Complete guide to online police training

How to implement an online training program in your police department.

December 23, 2020

Article highlights

In the last few years, there has been an increased call for more police training on a variety of topics and issues. The reality is police departments have been cutting training budgets, even as officers spend more time on calls, out in the field, and dealing with the public. To be at their best, and to keep up with all the new issues facing society today, officers need ongoing police training to do their jobs safely and effectively.

Normally, to receive training, officers would spend 8–12 hours per day in a classroom setting, hearing lectures, but without any time to digest the information. The process is disruptive, especially if you don't have a relief factor for staffing. You not only need to pay officers for their time attending the training, you need to pay their fill-ins for overtime. That makes training rather expensive and a scheduling nightmare.

On the other hand, if you're seeking accreditation, these training sessions are a necessary part of earning or keeping that valuable rating. (Insurance companies and risk pools often give discounts for accreditation.)

And there are times that in-person training is just ineffective. For example, your accrediting agency or state regulations require that you provide training on bloodborne pathogens, sexual harassment, and other redundant training. So you schedule multi-day classroom training sessions, and officers take a test afterward to see whether they understood the material. But it's the same test every year, and it hasn't changed in a while. So you never actually know if your officers truly understand the policies, or just repeated the answers from last year.

This is what happened at the Monroe County Sheriff's Office in Florida. Their training captain shared that their deputies dreaded the long 12-hour training days, but they also had no time for any hands-on, scenario-based training that reflected field conditions. It was ineffective, time-consuming, and expensive.

To combat this issue, many departments are turning to online police training as a way to solve these problems. Police training software can save money, time, and headaches, even while it helps reduce liability and to achieve accreditation compliance. 

Not to mention, online police training is easy to update, it allows officers to learn at their own pace, which helps them better retain information.

In this article, we'll discuss the benefits of online police training, some of the best practices, how to implement it, and some of the ways it can help extend your law enforcement training budget.

Benefits of online police training

Online police training will never replace in-person training altogether, but there is increased pressure on all departments to cover topics like anti-harassment, anti-bias, de-escalation, diversity, and IT security training. All of these will limit the risk of liability to the department and the city.

In-person training is ideal for learning hands-on techniques and role-playing scenarios, but it's not ideal for every topic. This is one of the areas where online training can save time and money, and still help meet those requirements.

Most officers don't want to spend their time in a classroom, learning about OSHA requirements, driver safety, communicable disease prevention, and so on. Classroom learning is just as effective as online learning in those cases, and you can do it for a fraction of the cost. That frees up more time for hands-on field training that truly requires in-person participation.

For one thing, online training is scalable. Classroom training has so many physical limitations, including scheduling, availability of replacements, the physical size of the classroom, plus any social distancing requirements currently in place. With online police training, your officers have access to courses any time of day, and they can complete the training on their mobile phone, tablet, or laptop computer.

Imagine the convenience of telling 500 officers, "Complete this training over the next 90 days," rather than trying to schedule classroom training for those same officers in a three-month span.

Officers can learn at their own pace, on their own schedule. Even if the training gets interrupted, online training software like PowerDMS' will save their progress so they can return later.

Plus, people can review previous training for a refresher. If you ever need to order officers to repeat training materials, or if they don't pass their training tests the first time, they can rewatch the training rather than rescheduling another classroom time.

Online police training can even serve as a warm-up to help maximize those in-person training sessions. By giving them online pre-work, they'll better understand the information during the onsite training sessions. This helps save valuable time and keeps officers more engaged by giving them a head start instead of starting from scratch.

Best practices for law enforcement training

Implement a mentorship program

A mentorship program allows your officers to receive hands-on training in the field from older, more experienced officers. They learn how to respond to high-stakes scenarios, how to use the available technology, and how to make fast, effective decisions on their feet.

Peer mentoring helps new officers acclimate to your department's culture, improves communication between new and veteran officers, and it allows officers to ask questions they may otherwise be afraid to ask in a larger group setting.

