-based methods. The educational methods of delivering training should also be selected based on evidence of impact. Finding effective ways for officers to learn, apply knowledge, and update that knowledge is essential in linking training to everyday practices, behaviors, and outcomes.
- Police agencies must continuously gather new evidence about the impact of training content and methods by tracking, testing, and evaluating ongoing training efforts for implementation and outcomes.
- The delivery of training needs to be flexible and contextualized, given the resources, cultures, and capacities of different police agencies that INL supports.
CONCLUSION 2: An evidence-based approach to police training emphasizes five principles: that training should do no harm; that training activities, tactics, and strategies should be supported by good evidence; that the educational training methods used are also effective; that organizations continuously track, test, and evaluate training efforts; and that the delivery of training needs to be flexible and contextualized.
EVIDENCE-BASED KNOWLEDGE AND SKILLS FOR POLICE TRAINING
The committee recognizes that basic and ongoing training are critically important for police officers, given the varied demands, stress, and specialized tasks of the profession. In this report, the committee does not attempt to assess all of the work demands, tasks, and requirements necessary to carry out the essential responsibilities of policing. Instead, it focuses on what is currently often absent in training that is likely to help achieve the goal of promoting the rule of law and protecting the population. Often absent from police training—including in the Global North—is scientific knowledge about effective policing strategies and tactics, empirical facts about crime, victimization, and offending, and theoretical approaches that can help officers think more critically about their everyday work. Many recruit training courses teach how to march, write reports, physically detain someone, and/or use vehicles and/or weapons. Yet these skills play a very minor role in protecting the public and promoting the rule of law. Police training must incorporate knowledge derived from the science of policing.
For example, empirical facts and well-accepted theories of crime and victimization from criminology can provide the foundational knowledge necessary for police officers to make more informed decisions about crime, offenders, and victims. Drawn from decades of scientific evidence about crime and the prevention of crime, these facts and theories not only form the building blocks of police strategies that are now known to be effective at reducing crime, but can also inform policies, strategies, and everyday police actions that better protect the public from harm. Key facts from science include these:
- Crime concentrates in a small fraction of all places: Recognizing this criminological fact means that police can target (and conserve) resources better by focusing their problem-solving attention on places that account for the most crimes and crime harm.
- Crime concentrates at certain times of the day and days of the week: Allocating police to the right places (hot spots) at the right times (hot times) and on the right days (hot days) improves police effectiveness at preventing crime.
- Crime concentrates among few offenders: A large proportion of crime is committed by a small proportion of all offenders who chronically display a wide range of offending behavior, with offenders who create the highest harm often committing fewer crimes than the high-frequency offenders who contribute to less overall harm.
- Youthful offenders are likely to desist over time: The vast majority of juveniles who commit minor offenses desist as they become
- adults. Police can safely divert from prosecution low-level offending by most young people, since most will stop offending regardless.
- Crime concentrates among repeat victims: Repeat victimization is a pattern by which a small percentage of victims suffers a large percentage of all criminal victimization, and an even greater proportion of all crime harm.
Criminological theories also help police understand the mechanisms that create crime problems. They offer insight into how interventions might disrupt the conditions that create crime opportunities and can support an officer’s more critical and problem-solving approach to dealing with crime problems. Four key theories of crime causation that are supported by extensive multinational research evidence have substantial relevance to policing:
- Routine Activities Theory: Crime emerges when a likely offender converges with a suitable crime target in the absence of a capable guardian. Understanding people’s everyday routines and the interaction between these routines and the opportunities for crime at specific places can help officers understand why crime concentrates at certain places and times.
- General Deterrence Theory: Crime is reduced in populations that see continuing evidence of police presence and capacity to apprehend offenders; crime rises sharply when that capacity is sharply reduced (for example, in police strikes, or when police ignore crime-prone places).
- Residual Deterrence Theory: Short periods of police presence in crime hot spots applied in intermittent and unpredictable ways can lead to longer periods without crime or disorder after police leave, not only at the immediate location of patrol but also in the surrounding vicinity.
- No Evidence of Immediate Spatial Displacement: Police agencies often argue that by targeting particular places, times, and people within those place and times, that crime will simply “move around the corner” and be displaced. Robust evidence indicates that displacement is not common, and that surrounding areas are more likely to see a diffusion of benefits, when police target specific crime hot spots.
CONCLUSION 3: Training on the causes and patterns of crime (and antisocial behavior), rule of law, and human rights is needed in both recruit training and advanced training of police. Such training includes a foundation of criminological theories and empirical facts that develop
an understanding of how and why crime concentrates among certain offenders, places, times, and victims.
In addition to this knowledge about crime, offending, and victimization, training also needs to include the extensive knowledge that is now available from evaluation research in criminology on effective approaches to prevent crime, protect the public, reduce harm, and improve the ability for the police to support the rule of law. This knowledge has been extensively reviewed in two National Academies consensus studies: Fairness and Effectiveness in Policing and Proactive Policing: Effects on Crime and Communities.2 There is scientific consensus on several policing approaches that they can be appropriately adjusted to varying policing contexts to reduce crime and improve police-citizen relationships. These findings suggest that the following are effective approaches (see Chapter 3):
- Targeting high-risk micro-geographic places or “hot spots” of crime, especially using problem-solving approaches;
- Focused deterrence strategies for high-risk offenders;
- Diversion for low-risk and youthful offenders;
- Risk assessment and protection orders to protect domestic violence victims from further abuse; and
- Spatial targeting of high-risk drug offenders within the drug market environment.
CONCLUSION 4: Officers must be trained on tactics, strategies, and actions that have been shown through high-quality research to effectively promote the rule of law and protect the public.
Science-based training on the causes and patterns of crime and on effective crime prevention approaches can complement ethics-based training on the rule of law and human rights. Training that links both helps to achieve Principle 1, that training should do no harm.
