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The tyranny of distance: New strategies for police training in WA

Malcolm J. Evans
WA Police Academy

The Western Australia Police Force covers one of the largest geographic police "beats" in the world. Its terrain varies from tropical rain forest and virtually inaccessible gorges to the Gibber plains, to the hottest and largest deserts in the world; from veldt like landscapes, to beautiful stately forests. The population is unevenly scattered. The bulk of the population clings to the capital city. Only one town of any reasonable size lies in the interior, the rest are relatively few in number and found along the coast. In between are many small townships of varying populations, all demanding policing (Figure 1).

Accordingly, the WA Police Force faces considerable problems in communication, the impact of which is particularly felt in the area of training. The problems that have arisen are geographic and financial and involve the high consumption of physical and human resources. Coupled with the operational imperative underpinning the functions of the Western Australia Police Force , together with a desire to provide the highest possible service to the community, training must be coordinated rather than competing with the operational demands.

Traditionally the model followed by the Force has been the centre periphery model of dissemination. (Figure 2). This is based upon the centre feeding along a number of spokes to all stations which exist on the periphery. Not surprisingly training has followed the same model. This involves a high cost in both physical and human resources and accordingly several of the training programmes have relied heavily upon the standardised correspondence lesson format.

Although it has been reasonably successful, it is resource consuming. Recently attempts have been made with outreach training involving transportation of instructors to outlying regions. Basically the model has not altered.

Factors affecting Police training

In order to evaluate our needs, it was decided to identify those factors which impacted upon police training and which would assist in developing new strategies and methodologies.

Changing operational and policy priorities

There is a continual demand for new skills and increased knowledge as operational procedures and policies are changed. The objective is to reach the maximum numbers of the Force, given the constraints of distance, shift work, annual leave and other inhibiting issues.

Figure 1

Figure l: WA Police country regions

Figure 2

Figure 2: Centre periphery training model

Award restructuring

There is a need to reflect the national thrust for training which involves multiskilling and skills formation, the impact of the training guarantee levy, plus any trade offs which may be agreed to in restructuring negotiations.

Demand for increasing police professionalism

On a national basis police forces are endeavouring to establish their industry as a profession. Activities involve affiliation with postsecondary and tertiary bodies and the development of a national strategy for possible establishment of a police degree. On a local level, the Western Australia Police Force will be formulating a Training, Education and Development Consultative Committee comprised of representatives from the academic postsecondary commercial and business sectors as well as police representation.

Changing demography of the Police Force

Since 1987 there has been increased recruiting of police officers, reflecting the importance being placed by Government on law and order issues. Internally, the introduction of a merit promotion system has seen significant changes within the rank structure and, in particular, growth at the senior constable level. The future, however, may well hold some bleak possibilities. It is feasible that the economic restraints on Government may result in zero growth of the Police Force following the recruiting programme which is due to conclude on June 30, 1992. In turn this may have an impact on morale which may need bolstering through effective training programmes (Table 1).

Table 1: WA Police Force demographic prediction 1991/92


Constables in Charge
Senior Constables
Sergeants First Class
Senior Sergeants
Commissioned Officers


Inadequate human and financial resources

Financial restraints in particular have impacted on capital works programmes and the facilities required for higher level skills training. For example, improved weapons training capabilities and what is called a "crime city" for practical scenarios are impeded. A proposal to place regional training officers throughout the State is also likely to be deferred through lack of financial resources. Growth of police training utilising the traditional model would also necessitate the establishment of a multicampus approach which in turn would increase the cost of accommodation, travel and associated expenses.

Human resources are constrained in the context that the traditional model is human resource intensive and staff for curriculum research, development and course construction are not available to maintain the traditional roles.

Changing information technology

Increasingly the Police Force is introducing technological advances for its operational needs. At the present time a main frame computer has terminals in almost all of the remote locations in Western Australia, but the rapidity of installation has exceeded the capacity of the Academy to meet the training demand.

Future directions

The future of police training seems to lie in three specific areas. It is unlikely that there will be any significant change to preservice training in the foreseeable future, with the exception that, given the availability of funds, Western Australia will come into line with the training of recruits throughout the rest of Australasia and the world by the establishment of residential facilities and the many benefits that are accrued therefrom.

