You don’t see many retired lawmen celebrating their 100th birthday, but if Providence should allow me a century of life it will be celebrated in 2056.
I wonder if by then we’ll still be training young police officers by making them sit on their behinds for hours watching images on a screen or listening to uninspired lectures. Despite all of the technology of the last one hundred years, it seems that our teaching methods have changed more slowly than the rest of our world.
An old man can dream can’t he? Here’s my dream for police training in the future...
Trainers will be experts in training, not just in their subject matter. Learning theories, effective evaluation, and teaching modalities will be part of what defines an expert. All trainers will know that learning best happens with context, socialization, use of multiple senses, repetition and application of material, and positive reinforcement. The best players don’t always make the best coaches.
Training will be based on extensive and reliable research. Trainers will refer not only to their own subjective experience, but will understand and utilize a reliable knowledge base within their field. Criminal justice research of immediate value to law enforcement is impoverished. As former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld once said, it’s what we don’t know that we don’t know that hurts us.
Train on Fact (Not Fear)
Training will be based on biological realities. It is astonishing that only in recent years have definitive studies been done to break the myth of the superhuman police officer. Notably, the Force Science Institute has been a leader is compiling research that can lead juries and trainers to understand the anatomical limitations regarding reaction time, memory, and fatigue. How many officers have lost their careers, freedom, and fortune because even within our own profession there is an expectation that we can outfight, outdraw, and outlast any bad guy based on our training?
Training outcomes will be performance and behavior-based rather than hour-based. Perhaps in the future we will come to realize that packaging courses in hours is not relevant to any measure of success. Our training levels, in terms of butts-in-seats time, are often arbitrary — eight hours of this, 20 hours of that. In the future, we will know what behavior we want to achieve and train until that measurable goal has been reached and embedded for performance.
Training will be based on basic needs, not on fear of lawsuits. Administrators often think our basic need is to document things to avoid being sued. In the future we will train for competence, not the paperwork appearance of competence. We need to look at bright line definitive court cases and train on fact not fear.
Training will be integrated and ongoing. In the future training will be a nearly daily activity instead of a block of instruction annually on a specific topic. Trainers will coordinate to make subject matter connected as it is in the real world. Driving instructors and firearms instructors and legal instructors will make relevant lessons that bring their areas of expertise together just like the officer will have to do in applying what he or she learns.
Training will be guided by the states and not mandated. Many state POST boards have a one-size-fits-all attitude about training. In the future, training will be driven by needs and learning opportunities and not by politicized mandates. States will help fund training by subsidizing personnel — no training is “free” — if you can’t afford to take officers from shifts to attend.
Technology will take its rightful place. Socially interactive live training will be retained wherever it is most productive. Self-guided training with validated behavior outcomes will be delivered by a variety of well-developed media where appropriate. Engaging lecture to trained listeners will be a revived as a revered skill and technology will never be used poorly or by the lazy presenter.
I’m not so cynical that I’d say these things aren’t happening to some degree right now. There are, however, a host of efficiencies that could create better training in more areas of competence if our profession takes a hard look at our culture and practices.