Modify your tactics, defeat the opponent
“Bloody 2011 – What Can Stem The Tide?” “Laid Off: What Do You Do Now?” and “Blood Bath: Is There Really A War On Cops?” These headlines are taken from the cover of monthly police publications. Police officers nationwide are under ever increasing scrutiny, from the public and administrations alike. In addition to increased scrutiny and supervision, officers are being physically attacked while on duty in record numbers. As of this writing, the Officer Down memorial page reports 128 line of duty deaths in 2011, 49 of which were a result of gunfire. Adding insult to injury, departments across the country are faced with massive budget cuts, resulting in fewer personnel and training resources. No matter how you add it up, the sum is the same: officer morale has been decimated.
All officers recognize the visible opponents: politics that drive policy, unfavorable civil judgments, and of course the criminals that we confront on a daily basis. The one enemy that most do not recognize could be the most dangerous to us as professionals: complacency. Officers are currently battling low morale, pension reform, wage cuts, and sagging public approval. All of these preoccupation factors can very easily lead to officers making complacent decisions. As trainers it is our responsibility to combat this when we see it.
Sun Tzu wrote, “He who can modify his tactics in relation to his opponent, and thereby succeed in winning, may be called a heaven-born captain.” In modern context, the ‘opponent’ is the preoccupation factors facing our officers and the decisions and tactics that come about as a result. As law enforcement trainers, there are several methods we can use to win this battle and keep our officers from falling victim to this opponent. Here are a few...
End on a Win
Mainstream trainers long ago abandoned the philosophy of ‘killing’ trainees during a scenario or drill. Those who still practice this tactic should consider alternative measures. I first experienced this while in the military, wherein service members who made a ‘fatal’ mistake were told they were ‘dead,’ and removed from the exercise. While originally designed to strive the point of avoiding mistakes, training managers over the years began to realize this practice built in the idea that police and military members should collapse and give up after being shot.
Obviously, taking a round does not render the recipient incapable of continuing the fight.
A better philosophy can be used when students do make mistakes. A thorough debrief is in order to ensure that the training points have been made and the student understands how to better their performance. Once this is completed, run the drill again. Once the lessons from the initial experience have been ingrained, the student should perform much better on the second run, thereby allowing the participant to end on a win. By allowing this to occur, the student will have a much more positive approach to training in the future, they will not feel poorly about their abilities or their overall performance, and the overall morale of the student has been improved.
The insertion of ego into any training session is a cancer that rapidly spreads and destroys the original intent of the material. I have seen fantastic material and a well constructed outline quickly shut down by an audience when faced with a chest thumping instructor. I have always said that ego does not equal credibility. There are plenty of ways to establish credibility with an audience without taking a condescending approach to your presentation.
We have all seen the negative effects of an instructor speaking down to the students, or having an air of superiority. Nothing destroys internal morale faster than to verbally or physically assert oneself as better than those you have been entrusted to help, mentor, or train. Stay with what you know, acknowledge the experience of those around you, and learn something new every time you teach. This policy has served several in my organization well, including me.
Regardless of the material, asking participants how you can better your course pays huge dividends. A simple, “What can we do better?” will more than suffice. You will likely be presented with ideas you hadn’t previously considered. The information you receive will be current and applicable to what patrol officers are currently facing. Of course, state-mandated curriculums are standardized — however, the presentation of the material can always be improved and better tailored to your audience. Lastly, closing with a thank you does wonders for morale.
By telling your students, “Thanks for coming in, be careful,” you send the message that they are an active part in shaping training goals and that you generally care for their welfare and are not conducting “check the box” type training.
There is no doubt we face difficult times and challenges ahead. Now more than ever, we owe it to our personnel to adequately prepare them to face opponents. Modify your tactics, defeat the opponent, and be the heaven born captain.