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The trainer's reward: When "thanks" means a life preserved

If you’ve only attended training in your career, you cannot fully appreciate how difficult the task truly is when you deliver training

Last month I passed along some of the “rewards” received by great police trainers I know. I hope these — and this latest article — will inspire some of you to become trainers.

Not all cops are cut out to train, just as not all citizens are cut out to be cops. But, I’ve known some great trainers (and writers) who needed a little push to get started. I am proud to have “pushed” several great trainers (and writers) toward their first “try.”

This two-part series highlights just some of the “rewards” that may encourage you to try your hand at training (or writing). Here are the stories of my trainer friends — part two.

Barbara Harris — Barb is a retired Deputy Chief of Police, having served in several departments and capacities, including Tucson PD. Barb is also the closest training partner I have, since she was professional enough to tolerate working for me for several years at the Illinois State Police Academy.

“I have been a police trainer for almost 30 years. During that time, I have trained hundreds of new recruits, seasoned uniformed officers, support staff, commanders, chiefs and civilians.

I have met good trainers, legendary trainers and absolutely terrible trainers. I have had students who were hostile, resentful, willing and those who were insatiable in their pursuit of excellence.

“But the ones I remember most are those who bolstered my commitment to training by sharing their experiences with me and letting me know that I made a difference to them.

“I had taught a critical incident response class and an officer contacted me about two days later and told me that he had used the information taught in class during an active shooter event and it had allowed him to control the situation and bring it to a successful resolution.

In another incident a dispatcher contacted me to let me know that a few days after our dispatch class on career and officer survival, he assisted an officer who was off-duty with his family and ended up in a shooting incident that closely resembled a “lessons learned” incident we had debriefed in class.

He felt better prepared to help the officer because he had “already walked through what to do in his head” because of our class.

Then there are the inadvertent contacts made at a social gathering of cops where someone you had in a class 15 or 20 years ago tells you how your training at the beginning of their career influenced them to do things the right way throughout their career and they wanted to just say thanks. It doesn’t get any better than that!

So the point of being a trainer for me was to be the best trainer possible. My goal as a trainer was twofold. First, I wanted to make the training about the student by giving them information they could readily use — not fluff.

Secondly, I always tried to plant a seed for lifelong learning, because I knew that if you quit learning you were already out of survival mode.

“What I got back from my efforts was the satisfaction that I had a small part in positively impacting individual careers and that something learned in class might save a life or career in the future. But, I knew, as I told them, it wasn’t about me, it was about them and what they did with the information received in class.

Many people attend training, but these individuals took it to heart and it made a difference in their life. In my experience, being able to touch the core of a person and plant a seed that later sprouts into an action that saves a life is the best reward a trainer can have and I appreciate the fact that I have had those opportunities in my own career.”

Dan Marcou — “Lieutenant Dan” is retired from the La Crosse (Wis.) Police Department. As a regular contributor to PoliceOne, you have probably already read his thoughts on matters related to SWAT, Crowd Control, and Defensive Tactics.

As Dan and I spend a little more time together each year at the ILEETA conference, my respect for his talents as a writer and trainer continue to grow.

“While working a night shift one night years ago I went to see a wounded officer in the emergency room, who had just survived a gun fight, when the suspect involved had not. I was told he wanted to see me and as I went into the room he got excited and said:

‘Dan! Dan! I heard your voice out there. I was shot and down on the highway and you said, ‘You feel pain and that’s good. It means you’re alive so now get up and finish the fight!’ So I did. I got up and finished the fight.’

For a trainer feedback like that energizes you to continue doing what you are doing, because you know it’s important and lives depend on it. I think everyone wants to know they are making a difference and feedback like that makes you realize that as a dedicated law enforcement trainer absolutely can make a difference.”

Glenn French — Glenn is a Sergeant with the Sterling Heights (Mich.) Police Department, and regular contributor to PoliceOne. I just met Glenn this last April at the ILEETA conference, but was immediately impressed.