Although recruit training is likely to be run on a centralised basis, it is probable that a number of changes will be introduced including

Certain areas of skills training will remain on a centralised basis, specifically driver training, as the cost of establishing specialised facilities on a decentralised basis precludes any other approach. Further, most of the of members to be trained in this particular skill are based in the capital city of Perth.

Weapons training is conducted at the centralised venue of the small arms range at the Police Academy and on open firing ranges throughout the country. Country members have an opportunity to receive refresher training twice each year as the weapons training staff circuit the state by visiting each country region twice annually. Access to practice facilities and portability of equipment ensures that skills training can be conducted on both centralised and decentralised bases and reach maximum numbers of members to enable cost benefit (Figure 3).

Conversely, skills training in life support (first aid) has been split between the metropolitan area and country. Academy staff will continue to conduct Life support refresher training in the city under the accreditation of the Red Cross Society. However, police officers in country locations will in future be trained by the St John's Ambulance Association on a contractual basis.

Of major importance in developing new strategies is the area of inservice training and maintenance training. Inservice training and development should ensure that the police both operationally and administratively are able to handle any contingency. Two major training streams which contribute directly to the achievement of the necessary state of readiness are training for the job in hand and training for the job in the future. However, before either of these streams are described and envisaged it is necessary to dwell on several important considerations.

Figure 3

Figure 3: Weapons training section country trips

People cost

Institutionalised training and development imposes a people cost (opportunity cost). Every time a person is removed from either operational or administrative areas and not immediately replaced, a level of immediate effectiveness is lost. On the other hand the gains from training and development must more than offset the short term deficit, so that the Police Force benefits organisationally. In order to control this paradox, it is important for the Police Force to make a clear training commitment.

Financial cost

Training and development costs money. Substantial investments have been made in buildings, equipment and staffing, so that the Police Force is able to organise its own training and development to suit its specific needs. There are further costs involved in lecturers' salaries and fees, hiring facilities and travelling allowance to mention only the major items which make up the total costs.

Because of the importance of job performance, job satisfaction and productivity, particularly in the highly sensitive arena in which police are placed, training must be maintained realistically.

Maintenance training ensures that skills levels and knowledge are at an acceptable level all the time. The areas which make up this training are often of critical importance to the individual officer and the Force. For example, weapons handling and resuscitation are two skills and knowledge areas where skills attrition is notoriously rapid. Because of the nature of policing, the Force has an obligation to ensure that in these areas in particular, the potential for acceptable performances is always realisable. The public expect, realistically or not, that a police officer will respond with skill. The social and judicial costs of poor performance which could be attributed to training neglect is too high to contemplate. There are no options here. Maintenance training must be offered regularly and be available at regional and central training stations.

It is this single fact which underpins the philosophy and strategies for future training of police officers.

Proposed police training model

It is now time to change the model. The current strategy is to introduce the central lighthouse periphery model (Figure 4). This will be predicated on the use of video, audio and computer technology. Satellite conferencing and computer packaged training development and assessment programmes utilising self pacing principles will be highlighted together with continuing education concepts whereby students will accumulate credits (similar to the CEUs granted by the Australian Institute of Management).

Training courses will be of great development value if they are designed to enable students to proceed from dependence on instructors to independence. In this case students will stand figuratively upon their own two feet accepting responsibility for their own development.

By implication they will have the research, analytical and writing skills enabling them to produce reasoned argument. It follows that the Academy has a significant role to play in staff development through specially designed developmental courses. As the underpinning principles of open systems pervade the planning process, information about individual development or needs must flow from the Academy to supervisors and managers so that performance appraisal may be properly utilised. In turn, greater information is fed back through curriculum development for the purposes of redesigning programmes.

Figure 4

Figure 4: Central lighthouse periphery model

For some years the Police Force has operated an internal extension studies programme utilising the traditional correspondence lesson format. Effectively this has provided the foundation of inservice and maintenance training, even though most of the effort was accredited towards promotional qualifications.

Although the Police Union has resisted the practice of members undertaking police related studies in their own time, experience has shown that where completion of studies and assessments are linked to promotions, members will pursue these qualifications. Furthermore, it is has been the experience of the Academy and Staff Development Unit that on completion of the new extension studies programmes, many members are anxious to undertake additional studies, having developed study patterns and a desire for increased knowledge and professionalism. This form of training needs to be enhanced by the use of technical methods and open learning.

