Police Officer Licensing – Policy Brief 2020

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Police Officer Licensing – Policy Brief 2020

Is Police Officer Training Serving its Intended Purpose?

Dr. Alicia Plemmons, Alexis Schumacher MHRM, Dr. Edward Timmons


If police officer training and education requirements are designed appropriately, they can play a role in preventing bias that would interfere with their duties. The last several months, however, have been quite challenging for law enforcement and citizens alike. The State of Policy in Law Enforcement 2018 report found that 80% of agencies identified the need for increased recurrent training to stay up-to-date with societal changes and de-escalation techniques.
Are current state requirements designed appropriately? To explore this question, we developed a data set of state-level police offer regulations. The full data set will be made available through the Knee Center’s database in the near future.
In most cases, this minimum is set by the state regulatory board. In states without a minimum hour requirement for initial training, we investigated each police academy within that state and department hiring rules. It is important to note that precincts and departments do have the option to set their hiring requirements above this minimum standard (i.e., require a bachelor’s degree or a longer training program).
In our analysis, we identified the following key variables: education, academy weeks, total training weeks, average salary, minimum age, and continued professional education hours.




Some highlights of the figures include:
A. Figure 1 reports whether states require police officers to obtain an associate or bachelor’s degree. Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin require an associate’s degree. Illinois is the only state in the country to require a bachelor’s degree.
B. Figure 2 reports the minimum number of required academy weeks. Requirements range from zero mandatory academy weeks in Minnesota to 35 in Missouri. The average number of required academy weeks is 17 and the median is 16 weeks.
C. Figure 3 reports the total required training weeks. This is the sum of academy and schooling weeks.
D. Figure 4 reports average salary for police officers in each state. Salary averages range from as low as $35k in Mississippi to $108k in California.
E. Figure 5 reports minimum age requirements. Twenty states have a state minimum of 18 years-of-age. Twenty-four states require applicants to be 21 years old. Several states that set the minimum age at 18 will let the hiring process start at 17.
F. Figure 6 reports continuing professional education (CPE) requirements. Continued professional education hours range from a maximum of 40 hours annually to zero in a number of states. Nine states do not require CPE hours. Four states (Kansas, Massachusetts, Tennessee, and Utah) require 40 hours of CPE.

We made the following observations from the data.
1. Many states do not require a psychological evaluation prior to being employed as an officer.
2. Some states have a surprisingly high number of required weeks in academy, while others are surprisingly low. We suspect that there may not be a clear association between academy weeks and policing quality.
3. Continuing professional education hours include things such as avoiding deadly chokeholds, developing new strategies, learning about mental health concerns, etc. Within these continuing education hours, officers can generally pick what types of classes they want to take as long as they meet the hours, though it will almost always include a shooting course or exam. These repeated annual training may influence officer quality more than a longer initial course sequence.
4. Some academies are live-in situations with 60+ hours of active training a week, while some do not allow you to stay on campus and are instead 4-6 hours a few days a week.

In conclusion, it is not clear that a mechanism to provide revocation of licenses—similar to other licensed professions—would fulfill its intended purpose of removing low quality officers. In practice, licensing boards are much more interested in blocking unlicensed practice and protecting licensed professionals. Police unions are also generally very defensive of other police officers. As policy makers look for ways to improve the quality of policing, we would stress that the content of training is more important than quantity. A completely independent review agency—comprised of citizens with no connection to the police force—would be a better option.


*Information is subject to change as state laws change.


[1] State of Policy in Law Enforcement 2018. (2018, October 05). Retrieved August, 2020, from https://www.powerdms.com/state-of-policy

[2] To Keep Bad Cops Off Streets, States Consider Police Licensing. (2020, July 7). Retrieved August, 2020, from https://news.bloomberglaw.com/daily-labor-report/to-keep-bad-cops-off-streets-states-consider-police-licensing