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How do you deliver the most effective training topics to officers during in-service training? How do you determine which topics will be presented to officers during in-service training? Law enforcement officers need to practice physical skills in order to maintain proficiency. Officers also need to have new and important information brought to their attention so they can perform their duties more effectively. One of the best ways to work on physical skills and learn information is during a formal in-service training program held within specific time frames.
Some larger law enforcement agencies have their own in-service training requirements because specialized assignments require different specialized skills. For example, a homicide detective, a patrol sergeant and a juvenile officer would need training in different areas, when compared to a “one size fits all” in-service training requirement. Smaller agencies require that their generalist officers be, “jacks of all trades” and skilled in many areas, or at least partially skilled.
Most law enforcement agencies have enough latitude to develop their own curriculum. Sergeant Richard Maxwell of the Colts Neck Township, NJ Police said, “Most of the curriculum selected is task specific relating to the officers’ assignment.” Maxwell also cautioned special consideration with smaller law enforcement agencies. “There are times when we bring in a ‘guest’ presenter from another agency or our county prosecutor’s office since one of the most difficult groups to present to is your own officers, who you work with on a regular basis.”
A mandated curriculum leaves little discretionary room for curriculum development. Then, the non-mandatory curriculum approach question becomes, “How to conduct a training needs assessment and select the curriculum?” There is both the formal approach and the informal approach, with both having strong and weak points.
The informal approach involves getting a bunch of officers and/or supervisors to answer some training needs related questions on what training is needed by their officers. The strength is that these are the men and women who are out there every day. They have a pulse on what is happening.
The weakness of the informal approach is that an officer’s perception of need may not always be what is needed. There may be people who believe that an unpopular topic, such as report writing, is very much needed, but they will not want to be known for pushing report writing. Or there may be a new developing training topic, such as “anti-terrorism,” which became a needed topic by virtually all officers, shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, where the need is not yet acknowledged.
The Commission on Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) offers what it believes is a reliable approach to developing a “Training Needs Assessment” for law enforcement agencies on its Web site.
In part, this summarizes the commission’s formal approach as follows: “We believe this method for assessing training needs is not only more scientific and reliable than previous methods, but also provides an excellent avenue for law enforcement agencies and individual officers to actively participate in the development of their training.” There is one general and important consideration: the more formal the assessment, the more the cost. Then again, it’s generally believed, “You get what you pay for.” If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys!
There may be somewhat of a hybrid formal / informal approach if you use a regional academy, which seems to be a growing trend. Regional academies, once primarily responsible for recruit training, appear to be more involved in the delivery of in-service training to multiple agencies. A regional academy can maximize the delivery of in-service by having a centralized location for training, rather than having each agency using instructor delivery to a small group of officers.
Small groups may work well with hands-on programs. It is very costly for lecture-based material to be delivered to a small group. This hybrid regional academy approach starts by conducting a meeting with agency training officers and/or supervisors and academy administration and staff. The academy staff should come prepared with research of various training trends and timely training topics.
Department personnel should be prepared to present areas that they believe need to be addressed based on administrative, field supervisor and rank and file input. A discussion is held, and a prioritized list of training topics is agreed upon. Supervisors should be required to attend the first session or two of regional in-service training so the curriculum can be fine tuned or even replaced.
A meeting of officers or supervisors from various shifts can also be conducted. This can work for smaller agencies if everyone can suppress their respective egos for the good of all, which is a daunting task for some. The person who chairs the meeting must encourage open, yet orderly communication.
Large agencies may want to have separate meetings, with each meeting focusing on the requisite tasks of a specific assignment. This would provide task specific training for the specific assignments. There is a possibility for some topics to be applicable for any officer, no matter what the assignment is, such as interpersonal communication skills.
Department training officers and training supervisors need to keep aware of what is happening in the field of training and possible topics of training. Subscriptions to professional periodicals and membership in professional trainers’ associations are an absolute must. Attendance at trainers’ conferences, which includes networking opportunities, are extremely helpful for every training officer, trainer, training supervisor and academy director.
There also seems to be a trend where the required mandate of a minimum of training hours becomes the maximum number of training hours. Ron Borsch, police academy manager of the Bedford, OH Police Academy said, “Police officers and their agencies should seek out and strive to hold themselves to professional high standards, refusing to accept the minimum mentality. The men and women of law enforcement deserve better training treatment. No one brags about achieving mediocrity. Those agencies adhering to minimum standards are destined, at best, for mediocrity. Actually, there should be a word like ‘miniocrity,’ since that better describes agency adherence to idle minimum standards.” The smart law enforcement administrator realizes that training doesn’t cost—it pays!
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 email@example.com.
Photos courtesy of Keith Mehlin and the Council Bluffs, IA Police
Published in Law and Order, Jan 2007
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