FREE e-Newsletter
Important News - Hot Topics
Get them Now!
Brian Willis

Brian Willis

Brian Willis is a retired officer, trainer and author who now serves as deputy executive director for the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA).

Doug  Wyllie

Doug Wyllie

Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

William Harvey

William Harvey

William "Bill" Harvey is currently serving as chief of police in south central Pennsylvania. He retired from the Savannah (Ga.) Police Department where he worked assignments in training, patrol, and CID. Harvey has more than 25 years of experience working with recruits, rookies, and FTOs.

Unintended Consequences

Sometimes even the best intentioned plans can go awry.

October 22, 2007  |  by Steve Ashley - Also by this author

Have you ever asked a fellow officer where in the world they learned to do what they just did, and had them say in reply that they had been taught that in the academy? Or in some in-service class? Or had seen it in a training video? Here's one way that that happens.

Let's say that you're putting together a lesson plan for some relatively mundane training topic, such as crime prevention. You've written the lesson plan, and you've planned a couple of small group exercises, but you really need to come up with some audio-visual materials just to keep your class awake. You look through the department's training library, and you spot a videotape called "Crime Prevention through Neighborhood Watch" (I made that title up, by the way), and you think to yourself, "Ah-ha! Just what I need." You grab the tape, and play the first couple minutes of it, just to make sure it will run OK, then you set everything aside until class day.

On the day of the class, you arrive a few minutes late, but pretty soon things are moving along smoothly. Later in the class you show the tape, and finish with the lesson, then everyone goes home.

Several months later, an FTO comes to your office and asks you why you taught his new recruit to point a shotgun at someone's head during an arrest. You tell him that you never taught that, and he tells you that his recruit swears that he learned that particular technique in the academy, and he's pretty sure it was in your class.

How can that be? you ask yourself. I never taught anyone that!

In going over your materials for the two classes you taught at the academy, you review the neighborhood watch video, and guess what? There it is! As the narrator is talking about how successful neighborhood watch programs are, there is a little vignette going on in the background. Officers responding to a neighbor's call of suspicious goings-on at her neighbor's house come upon an escaping burglar, and during the arrest—portrayed in the video—one arresting officer levels a shotgun at the head of the bad guy while his partner puts handcuffs on.

This is a true story, and fortunately the recruit officer involved didn't shoot anyone. But, the problem is pretty obvious. You didn't check the entire video for "hidden" training messages. And, even if you had, you might not have noticed what was going on in what video production people refer to as "B Roll."

In his excellent book Training at the Speed of Life, Ken Murray refers to this sort of thing as "the unintended consequences of well intentioned actions." We see a lot of this sort of thing in law enforcement training.  Here's another, more harmless, example.

I was once showing a training video on officer safety to a group of in-service officers.  The topic was no laughing matter, and it's hard to imagine a subject that should be taken more seriously.  When the video was done, I asked the class what important lessons they had learned. One officer immediately raised his hand and said that he noticed that the arresting officer in the video didn't have his hat on!

If you can't think of at least three similar occurrences in your own training, then you're not even trying. We really do create these sorts of problems for ourselves.

Here are three more:

Creating a course of fire for your firearms range, where you have officers move from one covered position to another, at each station engaging either two or three targets.  What you're trying to show is how to fire from behind different types of cover, and how to engage multiple suspects.  But, along with that, you're programming your people to leave cover when maybe they shouldn't, and to take on more bad guys than would be wise.

Showing officer survival oriented dashcam videos of confrontations wherein officers are shouting commands to subjects, ordering them to get on their knees, regardless of whether or not the subject is exhibiting signs of mental disorder.  What you're trying to show is how to take control of a situation. But, along with that, you're programming officers to use loud, harsh verbal tones, when sometimes they should use their voice to de-escalate an unbalanced individual.

Having officers stand in one place—upright—while on the range, firing at a stationary paper target. What you're trying to teach is basic marksmanship. But, you are also programming your officers to stand still in a violent confrontation, rather than immediately seeking out cover.

You get the idea. While trying to teach something important, we miss the subliminal messages embedded in our own training practices.

What is the answer to this problem? You may never be able to eliminate everything like this, but there are a couple of steps you can take to reduce the problem. 

