Building Training from Lessons Learned

by Curtis J. Cope

One only needs to scan the headlines of newspapers or listen to the five o’clock news to find items that discuss some form of law enforcement issues. Many discuss the daily damage assessments of homicide scenes or traffic accident pile-ups, and move on to the next topic of the day. Law enforcement takes these 15 second sound bites as part of the job and shrugs them off with a comment like, “If they only knew the real facts.”  What if these “facts” contained training issues that could be used to do a better job in the future? It would make good sense to identify these issues to make law enforcement more effective.

Law enforcement can take these real life situations and use them as valuable learning tools, as many of these daily incidents have significant lessons. These lessons need to be identified so that the methods used by experienced officers or investigators can be captured and passed on to the “new kids,” or used as a refresher for those on the job. The most difficult task is to identify skills or lessons, identify whether they are practiced by everyone in the department and, if not, develop a training program.

One of the first tasks will be to identify who within the organization will be tasked with determining what skills or lessons should be taught. A good method to use is a needs assessment to determine what skills are lacking.  Another method is to conduct a survey of personnel who are involved in daily operations to find out what is important to them, or what skills or equipment are lacking. Another method is to develop a committee and task them with identifying the issues, or the tools needed to handle a tactical situation.

Using field supervisors’ observations of incidents is another method of identifying training issues. For example, if a supervisor were to observe the successful stop of a high-risk vehicle and extraction of potential dangerous suspects, the tactics used could be shared with the other members of the organization.  As another example, if your organization had a problem with arrests being thrown out in court because officers were not giving the Miranda warning before questioning suspects, this would be easily identified by the needs assessment. A Miranda warning course could be developed and administered to correct the deficiency. 

The following steps will help an organization capture useful skills and pass them on to others within the law enforcement community:

Planning Stage
1. Identify the problem you are trying to correct. This is commonly referred to as a needs assessment.
2. Determine whether you can deal with the issue yourself or if you need to take it up the chain of command.
3. Determine whether you have the resources to make the corrections:

a. Staffing
b. Facilities
c. Instructors
d. Knowledge to get it done
e. Budget
f. Equipment
g. Time
h. Permission

4. Determine the best type of training (i.e. Practical Application, Scenario, Role Play, Re-enactment, etc.)
5. Identify and write Goals and Performance Objectives. (Make sure these objectives are measurable.)
6. Write lesson plans. Make sure that they include the who, what, where, why, when and how.
7. Decide what type of testing will be used to determine whether personnel have acquired the necessary skills. (Practical application, scenarios and hands-on types of training work best.)
8. Establish a record keeping system so you can demonstrate your identification of the problem, the corrective actions taken and the results after training took place. (Hopefully, you will be able to show improved knowledge/skill through the testing that you do.) This type of record could protect you and your agency from potential civil action.

Selection of Training Method
1. Determine what presentation method will best improve skills or correct a deficiency. There are a variety of methods and you need to select the one that will best suit your training needs. Some of the more effective are: scenarios, simulations, role-plays, case studies or re-enactments. These  active training methods are usually known to give the student the maximum potential for learning.
2. Find an instructor (s) who has expertise in the specific area being addressed. If you do not have such a person within your organization, use your network of contacts. You will need to find out the individual’s fee and availability.
3. If you are using an outside person, check their credentials with others who have used their services. Find out if that trainer made a difference for those organizations. An outside expert might look good on paper, but the true test lies in what happens inside the classroom. A good outside instructor should be happy to provide you with references.
4. Find out from the instructor how they would suggest the training be presented. The most effective means is to involve your students in active training sessions. 

Presenting the Training
1. Select the best training environment possible. The site should provide ample room and lighting (or be capable of providing low or no lighting if your problem is a nighttime issue), provide comfort and safety, be away from outside distractions/interference, and provide an atmosphere for learning.
2. Make it possible for the students to succeed. While it is recognized that students sometimes learn better from their failures than their successes, you should always make sure there is an opportunity for them to try again after remediation.
3. Greet your students with enthusiasm. Give them the expectations for the training and hold them accountable for successful completion.
4. Be professional and expect nothing less from your instructor(s) and students.
5. Ask for feedback on the effectiveness of the training. The true test is whether the student can walk out the door and use the newly acquired skills in a real world setting.
6. Do not hesitate to revise or modify training as needed. You can expect a few bugs in the process; it is your job to look for them and eliminate them, if possible. It is also your responsibility to keep the training current.
7. Enjoy the training. If you have done your job up front, it will flow smoothly from beginning to end. More importantly, your students will enjoy it. 

Revise the Training
In law enforcement, new trends develop, new technology comes on the market, and criminals invent new methods to commit crimes. Good training should attempt to keep abreast of these developments and revise training to meet those needs. It is the responsibility of a good trainer to look at existing material and make sure it is fresh and relevant. Handouts should always be new and not copies of copies. Exhibits need to be refreshed, repainted or repaired. The instructor should also have a backup plan in case something breaks down. The instructor or the organization should have a means of tracking students to determine if the training has accomplished the mission of providing new skills or eliminating a work deficiency.

Curtis J. (Jeff) Cope, a 29½-year veteran police officer, retired from active service in 1997 as a lieutenant in charge of General Investigation Bureau at the Huntington Beach, CA. Police Department. He is a court-recognized expert in use of force/police practices and an instructor in defense tactics/arrest and control techniques, force investigations. He is also a certified Master Instructor by the California Commission on Peace Officers Standards and Training (P.O.S.T.).He is now a private consultant and the Program Administrator of the P.O.S.T. Robert Presley Institution of Criminal Investigation, Instructor Development Workshop course.

This article first appeared in the ASLET Trainer, a publication of the American Society for Law Enforcement Training.  Reprinted with permission from ASLET and the author.

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