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Stretching Your Training Budget

Written by Ed Nowicki

Today’s law enforcement administrators need to be budget alchemists, possessing the ability to stretch an already stretched dollar into two dollars. Post-9/11 budgets received expanded demands of anti-terrorism training, while training in many critical areas is diluted. The necessity of legal updates, use-of-force topics and skills, emergency vehicle operations and other key areas didn’t just disappear.

Gasoline is the life-blood of emergency response and motorized patrol. The increase of more than a dollar for a gallon of gas in only one year has placed a significant drain on many budgets. Some say the prices will drop, but how much that drop will be is unknown. Even more oil industry experts say that gas costs will continue their upward movement to over $5 per gallon in 2009. It’s absolutely certain that no one is absolutely certain.

Training can be broken into two basic areas: physical skill (hands on) and knowledge (cognitive). Simply put, using your body and using your brain. Determination and creativity is key to meaningful results in either area.

If there is physical skill involved, knowledge is also a component. Officers not only need to know how to shoot (physical skill), but they must also need to know when to shoot and under what circumstances (knowledge). There’s no substitute for the live firing of a weapon, but live firing can be enhanced firearms simulators and special training weapons and ammunition.

The price of an electronic firearms simulator can be costly, but if the agency is large enough, it can be a real bargain by allowing training at the agency with on-duty time. If the cost is too high for one agency, it may be possible for several agencies to purchase the simulator. Before any purchase is made, it is necessary for all agencies involved to clearly have a contract in place. The contract should cover maintenance cost, storage, how the simulator will be shared and more. A good contract can keep professional and friendly relationships in place.

What can be said for firearms simulators can also be said for driving simulators. It is still necessary for officers to drive real vehicles for emergency vehicle operations training and to shoot live ammunition at a firing range. The proper use of driving simulators can increase the effectiveness of the training and reduce the cost of the training. It may take a few years to realize the cost reduction.

Training that mimics reality, particularly in use-of-force areas, is always needed. Realistic training does a great deal to prepare officers to use reasonable force outside of the training environment. What’s the best way to prepare an officer for a gunfight? Put the officer in a gunfight. Using Simunition™ is an answer. However, the cost of weapons modifications, Simunition rounds and safety equipment may be too taxing for a small agency. The same can be said of paint ball use.

The use of Airsoft guns can add realism to firearms training at a reasonable cost. Safety of Airsoft use is still a concern, so covering the skin with clothing and the use of eye and face protection is mandatory. A 6mm soft plastic BB can still do some damage on unprotected areas.

Whether using Simunition, paint ball or Airsoft, a properly trained instructor must be present along with enough assistance to properly monitor the training for both safety and content. Airsoft training can even take place at police station or even in the parking lot. A controlled environment is best to prohibit possible tragedies, such as an off-duty officer stopping at the police station and believing that the armed Airsoft confrontation is reality.

Roll call can be a great training resource. Physical skills training can be enhanced during that 10 to 15 minutes each day while the officers are in their full uniforms. These training modules are not meant for techniques for the ground or so intense that the officers perspire. In-house certified instructors, including officers who are instructors and who are working a duty assignment outside of training, can conduct short training sessions that are formally titled, “training modules.”

For example, officers can practice drawing and opening their expandable batons while saying, “Stop!” The training module should be documented, titled and dated. The names of each officer at roll call should be listed, and eventually, each officer on that shift would receive documented training in this 15-minute module. A course description for that training module along with the instructor should also be included in the documentation.

Roll call training can also be used for cognitive training, such as legal updates and agency policies. A supervisor or trainer covers important areas with the people present at roll call, and then a written test is administered. The written test would only cover important components of the lecture.

Once the test is taken, it is graded and reviewed, with the officer initialing any wrong answers on the test. The officer is given the correct answer and asked if anything needs further explanation or if anything is unclear. The necessary documentation is similar to that used with the previous hands-on example, except that a copy of the test is kept along with each officer’s test score.

Do you want to show an officer a training video or PowerPoint program and still test the officer? If so, there is a computer program that works with both PCs and Macs by the name of “Quiz Press.” This is an easy-to-use, yet powerful testing program. You can administer a written test in class. Quiz Press can print your questions with all of your fonts and styles and any pictures or diagrams you have added.

Tests written through Quiz Press allow you to easily export to the Web. Tests are automatically graded, unless you choose to do it yourself, and the results are sent back to you in an encrypted e-mail so there won’t be any cheating going on. Quiz Press is integrated with Apple’s iPod® and features import / export, answer explanations, essay questions, randomized multiple choice, instructor-graded questions and more.

A free demo copy of Quiz Press is available at www.solrobots.com/quizpress/index.html. You can order a copy of “Quiz Press 2” for $49.95 as a download. This is a cheap price to pay for a powerful written testing program that allows you to add video, images, music, sound or interactive content to really make the Web testing experience stand out. You can copy and paste, drag and drop, or load these from many sources. Generation X and Y should appreciate the multi-media testing.

budget can’t take a $49.95 hit for Quiz Press? If you own a copy of Microsoft Office, you can use a test feature with the PowerPoint program. Although not as comprehensive as Quiz Press, the PowerPoint tests are still a good option. Whether you use Quiz Press, PowerPoint or another testing program, the person who constructs the tests should be prepared to devote adequate time in order to learn the program. A member of the agency’s command staff should approved the final testing process when using a computer-based test program.

It appears that adequate law enforcement training budgets are not a high priority. That is, until the loss of a multi-million dollar lawsuit related to training happens. Unfortunately, losing a lawsuit will outweigh any appeal to logic. Until then, “making more with less” is the mantra.

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, Oct 2008

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