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21 Ways to Stretch Your Training Dollars

You know you’re not going to get more money or time for training, so make the most of your budget for both.

November 01, 2007  |  by Steve Ashley - Also by this author


Every training officer needs more money. But they also know that one of the first things to be cut is the training budget.

Every officer knows that he or she needs more training. But training is one of those things that sometimes takes a back seat to "real police work."

If you talk to risk managers and lawyers, they will tell you that one of the surest ways to get sued is to not train, and trainers will tell you that one of the quickest ways to get officers hurt is to give them inadequate training. The problem is that spending more money on training is difficult to justify to the bean counter because the effects of doing so are hard to quantify.

The measurements are negative in nature. We can't count lawsuits that weren't filed and officers that weren't injured. So trying then to do any kind of cost-benefit analysis is a significant challenge, especially in the face of budget cuts, when citizens and government leaders are in a, "What am I getting for my money?" mood.

So, in the spirit of doing more and more with less and less (and remembering the old joke about ending up doing everything with absolutely nothing), here are 21 ideas for stretching your training dollars.

Host Courses

Many different manufacturers of police equipment and vendors of police training offer on-site training that you can host. By arranging for them to bring their training to your jurisdiction, you can often get two of three free slots in the classes for your people. This is especially true for instructor-level training, which is a double bargain. It lets you get some of your people trained as instructors so that you can do training for your other people in house, at significantly reduced cost.

Usually, the only things that you have to supply when you host such training are a place for the training and some light refreshments for the attendees. Occasionally, vendors will ask you to put out a training announcement, and maybe to provide a phone number that students can call for information regarding local hotels and other amenities.

In exchange, vendors will offer you perhaps one free slot for every four or five students that sign up. A good example of this is the Instructor Course offered by TASER International, where you get one slot in the class for every five students who enroll.

Rent a Range

Almost every department needs to do firearms training, yet many do not have adequate facilities for doing so. This has become even more true with more and more housing developments encroaching upon what were once secluded firing ranges, and with increased environmental restrictions covering lead contamination.

Instead of giving up on the training, approach other departments in your area, or even the local police academy, and find out if they will rent you their range for a limited time. Many police academies do this, as the range just sits empty during much of the training day. While it may seem costly to shell out dollars to rent such a facility, it's usually much cheaper than trying to set up your own range, especially considering the insurance requirements.

You may also be able to exchange services for range time. For example, you could provide one of your firearms instructors for the other department or the academy to use in exchange for some range time. Some academies actually consider this a "scholarship" arrangement, wherein personnel from local agencies work at the academy while on duty, and the hourly rate they would normally be paid is put into a fund against which the department can draw for range fees.

Turn Debriefs into Classes

When an incident occurs, turn the debriefing into a formal training opportunity for your entire department. This will not only aid in training your officers, but will help in quashing any rumors about what happened. One well-known West Coast department actually creates a training video in the aftermath of an incident, sometimes using reenactments to illustrate important training points. You have to do the review and analysis anyway; why not get maximum value for your efforts?

Hold Policy Quizzes

You have a book of policies and procedures, and it's important that your officers understand them. It's really not enough to just hand them the manual and tell them to read it. Consider creating a series of short weekly quizzes over the important points of each policy, and then having shift supervisors administer them as part of a weekly roll-call training segment.

Hold Roll Call Training

While we're on the subject of roll call, make sure that you are formalizing what your supervisors are already doing. Every roll call is a meeting of the members of a shift and rarely does a roll call go by where a supervisor doesn't reinforce some aspect of departmental expectations.

Have your supervisors create a one-page synopsis of each roll call training point-usually no more than a paragraph or two-and then have each shift member initial it at the end of the roll call session. These should take no more than a few minutes each, but can provide solid, defensible reinforcement of departmental goals and objectives.

Use In-House Experts

You know all those firearms instructors, defensive tactics instructors, and driving instructors that you have in your department? Well, each is an in-house expert, a valuable resource that should be tapped on a regular basis for their expertise and for their perspectives on problem solving within the agency.

Don't just have them teach the occasional formal class: Instead, use them as day-to-day resources. Have them participate in roll call training, work with FTOs to provide special training to new recruits, and use them as members of incident review teams.

Join Training Organizations

Training organizations such as ILEETA (International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association) and IALEFI (International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors) have online digital libraries as well as regular publications that your trainers and supervisors can use to glean important new information on an ongoing basis. Make sure that your instructors belong to these organizations and make full use of the free resources available through them.

Get Instructors Certified at Professional Conferences

Remember that some conferences such as TREXPO and ILEETA offer instructor certification courses. By sending your trainers to these conferences, you can get the benefit of their attendance as well as have them "certified" as instructors in many of the high-risk disciplines you need to train in. At the annual ILEETA conference, for example, attendees can gain or renew instructor certifications in more than 30 subjects. For more information, visit www.TREXPO.com and www.ILEETA.com.

Set Up an Instructor Exchange

Work out an exchange with other departments in your area: Send your firearms instructor over to help them out and borrow their defensive tactics trainer for your department. Both trainers will gain the added experience and diversity of information that is bound to occur in such a deal, and both departments will get the training they need without having to train more instructors.

Analyze and Discuss In-Car Videos

Many departments have dash cameras in their patrol units, and millions of hours of video are shot every year. Often that video is just stored or recycled. Make use of some of it by reviewing it with your officers.

