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Shallow Myths Part 2: Investigating Ineffectiveness of Police Training


This is part 2 of our use of force analysis. For part 1, click here

Portlanders join many cities throughout the nation in calling for an effective response to police violence. The city of Portland has responded by mandating more training, and by increasing the budget allocated to the Portland Police Bureau. These trainings are verifiably ineffective, and waste taxpayer money while providing cover for police violence at the same time.

Click here for our dashboard on PPB Training

With the rise of VHS camcorders in the early 1990s, Americans not already experiencing police brutality on a daily basis became witness to repugnant violence, many for the first time. The infamous video of Rodney King’s beating in 1991, and subsequent acquittal of the four officers, led to the 1992 Los Angeles Uprising. Twenty eight years later, the footage of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of officer Derek Chauvin (shot on a cell phone by a witness) sparked hundreds of protests across the world.

In cities across the country, police have responded to calls of accountability and defunding with attempts to ban recording of police, well-known and fallacious “few bad apples” arguments, and, of course, calls for more training and subsequent funding. President Biden has pushed these exact fairy tales. In 2022, congress passed a bill increasing police funding, and directed the Department of Justice to enact more training. In Portland, we hear the same story. Despite outrage over systemic police violence throughout the decades, Portland police budgets have only grown.

Since 2021, Portland’s Compliance Officer/Community Liaison (COCL) has publicly stated that PPB leaders are not paying attention to their top users of force. Contrary to what you may have heard, the Portland Police Bureau has not been defunded, and received significant increases to funding since the protests of 2020. With their budget at an historic high, police justify their spending with a call for increased training to reduce violence committed by their officers. According to PPB’s 2023/24 Budget, they sought, “to find and adopt innovative and effective training methods to ensure the bureau is at the forefront of ethical, procedurally just community policing.” Specifically cited was, “curriculum to include procedural justice and ethics, implicit bias, de-escalation strategies, and crisis intervention strategies.” Former Chief Lovell’s 2021 annual report drew a direct line between civil rights protests and the benefit he claimed training could bring to reform efforts. “Following the public order events stemming from the national call for police reform and accountability,” Lovell remarked, “an additional six hours of training was created to address out of policy uses of force, reporting deficiencies, legislation and Temporary Restraining Orders associated with crowd control, as well as a procedural justice class.” They’ve celebrated training, but what do we know about the classes themselves?

What Is Police Training?

Portlanders often hear police and reformers alike respond to justifiable outrage with calls for more police training and an ask for money to complete these trainings. In the fiscal year 2023-24, the Portland Police Bureau’s requested budget of $256 million included $13.2 million for training. This a large bump from the $9 million spent on training just two years prior. But do these investments and training lead to a safer community?

According to the Training Division of the Portland Police Bureau, every officer receives 18 months of “training and mentoring” before receiving their “State of Oregon Certificate.” In addition to this initial training, officers are “provided with” 40 hours of training every year. All training is documented by the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training (DPSST), a state department tasked with the initial training of and cataloging the continuing education of all law enforcement officers in Oregon. At the time of this writing, neither the PPB training division website nor the PPB 2023 training plan make it clear whether these 40 hours are mandated, and which trainings are strictly required for which officers. However, the DPSST does maintain a public database of training classes, as part of the Oregon Criminal Justice Information Records Inquiry System (CJ IRIS). This includes data on which officers received which trainings, how many hours they spent on the training, and whether or not they “passed” the training. Our confidence on this last data point is low – the DPSST database does not make it clear what a “fail” marker is. From 2013 to 2023, 24,526 courses have been offered to the PPB, according to DPSST’s database. Of these, there are only 3 recorded instances of “failure.” Additionally, there is 1 instance of “not Approved”, 2 “Dismissed” statuses, and 527 instances of “Incomplete.”

At best, this represents a lack of transparency. It also presents the very real possibilities of low course standards, rubber stamps, and disregard for the importance of training within the Portland Police Bureau.

The actual content of these classes is unclear. PPB is under very little obligation to make the class content public. The DPSST website has a Criminal Justice Training and Certification page, with links to certifications for new and existing officers. However, when we get down to brass tacks, it’s not clear on these pages what classes are required for new officers and existing officers. Moreover, these pages do not contain detailed information on each class found in the CJ IRIS database, leaving us scratching our heads as to what is in each class.

We do get glimpses. In 2022, a training on protest policing ended with a mock prayer, mocking the beating of protesters. The prayer was sourced to Kyle Chapman, a member of white supremacists groups and participant with the Proud Boys. We have since found that Andrew Young, a member of the Portland Police, took a training offered by Street Cops, a training known to include conclusively unconstitutional tactics that glorified violence and sexism.

