In the wake of current events the U.S. police have once again come under immense public scrutiny, putting the focus on various aspects such as police brutality, racial discrimination, qualified immunity, police unions and others.
There is however one aspect that I would consider to be a HUGE elephant in the room, which is the amount of training that police officers in the United States receive:

I am from Germany. Over here we have significantly less crime than the U.S., less gun violence, less organized crime, less gang violence, or, to get to the point: The job of a police officer in Germany is significantly easier than the job of a police officer in the U.S., who has to deal with far more dangerous and complex situations and issues on an average basis.
Yet over here we consider the bare minimum amount of training a police officer requires to be two years (in my home state even three years), which seems to be the norm in developed countries, whereas in the U.S. the average seems to be between 20 and 30 weeks, or roughly 600 hours.

I cannot emphasize enough how insane this fact alone appears from my perspective let alone the fact that this isn't the primary issue of the current debate.
It seems perfectly obvious to me that this state of affairs is a recipe for disaster, considering that it means that U.S. police officers are sent into complex situations while having only between one quarter or one eighth of the training that other developed countries are providing their respective officers.

My primary question therefore is: Why is the amount of police training so much lower in the U.S. than in other developed countries?

Furthermore, if you want to go into detail, I would also be interested in why this doesn't seem to be even closely as big of an issue in public discourse as one would expect it to be.


A comprehensive comparison between a great amount of countries is surprisingly hard to find, or rather was impossible to find for me. Therefore I looked at the specific information with regard to various north-western european countries (U.K., Germany, Scandinavia...), because they are the most comparable to the U.S. in terms of national development level. Examples for this would be Germany, Sweden and U.K..
Overall in the north-western European region the predominant model seems to be at least 2 years of training, more likely 3 and usually modeled after a bachelor-master-system.

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    The question is interesting but do you have data regarding training in various countries? I am not convinced police officers all over Europe necessarily get as much training as in Germany. Also, it's a small detail but there is actually quite a bit of organized crime in Germany.
    – Relaxed
    Jun 26, 2020 at 17:30
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    Historically, a lot of police departments, especially smaller ones, target people who are not interested in four-year college. So a three-year training program would put them off. Jun 26, 2020 at 19:45
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    An error you made where the correction may be helpful: "the US police has" should be "US police have." There is no "US police" organization besides the FBI that's relevant to the protests: standards for training vary based on jurisdiction and the situation on the whole isn't exactly like it is in Germany or many other countries.
    – gormadoc
    Jun 26, 2020 at 20:33
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    Issues with USA's Police are much broader than just length of training (or Police carrying guns, another often quoted reason). Police training in Poland is mere 22 weeks (according to official site), yet on rankings of police-induced deaths per capita, Poland (where every Police(wo)man is always carrying a handgun) has pretty much same results as UK (where regular Police isn't carrying weapons) and is one of the world's safest countries, when it comes to Police brutality. Now Police in Poland has it's own issues, but those are mostly related to current political landscape and ruling party.
    – M i ech
    Jun 26, 2020 at 22:27
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    you can't compare police brutality in Poland which is like 99% ethnic poles vs Germany or USA with a much more diverse ethnic population
    – adjan
    Jun 26, 2020 at 23:04

2 Answers 2


A large part of the reason that training in the US is so short compared to other developed countries appears to be that the training in the US seems to focus more on the practical aspects of the job, rather than the social or ethical aspects. This Axios article contains comments from a Professor of Sociology:

Rashawn Ray of the Brookings Institution and the University of Maryland, who leads implicit bias training for police departments and the military, notes that "police departments do a lot of tactical training. They don’t do a lot of training that is focused on social interaction. ... But nine out of 10 times, or even more, their job is simply having a conversation."

In other developed countries, this seems to be the focus of a large proportion of training. If we look, for example, at the Norwegian police academy, Politihøgskolen, there is a breakdown of the three-year basic training course. If we look just at the first year of study, we see modules including "Preventive police work", "Police, society and ethics", "Criminal law and criminal procedure". This training, however, does not neglect practical skills - a large proportion of the training is "Operational police work", but in the first year, this is limited to first aid, arrest technique, and the use of pepper spray & batons. It is not until the final year of study that this includes the use of one-handed and two-handed weapons.

One explanation for this is the lack of federal standards on police training - according to the Department of Justice, there are 'more than 18,000 local police departments in the U.S." but there's no "universal standard for the structure, size, or governance of police departments".

A second explanation is that although the classroom training in the US is relatively short, a large proportion of police training is carried out 'on the job'. This is not true across the board, for the reason stated in the previous paragraph, but if we take the example of California, police officers first have to undergo a Regular Basic Course with a minimum requirement of 664 hours.

The next stage is then a Field Training Program, where new officers are assigned to an experienced officer on the job, the aim being to introduce the new officer to "personnel, procedures, policies, and purposes of the individual law enforcement department" and to provide "the initial formal and informal training specific to the department and the day-to-day duties of its officers". This lasts a minimum of 10 weeks, but usually 12-16 weeks.

