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Know Your Trainer

Written by Ed Flosi

The training squeeze of getting the best training for personnel while remaining within a limited budget is why it is even more imperative now that training managers seek high-quality training with the best value. Value means two things: It is economically sound, and it has a practical application toward the mission of your agency.

The first step in ensuring training is valuable is to take the time to research your agency’s training needs. Find out what the training concerns are from the officers and deputies in the field. Ask them what problems they are encountering on a regular basis, or even on an occasional basis if the problem is of major importance. Speak to investigators and command staff officers for their perspective on the primary training needs or deficiencies in your agency.

Once you have developed a good sense of what is needed, identify and prioritize the issues that you want to address or mitigate according to your agency’s needs. An obvious choice for many agencies seeking training is an “in-house” solution. Many agencies have very skilled trainers within their ranks who can teach several topics with absolute competence.

Some agencies have the tendency to stay inside for all of their training because it feels comfortable to the training manager. An overreliance on in-house trainers may create an artificial “bubble” around the agency, resulting in a lack of exposure to safer tactics or more current legal information.

While an in-house trainer might be just what is needed, there are other known pitfalls to their exclusive use. Remember the biblical saying, “It is hard to be a true prophet in your own land.” The meaning is, of course, that everyone receiving the message already knows the messenger and all the stories, whether they are true or not, associated with that person. This internal relationship can foster a feeling of familiarity between the instructor and student that may interfere with trying to deliver critical curriculum points.

Check with other training managers in your area to see if they have been experiencing similar training problems. Find out how they addressed the issue and get recommendations. Find out if they have used in-house trainers or contracted with outside training providers.

Background Check

Once you have identified a potential outside training provider, another way to ensure valuable training is to interview the potential trainer. In your initial contact with the trainer, request a curriculum vitae (CV). Inform the trainer that you are interested in using him and that you will contact him again after a review of his CV. Take the time to study the CV before you re-contact the trainer. This document should give you a road map of the trainer’s education and career.

If the trainer cannot provide you with a CV, consider that a huge red flag. The absence of a CV could mean one of two things: The trainer does not have the proper credentials to teach the course, or the trainer does not have the relevant experience to teach the course.

A thorough “background” of the training provider should be your next step. The background investigation will look into the education and experience of the trainer. Look for several things in a training course before considering whether to send an officer to an outside training vendor or bring the training provider to your agency. Find out about the educational background of the trainer, the recent experience level of the trainer and how relevant that experience is to the topic of the course.

When reviewing the educational background of the trainer, keep in mind that in most cases this is the least important factor you’ll be taking into consideration. There are a lot of trainers, many with very impressive titles and initials to go with them. These titles are not easy to achieve, and trainers should be applauded for their perseverance in completing these levels of education.

A title is obviously more important in some topics than in others. For example, when looking into a course dealing with the physiological effects of methamphetamine on the neuro-receptors in the brain, expect to see that a medical doctor was involved in the course. On the other hand, just because a person has a long list of initials after their name, it doesn’t mean they are qualified to personally teach every single aspect of police training.

When checking out a trainer with multiple degrees and certifications, spend some time researching the organizations that provided the trainer with those titles. The research should include what type of work was needed to receive those degrees and certifications, and what type of testing process was required to receive the degree or certification. Steer clear of those trainers with credentials that were bought and paid for without any effort other than writing a check to a mail-order diploma mill.

Experience and Relevance

Law enforcement personnel can detect an imposter a mile away and will immediately dismiss the information provided by “the fake.” The trainer’s most important qualifications involve real experience and relevance. The trainer’s experience is two-fold—how much and how recent. As law enforcement practitioners, we all understand the importance of real experience.

Some training providers try to hide their inexperience with foggy phrases designed to lead the student to draw a false conclusion about the real experience level. This is clearly an ethical issue with these trainers, but one that goes unchecked unless questioned by the training manager or student.

Be cautious of statements like, “I have been a state-certified police officer for 10 years.” This tells nothing about the real experience of this officer. This could mean the person has been in an administrative position for 10 years dealing with budget issues, which may be great experience if the class were on budget issues, but would be less than desirable for a class dealing with the application of force in a field situation.

Also be wary of statements like, “I was a police officer in the 1970s and 1980s.” Did the officer work only three years from 1979 to 1981? Be interested in not only the total number of years served, but also what type of assignment was completed in those years that relates to the topic of the course. “I was the chief of police” does not necessarily signify training ability either. While it is certainly a great accomplishment in one’s career to rise to the top of any organization, this claim in itself does not make a person qualified to teach all aspects of law enforcement training.

Ask Questions First

It therefore becomes the responsibility of the training manager or student to ask the appropriate questions related to the topic of the course. If the presentation is about how to conduct a sexual assault investigation, the questions should surround how much experience the trainer has in that particular topic. If the presentation is about defensive tactics, the trainer should have some real-world experience applying his craft in police situations, not just in a dojo with a willing helper.

Relevance addresses how the trainer’s experience relates to the topic being presented. If the trainer’s experience is relevant, how current is it? Some trainers have a vast amount of experience in a particular area of law enforcement training, but their relevance has diminished because they have not kept up with current trends in the topic. Trainers can keep current in several ways other than being deployed in the field. They may have maintained their knowledge level by researching the topic through journal articles or attending courses taught by other practitioners.

Make sure that training providers are teaching those topics that they are qualified to teach. Get to know your trainer before spending money and time on a less-than-desirable training experience.

Interview

After a review of the CV, if you feel confident that this training provider can provide training that is consistent with the needs of your agency, schedule an interview with the trainer. Tell them exactly what your identified training concerns are and how you were able to identify the issues. The goal of the interview is to discover how the trainer would address the issues. Many questions should be asked. What type of training can they provide? How will they deliver the training? Have they ever delivered this training before, and if so what were the results? (Ask for an agency contact so you can verify this claim.)

The next step would be to audit one or more of the trainer’s classes. The best way to audit the class is to actually go see the course for yourself. If the course that you are interested in is being offered somewhere nearby, get the trainer to allow you to send one of your agency representatives to audit it. The fee for the course should be waived by the trainer if you are interested in hiring him to come teach your personnel.

Once you are satisfied that the trainer is qualified, one of the last things that must be determined is the total cost. There is a large temptation to go with the typical government “low bid” with outside training providers. This is generally a huge mistake. The age-old axiom of “you get what you pay for” could not be truer in the world of training. You should try to get the best “bang for your buck,” but if there is little to no bang, then your bucks (no matter how few) were wasted.

Spend a little more money if the trainer is truly qualified and experienced. This is extremely important if your topic area is a high-risk exposure area. The trainer in this case should have not only the education and applicable experience, but also some recent experience providing testimony in the topic.

Providing quality training to the agency is one of the training manager’s many tasks. Once training needs have been identified, the next logical question becomes how to deliver the material. If an in-house solution is not available or viable, an outside training provider might be the answer.

Ed Flosi is a police sergeant in San Jose, Calif. He has been in law enforcement for more than 25 years and is currently assigned as a supervisor in the training unit. He may be reached at ed.flosi@gmail.com.

Published in Law and Order, Mar 2011

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