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Bullet Points: Challenges facing police trainers in 2014

What do you see as the biggest challenge facing police trainers in 2014, and what do you think should be done about it?

I’ve been presenting expert opinions on various subjects a roundtable format for a few years now. Comprised of three or four questions and three or four participants, I’ve typically examined police products such as duty guns, body-worn cameras, and body armor.

In 2014, I’ll be experimenting with a modified version of this format — dubbed Bullet Points —in which I’ll explore issues and events with just one question posed to a handful of my columnists and contributors, as well as PoliceOne Members. If you’d like to suggest a potential topic or join in the discussion as part of a future panel, just send me an email doug.wyllie@policeone.com.

To kick this thing off, I asked four police trainers in my roster of writers, “What do you see as the biggest challenge facing police trainers in 2014, and what do you think should be done about it?”

Travis Yates, PoliceOne Columnist:
Changing the Culture of Unsafe Practices

The biggest challenge facing police trainers in 2014 is the cultural attitude difference among the students they will teach. For decades, law enforcement has been hampered with a culture that, in many ways, promoted unsafe practices. We’ve written lessons in blood, and until recently we have been very hesitant to learn from those lessons. These lessons tell us we lose far too many heroes from a lack of seatbelt use or from excessive speed. We have begun to educate a newer generation of cops about these lessons — lessons that most of us wearing a badge have not been told about or held accountable to.

It is time for law enforcement to open up about our culture that has permitted some of this deadly behavior. Yes, in doing so there could be a division among the ranks. Many longtime veterans may resist these efforts, and that will be a challenge — but not an insurmountable challenge — to those trainers.

It is a worthy endeavor and one that must be accomplished in order to leave this profession safer for future generations.

Ed Flosi, PoliceOne Contributor:
Placing Priority on Defensive Tactics

The biggest challenge from a defensive tactics point of view involves getting agencies and the officers to understand the need for more training. With budgets and staffing levels the way they are in many agencies, getting time away from the primary duty assignment is becoming more difficult. The amount of required training placed on agencies by federal, state, and local regulations can be overwhelming and take a considerable amount of what available training time can be given to the officers. 

Outright attacks on officers are becoming more commonplace. People standing by would rather record the incident on cell phone video than assist the officer. Suspects are getting more and more physically violent and displaying fighting skills that require officers to have a different skillset to defend themselves. 

The trick is to somehow convince agencies that more defense and arrest tactics training time is necessary to keep their officers safe and healthy. We all understand that these skills are highly perishable and the amount of training many agencies allow is only due to regulated minimum hours. 

Ken Hardesty, PoliceOne Contributor:
Maximizing Our Training Resources

In my view, the main challenge facing law enforcement training in 2014 will be a continuation of a saddening trend: the steady decline of funding and time allocated to training first responders.

A premium is always placed on the actions taken by law enforcement personnel while under extreme stress, yet the same level of concern is not infused prior to these traumatic events. How can we maximize our return on investment while doing our absolute best to assist those entrusted to our care? My answer is resource consolidation. By favorably managing the time and resources we do have, we can accomplish both goals.

An example is a recent training cycle our agency conducted. Spearheaded by Officer Albert Valcarcel, we conducted a department-wide Counter Vehicle Ambush course. The overall intent was to allow personnel the opportunity to fight in and around a vehicle — a skill not recently delivered to line-level officers. By including the various aspects of ammunition management, malfunction clearances, simulated stress, round placement accountability, and downed suspect approaches, we were able to deliver far more useful training to our personnel than a standard four-hour block of perishable skills training.

Be creative. The crowd loves it, and your return doubles.

Duane Wolfe, PoliceOne Columnist:
Prioritizing Mental and Physical Health

As a police firearms and use-of-force trainer, my ultimate goal is for my trainees to have positive, healthy, long careers. With the improvement in realistic training, we have seen a rapid decline in the number of officers killed annually in the last few years. That indicates that our current training is having a positive effect, but can still be improved on.

My other goal as a trainer is for my students to have positive, healthy, long retirements. The biggest stumbling block in that goal isn’t a felon’s gun — it is the cumulative effect of the stress of the job on health, both mental and physical.

The actual numbers of officers’ suicides is unknown, but it is the biggest killers of police officers — estimates range from between two and six times the number of officers feloniously killed.

When we as a profession and a culture decide to make mental and physical health a priority at the department level, we will see a drop in the number of heart attack victims, diabetes patients, stress-related illnesses, depression and suicide. It needs to start in the academy, continue through the field training process, and carry on through an officer’s career.

Doug Wyllie, PoliceOne Editor in Chief:
Addressing the Elephant in the Room

In my opinion, the biggest challenge for police trainers this year — or any other, really — is twofold:

  1. Enticing into elective training (your own time and your own dime) the officers who most need it
  2. Engaging apathetic officers to more fully participate in the PD’s mandatory in-service training

I do most of my firearms training with Ken Hardesty and his cadre of outstanding trainers at Spartan Concepts and Consulting. Ken continually tells the officers present that they’re not the cops at their agency who actually need range time — they’re already the best guys on their units. The cops who really need the additional training are the ones sitting on a couch at home, he says — and he’s right.

I participate in many in-service training sessions, and have observed on almost every occasion at least one person there merely as a warm body — the mind quite obviously elsewhere. Almost every department has at least one such individual on the department. If you’re reading this, I’d venture to say you’re not that person — conversely, if you can’t think of who it is, there’s a pretty strong chance it’s you.

This is the elephant in the room very few folks want to talk about, perhaps because the solution isn’t simple.

Trainers certainly help defeat these issues by being the best they can be at their craft — becoming irresistible learning magnets for even the most disinterested individual — but both problems can be mitigated somewhat by those top-tier trainees.

You may need to have a courageous conversation with one of your peers: “Hey, you really need to step up your game in training, or someone may get hurt, or worse.”

Sometimes all it takes is that sort of kick in the pants. When more is required, you may consider an informal mentorship — taking someone under your wing, so to speak — to get your colleague to a higher level.

You may find that instilling competition works for one individual, but that quite the opposite is appropriate for another.

Every situation is different, but one thing permeates them all: there is always room for improvement. Evaluate your training landscape and make a commitment to do something meaningful to improve it.

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