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Notes from the Field: A Snapshot of the United States Indian Policing Academy

Notes From the Field
Date Published
November 22, 2019

Tribal communities are unique and relational. In many cases, people in the community are at least somewhat familiar with one another.

To serve tribal communities involves significant officer accountability, since the community is often composed of people we know and care for, including our immediate family, extended family, and friends. An officer’s community reputation is based on the professional service he or she provides to the community. Thus, specialized training to serve Indian Country is key.

The United States Indian Police Academy was established to meet law enforcement training requirements for officers who serve tribal communities throughout the United States. Established in 1969, the academy is a nationally recognized institution for law enforcement training offered to 191 Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and tribal departments. The academy trains police, corrections, and dispatch officers, special agents, and command staff in basic, specialized, and advanced programs.

Academy instructors are experienced in handling the unique needs and expectation of tribal communities, and the academy’s curriculum combines this tribal-specific knowledge with contemporary law enforcement practices and techniques. We incorporate scenarios and examples from Indian Country so new cadets are best trained in how to address serious situations with integrity and safety in mind. This approach is also applied throughout the academy’s supervisory and command schools.    

Instructors are full-time BIA law enforcement and corrections officers who possess significant expertise in all facets of the law enforcement and corrections fields. They are highly experienced in serving in tribal communities, and are themselves members of the tribes, bands, pueblos, and villages that comprise Indian Country. Their instructional expertise is in corrections, federal law, policy, firearms, community policing, police operations, criminal investigation, drug enforcement, and tactics. Instructors’ backgrounds reflect the tribal departments who send their new officers to attend the academy, which helps cadets better relate to the training and expectations for serving Indian Country.

Cadets come from 191 Indian Country departments throughout the United States. Once their department hires them, they attend the academy to complete basic certification. Each class of the Indian Country Police Officer Training and Correctional Officer Training Programs consists of 48 cadets who complete 13 weeks and 6 weeks of training, respectively.

Professional Development and Accountability: The Foundation of Our Training

The training we provide is based on four cornerstones. Students learn:

  • Professional Development
  • Authority and Jurisdiction in Indian Country
  • Officer/Agent Job Tasks 
  • Expected Performance in Serving Indian Country

The academy’s curricula include significant academic, legal, and practical instruction that incorporate role-playing throughout basic training programs. Course topics include federal laws, federal jurisdiction, the Fourth Amendment, and search and seizure. Officers then apply the skills they have learned in courses on vehicle stops, firearms, arrest procedures, searching, domestic violence, child abuse, and assault. After finishing specific scenarios, police cadets complete police reports and testify in mock tribal court multiple times throughout the program. Our graduates are well prepared to serve communities in a safe and secure manner.

Advanced Training for Indian Country

One of the academy’s goals is to continue to provide skills training for officers throughout their careers. Specific courses in crime scene investigation, evidence collection, jail administration, missing persons investigation, and drug enforcement facilitate continual officer development opportunities. We believe continuing education and training for officers create stronger agencies that better serve and protect themselves and their communities.

To support this goal, we developed command schools for midlevel and senior law enforcement and corrections managers. In 2015, we started with the Lieutenant Command School. Since then, we’ve expanded to the Corrections Lieutenant Command School, Chief of Police Command School, and Executive Command School. The training we offer is now an essential foundation for new command staff serving Indian Country. As with our other trainings, curricula are based on existing policy and leadership in the field. Students learn about the job tasks, and also about themselves. Using DISC assessments — Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Conscientiousness — which measure an individual’s personality traits, and other evaluations, they learn how to apply their unique strengths to the job.

In 2016, the academy also developed the Indian Country Criminal Investigator Training Program to strengthen training for FBI, BIA, and tribal special agents assigned to Indian Country. This training helps new agents understand jurisdiction, authority, and crime scene investigation. Agents also develop a network of practitioners who can work together on crimes throughout Indian Country. Agents are placed on multi-agency teams; after completing courses in forensics, these teams are responsible for responding to and processing various crime scenes within Indian Country. Agents who complete the three-week training report greater confidence, as well as greater success in collecting evidence, following leads, and closing cases, because they have a better understanding of their role in the investigations, working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and multi-agency dynamics before getting to the field.

The academy is constantly updating the curriculum with the latest techniques or courses. We were the first academy in the United States to implement “Blue Courage — the Nobility of Policing,” which is curriculum that addresses officer wellness, integrity, and ethics; we have also been first to introduce other courses focusing on human trafficking, missing persons investigation, opioid enforcement, and peer support programs. By continually offering the best training to our tribal and BIA officers and agents, we ensure they are well prepared to serve our relatives and tribal communities.

About “Notes From the Field”

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) is the research, development, and evaluation arm of the U.S. Department of Justice. NIJ aims to address the critical questions of the criminal justice field, particularly at the state and local levels.

NIJ Director David Muhlhausen developed the “Notes From the Field” series to allow leading voices in the field to share their strategies for responding to the most pressing issues on America’s streets today.

“Notes From the Field” is not a research-based publication. Instead, it presents lessons learned by law enforcement executives and other on-the-ground leaders, from years of experience and thinking deeply about law enforcement issues.

Date Published: November 22, 2019