First, always carefully review any multimedia materials that you intend to use.  View them with other trainers, or have a non-police person look at them.  What you're looking for is anything that looks dangerous or doesn't make sense.

Adopt a committee approach to training development, especially in the high risk areas, like use of force and vehicle operations. Discuss lessons with your fellow trainers, especially if you've invented a new technique or methodology, or if you're starting to train in a new subject. If you're the only trainer at your agency, run it by trainers from surrounding agencies. Make sure you tell them to be critical, since they may try to let you down easy.  You don't want that. You can't fix it unless you know it's broken.

If you're developing a new lesson plan or a new course of fire, pilot test it with a small group first. Encourage them to "beat it up."

Here's the important thing to remember: This is no place for ego. If you're inventing something that can save your fellow officers lives, that same thing could also get them hurt. Make sure that you've carefully considered every angle before putting a new lesson or course of fire or technique out into the field. Someone's life may depend on you doing so.

Stay safe, and wear your vest!

Comments (4)

Displaying 1 - 4 of 4

Dan Prohonic @ 10/26/2007 3:34 PM

Years ago,when my dept.,switched from revolvers to Beretta 40cal,our Lt. incharge of range training,instructed us from a fully loaded magazine,to fire six rounds,drop the magazine,reload and fire six more.i fired six rounds,brought up a fresh magazine,reloaded by switching magazines and putting the half empty mag in my belt.The Lt.,saw what i did and ordered me to drop the magazine on the floor,( CONCRETE ),i said no way,i won't abuse equipment as it might fail on me in the future,he said, if it fails they'll give me a new one.I said,what if it fails during a firefight,no answer.I think,training personnel,should run new training procedures past the officers for evaluation,before implification.I think,all training officers should run their new programs through an evaluation program to minimize injuries and deaths.I went head to head several times with training personnel because their programs weren't thought out well.We are supposed to work together for one goal.

TommyC @ 10/26/2007 4:44 PM

Any of the material that I use for training purposes is careful reviewed prior to its use in a training session. The one important thing to do is note the outdated procedures or tactics used in the video. Most of the training material is basic, but often you see add-ons that are not officer safe or contradicts your Department's policy and procedures (such as using another LE agency's training material). The instructor giving the lesson plan should address these issues and point them out to the attendees in training, while enforcing your LE agency's policy and procedures.
Regarding Deadman #18 comment on dropping the magazine, my Department has us drop our magazines during training scenarios. This done for quick reloading while maintaining focus on your target. Having been through several of these live fire/on the move training situations, I have not had, nor heard of any Department member having problems with their magazines malfunctioning. We went to the Beretta 9MM in 1989-90. Believe me, the equipment is durable, but I know what you are saying. That is why it is important to check your gear at least once a week, if not daily, to ensure that it is properly functioning before hitting the streets.

Ward @ 10/26/2007 8:00 PM

As the author suggests, I have a slightly different take on the comment by Deadman #18. In training to drop the magazine, it may condition us to throw away useful ammuniton. As we all know, if we truly need ammunition, we will want to have all we can carry and a thrown away round may be the one you need to end an attack.

WARWEASEL @ 1/21/2008 12:21 PM

I would have to agree with Deadman #18 as far as the damage to the magazine but there will be times when we have to drop a mag with ammo in it. I am a Center Axis Relock (C. A. R.) master instructor and in this system there are three types of reloading, #1-combat reload; #2-tach reload and #3- tach com reload. The first involves an empty weapon and you have to reload. The second is when you've shot 4-6 rounds and want a fresh mag. the third is when you might have only one or two rounds in the mag. Training and common sense will tell you wich one to use, but the tach reload and the tach com can be done just as quick as the combat reload

Join the Discussion

POLICE Magazine does not tolerate comments that include profanity, personal attacks or antisocial behavior (such as "spamming" or "trolling"). This and other inappropriate content or material will be removed. We reserve the right to block any user who violates this, including removing all content posted by that user.

Other Recent Blog Posts

Recharging Your Batteries: The Benefits of "Unplugging"
There is certainly benefit to being current on events involving the people you consider...
Speaking on the Unspeakable: Ending the Pandemic of Police Officer Suicide
I've talked with officers who have lost a colleague to suicide—as well as many widows of...

Police Magazine