Anyone who wants to serve as a police officer in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania must first achieve and maintain Act 120 certification. The Municipal Police Officers Education and Training Commission (MPOETC) is responsible for establishing certification standards and overseeing police academies across the state. The MPOETC-mandated curriculum for basic recruits is 919 hours of training.
The basic training program culminates with 40 hours of live scenario evaluation. Recruits respond to a host of mock scenarios and are graded on their ability to respond, assess, and control a given situation. Cadets are challenged to resolve these scenarios peacefully or with a minimal amount of force, just as officers are expected to do during actual incidents in the course of their duties.
Once certified, every police officer in the Commonwealth must complete at least 12 hours of mandatory in-service training (MIST) each year to maintain certification, in addition to annual first aid, CPR and firearms training. Certified police officers are also offered a wide spectrum of elective training opportunities at our Police Academy located in the county's North Park.
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The national movement for police reform has shined a spotlight on police training, particularly in areas such as Use of Force, Implicit Bias, Procedural Justice, and De-escalation. The Police Academy offers training in these areas to basic recruits and officers currently serving their community.
Use of Force
Use of force training for the basic recruit class follows an eight-hour block of academic instruction per MPOETC training objectives. Many of the use of force training objectives, including an emphasis on the peaceful resolution of incidents via de-escalation and other conflict resolution techniques, are reinforced in other recruit training classes. Some of these classes include firearms training, less lethal force training, defensive tactics training, in-custody training, transportation, and active shooter training objectives.
Academy staff use a virtual training tool known as the Virtra simulator to present scenarios to recruits/officers that they may face in the field. This system simulates live training in a virtual format, allowing the student to make real-time decisions in a broad spectrum of situations. Scenarios vary from tense, rapidly developing, dangerous situations to situations that can be peacefully resolved via effective communication skills. The scenarios call on the trainee to select appropriate use of force options ranging from verbal commands and de-escalation techniques to less lethal and deadly force. The scenarios are replayed by instructors to evaluate the student's responses, focusing on appropriate legal doctrine and best practices.
Virtra scenario training is also available to all municipal police officers from any of Allegheny County's 109 police agencies.
Eight hours of implicit bias training is a requirement in the basic training curriculum for police recruits at the Academy. It is also offered to all municipal police officers in the county.
Procedural Justice training for basic recruit classes was implemented in the 2018 MPOETC curriculum update. This consists of a four-hour block of training that includes personal bias training. Procedural Justice training was also taught to veteran municipal officers during 2017 MIST.
De-escalation training, while not a required stand-alone block of instruction in the MPOETC basic training curriculum, is woven throughout and reinforced in many of the required training objectives, particularly use of force and defensive tactics training. Some of the VIRTRA training scenarios presented to basic recruits and veteran officers are programmed for use of force situations to be successfully resolved using verbal de-escalation techniques.
Commencing in 2020, The Police Academy began to incorporate eight hours of annual de-escalation training for all Allegheny County Police Department (ACPD) officers, and to offer the same training to all municipal police agencies in the county.