Although the laws and requirements for police training vary by state, three main types of training are standard everywhere. Intensive training gives officers the skills they need not only to protect the public, but also to solve the many unusual problems they will encounter over the course of their careers.
The first step in an officer's career, typically before he can be certified as a peace officer, is to complete basic training. This type of training almost always occurs at a police academy. There the prospective officer lives in boarding-style accommodations with other officer candidates while learning the very basics of serving as a law enforcement officer.
Basic training includes classes in investigative techniques, laws, defensive tactics, driving and pursuit, first aid and completing reports. It's intended to give a new officer enough knowledge to begin working in the field with the assistance or supervision of an experienced officer. This training usually takes 9 to 12 weeks to complete. In most states, cadets at a police academy become certified peace officers, and are sworn in for service upon graduation.
No matter how rigorous the police academy, how much information is packed in the books or how intense the trainers are, there's no substitute for practical experience. Law enforcement officials recognize this, and officers are required to complete field training prior to working independently.
Most departments pair a new officer with a field training officer (FTO). FTOs not only have many years of law enforcement experience, but also have trained in teaching new officers how to handle unexpected situations. During field training, the new officer sometimes observes the FTO, but more often gains experience first-hand while being mentored by the FTO.
Individual police departments usually determine the length of field training. This often varies from six weeks to six months, depending on the size of the department and the abilities of the officer being trained.
Police officers at all levels of experience and knowledge must constantly update their training in order to keep up with new laws, emerging technology and new techniques. Most states require a certain amount of continuing education each year in order for an officer to maintain certification, and some departments have even greater in-service training requirements. Frequent refresher courses in defensive tactics, emergency driving techniques and use of firearms enhance officer safety.
Continuing education or training also allows officers to specialize in certain areas that they find interesting, such as homicide or fraud investigation, gang intelligence, accident reconstruction or hostage negotiation. Additional training is usually required for officers to promote or to join specialty units, like a bomb squad or special weapons and tactics (SWAT) team.
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