Tell me if this sounds familiar: You're in your office minding your own business when one of your officers walks in with a training flyer in his hand. He lays it on your desk, and asks if he can attend the school, which is an advanced seminar on fingerprint identification. You tell him that he can't, since you hadn't budgeted for it. About a half an hour later, your boss stops by and tells you to let the guy go to the class, since the schedule shows that his shift has an "extra body" that day.
If this has happened to you—as it did to me, several times—then you have a problem. While it's great that your people are taking the initiative to find their own training opportunities, you can quickly lose focus on your training goals if you allow people to just go off to a class because they want to. Still, it's hard to say "no," especially when the boss says it's OK. How can you manage your department's training effort if you can't coordinate who goes to what training, and when they go?
You Need a Plan
Many departments make training decisions just like the one described above, and do it on a regular basis. This can lead to a confusing mish-mash of training and a loss of focus on training objectives.
There is one simple reason that you should have a written training plan: limited resources. If you had all the money and "man-hours" in the world, then of course you could let people go to whatever training they wanted to. But that is almost never the case, so you have to prioritize. You have to plan how you will allocate your limited resources of time and money, so that your department gets the most "bang for its buck."
Another reason you need a plan is because time is so limited. You know what training everyone needs to have, but you also know that you can't possibly afford the "lost time" to send everyone to the needed training right away. You'll have to prioritize who goes first.
Elements of a Written Training Plan
A properly drawn training plan has at least four elements: A statement of goals and objectives, identification of mandatory versus non-mandatory training, prioritization of training and those who will attend, and a timetable for implementation.
Goals and Objectives—Set goals and objectives for yourself in implementing your plan.
Goals are long-term—say over five years—while objectives are shorter-term, intermediate steps that will help you reach your goal. An example of this might be your goal of increasing your department's firearms qualification scores so that every member of your agency meets a 90-percent standard by the end of a three-year period. You could increase your shooting schedule, and add different types of training on a regular schedule, in order to reach your goal. Each of the items you put in place to help in attaining the goal represents a short-term objective.
Identification of Mandatory vs. Non-Mandatory training—You might decide that driver training, use-of-force training, and a legal update class are all mandatory, and that all members of your department must attend each of them as soon as possible, no exceptions. Conversely, you might also decide that training in crime scene management and a class on drug abuse are non-mandatory, and that officers will be allowed to "sign up" for those classes if they so choose. You get the idea.
By the way, remember that "mandatory" can be relative. In other words, certain classes might be mandatory for everyone, while other classes may be mandatory for only those officers assigned to certain duties, or to certain shifts.
Prioritization of Training—This one kind of bridges the others, in that you will prioritize all of your training based upon availability of resources. For example, you might decide that defensive tactics training is mandatory, but that road patrol officers will attend first, followed by investigators and then administrators.
Or, you may have a lot of mandatory training, and you might have to put some of it off until later, while you get some other topics out of the way. This could also include mandatory aspects of your training schedule, i.e. you want to make quarterly firearms training mandatory, but you also need to do annual driver training. You can't do both right away, so you have to prioritize your mandatory schedule.
Timetable for Implementation—This is one of the most overlooked parts of training plans, and yet it's critical. Here's why: The operationalization of your training plan will be a juggling act. That's just the nature of the beast, and you will have to adjust to it. Limited money, equipment, and most of all time, will cause you to have to allocate training sessions in a distributed manner.
Remember, you won't be able to do everything at once. Let's say you are the training manager for a 200-officer department, and you need to get everyone through driver training. Since EVOC is one of the most resource-intensive types of training, it's going to take you some time to get all of your people through. So schedule them in sessions, spread out over the next 12 to 18 months.
Remember that your timetable isn't a straight-jacket. Glitches will occur, and you'll have to adjust it on the fly. It's OK to deviate; just remember to steer the ship back onto the base course as soon as you can.
A Hidden Benefit
Here's an unexpected benefit from your training plan. Consider a situation wherein you have scheduled those officers to attend driver training classes over the next 18 months. About 10 months into your cycle, one of your people that hasn't been to the training yet gets into a pursuit-related crash. Lawyers are filing papers left and right, and everyone's very concerned that he didn't get to training before the crash.
That's a legitimate concern, but you have your written training plan to fall back on. It clearly shows that you had scheduled him for training. Would it be better if he had been to the class? Of course…but the written training plan is solid evidence of your intent to send him to training. You'll probably have some questions to answer, but at least you can show that you were managing your risk by conducting training, and by scheduling all officers—including the one who crashed—for driving class.
Trust me…you'll be glad you have that written training plan in place.
Stay safe, and wear your vest!