Test for retention

Officers have completed their three-day, 8-hours-per-day training. But did it stick? Will they apply the lessons they learned in the field? What good was all that training if they don't understand how to apply that knowledge?

Testing can help your officers understand the "why" behind different policies and connect them to real-life situations. But it doesn't have to be complicated – in fact, the simpler, the better.

Rather than relying on paper tests, you can move your testing to the cloud, along with your online police training. PowerDMS has an online training tool that lets you customize your testing. For example, you can create a 50-question test bank, and the software can create a 25-question test that is unique to each test taker. This limits cheating and allows training staff to change and improve future training and testing.

Online testing can also provide instant grading, which can show you how and where to improve your training efforts. Did several people get the same questions wrong? You can make adjustments to your training content to ensure they get better information from now on. And you can even update your training content and push it out to your officers in bite-sized modules, also called micro-learning.


Since most classroom training takes place over 8–12 hour days, two or three days at a time, trying to process all that information is like trying to drink from a fire hose. One of the new best practices is bite-sized learning, or micro-learning.

Micro-learning uses shorter, more condensed periods of time which Police Chief Magazine said "reduces significant administrative personnel resources typically spent conducting in-depth training sessions and ensures law enforcement officers can spend their time on high-priority work, while staying engaged and up-to-date in their understanding of the latest need-to-know trends and policies."

Training material can be broken up into units to be watched or read in short blocks of time, usually 3–7 minutes. It also reduces development costs by 50% and increases the speed of development by 300%. And, it improves focus and improves retention by as much as 80%.

Track training records

Training isn't a one-and-done program. Officers aren't fully trained once they graduate from the academy, and they shouldn't be expected to retain the training they received ten, five, or even two years ago.

By tracking your training records with training management software, you can be strategic in your online training efforts. You can monitor certifications and licenses and send out automatic reminders to people when their certifications are about to expire. You can also collect all those training records with a few mouse clicks for your accreditation compliance requirements.

Finally, by having training records readily available, you can plan for performance reviews and promotions, which will save you time and money.

Update policies and procedures

Police departments need to update their policies and regulations on a regular basis, whether it's because of new technology, new best practices, or even because of changes in society or increased community pressure.

Establish a policy management committee and have them regularly review and update policies. They can rewrite and update old policies, bringing them up to today's standards, and they can write new policies to address new situations. It's also important to update policies when standards shift, whether they're governmental and regulatory standards, or community standards and expectations.

For example, in 2016, the Chicago Police Department proposed revisions to its use-of-force policy to the public. They posted the revisions online to solicit feedback from the general public. One of the changes was that it required officers to use de-escalation tactics and only resort to force when absolutely necessary.

This was an important change over the old policy, which defended any use of force that an officer "reasonably believes necessary." Now, officers are expected to use new tactics to reduce the possibility of violence, either by the perpetrator or the officer.

It's always a good idea to update policies and procedures as a way to maintain good relations with the community you serve, as well as avoid possible lawsuits and hefty insurance claims.

Move online 

Moving a lot of your police training modules to an online system can simplify the entire training program and help your department save money by doing so. You don't have to pull officers from the field to train them in the classroom, you don't have to find their replacements and pay overtime, and you won't have to keep track of stacks of paper and rows of filing cabinets to manage all the paperwork. 

An online training program helps you go paperless, which saves money on materials and supplies. That saves even more money and time because you avoid losing important documents, and you don't waste a lot of time compiling those forms and calculating who has and hasn't completed their training programs. PowerDMS' online training software has a visual dashboard that lets you access that information in seconds, not hours and days.

How to implement online training in your department

If you've only ever done in-person training, the thought of using police training software may be a little daunting. Here are a few suggestions to help you make the transition.

Identify the right training to move online

First, start with all of your current training modules and courses. Add to that list any of the new training modules your insurance provider or accreditation agency wants you to add – things like de-escalation, anti-bias, sexual harassment – and then determine which modules are good candidates to offer online.