Technical methods

It is proposed that the employment of technology and distance learning for the Police Force be done both from a centralised venue and in conjunction with the regionally based training officer network. Reductions and deferments of capital works budgets clearly require the Force to address alternative methodologies to ensure that members are kept abreast of the constantly changing requirement for performance of their duties.

Video, computer managed learning, satellite conferencing and teleconferencing will be the primary delivery systems in the foreseeable future. The rapidity of its use will be hastened as the cost of hardware and software is reduced. As soon as the Communications Technology Training staff, who recently inaugurated the unit, become more versed with their particular roles, it will be an essential phase in the new training strategies for all staff at the Academy to receive the necessary skills and knowledge in the effective use of the hardware and software systems. Without a training background and constant refresher courses themselves, the trainers will not achieve the desired levels of knowledge and performance in the persons under instruction.

At the present time the Police Force computer mainframe has an excellent and widely used electronic mail system available to members both for private mail box and station mail box purposes. The use of the personal mail box system ensures that members receive messages irrespective of their shifts or allocated duties on the day. Trainers now utilise the electronic mail bulletin board system quite extensively for the purposes of

Academy staff have recently been involved in the LIVE-NET trial to the Pilbara region to gain experience in video conferencing. The Police Force will continue to liaise with all organisations interested in establishing a state wide network for the purposes of ensuring that training gets to its members in remote areas. The state wide broadcast video model offered by Aussat has appeal (Figures 5 and 6).

The wide dispersal of the members of the Western Australia Police Force indicates that distance learning is an appropriate technique to use in new training systems. This can be done on a progressive basis commencing with the use of video production, developing computer managed learning packages and following up, subject to the availability of funds, with satellite broadcasting.

Intertwined with all the technology media, is the need to introduce a regionally based training network as a focal point for distance learning as well as to provide for maintenance training on a localised basis. As distance learning will require properly trained staff to support its operations, the Curriculum Development Unit is being upgraded and arrangements are being made to train police trainers to appropriate levels of skills for the strategies of the future.

Figure 5

Figure 5: Statewide broadcast video model

Figure 6

Figure 6: Broadcast video and training rooms

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has indicated that the population of Western Australia will continue to grow and is in fact expected to double in the next twelve to fifteen years. Recruiting intakes, therefore, are not likely to vary greatly in number to those currently being processed on the basis that police strength is a ratio of State population.

Further, the continued introduction of merit based promotions through the ranks of police officers will cause a shift in members' attitudes to training. It should entail a shift from a position where training is perceived as a hindrance to operational functions, to that of a demand for qualifications in individuals' progression along their career paths. It is also acknowledged that technology will not replace people in the policing business. Rather it will be an aid to the policing function for greater efficiency in the handling of tasks. Continual training in technology utilisation will be essential to maintain the highest level of efficiency.

In the longer term, education, training and development is seen as being directed more and more to individual officers, so that their individual potential can be developed to the fullest. Training will need to match individual requirements. Training can be of a generic nature in the early stages of members' careers, but as they progress through the various ranks of NCO to commissioned officer status, the training will need to complement the functions they are required to perform as set down in their position descriptions. Training and specific related functions will be conducted through the Police Academy or at branch level. Broader based training and education, especially in the social sciences, is readily available from external organisations.


Police training must be of such a nature that all members of the Force throughout the state, however remote their posting, will be kept as up to date as possible with all procedures, legal matters and policies to ensure effective policing. To conduct such training through traditional classroom instruction methods will be too expensive, especially as the numbers of the Force increase. What will be essential, and planning for this is to commence in the short term, is the establishment of a regionally based training officer network. The introduction of distance learning which incorporates the utilisation of technologies, including video and computer manage learning and teleconferencing, will soon follow.

Learning at a distance will not be the sole technique for training. It must be supplemented from time to time with traditional face to face instructional methods, to ensure networking amongst members, notwithstanding the costs.

Author: Malcolm J Evans is a Superintendent in the WA Police and Principal of the Police Academy at 2 Swanbank Road, Maylands WA 6051.

Please cite as: Evans, M. J. (1990). The tyranny of distance: New strategies for police training in WA. In R. Atkinson and C. McBeath (Eds.), Open Learning and New Technology: Conference proceedings, 121-132. Perth: Australian Society for Educational Technology WA Chapter.

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