So You Want to Be a Police Officer? What to Expect at a Police/Law Enforcement Training Academy
Except for the basic training courses utilized by the military, the basic training academies used by public safety agencies are unique from other job training programs. These academies are utilized because of the unique physical demands and specialized techniques required to perform the role of a law enforcement officer effectively and safely. In law enforcement, police training academies typically include academics related to law, tactics and criminal procedure, physical fitness (including PT tests with state-required standards to pass) and other hands-on training. Also, if you are not ready to train hard and put forth maximum physical and mental effort into your academy training before arriving, you may find yourself “washing out” of the training program. This article will provide insight for those who may consider a career in law enforcement, and give you an idea of what to expect at a policing training academy.
If one has previously been in the military, they will likely be well prepared for the overall format and rigor of a law enforcement/police training academy. But what about those seeking to transition from other unrelated career fields, or those applying straight out of graduating college? Proper preparation for the academy should entail researching the state’s law enforcement physical fitness standards to be able to pass them (for example, the AL Peace Officers Standards & Training Commission lists on their website the physical fitness standards all police academy trainees must pass in order to remain in their academy training class), and then developing a physical fitness training program that will help you meet or exceed those standards. You can also research the environment to what to expect (for example, a police academy in Florida that his held at a community college and paid out-of-pocket by the trainee will have a very different training environment from the para-military fashion of many state patrol academies that require their trainees sleep in barracks on the academy grounds while attending). The academy programs at a local community college tend to be less para-military in format, whereas the level of para-military format and environment at state-run academies varies from state to state. A good resource to research police academy format and environment is law enforcement message boards like V-academy, officer.com, realpolice.net and 911jobforums.com. It can also be beneficial to do a ride-along with an agency you’re interested in applying to, and use the opportunity to ask the officer you ride with any specific questions you have about the training academy they require.
Academics in police training academies are often similar to academics in a junior college or community college (or the first 2 years of a state university), in the sense that if you study you will be well prepared for the written tests. Often the most difficult test(s) will be those related to specifics in the state criminal law code, though with proper study time one can do well (forming a study group with other trainees is a good tactic). Most written law enforcement training academy tests are multiple choice in format.
Beyond the required physical fitness standardized tests (which often include running, pushups, sit-ups and a timed obstacle course, but the exact format and standards will vary from state to state), many law enforcement training academies also have regular physical fitness programs. These often include daily regiments of running and calisthenics. If you’re not in shape at the time you’re reading this article but want to pursue a career in law enforcement, do everything in your power to get in shape and to make running and calisthenics a regular part of your training regiment.
Hands-on training typical of probably all police training academies across the law enforcement career fields includes firearms, officer safety tactics, and defensive tactics. Other hand-on training may include arrest procedures (with other trainees or role players), use of non-lethal use of force (ex: getting tasered, sprayed with pepper spray, use of defensive batons, etc.), arrest and handcuffing techniques, how to conduct the standard field sobriety test (SFST) for DUI/DWI stops, mock traffic stops, emergency vehicle operation, and many others. Remember this: your job while in the academy is to do everything within your power to successfully graduate the academy, so ensure that you’re behavior inside and outside the classroom is commensurate to the behaviors expected of a law enforcement officer, and give 100% effort in everything you do. Do that and you will master everything required to successfully pass a police/law enforcement training academy.
About the Author: Ryan Schwoebel has worked in various roles of law enforcement since 2004, including as a deputy sheriff, police officer, crime scene technician and federal agent. After transitioning careers to the private sector, Ryan maintains his Alabama Peace Officers Standards & Training Commission certification part-time as a training officer for the Alabama Historic Ironworks Commission Police Department. Ryan also teaches criminal justice and law enforcement courses for multiple colleges, including Troy University and UAB. Ryan is a graduate of 4 separate police basic training academies, including 2 within the state of Alabama (APOSTC and an internal PD’s basic training courses) and 2 at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.