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Critical Information Network's Law Enforcement Training Network

Written by Jennifer Gavigan

In today’s world, law enforcement professionals need ongoing training and actionable information they can take into the field to proactively respond to potential emergencies. Critical Information Network (CiNet) is a provider of high-quality law enforcement training across the public safety, healthcare and industrial operations sectors. For more than 18 years, CiNet’s Law Enforcement Training Network (LETN) has been a partner to the nation’s law enforcement service, bringing down training costs, improving personnel performance and helping to save lives.

There can often be a lag time of months or even years before critical training information is shared with front-line responders, which is often too late. Job responsibilities are constantly evolving, and agencies are struggling to create and retain knowledge with aging workforces and geographically dispersed personnel. The Obama administration has allocated $53 billion in stimulus funding for education and training initiatives. As a result, more and more agencies are embracing eLearning platforms to ensure they can deploy training content that is essential to maintaining certifications and licensing in economically sustainable ways.

CiNet’s Chief Executive Officer Norm Willox’s management team is comprised of information solutions executives as well as former network television producers and multimedia industry professionals who saw an opportunity to improve training effectiveness by increasing the speed and efficiency of producing and delivering eLearning content.

With the largest inventory of video content of any distance learning provider, and over 500 courses available online, LETN training provides accredited content for every discipline within a law enforcement agency. LETN utilizes solutions from the nation’s leading instructors and experts, along with a range of flexible and customizable delivery options, including DVDs; a Web-based learning management system; and an encrypted, private satellite system. Combined with an agency’s hands-on training, this blended learning approach results in greater retention and competency for officer training. “Advances in communications and information technology are fundamentally transforming the way teaching and learning now take place,” Willox said. “Our mission is to deliver world-class content to our customers when they need it, helping them increase safety, improve efficiency and maintain competitiveness in the global marketplace.”

Desktop Video-On-Demand

As more law enforcement officers struggle to balance the demands of their responsibilities, Desktop Video-on-Demand (DVOD) delivers LETN training courses anywhere, at any time, as long as officers have access to the Internet. Whether at home, at work or on the road, LETN makes training available and convenient, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Students can easily train from any Web-enabled computer according to their own schedules. Users will be able to receive credit for accredited courses through their academy.

LETN’s libraries of law enforcement courses are delivered in a Web-based format. Three libraries are available, and departments have the opportunity to include one or all with their subscription. The selection of courses will expand each month as new titles are added to the libraries.

Law Enforcement Online Library

The courses in the Law Enforcement Library provide timely, topical training that can help satisfy training mandates including state, federal and in-service requirements. The courses within the library are categorized under learning topics for easy manageability and lesson plan development.

Roll Call Online Library

Roll Call courses get to the core of real-world law enforcement experiences. This award-winning series hosted by internationally recognized LE trainer Dave Smith (also known as Buck Savage) provides an in-depth study of real-life scenarios and lessons learned to increase risk awareness and the safety level of officers.

Corrections Online Library

LETN’s Corrections Digest series is now available for officers in a correctional or detention setting. The corrections training produced by LETN is delivered via satellite or is available as a standalone subscription that can be delivered to an agency’s desktop. The corrections programs are 30 minutes in length and designed to meet the needs of correctional officers at the county jail or state penitentiary. Some recent topics include prisoner transport, inmate supervision, booking and intake, edge weapon control, disturbance resolution, staff morale and inmate/cell searches.

CiNow

CiNow is LETN’s online learning management system that gives a chief and his staff access to online delivery of training content in the form of online tests and courses. This learning management system has administrative functions which allow a department’s training staff to assign track training to be completed by officers while maximizing their productivity. A team’s complete training history is exportable for customized reporting needs, or a variety of report options is also available in CiNow.

CiNow Plus

With CiNow Plus, users can do the following: view the catalog of available courses and tests, enroll in courses and tests, take comprehension tests online, access their learning plans, view their transcripts, complete training assigned by their training officer, and resume courses already in progress. In addition, administrators and managers can view student transcripts, run reports, activate or inactivate users, print certificates of completion, and more.

CiNow Plus also provides the capability to generate e-mail messages to students and managers regarding enrollments; add and manage custom content at the beginning of each course; plan, schedule, register, track and print certificates of completion for instructor-led training that is customer-managed and administered; track third-party AICC/SCORM-compliant content; track AICC/SCORM-compliant content created and hosted by the user.

