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Trade Shows for Trainers

Written by Ed Nowicki

Purchasing a new type of law enforcement equipment without a “test drive” equates to ordering an item on late night TV. When you receive it, it doesn’t quite work the same as it did on TV for the huckster in the infomercial. What you see on a company’s Web site may not be an accurate portrayal of exactly how that equipment works, either more or less than expected. Not that a company is necessarily trying to deceive anyone by putting the most flattering information on its Web site.

Law enforcement trade shows have greatly expanded during the past 20 years or so. Various law enforcement associations and independent trade shows actively compete for the revenue that companies are willing to spend to get the word out on their products. A tight economy means that companies are not willing to participate in just any trade show. Both companies and the law enforcement community need to maximize the “bang for their buck” concerning trade show participation.

Trainers’ Perspective

A trainer for the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) said, “I am reminded of a very specific example of this from several years ago. I was walking through the vendor area at the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA) Conference and came upon the Crown Gym Mats booth. They were launching a new line of training equipment called Nottaline Products for use during very physically interactive simulations.

“What they were offering was great, so I started talking to them about what other things they might be able to develop and even suggested a few ideas. The next year I was walking through the vendor area again, and lo and behold, there was the exact piece of equipment I had envisioned the year before. The fact that they listened to my suggestion and actually turned it into a product demonstrated to me their commitment to LE training. I will never forget that.”

Attendance at any trade show needs to be a good match. An instructor who only teaches hands-on firearms training is not a good match with a vendor that only offers only evidence collection products. In that case, it is a waste of time and money for both the vendor and the instructor. Sergeant Joseph Ferrera of the Southfield, MI Police said, “The right trade show allows us to see the current technology and handle it to see if it is really user friendly and does what the manufacturer claims it can and will do.”

Chief Bert DuVernay of the New Braintree, MA Police looks at a bigger picture for both trainers and vendors. DuVernay said, “Trade shows give trainers the opportunity to network with other trainers, suppliers and manufacturers. The ability to call someone that you’ve already met is invaluable when you have a question, a problem or a special need. Those conversations also give manufacturers insight as to how their products could be improved or made more attractive to law enforcement.

“Secondly, trade shows allow the trainer to see first hand where the equipment market is going and compare a wide range of products at the same time. Suppliers just can’t keep enough products in stock to do that in all the stores that carry their products. By seeing the latest products, and perhaps getting hints or glimpses of future products, trainers are better prepared to plan for changes to the training and tactical environment. Lastly, trade shows are vastly entertaining and great ‘mental health’ days.”

The value of professional networking among trainers and with vendors has real value, but only if the trainer is committed to “staying in the loop.” Larry Smith, a retired San Diego Police lieutenant, still an active defensive tactics instructor, gave me some great advice may years ago. He said, “You’re only as good as your resources.” Every trainer should remember Smith’s advice, no matter what discipline is taught. Networking over morning coffee, while at lunch, during hospitality and while just “hanging around” should be seized upon as opportunities to maximize the benefit of attending any trade show.

An open networking process, free from any agency rank, allows free flowing discussions that respect the person, rather than each trainer’s rank.

Vendor’s Perspective

Wants and needs are not always the same. Vendors need to understand the specific needs of a law enforcement agency and its officers. These agency needs are not necessarily the same as what a vendor may want. Understanding a training need does not mean a vendor should try to act like a trainer, unless the vendor is a trainer.
Vendors must realize that a practical application of an “effective technique” may not normally be viewed upon as a reasonable use of that technique when used in the field. For example, a face rake with a baton may be very effective and work extremely well against an assailant. However, the baton face rake would generally be frowned upon for law enforcement use, barring exigent circumstances.

Commander Tim Janowick of the Mount Prospect, IL Police said, “Vendors need to understand trainers are generally held in high regard in their departments, especially experienced trainers with long track records. As a result, many trainers can be a strong voice in purchasing decisions within their agencies. Vendors should be aware of how their product would complement existing systems (training, tactics, computers). How would their product fit with their defensive tactics system? Is the training software offered a proprietary system, or is it compatible with widely used programs such as Microsoft Access or other data programs?

“A smart vendor finds out the officer’s or trainer’s position or specialty in the organization. I have experienced vendors who equate my brass with cash and start discussing costs and quantity discounts for the department without determining exactly what I do for the organization. By understanding my role as a decision maker for training and determining how their product can complement our department’s systems, the vendor has a better chance of my time and a sale.”

Vendors need to have a strong knowledge of any products and how that product is used by law enforcement. Marshall Schmitt, law enforcement liaison with LaserMax, said, “Product manufacturers that are vendors at trade shows need to know the qualities of the product and how it translates to the officer’s real-world needs. Knowing the price structure is also a must. Trade shows also allow the vendors to interact among each other and develop mutually beneficial relationships.”

Judy Eckert, one of the owners of Crown Gym Mats, said potential trade show vendors should see that a trade show is a good match for the vendor. “ILEETA is one of the best shows in the country for us. They offer hands-on training and sharing of techniques that have been proven to save lives in the real world. The focus at both of these shows is getting lifesaving information to the trainers to pass on to their people. The hands-on training at both of these shows is highly professional and brings to the forefront of training the current and future threats to our country.”

The trade show that offers the widest array of vendors is the Expo affiliated with the ILEETA Conference and Expo, which is conducted in the early spring of each year in the greater Chicago area. The 2009 ILEETA Conference and Expo will be held at the Westin hotel in Wheeling, IL on April 20-25, 2009. The Expo is held on Tuesday, April 21 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Wednesday, April 22 from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Although the 2009 ILEETA Conference has a tuition fee, attendance at the Expo is free to anyone with law enforcement credentials.

There will be more than 100 vendors at the 2009 ILEETA Conference that appeal to virtually any specific aspect of law enforcement training. These vendors include: Simunition; Ruger Firearms; Crown Gym Mats; Safariland; Streamlight; Action Target; Aerko International; Looseleaf Law Publications; Ectaco Inc.; Redman Training Gear; Dummies Unlimited; FLETC; NRA-LEAD; TASER International; John E. Reid & Associates; IES Interactive Training Inc.; Wicklander-Zulawski & Associates; EOTech; and many more.

Attending the right trade show, such as the ILEETA Expo, can be a goldmine of information concerning products and training programs for almost any trainer. Trainers must also have an analytical mind in order to separate the real gold from the fool’s gold. If it sounds too good to be true…

Ed Nowicki, a nationally recognized use-of-force expert, is a part-time officer for the Twin Lakes (WI) Police Department. He presents use-of-force instructor certification courses across the nation and is the executive director of ILEETA. He can be reached at ed@ileeta.org.

Published in Law and Order, Mar 2009

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