8 ways to maximize your police training
You never know when you might need to call upon your training to provide expert testimony, get a promotion, or look for a new job
Article updated on September 10, 2017.
As I close in on 20 years in law enforcement I find I actually have some wisdom to pass on to those just entering the ranks. Most of that wisdom was hard won – either learned via making mistakes, or passed on from the leaders who came before me.
One of the things I immediately loved about the work is the training. There is such a variety of training available to law enforcement professionals, it can make your head spin. During my tenure I’ve learned some great tips on how to maximize the benefit of the trainings you attend.
Here are eight ideas to consider. Add yours in the comments below.
1. Get to know (or become) your training coordinator
No matter what agency you work for, someone will take up the role of coordinating training. It may be a formal position with dedicated time, or it could be someone who does it informally. It could be the head of the agency or an FTO. This job entails collecting details on training, developing sources for training, and receiving phone calls, emails and faxes about training from various sources.
Regardless of whom it is or what they do, you need to get them advocating for you. Sit down with them and develop some strategies about what trainings you want to attend. For example, if you want to be a SWAT officer, take applicable trainings that will boost your chances. Want to be a detective? Start looking for some investigations classes. If you do not have a training coordinator, offer to fill the role. Leadership loves when you make their lives easier.
2. Remove obstacles to your training
This item can be challenging. Our leaders have a fiduciary responsibility to get the most bang for the constituency’s buck. You can be certain those who decide who goes to training will consider the following: travel expenses (gas, hotel, per diem) and backfill (who covers while you’re gone). A free class can become cost-prohibitive if it is too far away.
If you identify training you want to attend that is 500 miles away, look for scholarships. Sometimes nongovernment organizations will sponsor events and offer to pay all expenses to have officers attend trainings. Above all else, consider and try to eliminate reasons for someone to deny your training. If you think training will be offered closer or within your jurisdiction, wait.
3. Remember why you are at training
Sometimes it seems like cops are wild animals when they are set loose upon another jurisdiction with no responsibility for calls. I definitely understand the desire to cut loose, but be professional. Remember you are there to better yourself.
Taking a golden opportunity like training and ruining it by acting a fool while abroad is the very definition of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Tossing beer cans from a marked unit is an amazingly fast way to get a DUI, and find yourself suddenly in the job market. I have seen both careers and marriages wrecked at trainings.
4. Keep class references and supplemental materials
Keep your course materials. You never know when you may need to refer to them again down the road. If there are supplemental books or manuals for sale, consider purchasing them. You will need to clear this with command, but anything that can deepen or broaden your understanding of a subject increases the immediate value of the training. It also extends the value of the training by allowing you to review those references to sharpen up.
5. Network with learners and instructors
I cannot emphasize this enough. If you stay in this profession long enough you will invariably need to reach out to someone outside your agency for something. When I was in basic police academy I attended a training taught by an investigator in state liquor code enforcement. I shook the man’s hand and traded business cards with him.
Many years later I called him with a bar problem that was best solved with their assistance. There is nothing like having a direct phone line to a person who knows what you need to know or can do what you need done. At every class you should try to get to know your classmates. Collect their business cards and hand out yours. Favors go both ways.
6. Give honest and productive feedback
At the end of most courses you are given an opportunity to rate the training, facility, and course content. Many officers hurriedly circle their scores and head for the door so they can beat traffic and get home.
I’m happy to say I have attended very few bad training events. The surveys at the end of trainings are likely a big reason for this. Make suggestions, take a few minutes and tell the instructor/s what you like and what you didn’t. You hold the power to improve trainings at the tip of your pen.
7. Become a trainer
Subscribing to the theory of see one, do one, teach one, I feel like nothing improves your mastery of a subject like becoming an instructor. Your knowledge of any material becomes profound when you have to teach it on a regular basis. Different students from different perspectives will ask questions of you that force you to get an in-depth understanding of your subject. You, in effect, learn from the students as much as they learn from you.
8. Keep and preserve your certificates
Like fire, EMS and emergency management, we have some great certificates in law enforcement. There are banners, eagles, ribbons and seals that proclaim you attended training and are now prepared to save the world. Early in my career I did not realize how important these were. I lost a few and some were probably bent or torn so I pitched them.
Treat these certificates like 8.5 x 11 sheets of gold, because that is what they are. I take a zippered folder to classes. It has a notepad and pen holder, and can contain my certificate safely at the end of training. Once I get it home I scan it into the computer. I strongly suggest redundancy to keep your training records safe. Save some on your home computer, work, and possibly a thumb drive. The certificates themselves I laminate and stick in a folder. I also give a copy to my supervisor so they can update my personnel file.
Keep these tips in mind as you move through your career. You may have a great job or might be working for your dream agency, but things can change. You never know when you might need to call upon your training and experience to provide expert testimony, perform a specific skill, get that promotion, or look for a new job. Having your training squared away and knowing people in your profession from across the state can be a huge leg up.