Distance Learning

According to Jim Kerins, executive vice president, chief information officer (CIO) for CiNet, distance learning is an emerging technology for continuous education in the public safety field. The law enforcement market is sometimes slow to move to new practices and is not usually on the cutting edge. However, today’s generation is often referred to as the “thumbs generation” because of texting and e-mailing through mobile phones, smart phones, etc. “In order to learn and communicate best practices, today’s police officers need training that is more engaging,” Kerins said. “The fall-out of the old way, instructor-led, is it is not as effective.” Studies of officer training have shown that 100 percent need to see multimedia content, that is, real events unfolding before them.

One of the main benefits of CiNet’s LETN is that it’s economical. Today’s agencies are facing shrinking budgets, which means less money for per diems to send officers to training that may be in a different town or even state. Distance learning lessens the amount of time officers spend in the classroom or the police academy. Some courses can even be taken before a candidate gets to the academy. “The law enforcement officer is a highly prized resource who can’t be pulled too thin,” Kerins stated. By having officers out in the field, they are staying engaged with the community.

Of course, there is always going to be in-person training that can’t be done by distance learning, such as firearms, self-defense, live scenarios, etc. These courses require the instructor to be engaged with the trainee to find out competency. In many cases, distance learning supplements knowledge that officers already have but that they may need a “refresher” or update course on.

According to Lonny Wilder, vice president of Public Safety for CiNet, LETN started in 1989 as a result of two years of research done by the founders of CiNet. Wilder came in 1989 and “built the model primarily for state and local guys who did not have access to or funds for the academy,” he explained. Wilder, along with the founders, pioneered encrypted satellite from the beginning to maintain security. “Encryption is the backbone of border security and television networks,” he said.

CiNet’s LETN has garnered a good reputation, mostly due to amassing the single largest video library of law enforcement training courses. “We have over 500 video courses for officers to choose from,” Wilder reiterated. In addition, LETN works with its customer base to customize the curriculum. It’s unique in that they build or scale the training to support all Web-based applications. The course materials are delivered to customers however they need it: through LMS, DVD, satellite and even VHS for smaller departments. CiNet is evolving traditional learning approaches and adding innovative Web 2.0 functionality to the process, allowing users to customize curricula from their desktops and collaborate with peers on best practices.

According to Kerins, the courses are scaled for small to mid-size agencies. He cited an example of a department sending three officers to three different areas of the state for the same course. But because of instructor bias, they came back with different “take-aways.” CiNet’s LETN distance learning program is a win-win situation for everyone: Small departments make up 90 percent of those in greatest need when it comes to funding. Those agencies typically need bullets or tires before training, so CiNet’s LETN is ideal because the distance learning factor reduces costs. Kerins said some rural chiefs are now using MDTs in their patrol vehicles but still running Windows 3 in their headquarters. With LETN, officers in small towns can sit in their patrol cars in a safe place in town and be taking a continuing education course if their policies allow.

Kerins said the advent of wireless Internet (Wi-Fi) makes distance learning much easier now. Officers can use it from home, the library, etc. The didactic component of distance learning makes it a “cocoon” experience, because the officer can do the training wherever he is. In addition, the courses are aligned with states to fulfill required mandatory testing and continuing education.

Most of CiNet’s LETN management team came from an IT background. The producers of LETN’s e-Learning platform have won Aegis Video and Film Production Awards for it. It’s a learning management system, not just a records management system (RMS). Some of the features allow administrators to assign learning as well as keep track of grades, who is taking the courses, how long it takes them to complete the courses, etc.

In terms of cost for CiNet’s LETN distance learning, it varies based on the number of officers, the number of courses, etc. An average cost is $64 to $100 per person, per year. The courses are typically one-hour segments, with half the time spent watching a video, five minutes of review and 15 minutes of post-test. Some courses have two, three or even four parts. For example, the “Blood-borne Pathogens” course is a four-part series that was updated when the H1N1 flu surfaced.

According to Kerins, the program is “highly flexible” to meet the needs of an agency and, in turn, the community it serves. Optional customer surveys for LETN ask about the approximately 14,000 users’ experiences. All respondents agree that multimedia is a must for training, and their supervisors are supportive of it as a supplement to competency training. Additionally, the average grade for a course is above average. CiNet’s LETN sets a student’s passing grade as 70 percent, but some agencies require 80 percent to pass a course. Officers can take a course multiple times. They can also stop and restart where they left off.

Wilder cited an example of the ultimate benefit of CiNet’s LETN training: saving lives. He took a call from a wife of an officer who was working traffic in Arizona. It was August, and at the time there were no hydration packs on officers’ vests. CiNet’s LETN had run a training piece on body armor in hot areas and how and when to hydrate, etc. The officer took two shots in a shootout, and his wife believes part of the reason he survived was because he was hydrated thanks to taking the course.

