When it comes to using the Internet as a tool for training and education, there are two types of officers. The first group knows how to access anything via the computer. The second group still believes PC means “probable cause.” Most officers fall somewhere in between the two categories.
The beauty of computers these days is that you don’t need to be a whiz to access information. You simply need to know what you are looking for and be willing to take the time necessary to research various sources. The open-minded law enforcement professional realizes the increased importance of being a member of the “Information Super Highway Patrol.” Officers also need to keep in mind that there is misinformation available on the Internet.
Today, someone’s e-mail address or Web site is just as important as the phone number on a business card. Using the Internet to conduct research and acquire training information can help stretch budget dollars.
Lt. Harvey Hedden of the Kenosha County, WI, Sheriff’s Office, stated, “The most important contribution the Internet has made to training and education is the sharing of information. At one time geography limited the trainer’s resources. You would have to travel around the country to find out what innovations existed or what problems were being encountered. The use of the Internet has allowed trainers to communicate their successes and their needs to an international community. Sharing of ideas, audiovisuals, documents, lesson plans has been achieved through chat rooms, list servers, forums and Web sites.”
Tim Dees, who writes two computer-related columns for LAW and ORDER, offered, “The Internet has given rise to an ever-expanding number of online courses that employ truly interactive processes such as online discussions, audiovisual conferences and demonstrations, and near-immediate feedback on work sent via e-mail and the Web. The cost of delivering these courses is greatly reduced. Many colleges are waiving out-of-state tuition fees for students enrolling online from afar. Some institutions even offer complete degree programs online.”
Prospective students should verify a school’s credentials before they enroll in any college degree program. A number of diploma mills with official-sounding names will grant a “degree” to virtually anyone with a checkbook. If the college is not accredited by one of the regional institutional accrediting agencies, any degree awarded will probably not be recognized by many employers. A degree from a phony institution will cause serious doubts about a person’s character or veracity, particularly if cross-examined on a witness stand during a trial.
Steve Ashley, a former sergeant and current liability consultant and trainer, believes that caution is also necessary when accessing information via the Internet. “Because there are so few controls on the material posted on the Net, anyone can say just about anything. We have to guard against our natural tendency to accept what we see in print as gospel. It’s very easy to pull info from the Net and incorporate it into a training program, only to later find out (or more dangerously, not find out) that the information is invalid or not true,” Ashley said.
The positives of using the Internet still outweigh any real or potential negatives. Law enforcement administrators should understand that it’s relatively easy to quickly disseminate important information to other members of the profession. This can, and undoubtedly has, made a significant impact on reduction of officer injuries, and reduced liability.
“As training software and technology evolve, more training offerings via the Internet will be acceptable by state POST-type agencies,” Dees stated. The cost savings of delivering training online easily justifies a change in the current model of law enforcement training.
Any courses delivered via the Internet should include testing to see if learning took place, and that the officer knows or understands the training information. Certain programs allow branching, which shows the test taker that he answered a certain question wrong. Further information is provided until he answers all the questions correctly. Without testing, there is no way to assure that learning was achieved.
The Internet has great potential in its possible applications to law enforcement training, but it doesn’t provide all that is needed. Certain areas of training are not conducive to learning without using a trained instructor. These are motor skills areas. Officers cannot develop their shooting, driving or defensive tactics skills without physically practicing and honing those skills. An officer may be able to learn the legalities of deadly force via online learning, but he can only learn how to apply deadly force through a comprehensive hands-on shooting skills training program.
Chief Jeff Chudwin of the Olympia Fields, IL, Police Department believes that the Internet has a multitude of applications that go beyond training. “The power of the Internet is the ability to instantly communicate with officers worldwide. The e-mail lists you can develop offer information on all aspects of officer safety and day-to-day operations. The Web is our point of contact all day, every day,” Chudwin said. He also offers one word of caution on using the Internet: addictive!
Ed Nowicki is judicially recognized as an expert on the use of force. He currently conducts Use of Force Instructor Certification courses across the nation. He is also organizing the ILEETA International Training Conference, which will take place on April 13-17, 2004 (LAW and ORDER is an official media sponsor). He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.