The theory of
Policing: An International Journal of
Police Strategies & Management
Vol. 26 No. 1, 2003
# MCB UP Limited
The theory of andragogy
applied to police training
Michael L. Birzer
Washburn University, Topeka, Kansas, USA
Keywords Police, Adult education, Training, Learning styles, USA
Abstract Police-training is an important tool in the process of facilitating change within police
organizations. With the further implementation of community-oriented policing strategies in US
police agencies, training becomes a critical centerpiece. Traditionally, the majority of subjects in the
police-training environment have been taught utilizing behavioral approaches which may not be
effective when teaching an evolving police curriculum which has been implemented under the axiom
of community-policing. Trainers have also relied heavily on teacher-centered approaches when
teaching both neophyte and veteran police. Authorities who train police might benefit from a more
student-centered instructional format. This manuscript examines incorporating the theory of
andragogy into police-training and identifies particular characteristics about the learning
transaction in the police-training classroom. Given the theory-to-practice gap that haunts police-
training authorities, andragogy holds much promise in closing this gap.
The training of police at all levels has taken on a significant role in US police
organizations. When properly used, training increases both effectiveness and
efficiency of employees (Swanson, 1992). The current spotlight and attention
centering on police-training, in part, have been initiated due to the evolving
community-policing strategy that has been implemented in some form in many
US police organizations. Community-policing implies fundamental and
strategic change in police operations both at the service delivery and within the
organization. Within this framework, and if community-policing is to be
successfully implemented within police organizations, then it is important for
training to reflect these changes.
Police-training in the USA is not uniform in content or in the number of
hours that are required for certifying a police officer (Palmiotto et al., 2000).
However, one area of police-training that has remained fairly uniform is the
manner in which academy training is conducted. Many police-training
programs are conducted in a very behavioral and militaristic environment.
This environment has paralleled police officer selection strategies over the past
50 years. Hence, police officers of the past were hired for their good physical
condition, their interest in crime control, and their ability to follow command
decisions without hesitation. This explains why agencies often hired former
military personnel as patrol officers (Gutierrez and Thurman, 1997).
The behavioral training method may not be the best environment for the
teaching-learning transaction to occur. In fact, many have argued that the
paramilitary model of policing has created a myriad problems not only in the
training environment but also in the general culture of the organization (e.g.
Lorinskas and Kulis, 1986; Weisburd et al., 1989). Theoretical scholarship has
pointed out that the behavioral and paramilitary training environment has
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