Rural Policing Institute

One of LETN’s biggest end-users is the Rural Policing Institute (RPI), located in Glynco, Ga. Through the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC), RPI is the training division within FLETC and is a congressionally mandated initiative under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). It was created in 2007 under the 9/11 Implementation Act. In FY 2009, the RPI received funding and the authority to hire a staff.

Chief of RPI Chuck Daenzer said the institute procured 1,000 subscriptions to training courses this year through LETN to go to rural agencies and their officers. Set up as a separate portal, officers can register for courses if their agency is considered “rural.” To be considered a rural officer, they must either work for an agency located outside of a metropolitan statistical area, or work for an agency that serves a jurisdiction with a population of no more than 50,000.

Agencies are vetted by LETN staff to be considered rural, and once confirmed, officers are given a subscription within 48 to 72 hours with access to the entire LETN catalog (500+ courses). The subscription is good for one year, and officers can take as many courses as they like at no cost to them or their agency.

According to Daenzer, RPI does heavy marketing to distribute these subscriptions to as many rural, campus and tribal officers as possible. “Our goal is to be broke by the end of the year,” Daenzer commented. The registration process begins at the RPI Web site, which has detailed instructions. Daenzer said the RPI tries to come to a resolution if there are any questions in determining eligibility. “We try to make it a very effective partnership and a painless process for officers,” he noted.

The RPI takes training to the students through LETN’s distance learning to allow more students to receive training in regional areas so they don’t have to travel as far to take courses. According to Daenzer, 50 percent of departments in the United States have 10 or fewer officers and serve small jurisdictions. If a police department only has five officers and one officer goes to a training course, 20 percent of the workforce is gone, and that shift must be covered.

As mentioned previously, not all training lends itself to distance learning. RPI also offers training “export” courses, where LETN sets up a course in a town that rural officers can get to for instruction. This may be anywhere from Williston, N.D., to the far reaches of Alaska. This year, RPI is also covering lodging for those officers traveling 50 or more miles to an export course. Ultimately, “Our job is to get training to the heartland of America,” Daenzer stated.

University of West Alabama Police

The University of West Alabama (UWA) Police in Livingston, Ala., received free LETN training through the RPI. According to Jeff Manuel, chief of police for UWA, training is an area where his department took a hit. In addition to their campus responsibilities, officers provide backup and other assistance to the six-member Livingston Police Department. This relationship requires UWA officers to remain prepared to handle a variety of calls depending on the situation. “We must receive training appropriate for our campus environment in addition to dealing with an assortment of calls when assisting city police,” Manuel stated.

The city recently experienced a rash of convenience store robberies. Manuel said several officers commented on how the LETN crime scene and evidence training provided a much-needed refresher. Other officers praised LETN on the value of officer safety and survival training. “All of our officers have been out of the academy for a number of years, so the value and benefit has been a confidence builder and provides a training environment without judging veteran officers,” Manuel said.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement

Through the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training (IADLEST), the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) works with several private vendors and federal agencies with grants. According to Mike Crews, president of IADLEST and the director of the Professionalism Program of FDLE, his department acts as the “wheel” to implement training programs in other states and get them moving forward in tough economic times.

“The way we have historically done training, with instructors in the classroom for 40 hours a week, will be obsolete,” Crews stated. The reasons: reduced funding at the state, local and federal levels and fewer resources/personnel. Figuring out how to back-fill shifts when officers are gone at training courses creates a snowball effect. “We cannot afford to do it the old way,” Crews said.

With distance learning, officers who work night shifts can go in during the day to take current, up-to-date training. This not only saves money, but it maximizes the officer’s time as well. According to Crews, the goal is to reach as many officers as possible. For example, if an agency has 500 sworn members and there are only 40 seats to a classroom, the training could take up to a year. If it’s online, all 500 officers can take the course within a few months. Crews said moving to this method is a hard transition for officers who are so accustomed to sitting in a classroom for training. But when you consider the cost of an airline ticket, hotel, meals and car rental for an agency to send someone to a training program versus having the officer sit at home and take the same course, it’s a huge cost savings—anywhere between $2,000 to $3,000 for one officer/course.

Training requirements vary from state to state. Florida requires a minimum of 40 hours of training every four years. Those agencies that are reluctant to use distance learning are “almost being forced to implement distance learning due to limited funds,” Crews said. In the future, those agencies can divert the money once spent on training to other needs, like hiring more officers.

Jennifer Gavigan is the editor of Public Safety IT Magazine and a frequent contributor to LAW and ORDER. She can be reached at jgavigan@hendonpub.com.

Published in Law and Order, Oct 2010

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