Blue Line

The professionalization of police training in Canada


January 8, 2019  By Dr. Peter Shipley

This quote was selected by an Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) recruit class in 2012 and remains painted on the wall in one of the tunnels which connects the academy with general headquarters. This powerful motto could represent the expectation of every police training unit.

Police agencies and educational institutions are continually striving to improve how police training, research and education are delivered. Innovative and creative change requires an understanding of how to integrate training to meet the future demands of the profession.

Over the years, I have seen the implementation of what appears to be a great idea, without any evidence that the ‘new idea’ is actually valid. I am pleased and encouraged with the direction that Canadian police research, training and educational institutions are heading to improve the professionalism of how training is delivered. I am even more encouraged by the fact that police leaders recognize they need to more closely align themselves with university and college partners. There are so many fantastic Canadian resources that currently exist; but key strategic partnerships and collaborative efforts are still required to maximize the effectiveness of the quality of the training and education programs needed to develop effective police officers.

I have been fortunate to be involved in police training from provincial, national and international perspectives for almost 29 years. I have had the opportunity to see firsthand how police training has evolved and improved over the years. After all of this time, one of the things that I am still excited about is the fact that police educators across the country have continued to demonstrate a strong desire to constantly improve the quality of training.


The Canadian Association of Police Educators (CAPE) is one of those organizations that provides this opportunity and is unique in that it consists of police service training representatives along with university and community college criminal justice program researchers, professors, administrators and other law enforcement support organizations. These diverse perspectives allow us to link research and academic criminal justice programs with cadet/recruit training. This helps to bridge the gap between institutions’ current programs and the ever-changing expectations the public have of their frontline police officers. The dialogue on building and sustaining an evidence-based approach continues to revolve around the question, “How do we go about doing that?”

There are so many innovative and creative programs being delivered across the country. It is crucial for both uniform and civilian members to attend conferences like the ones that CAPE and numerous other organizations offer. There are hundreds of exceptional Canadian resources police agencies can access to improve the kind of training and education that needs to be incorporated in police programs.

The work that CAPE members and partners like the Canadian Police Knowledge Network (CPKN) and Canadian Society for Evidence Based Policing (CANSEBP) do continues to improve the professionalism of police training in the country. The challenge is that most agencies do not have the resources to effectively keep up with the changes in society, never mind the changes in research.

This could be an ongoing article series that highlights outstanding police training programs or events that are being delivered across the country. This article can only highlight a couple. One is the CAPE conference and the other is a program innovation at the Justice Institute of British Columbia (JIBC).

“Pracademics: Bridging the gap between academia and police training”
One important aspect of professionalizing police training is to ensure collaborative partnerships are pursued between university researchers and police training units.

How do police organizations bridge the gap between academia and police training? There are very few Ph.D.’s who are serving police officers. So it is important for police agencies to partner, collaborate and facilitate with organizations which have or utilize research expertise.

Some of these include: the Canadian Society for Evidenced Based Policing; the Canadian Council of Academies; Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police Research Foundation; Canadian Police Knowledge Network; and the Canadian Police Research Centre, among many others.

The Police Research Lab (PRL) Carleton University; University of Toronto (HART Lab); Wilfred Laurier and Simon Fraser University are a few of the universities who are conducting important, timely police related research and improving the professionalism of police training and education.

One of the ways in which this varied information is available to police agencies is through conferences and seminars. One such venue was the 2018 Canadian Association of Police Educators (CAPE) National Conference, which occurred in June. The annual conference was hosted by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s Pacific Regional Training Centre in Chilliwack, B.C. The conference theme was “Pracademics: Bridging the gap between academia and police training.”

The long list of expert presenters and panel members included: Chief Bob Downie (Saanich Police Department), and chair of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) Research Foundation; Dr. Bill Lewinski, director of the Force Science Institute; Dr. Greg Kratzig, RCMP; President Sandy Sweet, CPKN, and many others.

In the opening keynote address, Justice Michael H. Tulloch (Ontario Court of Appeal; Ontario Superior Court of Justice) kicked off the conference and outlined the importance for police leadership to continually support the education and development of police officers. One of the key points during the opening conference keynote was Justice Tulloch’s discussion regarding the criticality of ensuring that the right people who are facilitating learning for police educators are highly qualified to do so.

It is through events like these that attendees can take back evidence-based research and best practices to their respective agencies.

JIBC recruit training
In the past the Ontario Provincial Police Academy implemented innovative changes in the recruit program, including providing ‘electives’ (or learning modules) that a recruit could choose from based on what they felt they required more work on. This opportunity was offered to them after they had met the required provincial standard.

This was an extraordinary step forward towards professionalizing police curriculum. Imagine learners actually having some control over their own learning. Some agencies may indicate their program incorporates adult learning principles, but when it comes to demonstrating how and where this applies in their curriculum, it is much more difficult to articulate how this actually occurs.

One program that has demonstrated this progressive content is the curriculum of the JIBC. The JIBC has implemented some innovative changes that promote individualized adult learning practices. Some of the changes they have made are highlighted below:

•    Significantly fewer lectures and memorization.
•    Reliance on recruits doing the pre-reading and understanding foundational principles.
•    Recruits being able to come to class on the Monday ready to actively participate and apply what they have learned through the pre-reading and contribute in group cases studies that are monitored and assisted by instructors.
•    Recruits engaging in frequent scenarios to practice responding to the call of the week.
•    Case studies and scenarios involve common calls for a patrol officer.
•    Recruits are required to debrief scenarios and reflect on their performance. This is documented.
•    Recruits discuss their self-assessment with a mentor/instructor (pre-assigned) and agree on an individualized training plan.
•    Training plan is executed during directed study time.

Should a recruit actually debrief other recruits in a scenario? There are some senior police members who may believe this is not the right thing to do. I believe that this is, in fact, a very progressive step that is in direct alignment with acceptable adult learning principles. Active, engaged education focuses on the objective of education, which is on learning not teaching (Ackoff, & Greenberg, 2008).

The key component of action-centered leadership is: those who are in a position to take the professionalism of police training to the next level have to be bold enough to support the education leaders within their organizations. One of the big challenges for a police agency is to ensure decisions related to training and education are not always focused on risk aversion but on evidenced-based practices. In the future, the importance of linking personal learning analytics for police recruits should be a focus of all police training institutions to consider. This will be critical as some police training institutions are still utilizing the same training format that they have had for more than 20 years.

It will take bold leadership to make the changes that are necessary to prepare new officers with the skill sets that are required for the future. The fact that there is very little data on police leadership and leadership development points to the need to understand this area better (Griffiths, Murphy & Snow, 2014).

The sharing of ideas, best practices and innovative practices can continue to be shared by attending the 2019 CAPE conference in Quebec City from June 3-6. Whether you are a police leader, educator, trainer, course designer, planner, administrator or officer, I would encourage you to attend not only to learn but to also share your knowledge.  

Ackoff, R.L. & Greenberg, D. (2008, August, 20). Podcast: The objective of education is learning, not teaching. University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School of Business. Retrieved from

Griffiths, C. T., Murphy, J. J., & Snow, S. R. (2014). Economics of policing: Baseline for policing research in Canada. Retrieved from

Schnitzer, S. (2018, June 28). Bridging the gap between academia and police training. Presented at the 2018 Canadian Association of Police Educators Conference.

Dr. Peter Shipley, Ed.D., M.O.M., serves at the Ontario Provincial Police Academy in the role of chief instructor and is also the president of the Canadian Association of Police Educators ( He has also recently served as the General Chair of the State and Provincial Police Academy Directors of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

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