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Choosing a police trainer: Researching your potential options

Part Two: It is your right and responsibility to question and know the qualifications of your trainer

As a training supervisor for a large police agency, I looked for several things in a training course before considering whether to send an officer to an outside training vendor or bring the training provider to my agency.  I wanted to know:

1.) the education background of the trainer(s)
2.) the experience level – and how recent – of the trainer(s)
3.) how relevant that experience is to the topic of the course

Educational Background
The first thing I look for is the educational background of the trainer.  Although this is the first thing I look at, it is in most cases the least important.  There are a lot of trainers out there with very impressive titles and initials to go with them.  These titles are not easy to achieve and trainers should be applauded for their perseverance in completing these levels of education. 

A title is obviously more important in some topics than in others.  For example, if I were looking into a course dealing with the physiological effects of methamphetamine on the neuro-receptors in the brain, I would expect to see that a medical doctor (M.D.) was involved in the course. 

On the other hand, just because a person has a list of initials after their name that resembles an alien alphabet, it does not mean they are qualified to personally teach every single aspect of police training.  I have been on the receiving end of training sessions where the trainer boldly (and repeatedly) pontificates his importance relying only on the hope that the audience will accept the message purely upon his academic standing. 

It takes a special person to set their ego aside and admit that he does not have the training in a particular area but will do everything within their abilities to find you a person that does.

When checking out the trainer with multiple degrees and certifications, spend some time researching the organizations that provided the trainer with those titles.  The research should include:

1.) what type of work was needed to receive those degrees and certifications
2.) what type of testing process was required in order to receive the degree or certification

Steer clear of those trainers with credentials that were bought and paid for without any effort other than writing a check to a mail-order diploma mill.

Relevant Experience
Law enforcement personnel are perhaps the most difficult people to impress.  They can detect an imposter a mile away and will immediately dismiss the information provided by “the fake.”  This is why the trainer’s most important qualifications involve real experience and relevance.  The trainer’s experience is two-fold, how much and how recent.  As law enforcement practitioners, we all understand the importance of real experience. 

There are some training providers that try to hide their actual inexperience with foggy phrases designed to help the student draw a false conclusion about the real experience level.  This is clearly an ethical issue with these trainers but one that goes unchecked unless questioned by the training manager or student.  Be cautious of statements like:

“I have been a state certified police officer for 10 years.”  This statement tells nothing about the real experience of this officer.  This could mean the person has been in an administrative position for 10 years dealing with budget issues, which may be great experience if the class were on budget issues but would be less than desirable for a class dealing with the application of force in a field situation.  This statement could also mean that the person was a reserve officer that only logged a few hours per year during that 10 year period.
“I was a police officer in the 1980’s and 1990’s.”  Did the officer work only three years from 1989-1991?  I am more interested in not only the total number of years served but also what type of assignment was completed in those years that relates to the topic of the course.
“I was the chief of police.”  While it is certainly a great accomplishment in one’s career to rise to the top of any organization, this claim in and of itself does not make a person qualified to teach all aspects of law enforcement training. 

It therefore becomes the responsibility of the training manager or student to ask the appropriate questions related to the topic of the course.  If the presentation is about how to conduct a sexual assault investigation, the questions should surround how much experience the trainer has in that particular topic.  If the presentation is about defensive tactics, the trainer should have some recent real world experience in applying his craft in police situations, not just in a dojo with a willing helper.

Relevance addresses how the trainer’s experience relates to the topic being presented.  If the trainer’s experience is relevant, how current is it?  Some trainers have a vast amount of experience in a particular area of law enforcement training but their relevance has diminished because he has not kept up with current trends in the topic.  

This is particularly important in the area of tactics.  In defensive tactics, if you are not constantly adapting to the changing suspect population you are actually moving backwards. 

Suspects adjust their tactics to defeat ours — we must try our best to stay ahead of this curve.  If the provider is teaching tactics that were “good enough 20 years ago” there is a chance those tactics may compromise the safety of your officers if they were to run into a recent graduate of the state penal system.

A trainer can keep current in several ways other than being deployed in the field.  The trainer may have continued his knowledge level by researching the topic through journal articles or by attending courses taught by other practitioners. 

An example of relevance has recently appeared in the area of tactical training.  There are training providers that have a vast amount of experience in military operations offering courses to police personnel.  The question of the relevance in the training of military tactics to civilian law enforcement personnel is very sensitive and fiercely debated. 

There are strong arguments on both sides of the table but to ignore the debate and to not question the practical transferability of these tactics would be irresponsible.  For a well-balanced discussion on this topic, I recommend reading Ken Hardesty’s article, Military Tactical Training for Cops off Target? (published in 'The Firearms Instructor', the publication of The International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors — IALEFI).

Stay in the Corral
I remember once listening to a police defense attorney speaking about expert witnesses.  This speaker had all three bases covered.  Regarding the topic, he was:

1.) educationally sound — he has a law degree
2.) well experienced — long time practicing attorney
3.) relevant — currently practicing in the area of instruction

In his lecture, he gave advice to any future expert witness that resonates with me even today.  He said “stay in your corral.” In other words, do not try to testify as an expert about something for which you are not qualified. 

As a training provider, I stay within my corral by making sure I teach those topics that I am qualified to teach.  I would recommend to all training managers — and to officers/deputies seeking training on their own — to get to know your trainer before spending your money and time on a less than desirable training experience.  It is your money and your valuable time — therefore, it is your right and responsibility to question and know the qualifications of your trainer.  If you do not get the answers you like, move on to another training provider.

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