The final stage is then a probationary period of 12-24 months before being considered a fully qualified police officer. In total, then, the stages of training sum to a level which is roughly similar to the training criteria undertaken in comparable countries.

The main reasons for the disparity, then, seem to be a focus on in-field training, compared to classroom learning, which skews the figures, as well as a lack of national regulatory standards, allowing individual states and departments to lower standards when faced with recruitment pressures.

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    This is not a bad answer in terms of its description of where the focus of US police training lies, but it almost begs the question. Why is US police training so narrowly focused on "tactics" (or repressive techniques) when that is such an inadequate tool for the tasks the police is expected to solve?
    – henning
    Jun 27, 2020 at 7:40
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    I suppose if you live in a country where you are likely to get shot at, then tactical oriented training is going to be rather important. What's the training for Jamaican or Colombia police officers like, compared to US. Comparing them to Norwegian ones is somewhat apples to oranges.
    – gbjbaanb
    Jun 27, 2020 at 20:28
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    To give a comparison, NSW Police are one of the world's largest forces. Prior to entry they need to swim, hold a first aid certificate, pass an urban obstacle course. They have 8 weeks online, 22 weeks in class, 2 weeks practical. Followed by 1.5 years of close supervision of their work as Probationary Constable; noting that this work is reviewed by the Academy not just by local police. This appears to be about a third longer in all components than the California example in the Q.
    – vk5tu
    Jun 28, 2020 at 2:47
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    @gbjbaanb Unless they're working near the Mexican border or in certain inner-city areas, police in the U.S. aren't especially likely to be shot at. More than in much of Europe, but it's not like it's something any given officer is likely to ever encounter (especially if they don't barge in unannounced to people's homes in the middle of the night...) Most U.S. police training is far too militarized for what they actually need to do 99.9% of the time. Which leads to the unfortunate problem of, "When your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail."
    – reirab
    Jun 28, 2020 at 17:27
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    @reirab yes, very much so (although I imagine police brutality is also unevenly distributed, likely in line with the violence police receive). The U.K. is no different - police in rural Cambridgeshire experience a lot less violence than those in east London!
    – Tim
    Jun 28, 2020 at 21:50

Citizens of the United States pay some of the lowest tax rates in the world, for top-tier (economically) nations. And yet they/we are constantly complaining about being "taxed to death."

So we chose to focus on a simple measure of tax burden: national-level income taxes plus mandatory social-insurance contributions as a percentage of gross income. We calculated this for four different families: a single employed person with no children; two types of married couples with two children, one with both parents working and the other with one worker; and a single working parent with two children. In all cases, the U.S. was below the 39-nation average – in some cases, well below.

Pew Research: Among developed nations, Americans’ tax bills are below average

Total Tax Revenue as a Share of GDP

Tax Policy Center: How do US taxes compare internationally?

Training police costs money. More training is going to cost more. More highly qualified officers, before training, would also demand a higher salary. Once having received a higher level of training, officers would also probably command a higher salary than the current status quo.

All of that costs tax money. Americans are notoriously cheap and short-term focused.

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    This answer is overly simplistic and contains information that is simply false. While there are many countries with highly developed economies that have higher tax rates than the the United States (particularly in Europe), there are also many that have lower tax rates. For example, Singapore's highest marginal income tax rate is 22%, while the United States highest federal marginal income tax rate is 37%. However with state income taxes, that can go as high as 51.8% in California. Singapore has a large and highly trained police force for it's size.
    – tstew
    Jun 29, 2020 at 13:48
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    @tstew - Singapore is one of the very few. Finding one single example of a lower tax rate does not, in any way, refute "some of the lowest rates." But excellent straw man. And, no, no one ever pays 51.8% since that is a MARGINAL rate that only kicks in after paying lower rates on all income before that point. "Total US tax revenue equaled 24 percent of gross domestic product, well below the 34 percent weighted average for other OECD countries" US ranks 33rd out of 36 OECD nations. It may be a simple answer, but, simply, there are political consequences to spending tax revenue. Jun 29, 2020 at 15:47
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    @tstew - median income is the better measure for economic prosperity than per capita anything. You get a country like Saudi Arabia that has a pretty high per captia GDP, but it's all in the hands of a very few mega-wealthy people. Who are our peer nations, since you are disputing it, but aren't backing it up with anything? I think OECD is used because they all use the same reporting standards in sharing that info with the organization that can compare apples to apples. If I have a high marginal income tax rate, but almost none of the top wealth is taxed at that rate, what does that tell us? Jun 30, 2020 at 13:28
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    You provide a source for saying Americans are not taxed as much, but then you draw the conclusion that American police officers receive less training because of "Americans being cheap and short-term focused" with ZERO evidence.
    – qwr
    Jun 30, 2020 at 22:50
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    " Not seeing it as derogatory. I'm an American. That's how we are, overall. " Speak for yourself. You don't speak for me or other citizens.
    – qwr
    Jun 30, 2020 at 22:51

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