Even if we knew what was taught in each class in detail, we would be missing the most important data points. What is the atmosphere like in these classes? What is the relationship between the instructor and the officers? How accountable are instructors themselves, and do they have any motivation to fail an officer who doesn’t meet the class standards? We may be able to drag officers to any number of classes on violence, mental health, and inequality. But if their sensibilities and morals lie elsewhere, these classes likely do nothing at all. The Compliance Officer and Community Liaison, tasked with enforcing a yet-to-be-complied-with DoJ settlement agreement from over ten years ago, found in 2022 that PPB officers responded to a LGBTQ+ training with racist, ableist, and white supremacist comments.If training these officers in sensitivity doesn't foster sensitivity, are we merely teaching violent officers how to better hide abhorrent beliefs?

Diving Into The Data

While it’s hard to get insight into the exact details of the courses themselves, we can explore the results of these training sessions. We looked at the relationships between training and some of the most egregious results of policing: uses of forces and officers killing civilians. Employing statistical methods such as linear regression models, as well as analysis of multiple officers with uniquely high use of force or use of firearms on civilians, we consistently found no proof that training reduces violence committed by police officers.

First, when plotting officer use of force against the median number of trainings, there appears no consistent trend. If officer training did have the desired effect of reducing officer violence, one could expect more training would result in less incidents of force. This would result in a graph that looks like an “X,” but for the PPB over the past few years, we see the following:

While this graph is a little tricky to interpret, it is telling. Let’s focus on 2018 to 2020. From 2018 to 2019, there was a decrease in hours of training. We would expect there to be an increase in use of force from 2019-2020. This is not the case. This graph shows that the changes in amount of training year to year doesn’t have a clear effect on use of force.

Next, using a linear regression model, we found no statistically significant correlation between coursework and use of force incidents. Plotting the number of courses against use of force incidents consistently returned results that show little to no relation between training and an officer’s proclivity for use of force. The low R-squared of value of 0.0029 suggests a very weak relationship between training and use of force. The high p-value of 0.63 indicates a high probability that any relationship that does exist is simply a product of chance (See here for a refresher on statistical significance).

Finally, we examined specific officers and their training histories as they relate to use of force and shooting civilians. Looking at the 5 officers PPB has on their website of “Officer involved shootings,” it’s hard to see a consistent trend related to their training. There is noticeable variability in the total hours of training done by these officers. Additionally, when zooming in on the years leading up to these shootings, we see that some officers trained more than the average PPB officer, while others trained less.

We would expect training to prevent or limit outcomes like uses of force or officers shooting and killing civilians. We would, at bare minimum, hope training would increase after such events. This is demonstrably not the case. With Nicholas Wambold, we see a consistent increase in use of force. Wambold appears to have completed DPSST Basic Police Course (640 hours) in December of 2019.

(Each circle represents an individual officer. Wambold is highlighted in red. The gray bands represent +/- 1 standard deviation)

In 2022, he was the bureau's 2nd largest perpetrator of force. Wambold’s training has consistently fallen well within one standard deviation of the rest of the force since 2021. So it’s clear that any increase in training is not a reflection of his individual use of violence.

Like the rest of the force, the amount of training Wambold received in 2023 was significantly more than the year before (over 100 hours more). On April 24th, 2023, Wambold and 2 other officers shot 20-year-old Jack Watson to death. Wambold and the other officer were put on paid administrative leave. Wambold used force at least 4 more times in 2023 after this incident. He is on track to receive below median hours of training for 2024.


These cases laid out are not extraordinary. Paid leave, followed by a reinstatement in the bureau and a promise for more training, has become a standard response to police officers killing citizens of Portland. These trainings show no statistical effect on violent and deadly encounters, are riddled with biased and aggressive content, and appear to be little more than a bad faith claim towards improvement. PPB’s 2023 training budget of $13.2 million could go to programs that verifiably help the Portland community. This money could more than double Portland Street Response’s budget (a proven resource), or be a 38% increase in the Joint Office for Homeless Services’s $34.5 million budget. Unlike the Portland Police Bureau, who base their training on flippant and supercilious claims, these programs have conclusively met their goals, over and over. And neither have resulted in a single deadly encounter. While police position training as a solution, the biggest substantive changes and actual accountability have come from community demands, sparked by witnessing violence and spread through collective action.  

Time and time again, we see the allocation of funds sent towards the broken system of policing rather than safe, beneficial, and proven alternatives. We ask that the city of Portland stops investing time and money into failed systems. We ask that the city of Portland be critical and pragmatic in how it spends its citizens’ money. We ask the city of Portland to be better.