Your supervisors should be spot-checking video anyway, so when they see something that has bearing on your department's mission, consider having them share it with other members of the department. This is often done with video following critical incidents, but it is the routine, daily stuff that can really support your training objectives.

Analyze and Discuss YouTube Videos

A great many police videos are posted on the Internet, usually on sites like YouTube or Google Videos. Search for some of these, and use them in classes as discussion starters or problem-solving models. Rather than just looking at what happens locally, ask your officers to analyze what officers do in the downloaded videos. These can be used as part of a formal class or during short roll call training sessions.

Turn Court Time into Training Time

Much can be learned by observing what goes on in court. Officers are there frequently anyway; have them capture some of their impressions and observations, and then share them with other members of your department. One of the areas where officers struggle is when they are the defendant in a lawsuit. That puts them outside their comfort zone. The more they know about what goes on in the courtroom-when they don't have responsibility for a prisoner or some other specific duty-the more comfortable they will be as witnesses. The training occurs when they share these insights with fellow officers.

Get the Most Out of Your FTOs

Your Field Training Officers are some of the sharpest people in your agency. Keep their skills sharp and make use of their talents during slack time by using them as trainers and observers in different ways. Have them function as assistant instructors, working with your certified use-of-force trainers, or consider having them do spot-check ride-alongs with officers who have been reassigned to patrol duties after an absence.

Make Use of Sims

Develop simulation training, either with actual simulator systems or through role-playing exercises. The static training that many departments do is fine for basic training, but the advanced problem-solving and decision-making training that officers need is best carried out in role-play scenarios.

When setting up this training, remember that safety is the key. So get at least one instructor trained as a simulation instructor. This officer will be able to properly and safely script the role-playing and can train the actors for their specific roles.

If possible, it is better to use instructors to play the roles of the bad guys, since they are the ones that control the pace of the scenario exercise, as well as the ultimate result.

Create a Written Training Plan

While this isn't a new type of class or something similar, it is an important way to get the most out of your training dollars. By carefully analyzing your department's training needs and then laying out a written plan for accomplishing those objectives, you'll be able to get the most utility out of your limited training dollars. A well written plan will also assist you in defending your training program against charges that you haven't done enough training.

Work With Manufacturers and Industry Sources

Along with approaching vendors and manufacturers for hosting classes, remember that many of them have actual training resources that they will provide to you free of charge. These can take the form of videos, reports, lesson plans, and other training items that you can use in your own training program. Much of this material is available on the Internet, and can be found through a simple Google search. But some of the best material is limited to law enforcement use only, and to get access you will have to contact industry representatives directly.

Get Training Materials from NGOs

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) produce a lot of training materials for law enforcement and other first responders. Contact AAA, the Red Cross, the American Heart Association, and the National Safety Council for some really good stuff about crime prevention, traffic safety, and emergency medicine.

Talk to Your Risk Management and Insurance Companies

Most of our communities either have insurance, or belong to a risk management group, sometimes referred to as a "pool." These organizations tend to focus on two issues: civil liability and employee safety. Since we know that the same things that get you hurt will also get you sued, there is a considerable overlap between these two areas of risk. Approach your insurance company or risk management pool for resources to be used in training officers in the high-risk areas of use of force, motor vehicle operations, and arrest practices.

Some of these groups also provide grants and other funding for equipment purchases. For example, the Michigan Municipal Risk Management Authority provides grants for purchasing TASERs, and for years the Michigan Municipal League would fund part of the cost in purchasing body armor.

These groups and companies also frequently have model policies and other resource documents available. Many also have lending libraries of training materials and videos.

Bring in Other First Responders

Your local fire department and EMS agency are excellent sources of training in emergency response, hazardous materials, and first aid. They often have trainers available that can assist your department, and many times they have videos and other materials they can provide to you. There is also a great benefit in having your officers train with members of their departments, since your people and their people will often be at incident scenes together.

Repurpose Military Materials

This is one of those no-brainers that often gets overlooked. The U.S. military (as well as the militaries of Britain, Canada, Australia, and other nations) spend a lot of money developing training materials and resource documents and much of it is available for your use. The U.S. Army has a lot of material addressing personal safety. Programs on cold weather safety, weapon maintenance, and first aid are just some examples.

Read Police Magazine

Every issue of POLICE has tips and information you can use in your training programs. Need a clearly written article about a recent court ruling and how it affects your officers? Read "Point of Law." Need to add some material to your defensive tactics and close-quarter-combat programs? Read "The Winning Edge." Need real debriefings of actual officer-involved shootings? Read "Shots Fired." Back issues of POLICE are available to subscribers at PoliceMag.com. You can also find training resources at PoliceMag.com in the Firearms, Patrol Tactics, and Training channels.

The real trick to stretching your training dollars-and time-is to be creative and to use your imagination. Lecturing in a formal classroom setting has limited value and one-on-one range instruction is time consuming. In today's fast paced world, learners can and should be held responsible for much of their own training. Given the resources available via the Internet and the technological means now available for distributing information, the challenge should not be to get enough training done, but to structure and channel your training efforts in the most useful way.

The keys to making effective use of all of this training is to properly plan for it, cohesively deliver it, and adequately document it. If you do the training in a scattershot way, you'll waste resources and, if you fail to fully document what you're doing, you won't be able to prove how much training you have should you need to do so in court.

A retired officer and a police trainer for 20 years, Steve Ashley is a certified trainer in many subjects.


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