5 keys to ensure your police training is effective

How can we ensure the precious amounts of time, money, and effort spent on training will provide the desired outcome?

As a combat aviator, one of the most challenging things I have done is to deliver weapons in close proximity to friendly ground forces. In the “fog and friction” of war there are any number of ways this endeavor can go south in a hurry. Successfully executing these kinds of missions requires an ability to focus, provide clear,concise,correct communications, and act decisively under stress. 

Does this sound like your operational environment on the street? 

With so much at stake, how can we effectively train to undertake such monumental tasks given such a slim margin for error? How can we ensure the precious amounts of time, money, and effort spent on training will provide the desired outcome? While there is no formulaic answer to this question, I would like to suggest some “stars to steer by” — five considerations for training development that can tip the scales of effectiveness in your favor.   

1. Lock in the Fundamentals 
All advanced techniques andtactics require a foundational skill set. Sure, you learn the fundamentals in the academy, but is that the last you should ever see of them? Acknowledging the need to periodically revisit and ensure a mastery of the basics is one sign of a mature operator and should be part of every training regimen. 

When working on advanced skill sets, I often start the session with a review of the basics critical to application of the advanced skill. Physically reviewing and practicing correct application of that discipline’s fundamentals and or mentally visualizing their correct execution prior to the training evolution “primes” the trainee for success. 

2. Ensure Application of Correct Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs)
For any given discipline, there will be an abundance of TTPs available. Be careful which ones you choose to internalize and trust your life with — there is a lot of chaff out there. Stuff that may work in the scripted world of training scenarios may get you killed if you try it against a dynamic, living, breathing adversary. 

I can say from experience that it only takes one near-death experience from executing a faulty TTP to change the way you scrutinize them forever — don’t learn that lesson the hard way. 

Here are some things to consider when evaluating which TTPs to accept into your portfolio:

•    Reliability – they have a track record of success, or if they are new, they are rooted in other successful TTPs, or have been found acceptable after being subjected to credible levels of evaluation
•    Utility – they actually solve a legitimate tactical problem
•    Suitability – they reside within limits of policy, authority, moral/ethical standards, the law, and safety
•    Feasibility – they are within the capability of the officer/team to apply successfully across the full-spectrum of environmental conditions found in the workplace
•    Acceptability – they justify their cost in resources, casualties and collateral damage. They solve a problem while minimizing risk to all parties to the maximum extent practicable 
•    Simplicity – they solve the tactical problem while minimizing the requirements for: communications, coordination, specialized equipment, cognitive processing, and physical manipulation (especially fine motor skills) 

3. Frequency of Training, Muscle Memory, and Speed
Very few organizations have the resources to secure training with the necessary repetitions and regularity to instill muscle memory. Reality for most professionals is that if you want muscle memory, you will have to do it “on your own dime and time.” But it is worth it. In a crisis, performing even the simplest mental and physical tasks under stress can be challenging, so the more you can automate the correct physical response, the faster your reaction will be, and the more brainpower you will have available for problem solving. 

Practice the correct technique at every single opportunity — never waste a chance to perform and reinforce a “correct repetition.” Since most training is constrained by resources, good programs/officers identify skill sets of highest importance and augment their department training with the repetition and regularity necessary for muscle memory in those select disciplines. Deciding which skills to focus on is a product of risk analysis, and determining which skills are necessary to mitigate the highest risk factors

Never forget, skill with critical decision-making and problem solving also takes a significant amount of practice, so pay plenty of attention to exercising the most important muscle in your body – the brain. 

4. Full-Spectrum Training to Logical Conclusion
After mastering desired skills through focused training, exercise their application via full-spectrum, critical thinking/problem solving that requires parallel use of physical and mental skill-sets. Trainers can dial up or down the complexity andintensity of the scenario by regulating the amount and substance of “injects” (facets of the scenario requiring decisions). 

This does not have to be elaborate or expensive to be effective, but it does require careful planning. The key is to integrate realistic scenarios with use of actual equipment, communications, and tactics — simulate as little as possible — and execute to the scenario’s logical conclusion just as you must on the street (e.g., suspect is in custody/scene secure, or appropriate assistance rendered). 

5. Reflection and Debriefing
Any training or operational execution of tactics must involve a disciplined process of reflection and debriefing that uses the most accurate and complete information available (a.k.a., “truth data”) to reconstruct events. 

Developing a deliberate program of garnering and distributing lessons learned through analysis of execution errors, root causes, and causal factors will significantly improve the impact of your training and analysis of real-world performance to meet future challenges. 

Treat this effort as an initial opportunity to reflect on the process you use to develop and assess individual or department-level training needs. The ideas presented here are not authoritative, but can serve as a good starting point as you consider how to apply your precious few training resources towards solving problems on the street. 

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