The best place to start is those topics that are easily taught in a classroom-style lecture format that doesn't require any hands-on training. They can even be broken up into smaller lessons for micro-learning, as we discussed earlier.

Keep it simple

Don't over-complicate your online training. It can be as simple as it needs to be and still be effective. According to Forbes, “Some companies derail their training programs by training their teams in painfully boring marathon sessions." You can set training goals and objectives, include references, and add anything else needed to comply with any accreditation standards, statutes, or policies.

For example, some of the online police training content can be nothing more than a PowerPoint presentation and the instructor's voiceover for all the slides. Or it can be a video of a third-party content provider giving this training in another city. Or you can create your own training content using your favorite word processor and presentation software, then upload it into the online training software.

Give your in-person training a boost

You can use online training to boost your in-person training by giving them some reading materials and videos before the classroom training. Officers can review key points, policies, and tactical information. This way, you don't waste time by covering some of the basics they could have watched, read, or heard on their phone or laptop.

You can even add pre-tests to ensure they understand the basic strategies before they start the classroom training. This will increase the chance that they'll retain the new information.

Keep track of all your training in one system

When starting an online training system, or tracking real-world training in an online system, some agencies put all the information on a shared drive or in a spreadsheet. That creates silos of information, which makes tracking everything difficult, and defeats the benefits of online police training.

Instead, use a single system that will track your online training as well as your offline/real-world training. This makes your entire training program easier to track, especially as you add more online and offline training modules in the future.

With PowerDMS, you can track all of your training from a single, secure solution. You can also keep your training content in a single location, rather than scattered throughout different drives and folders. And you can assign policies and training courses to specific officers or groups with our automation tools, which enhances your compliance efforts.

How to extend your training budget

As police departments tighten their budgets, training is often one of the first things to get cut or reduced. But cutting training can lead to bigger problems, costing agencies much more than the original training would have.

As we’ve discussed, online training can save on instructor fees, overtime pay, and more, while allowing your officers to walk through training materials at their convenience. Here are three additional ways, apart from implementing online training, to stretch your training budget.

Explore grants

There are a variety of grants available through local, state, and federal government programs and private organizations, such as the National Institute of Justice – the R&D arm of the Department of Justice – or the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). There are grants for crisis intervention teams, de-escalation training, and online training for tolerance, diversity, and anti-bias programs.

Some grants only cover equipment, such as body armor, vehicles, computers, or communication equipment. Some are related to anti-drug and counterterrorism. Getting funding for that specific training frees up your basic law enforcement training budget.

Collaborate with other local agencies

In Orlando there are 38 suburbs, and most have their own police department. If each department requires the same or similar training for its officers, why not join up with other departments and split the training costs?

By teaming up with other local agencies, you can all stretch your training dollars, reduce the cost of your important training events, and learn from the adjacent cities on these important issues. And since many municipalities have interlocal cooperation agreements, it makes sense that they share some of the same training costs and philosophies.

Work with insurer or risk pool

Your liability insurance provider may provide funding for new training and technology tools. They may also provide a discount on insurance payments if you can show a certain level of training.

Risk pools also provide discounts for completion of certain law enforcement training programs. For example, the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police and Georgia Interlocal Risk Management Agency created a Risk Reduction Certificate Program and identified the issues that are most likely to result in legal action.

Final thoughts

The Monroe County Sheriff's Office that we mentioned above? They switched to PowerDMS training management software for their online police training. Rather than spending 36 hours in classroom training, they were able to reduce that number to just four hours, with the rest spent learning online on their mobile devices and laptops. That alone saved them $87,000 per year in overtime costs. If you're trying to extend your law enforcement training budget, imagine what that could do for you.

More than 3,000 law enforcement agencies use PowerDMS for policy management and online police training. You can share up-to-date information with your officers anytime, anywhere, and they can take many hours of training at their convenience, which boosts engagement and retention, and reduces the risk of liability and danger. Learn more about our online training and policy management software by scheduling a free, no-obligation demo today.

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