An Effectiveness Evaluation of the Oregon State Revised Basic Police Academy Curriculum

An Effectiveness Evaluation of the Oregon State Revised Basic Police Academy Curriculum

Stephen James (Washington State University, USA), Staci Heintzman-Yutzie (University of Southern California, USA) and Lois James (Washington State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-6820-0.ch003
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In 2013 the State of Oregon passed House Bill 3194—the Justice Reinvestment act—resulting in the creation of the Oregon Center for Policing Excellence. One goal of the center was to revise the curriculum for the statewide Basic Police Academy, with a focus on topics such as communications, crisis intervention, and procedural justice. This curriculum revision was then evaluated independently. A force option simulator was used to assess recruit interaction with community members; this allowed for a reliable and repeatable measurement tool to assess each cohort month after month. Evaluation of behavior changes in recruits from before to after curriculum revisions revealed significant improvements in key policing skills related to interacting with civilians in ways that build trust in police legitimacy, de-escalating hostile situations, and reducing the need for use of force. This chapter describes the curriculum revision in detail, presents results, and discusses them in light of police training moving forward.
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Literature Review

There are over 650 basic police training academies in the United States, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (Reaves, 2016). These academies provide basic police training to groups or cohorts of recruits, of varying sizes depending on the size of the academy. Basic training typically includes a classroom-based academic component, for example learning about criminal and procedural law, and a skills-based component, for example arrest, control, and defensive tactics, weapons, and driving (Blumberg et al., 2019). The average length of basic police academy training is approximately 20 weeks. Although most academies require graduating recruits to go through a lengthy period of post-academy-graduation field training, a great deal of learning must occur at the academy, and it is a critically important phase in molding police officers.

No federal oversight or standardized curriculum exists, so State boards are typically responsible for establishing and certifying curriculum content and training hours required (Bykov, 2014; Caro, 2011). All of the academies within the state then adhere to the standards set by the POST. Some academies will only train recruits who have already been hired by a department, and others will provide training to those seeking employment (in which case some kind of written exam post-training is required for certification). Some academies tend towards “stress-based” approaches, which are modeled after a military basic training (boot camp) and are highly tactical and skill-based (Bickel, 2013). In this approach, stress comes from instructors disciplining recruits, such as using sit-ups or pushups for getting an incorrect answer. For example, one stress-based academy would quiz recruits in line for meals on various elements of courses they were taking. Recruits who got an answer wrong would be sent to the back of the line, reducing the amount of time they had to eat, in an already limited meal break. There is a distinct lack of evidence on the effectiveness of this approach, and critics suggest it promotes aggression, defensiveness, and maladaptive coping mechanisms (Conti, 2009).

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