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January 14, 2014
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Betsy Brantner Smith Survival Insights
with Betsy Brantner Smith

10 truths of police training

PoliceOne Columnist Richard Fairburn’s excellent piece titled 10 truths of police leadership inspired me ponder what “truths” police trainers need to think about

Last week, my fellow PoliceOne Columnist Richard Fairburn wrote an excellent piece titled 10 truths of police leadership.

I sent it to many of my friends, posted it on Facebook and Twitter, and printed it out to hang in my office.

In fact, it inspired me ponder what “truths” police trainers need to think about, so with gratitude to my fellow trainer Fairburn, here are my “10 truths of police training.”

1.) Training isn’t about the teacher, it’s about the student.
Evaluate your motives. Ask yourself why you’re a trainer (or want to become one) and be honest in your answers. You’re not there to show your students what an amazing stud or stud-ette you are — your job is to make them believe they are the biggest badass in the room (and on the street).

Reevaluate your training continuously. Are you striving toward your goals and completing your objectives or just doing drills, biding time? Are you staying current, working hard to innovate? Minimize the war stories and make sure they have a training point. Above all, check your ego at the door; it’s not your classroom, it’s theirs.

2.) Your job is to change behavior, not judge people.
I’m guessing most of your students aren’t as well-read, motivated or as fit as you are. That’s unfortunate (and it can be frustrating) but you are not there to look down on them, you’re there to lift them up. I know a trainer who mocks her students and co-workers behind their backs, calling them “lowest common denominators.”

If they are not SWAT material and don’t run marathons. Your job is to make them want to improve and give them the tools and knowledge to be successful.  Consider your worst student your own personal challenge to improve your skills as a trainer and motivator.

3.) A good trainer is ethical.
Keep your resume and your vitae factual. We all know people who exaggerate, but lying about your education, your experience or your training is unacceptable. I used to work with a guy whose resume and war stories kept changing and expanding to try and keep up with his total lack of substantive training ability.

There’s no excuse for this in our profession, but unfortunately it’s not uncommon. Be honest, be ethical.

4.) A trainer who has nothing left to learn needs to retire.
Coach Bob Lindsay — the 2013 ILEETA “Trainer of the Year” — has been in police training for more than 50 years. I’ll never know half of what he’s already forgotten, and yet he is constantly seeking, growing and learning and I’m guessing he will never stop.

The best trainers are always students first.

5.) You can’t substitute talent with technology.
I love to have videos and music and all the other bells and whistles in my presentations; it’s fun for me and I think its fun for my students. However, be prepared for none of it to function properly. I once watched my husband talking to more than 500 cops in an officer survival seminar held in a Las Vegas casino ballroom. With 45 minutes to go, the power went out.

As soon at the emergency lighting came back on, he continued talking — no videos, no computer, no microphone. The only thing he did was raise his voice slightly. He had them laughing and crying — as usual…and they gave him a thundering standing ovation. It wasn’t until that day that I understood what he had been telling me for years: “Computers are great but a real trainer should have the same impact without the technology.”

6.) No man (or woman) is a prophet in their own land.
I laughed when I read this same point in Dick’s article — the same is so true in police training. I meet so many highly skilled and talented trainers (and writers too) who are either ignored, or worse, vilified by their own agencies.

People may be threatened by your talent or success, or they may be envious, and envy is a powerful thing.

What can you do? You can either keep trying to push your agency to accept you as a trainer, or you can learn to let it go; it’s your decision. Just remember, the department doesn’t “owe you” the privilege of training your peers, you have to earn it, and you probably have to earn it “their way,” at least in the beginning.

7.) You can’t replace information with laughs.
There’s no doubt about it, humor and emotion intensify learning. I like to be funny in class, and I’m married to a guy who is actually successful at it. However, is your class an eight-hour comedy show, or is it valid training and information?

The training principle behind the JD Buck Savage officer survival videos was to help officers retain the training points through humor. Yes, it’s fun to laugh, but it’s much better to laugh and learn.

8.) Training your peers is a privilege.
Standing before your fellow officers or co-workers should never be taken lightly; it’s an incredible privilege. You are always a role model, and often you are a modeling the future desired behavior of your students.

Check your attitude and your behavior, watch your language, and make sure your information is accurate and timely. Train safe and avoid artifacts (are you still shooting at the seven, fifteen and twenty-five yard line without cover?) And if you feel the need to put other people down to enhance your own training, you need some serious self-reflection.

9.) Ask for help, but do your own work.
At almost every class we teach someone asks us for a copy of our presentation. Often we get email from people asking us for our research, all of our video clips, or a job. Some of these people have a sincere desire to solve a problem in their agency, present new training to a group, or start a police training career, they just don’t know where to begin. We are happy to provide resources and suggestions, and we’re honored to be asked, but don’t expect other people to do your work for you.

We brought another instructor into our cadre last year. She’s talented and funny, has a great resume and outstanding experience. But what sealed the deal is when I asked her if she was interested in working with us, and she didn’t ask for anything other than advice.

She did her own research, developed her own program, sought out feedback (and took it to heart) and made continual improvements. Ask to be mentored, seek out trainers you admire or enjoy, but don’t expect an intellectual handout.

10.) Give credit where credit is due.
Every great trainer stands on the shoulders of another. But if someone — a co-worker, a trainer, an author — has given you great insight (or more), the professional thing to do is to give them credit. It’s the right thing to do.

We should all be trainers with the same basic goal, to improve this profession and keep each other healthy, successful, and above all, safe!


About the author

Sergeant Betsy Smith has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience, retiring as a patrol supervisor in a large Chicago suburb. A graduate of the Northwestern University Center for Public Safety's School of Staff and Command and a Street Survival seminar instructor for more than 9 years, Betsy is now a speaker, author and a primary PoliceOne Academy consultant. Visit Betsy's website at www.femaleforces.com.

Contact Betsy Smith and Follow Betsy on Twitter





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