Evidence-based police training

iPREP: Developed through research, tested by frontline officers, used internationally by law enforcement agencies



“The problem is not that police officers aren’t following their training. They are. The problem is the training itself.” Paul Dube, Ombudsman of Ontario, June 2016

Today’s political and social realities are putting an increasingly intense spotlight on police actions in the field, particularly relating to use of force decisions and de-escalation. In addition to this, policing roles have been rapidly evolving to include new threats to public safety in the form of terrorism and escalating school and community violence. The result is that police agencies are being called to provide evidence-based training to their officers and more transparent practices in regard to spending tax dollars on training and education.

Traditionally, police training has been focused primarily on learning skills to manage external factors that are encountered on the job, such as weapons, tactics and equipment. What is needed is a paradigm shift in regard to training police officers.

Decades of research in psychology, learning and performance has provided evidence that if trainees learn how to manage internal processes, such as the modulation of stress physiology, cognition and emotion, they will be much better prepared to learn skills for external threats, and perform better on the job (Di Nota & Huhta 2019). The good news is that, scientifically supported, evidence-based techniques exist that assist in learning to modulate internal processes. These techniques have been successfully applied to police officers to improve health and performance, reduce use of force and lethal force. Proresilience.org

Dr. Andersen and her team have created an extensive evidence-base on police training through years of collecting biological, performance and psychosocial data on police officers in the field. In collaboration with scientists-practitioners in the field of police, and research partnerships with police services in Europe and North America, our team has spent the last decade translating ideas into practice.

Where we started

In 2011, Dr. Andersen created a fully ambulatory psychophysiological research lab at the University of Toronto  (the HART Lab). The purpose of an ambulatory lab is to conduct ecologically valid data (field studies) while also collecting objective biological data and performance ratings, creating a comprehensive research strategy to measure behaviour and outcomes rather than to simply rely on survey data or opinions.

In 2013, the HART Lab partnered with the Police University College of Finland to collect some of the first objective psychophysiological data via biometric devices during high intensity police training for the purpose of creating a stress modulation intervention program. Evidence-based law enforcement training means that there is scientific evidence supporting the effectiveness of that training in meeting desired outcome goals.

Over the next 7 years, Dr. Andersen and collaborators (https://proresilience.org/about-us/) gathered thousands of hours of psychological, biological, and performance data on police in North America and Europe. Officers at every level of training have been studied, from recruits to federal level tactical teams, and they have been monitored — both during training and active duty (https://hartlab.net/publications/). Our current research program shows officers display measurable psychological and biological patterns of both risk and resilience during training and active duty. Taken together, this comprehensive data indicates that each individual has a unique pattern of responding to a variety of situations, which means that training to improve performance and resilience needs to address the individual officer.

Individualizing Training

When a person encounters a stressful situation, they experience a surge of natural chemicals, such as adrenaline and cortisol. These chemicals allow the body to respond quickly. When this biological threat response is moderate, it enhances performance through more accurate vision, hearing, motor control, and response time.

However, when the threat response is severe, the response can negatively affect performance by creating distortions in thinking, vision, hearing, and increasing motor control problems, which can result in slower reaction times. Stress impacts officers at every level, not just recruits in training. Severe threat responses that are extended or frequently repeated can significantly raise the risk for physical and mental health conditions (https://hartlab.net/unease-modulation-model/).

The good news is that the negative impact of stress on performance and health is not inevitable. When training practices that address internal physiology are applied, individual patterns of stress and performance can improve.

Research found that, regardless of experience or expertise level, officers didn’t often connect their psychological and physical reactions with their performance. Therefore, a critical component of police training is to provide concrete strategies for the officer to modulate their stress responses in the field. This must be taught to the officers by trained, expert police trainers who are invested in evidence-based methods and stress modulation, and who have received standardized training in how to be an effective teacher.

Improving performance and resilience through training

In response to this need, a modern method of training was designed using objective psychological and biological data, evidence-based scientific methods of maximizing student learning and application of physiological skills. This training is anchored in the practice of reality-based scenarios, which is essential to the development of the behavioural responses and skills that improve performance and foster resilience in front-line officers. This accredited training is called International Performance Resilience and efficiency Program (iPREP).  

 iPREP teaches officers about biological awareness and modulation, addressing psychological and physical reactions in the body that arise from biological responses to the environment. In training, it is important to recognize that mental and physical states do not happen independently, and both must be addressed in reality-based training. Any behaviour or skill that is performed during stressful situations needs to become an automatic response for that officer, something that can be performed without thought. Training must focus on creating real performance opportunities for officers, so that the application of the training can be properly assessed.

Scientific studies supporting bio-awareness training

A number of scientific studies measuring the effectiveness of bio-awareness training have been completed https://hartlab.net/publications/

It has been found that this training significantly improves situational awareness, control over biological threat responses, and improves the accuracy of use of force decisions over the long term. Research shows that this approach to training fosters both physical and psychological resilience to stress. Physical benefits include improved cardiovascular and stress chemical responses.

Implementation of bio-awareness training

The iPREP training approach was designed to integrate into existing reality-based training programs at police organizations. Leveraging the skills of expert instructors already employed by police organizations, working with them to achieve greater success by applying the methods of bio awareness in their instruction sessions.

Case Study: Finland


Chief Kimmo Himberg, Director of the Police University College (PUC) and the current and past Finnish Expert police instructors Harri Gustasfberg, PhD; Juha-Matti Huhta, MA and Samuli Mikkola (https://proresilience.org/about-us/) have pioneered the integration of evidence-based practices into their three year Bachelor Police University curriculum https://www.polamk.fi/en/bachelor_studies

The iPREP program is integrated into the curriculum at all levels