While there are around 18,000 separate police agencies in the USA, there is no national standard for training. Training practices can vary by state, agency or even by department. For instance, Mississippi police require 400 hours of training, while North Carolina ask for over 900 hours in order to qualify.
The average police officer will spend around 21 weeks in training, although in some academies (such as the Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts State Police) it can last for over six months. And while there is a lot of common ground between these different programs, they can differ considerably in how strict or militaristic they are.
HOW DOES THE ACADEMY SYSTEM WORK?
Before entering the academy, a police officer’s educational journey starts with a high school diploma or GED. Practically all academies in the USA have this as a base requirement, and some federal academies also ask for an undergraduate degree.
But formal education isn’t the only requirement: candidates need to tick a number of boxes in order to be accepted. While each academy has its own criteria, most applicants need to be US citizens over the age of 21 with a driver’s license and a clean criminal record. Most applicants also need to be in good physical health to be considered.
Larger police agencies (with over 1,000 members) often have their own ‘in-house’ academies, and will only employ graduates of their own academy. These agencies will even ask graduates from other academies to complete their in-house training before they can join.
Regional academies, on the other hand, train recruits to work in a number of different agencies. In some cases, agencies pre-hire trainees, sponsoring their training on the understanding that they will work for them once they graduate. Many trainees also pay their own way and either get ‘shopped’ by an agency during their or find employment after they graduate.
While every agency has its own approach to training, some have built the reputation of being notoriously demanding. Here are three academies that are considered to be amongst the best and toughest in the US.
MARYLAND STATE POLICE ACADEMY
The Maryland State Police Academy offers training for recruits who will go on to work at one of the 22 State Police Barracks in Maryland. Content of the program includes college-level academic classes, two weeks of firearms training, precision driving, first aid, defence tactics and more. Trainees live at the academy Monday to Friday for the 26 weeks of the course.
Apart from the content of the program and the gruelling physical training, what makes this academy so demanding is the daily military-style inspections. If trainees are found to be below standards in any way, they are issued demerits. Enough demerits and the trainee will need to spend a disciplinary weekend at the Academy. The Academy is clearly proud of their reputation as one of the toughest police training institutions in the country. According to their own website, “It will not matter whether you were in the military, went to college or had a job prior to entering the Academy. The Academy will be one of the toughest times you will ever endure.”
NEW JERSEY STATE POLICE ACADEMY
The New Jersey State Police Academy is located in Sea Girt, New Jersey, and applicants may find the entry requirements to be higher than some other academies. The educational requirements include, at minimum, a bachelor’s degree or at least a number of college credits in certain cases. Candidates are not permitted to have visible tattoos, piercings, dental ornamentation or other body modifications. The curriculum relies heavily on scenario-based training and research assignments and includes physical training, self-defense, firearms training, water safety and driving.
One of the things that makes this academy so tough is the length of the daily routine. The day starts before breakfast, with a military drill at 6am every day. Training continues until 10 pm, including a two-hour study hall period every evening that is used to prepare for class, complete assignments, and study for examinations. This routine continues every day for the full 24 weeks of the program.
VIRGINIA STATE POLICE TRAINING DIVISION
The Virginia State Police Training Division is recognized nationwide for its exemplary training standards, instructional curriculum, and expert instructors. Trainees live at the academy for four to five days a week. The curriculum is split into two phases. Phase 1 alone includes defensive tactics, crime and crash scene investigation, ethics and leadership, survival Spanish, firearms proficiency, officer survival, cultural diversity, interview and interrogation, CPR and first aid, and more. Phase 2 is a practical, mentoring stage where trainees are placed with a more senior mentor to study and observe the normal police duties of the state police department.
This is one of the longest training courses in the country, lasting a total of 35 weeks. The training includes 98 different subjects and requires approximately 1,350 hours of instruction. Trainees are constantly tested both through written tests and field practical exercises and must maintain an 85% cumulative grade point average. Those who don’t meet these requirements won’t be allowed to continue on to the second phase of their training.