CONCLUSION 5: Training on the consequences of violating the rule of law and human rights principles can help police understand the role they play within society and the degradation that may occur to their authority when they abuse their power or fail to control police torture and corruption.
2 These reports are available through the National Academies Press at https://www.nap.edu/catalog/10419/fairness-and-effectiveness-in-policing-the-evidence and https://www.nap.edu/catalog/24928/proactive-policing-effects-on-crime-and-communities.
In addition to knowledge about crime and effective policing approaches, several skills are needed to facilitate translating this knowledge into effective policing strategies and tactics that can advance the rule of law and protect the public simultaneously (see Chapter 3). These skills include:
- Interacting with the public: Interacting with diverse populations exercising cultural respect and with an awareness of one’s own implicit and explicit biases.
- Critical thinking skills: Policing approaches that use problem-oriented policing, proactivity and crime analysis, community- and citizen-centric approaches, or geographic targeting require critical and creative thinking skills to integrate the knowledge described above into everyday activities.
- Data skills: A problem-solving approach requires officers to make decisions based on data and, more importantly, on data that are appropriately collected, collated, and analyzed as to be accurate.
- Collaborating and building multi-agency partnerships: A central part of police work is working in partnership with other agencies and entities to regulate, control, and prevent crime. Police need the skills necessary to work with local and government partners in providing integrated services to the different types of adults and youth with whom they come into contact.
CONCLUSION 6: Training is essential on skills for interacting with the public, and for problem-solving with partnerships for proactive responses guided by critical thinking and data analysis. Police training that includes content and analysis of routine data collection is likely to help police better identify and prioritize high-risk people, places, and vulnerable victims.
EFFECTIVE TRAINING METHODS AND DELIVERY
Training not only needs to focus on effective policing approaches to promote the rule of law and protect the population, it also needs to use effective educational methods and pedagogy. Effective teaching methods are essential to ensure that topics that officers and organizations are trained on will be maintained in officers’ minds and then sustained and operationalized in practice. A central conclusion of the committee is that the way police officers are trained likely matters as much as the skills and knowledge on which they are trained.
While little rigorous evaluation has been conducted on training methods in the policing context, a number of best practice principles for training design and adult learning are available through the work of both researchers
and industries. Generally, effective training is developed through a systematic process that includes conducting a training needs analysis, developing training objectives, selecting methods of training, pilot testing the training design, and evaluating the outcomes of training. From a reform-based training ideal, each of these steps would be connected to broader organizational changes. Additionally, these fundamental steps of training design apply to all levels of trainees from entry-level to management as well as instructors themselves in which training is aimed at preparing future instructors.
Existing evidence on adult learning pedagogy in the context of policing across various contexts and countries lends some advice for foreign assistance programs (see Chapter 4). First, the settings for police training are not just in a basic academy or in donor-sponsored training sessions but occur in formal “field training” or “in-service training” and informal settings such as everyday supervision and mentorship in the field. Each provides unique opportunities for training and also obstacles to training that developers and trainers should consider when designing training goals and curricula. Second, and specific to policing, training using problem-based learning methods, scenario-based training, and training that develops critical thinking skills seems most appropriate, given both the complexities of policing and the knowledge base that is needed for effective policing, as discussed above.
Third, close attention has to be paid to who is providing training. The trustworthiness of agency leadership and instructors appears to influence training outcomes as well as the type of learning method selected by the trainer. In addition, specific behaviors of trainers influence training outcomes. Field training officers are thought to play a critical role in socializing officers by demonstrating and reinforcing police agency and community values outside the police academy setting. However, these factors may also work against training goals if trusted instructors are not teaching the correct content. Instructors must also have a strong knowledge of the facts and theories of crime as well as the knowledge base on effective strategies to protect the public and ensure the rule of law. Additionally, this knowledge of crime and prevention must be contextualized within the local context. Thus, using local trainers who have appropriate general education may offer a means to train those trainers at a regional level. Training designs may be bolstered by including local police in curriculum development and evaluation of training. This could ensure that police agencies are aware of how to find scientifically validated research and how to translate that research into accessible curriculum for trainees. Plans that include an evaluation component, ideally one with a credible causal design, need to be prioritized when at all possible.
CONCLUSION 7: Given the lack of research on teaching effectiveness in the policing context, implementation of promising methods should be evaluated to confirm whether they support officer learning and use of knowledge and skills in practice. Finding effective ways to train police officers, with knowledgeable and respected instructors, using experiential and problem-oriented approaches is key to advancing reform-based training from an evidence-based policing perspective.
TRACKING, TESTING, AND EVALUATING TRAINING
The committee finds that the body of evidence on outcomes from different training content or methods is substantially underdeveloped. In particular, the documentation of training implementation, the quality and nature of training across different instructors or modalities, and the connection between training and outcomes in the field are rarely tracked. The committee’s consensus is that investments in evaluation of police training are likely to increase police capacity to promote the rule of law and protect the population. Popularly promoted and frequently used training programs (e.g., de-escalation, procedural justice, implicit bias training, and community-oriented policing) remain underevaluated all over the world.
In order to answer critical questions of training effectiveness, rigorous evaluations of police training outcomes must occur prior to, or at least in concert with, widespread promotion and implementation of any training programs. The ongoing accumulation of knowledge of how people learn as well as innovations in learning tools and technologies require institutions to assess continually how training is conducted.
Given the massive expenditure on training by INL and other donor nations, a need for tracking, testing, and evaluating training against specific outcomes is required to ensure that the achievement of sought-after goals is met. Individual countries receiving funds from INL can also assist by being required to keep track of the uses of training content, the continuation or dissemination of training to others, or results of training implementation against specific outcomes.