Law enforcement officers present a tough audience for trainers and educators. Officers have highly attuned BS meters and they get restless and bored quickly because they just don't like to sit around very much. To reach this audience, the trainer must have valuable information and he or she must present that information in a manner that's both easy to comprehend and remember. The challenge for law enforcement trainers is how to effectively educate this audience.
One of the best ways to train law enforcement officers in a classroom setting is to chunk up material into quickly memorized bites. You can also maximize the effectiveness of training by using a variety of memory aids.
Buzzwords create a shortcut in each officer's mind to key concepts and terms.
Take for example the use of the term "COP 101." It is often used to suggest key principles that include the fundamentals of police work, common sense, and the core values of professionalism.
I use COP 101 all the time when presenting material, instructing, or correcting subordinates. I use it so much that my former platoon gave me a plaque that read: "Lt. Murgado, COP 101."
But using a shortcut term like COP 101 only gets you so far; its scope is still too broad. What would work better, is something equally as simple but more refined. The next logical step is to either look for an acronym or create one yourself that addresses your specific needs.
An acronym is a word that is formed from the first letters or groups of letters in a name or phrase. It is a form of a memory aid that helps people memorize key concepts or other important content. Acronyms are highly effective. That's why they are used so extensively by law enforcement and the military.
Examples of common acronyms are numerous. I am sure that most officers are already familiar with such popular police training acronyms as OODA (observe, orient, decide, act), BRASS (breathe, relax, aim, slack, squeeze), and perhaps a few military acronyms such as SALUTE (size, activity, location, unit, time, equipment) or even CARVER (criticality, accessibility, recuperability, vulnerability, effect, recognizability).
As a trainer I couldn't find an acronym to suit my specific needs so I created my own: TOPEKA (train, observe, prepare, evaluate, know, and adapt.)
So far, in using TOPEKA with my platoon, I have found it easier to stress the importance of the basics. It provides officers with a useful catch phrase and memory tool. Hopefully in the long run, it will prove to have a broader appeal and turn into something others want to use in their training as well.
Breaking It Down
TOPEKA was inspired in part by Topeka, Kan., the Topeka Police Department, and the unique quality of the name. It is the uniqueness of the name that makes it perfect for an acronym. When you say Topeka, it has a nice ring to it, there is no other word that sounds like it, and therefore it is easily remembered.
I created the TOPEKA acronym for roll call training where time was limited. I wanted something that would tie in everything we had gone over in the past. I also wanted something I could stress in chunks or as one concept at a time.
The TOPEKA acronym is perfect for chunking. All you have to do is deconstruct the word one letter at a time for whatever examples or concepts you want to stress.
It's clear that the meanings found in TOPEKA can cover a multitude of potential topics. That's another valuable aspect of this acronym: its versatility. It becomes what you make of it. On some days you may only want to focus on a certain part of the acronym to drive home a point.
One of my sergeants informed me that on a recent call, one of our officers failed to see something significant and drove right past it. Another deputy commented later, "someone forgot what the O (observe) in TOPEKA stood for." We both had a good laugh because it was the first time the use of the acronym had surfaced outside of training. Someone had actually been listening.