Established in 1955 by state statute, the University of Illinois Police Training Institute is one of the largest and longest running police academies in the United States. The institute has trained tens of thousands of police and correctional officers since its inception, preparing students to be leaders and professionals in the ever more important peace-keeping function in our communities.
The Police Training Institute provides a 560-hour Basic Law Enforcement Academy, 200-hour Basic Correctional Officer Academy, and advanced specialty courses in firearms and arrest & control tactics. We also offer a Citizens Police Academy for community members to learn about law enforcement and partnering with police to keep our communities safe.
Instructors are on the leading edge in developing new and innovative strategic approaches that enable peace officers to assist their communities in maintaining ordered and safe societies. Our academic research efforts, a critical part of our mission, are focused on producing new and more effective teaching methods to provide graduating officers with the knowledge and skills required for decision-making in an increasingly complex work environment.
The Police Training Institute is truly committed to the philosophical triad of Integrity, Respect, and Service.
What Sets the Police Training Institute Apart from Other Academies
Adult Learning Model
At the Police Training Institute (PTI), we realized many years ago that the time had arrived to shift from military-style police academies to police training institutes based on adult learning principles. Historically, police academies have based their training concepts on those typical of boot camps, where police recruits are subjugated by instructors’ strict and often demeaning methods. Adult learners resent and resist circumstances in which they feel others are imposing their will on them. We need to keep in mind that policing, though quasi-military, is not the military.
At the PTI, three essential components comprise our adult learning model: progressive training, interconnected training, and scenario-based training. Recruit officers have more opportunities to practice their skills in scenarios than in any other academy in Illinois. The PTI provides 21 four-hour blocks of scenario-based training, allowing each recruit officer to participate. It also provides dozens of scenarios in all aspects of police work, including domestic disputes, investigative stops, criminal sexual assault, vehicle stops, the use of force, and crimes in progress, just to name a few. The progression of these scenarios is such that they become more complex and/or more dangerous. This explains why training components should be scattered throughout the duration of the academy training. Most weeks consist of some classroom instruction, arrest and control tactics training, firearms training, strategy and tactics training, and hands-on scenario-based training. This approach allows recruits to learn and then practice in real-life scenarios to build on their knowledge and skills at a realistic rate.
A police recruit must learn much before becoming a solo officer; the curriculum is vast and includes, but is not limited to, components such as de-escalation skills, critical thinking, proper decision making, community-oriented policing, laws, strategy and tactics, arrest and control tactics, and firearms training.
Although a challenging task for any academy, the University of Illinois PTI has adopted this training approach, and it has proven to be highly effective. This method requires numerous well-trained role players and instructors. We have discovered that quality training will not work by implementing stand-alone blocks of instructions, such as teaching law one week, arrest and control tactics the following week, firearms training the next, and so on, before introducing a few scenarios at the end of the training period. It is not realistic to believe that recruit officers will remember everything they have learned for weeks and then apply this to scenarios during the final week or so of training.
Scenarios are developed so that recruits have the chance to succeed. Ensuring that scenarios become progressively more complex and/or more dangerous is crucial. Adopting scenarios that require highly technical skills, have high risk, or are too complicated without this gradual progression will only set up the recruit for failure. Scenarios that require the recruit to challenge him- or herself are more beneficial than if they are too simple or even boring. Adults gain more from an intense and challenging learning experience than one that is easy and routine.
All role players receive training on what is expected of them and of the recruit. If the role player has a solid understanding of the performance objectives and skills the facilitator is looking for, he or she can respond to the recruit’s words and actions properly. For example, at the PTI, recruits learn non-escalation and de-escalation skills during tactical communications training. We believe that if role players also receive training on these skills, they are more likely to respond appropriately to the recruit officer’s words, demeanor, and actions. Our role players are trained to stick to the scripts, which are designed for specific outcomes; moving away from the scripts by improvisation could easily defeat their purpose.
Training facilitators is also crucial for successful scenario-based training. Recruits learn in several ways during scenario blocks. They, of course, learn by actually practicing policing techniques when it is their turn to participate in the scenario. However, they also learn from watching the scenario, especially by thinking of what they might say or do differently. Also, when the scenario has finished, the facilitator must be able to engage all participants during a debriefing. The instructor should not simply say that Person A did this well, and Person B should have done that. The recruits involved in the scenario and those observing should provide most of the discussion, which should only be facilitated by the instructor.
Further, the instructor should aim to limit the debrief to just a few training points. Recruits are much more likely to learn and remember if they are not overwhelmed by information. Instructors provide positive, constructive feedback, which will benefit the recruit much more than negative feedback. Adult learning is strengthened when accompanied by positive feedback. This does not mean recruits only receive feedback on their positive accomplishments, but mistakes are conveyed in a constructive manner. Recruits also need to understand that they are expected to make mistakes and that this is how they learn.
To provide this elite training, the PTI continuously tries to improve all aspects based on the three essential components that comprise our adult learning model: progressive training, interconnected training, and scenario-based training. Researchers realize that adults must be actively involved in the learning process, and the opportunity for direct involvement will produce a greater experience than will mere observation.
Structure and Rules
Not following a military-style ideology does not mean that the PTI is without structure, rules, and discipline. First and foremost, there are extremely high expectations in terms of respect and integrity. As with police agencies, the PTI has policies, procedures, and rules in place to function in an efficient and orderly manner. Many recruits have been removed from the academy due to integrity issues. As Director of the PTI, I will never jeopardize my integrity, the academy’s integrity, or the integrity of the policing profession.
The PTI is a residential academy to provide a greater structure as well as help build the important bond between students. There is a 7 pm curfew for the first two weeks of the academy, and the class can earn a 9 pm curfew thereafter. Intense physical training also takes place every morning at 5:50 am. There are numerous other rules regarding behavior in the classroom, at our other training sites, as well as during their off time. We work with our client agencies regarding discipline for any moderate to serious issues involving a recruit. However, if a recruit officer shows a lack of integrity, as Director, I have the authority to remove him or her without the permission of the agency.
The PTI is well known for its renowned firearms training as well as for its prestigious Master Firearms Certification for veteran officers. We have an amazing history of recruit officers successfully certifying in State Firearms Qualifications. We not only have a 99.9% qualification rate for recruit officers, but our instructors have also taken recruit officers from remedial firearms to qualifying as Experts.
Control Tactics Training
We have developed a unique control tactics curriculum, unlike those of other academies. The tactics involve the most likely scenarios faced by officers, including control holds, takedowns, and ground fighting techniques. Unlike most control tactics systems, it is based heavily on concepts more than exact step-by-step techniques. Once a recruit leaves an academy, he or she is likely to receive little training. Hence, it is important they understand the techniques conceptually. At the PTI, recruit officers participate in over 100 resistance drill scenarios, which include controls, takedowns, and ground fighting. Like firearms, our Master Arrest and Control Tactics certification is a prestigious accomplishment for veteran officers.
Client Agency Feedback
The PTI has received positive feedback from client agencies. It understands that the academy is not preparing recruits for solo patrols when they graduate. The academy is preparing the recruit for his or her field training officer. Moreover, there is much more to be learned once the recruit graduates from the academy. A combination of academy training, field training, and experience best prepare the recruit to become a successful officer. In particular, scenario-based training allows the recruit to play out basic experiences on which he or she can build after graduation.