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Choosing a police trainer: 'In house' versus 'outside provider'

Part One: Once training needs have been identified the next logical question becomes how to deliver the material

“Training budgets all over the country are feeling the pinch of the economy and there is just not enough money to send personnel to a lot of training.”

“Many agencies are losing personnel that are not being replaced, putting a strain on staffing issues that do not allow many opportunities for officers/deputies to go away for training.” 

These are only two of the things I hear from training managers attempting to explain how they’re put in the difficult position of getting the best training for their personnel while remaining within a limited budget.  This is why it is now even more imperative that training managers seek high-quality training with the best value. Value has two meanings:

1.) is economically sound
2.) has a practical application towards the mission of your agency

Of course, this balance is not always easy to find but one clue that will help you determine the quality and value of an outside training program is to evaluate the trainer(s) responsible for delivering the program.

The first step in ensuring training is valuable is for your training manager to take the time to research your agency’s training needs.  Find out what the training concerns are from the officers/deputies in the field.  Ask them what problems they are encountering on a regular basis or even on an occasional basis if the problem is of major importance.  Speak to investigators and command staff officers for their perspective on the primary training needs or deficiencies in your agency.  Once you have developed a good sense of what is needed, identify and prioritize the issues that you want to address or mitigate according to your agency needs.

In-House Trainer
An obvious choice for many agencies seeking training is an “in-house” solution.  Many agencies have very skilled trainers within their ranks that can teach several topics with absolute competence.  Some agencies have the tendency to stay inside for all of their training because it feels comfortable to the training manager.  However, an overreliance on in-house trainers may create an artificial “bubble” around the agency resulting in a lack of exposure to safer tactics or more current legal information. 

While an in-house trainer might be just what is needed, there are other known pitfalls to their exclusive use.  I remember one trainer saying, “It is hard to be a true prophet in your own land.”  The meaning is, of course, that everyone receiving the message already knows the messenger and all the stories — true or not true — associated with that person.  This internal relationship can foster a feeling of familiarity between the instructor and student that may interfere when trying to deliver critical curriculum points.

Another part of the needs assessment can be to check with other training managers in your area to see if they have been experiencing similar problems.  Find out how they addressed the issue and get recommendations if they have used in-house trainers or contracted with outside training providers.

Outside Provider
If you choose to seek an outside provider there are some steps to follow to make sure you are getting one that will meet your needs.  Once you have identified a potential outside training provider, it is a good idea to interview the trainer.  On your initial contact with the trainer, request a Curriculum Vitae (CV).  Inform the trainer that you are interested in using him/her, and that you will contact them again after a review of their CV.  Take the time to study the CV before you re-contact the trainer.  This document should give you a road map of the trainer’s education and career.  If the trainer cannot (or will not) provide you with a CV, consider that a huge red flag.  The absence of a CV could mean one of two things:

1.) the trainer does not have the proper credentials to teach the course
2.) the trainer does not have the relevant experience to teach the course

A thorough “background” of the training provider should be your next step.  The background investigation will look into the education and experience of the trainer.  A more in-depth discussion of this process will be revealed in my next PoliceOne column, “Getting to know your law enforcement trainer” (PoliceOne Editor-in-Chief Doug Wyllie tells me that it’ll run on or around Thursday, April 26th).

After a review of the CV, if you feel confident that this training provider can provide training that is consistent with the needs of your agency, schedule an interview with the trainer.  Tell the trainer exactly what your identified training concerns are, and how you were able to identify the issues.  The goal of the interview is to discover how the trainer would address the issues.  There are many questions that could be asked but at the very minimum the interview should include:

1.) What type of training can he/she provide? 
2.) How will they deliver the training? 
3.) Have they ever delivered this training before, and if so what where the results (ask for an agency contact so you can verify this claim)?

The next step would be to audit one or more of the trainer’s classes.  The best way to audit the class is to actually go see the course for yourself.  If the course that you are interested in is being offered somewhere nearby, get the trainer to allow you to send one of your agency representatives to audit the course.  The fee for the course should be waived by the trainer if you are interested in hiring the trainer to come teach your personnel.

Once you are satisfied that the trainer is qualified to present the course to your personnel, one of the last things that must be determined is the total cost.  There is a large temptation to go with the typical government “low bid” with outside training providers.  This is generally a huge mistake.  The age-old axiom of “you get what you pay for” could not be truer in the world of training providers.  It is clearly understood that you should try to get the best bang for your buck, but if there is little or no bang then your bucks (no matter how few) were wasted.

I recommend spending a little more money if the trainer is a truly qualified and experienced provider.  This is extremely important if your topic area is a high-risk exposure area.  The trainer in this case should have not only the education and applicable experience in the training area but should also have some recent experience in the topic.

Providing quality training to the agency is one of the training manager’s many tasks.  Once training needs have been identified the next logical question becomes how to deliver the material.  If an in-house solution is not available or viable, an outside training provider might be the answer.  The next article will describe a methodology for helping to choose which training provider.

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