3 Traits of quality training
Today many agencies, and police trainers have adopted the training philosophy of creating fear in the officer to get them to be more vigilant and aware of their surroundings, mostly in response to officers being assaulted and murdered, either during contacts or in ambush style attacks.
While these attacks are condemnable and should be actively guarded against and repelled, the mentality that they are epidemic and rampant, has fostered an atmosphere where officers see everyone they come across as an equal threat to their safety. This mindset, that the public is “all threat all the time”, can lead officers to be preset to be aggressive and antagonistic. We see this almost daily on the internet. We can dismiss these events as few and far between, but they happen with enough regularity to be equal, if not greater than, the attacks on officers.
As I watch many of the most publicized events of police “behaving badly” (and in some of the cases they are behaving very badly) I disagree with the typical consensus as to the motivation behind those actions. Many people immediately jump to race as the root cause behind these cringe worthy scenes. Whether they be officers wrestling a man into custody while he is holding an infant, or an officer shoots a homeowner through the window of their home, I believe the root is more often not racism or bigotry. I contend the issue is poor training.
It is training based in creating a fear mentality in the officer, under the guise of creating a vigilant officer who will not succumb to some boogey-man laying wait in the shadows to assault and possibly feloniously end the life of the officer. It is also training that promotes almost unwinnable struggles in scenario-based trainings. And it is training that is presented at a level of skill that most officers cannot, and do not desire to attain. Here are 3 quick ways to determine if your training is creating and developing officers to be positive assets to their community or creating the next viral “police behaving badly” video.
Quality training promotes confidence, not fear
Police training should promote confidence in ability and awareness, not just an overriding fear-based survival mechanism. One can be relaxed, aware, and competent, without coming across as an insecure authoritarian. Training should provide officers with a strong foundational sense of self, how they operate, and view the world. It should increase their objectivity and compassion, while also giving them a self of their role in the overall process that is our criminal justice system. As trainers we must give them as much understanding of the tools we give them, through training, as we do techniques and tactics. We must give them the “why” of what they do.
Realistic, not mythical
We’ve all been to the police tactical training where the instructor creates scenarios that end in devastating casualties and death to the students. A trip wire bomb, a suspect hiding with a 60-caliber machine gun; ninjas hiding in the false ceiling tiles who jump on students’ backs with katanas slicing wildly through the air. This does not help to develop confident and competent police officers.
This poor “gotcha” training serves more to frustrate and inhibit officers from developing their skills. It also serves to create and apprehension and reluctance in officers to treat people like people. Everyone becomes a threat to them. They become hyper vigilant and toss their discrimination of threats in favor of blanket suspicion. This is not unbelievable nor even far-fetched. It is simple survival. All people do this. This immediate discrimination is bias. Not bad or good, it just is.
In our society today, the word bias is associated negatively. If we have bias, we are bad. We must get rid of all our biases. This is impossible; and can be dangerous. Bias is how we knew to run from sabre toothed tigers. We cannot constantly start every day and every interaction fresh. It would be exhausting. We have all developed a way of lumping different experiences, people, and things into more easily understandable categories.
If you think of this in terms of police officers being trained to be hyper vigilant and officer safety conscious, new officer will begin to lump people into easily identifiable groups; those in law enforcement who will be their back up, and those not in law enforcement who may be their attacker. With so many other weighty issues to mull over, the officer must cut corners somewhere. Combine that with the mantra “I go home after every shift” and you see how they can see more threats around them than actually exist.
This is where our bias can morph into something that can turn negative. Officers no longer see themselves as part of the community, but as a separate entity that must surveil and curtail the community. They become the sheepdogs who sit off away from the sheep, better to watch out for wolves in the trees, and the wolves among the sheep.
It is simple and reproducible by almost every officer
Training cannot be mastered only by the elite of the agency. Techniques must be achievable by every officer, to an extent that they are able to utilize them to their advantage and success. Tactics should be effective, with the “K.I.S.S.” mentality. This is Keep It Simple Superstar. (Don’t use minimizing terms and expect people to feel good and positive about things)
The principles and concepts must match up with solid and effective tactics and be conveyed so officers understand them and how they marry each other. If you teach something and say, “just do it this way”, you will lose many who need to understand why they should do something a certain way. They must see the need to perform a tactic in a specific set of steps. The “why” between the concept and the tactic is the cement that solidifies the tactic in the officer.
By keeping the tactics basic and simple, and matched to the concepts, officers will perform better and make much better decisions. If they are overloaded with intricate, instructor level information, they will have a much higher failure rate. If a tactic requires many hours of practice to master, it probably isn’t the right tactic to teach all your officers. Most officers don’t want to have that level of proficiency. That is just reality. Sometimes instructors want everyone to be as invested as they are. They then get upset with the officers rather than just teach officers what they really need to resolve the situation.
Police training is a necessity. The spectrum of situations police must resolve require a broad-based understanding of communication and physical skills. Officers must know how to talk, fight, drive, and shoot, among a plethora of other tasks. And they must be functional with all the intricacies within all of those disciplines. Training must account for this and should observe a few basic tenets; build confidence not fear, be realistic, and be reproducible by the majority of officers. By making the foundation of training match these simple rules, you can provide your officers with solid, learnable training that will stimulate their interest, build confidence, and inspire them to increase their performance. They will increase their efforts and investment in their work, improving performance and public perception, while reducing organizational liability.