Over a lunch and at the Annual PoliceOne Contributors Supper meeting, Glenn’s training passion was evident. I especially related to his powerful mix of military experience and police training, since I also believe Law Enforcement has a lot to learn from the military, especially in leadership. Glenn once received this letter as a “reward” for his work as a trainer:

Dear Sgt. French,

Just a note to say thanks. About two weeks ago I was called to a DV in a very rural area of our county. Before we arrived the perp had left the house and gone to the barn with a gun. This was of course after he had kicked the crap outa his brother. As hard as this is to believe they were both Very liquored up!

Anyway, upon our arrival we were setting a plan to contain the perp when shots rang out. Pucker factor !

But, because I was lucky enough to have had training with you and PO Whyle, I felt confident that we could at least contain till SRT arrived. Positions were taken on the perimeters and comms was established. About 15 minutes into this cluster the perp again steps out and caps of more rounds. I later learned that my partners had all figured this may go south and were prepared to do what needed to be done — that each of us was going home.

Myself and another deputy had a forward position to pass intel back to our command post. Still, only four of us, but the cavalry was on the way.

Well it was at this point that the perp decided it was time to come out. As I heard my partner order him to the ground two or three times I stepped from my cover (M4 aimed at that perp and taking the slack out of the trigger) I was unable to see what he was carrying, but did have something in his hand. At this point my partner stepped from behind his cover directly behind the perp.

Oh crap...safely back on finger off the trigger I couldn’t take the chance of hitting my partner. (we were still goin’ home) So we rushed him and took him down the old fashioned way.

Bottom line... we, yes even the perp, lived to tell the story.

Sorry this is so long. But I cant tell you how much your class helped me to come out of this on top At no time did I feel not prepared. You and Bill did such an awesome job. Thanks for giving me just that little bit of confidence and education to take on this situation and come out on top. As long as I have been doin’ this job you can always learn new stuff. Thank You, Thank You, Thank you...

I look forward to taking more training of this type. And rest assured I will HIGHLY recommend your course to any and all coppers.

Keep up the good work and please pass this along. Stay safe my friend.
~ Oakland County Michigan Sheriffs Deputy

Joseph Ferrera — Joe is a Sergeant with the Southfield (Mich.) Police Department. “Little Joe” is justifiably proud of both his small physical stature and his recognized expertise in Defensive Tactics skills which focus on “technique” rather than brute force.

I met Joe when he stopped me in the hallway last year at the ILEETA conference and thanked me for writing so many police articles over the years. Joe said he was sure my articles had saved police lives. I’m rarely speechless, but I was pretty close right then.

“Several years ago one of my officers was involved in his first shooting. After a vehicle pursuit and protracted foot pursuit that included the officer physically fighting with the suspect. The suspect had also tried to kidnap innocent bystanders. The suspect eventually reached into his waistband and the officer was forced to shoot the suspect in self-defense.

A few months after the shooting the officer and I crossed paths in the police parking area. In the past he had been very verbal during training and not the “best student” one could have in class.

As I approached he asked if he could have a moment with me. He started with an apology for his previous actions while in training courses I had taught him. He went on to say that things happened in his shooting just the way I had said they would and that he had responded automatically as trained and didn’t even remember drawing his weapon and defending himself.

He thanked me on behalf of himself and his family and promised that in future training I would have his utmost attention.

This feedback came to me as I was battling for more in-service training for my fellow officers. At the time this meeting happened I had been thinking that I was getting tired of these “battles” for more and better training and was considering just giving up on what I was asking for.

You can bet I walked away with a renewed energy to request more and improved training for my fellow officers. I will never forget that chance meeting I had with my fellow officer in the lot.”

I saved Little Joe’s reply for the end for a very good reason. Here was a trainer, burned out and tired of the never-ending fight for good police training, who “walked away with a renewed energy.”

If you’ve only attended training in your career, you cannot fully appreciate how difficult the task truly is when you deliver training. Hopefully, the training you’ve received has been physically and mentally demanding, but I guarantee you the trainers work harder than the students. They set up the ranges, floor mats and vehicles, then they debrief themselves, clean and store the equipment only to get up earlier than you and stay later than you — all over again tomorrow.

As William Arthur Ward once said, “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”

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