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One-Size-Fits-All Training

Some of the greatest threats faced by female officers are made worse by trainers who treat them like men.

February 24, 2011  |  by - Also by this author

Photo: Newscom.
Photo: Newscom.

Spatial Perception

Most law enforcement rookies enter some form of apprenticeship program that entails both academy and patrol training. Often, this apprenticeship is consciously conducted in as gender-neutral an environment as possible.

But should it be?

Vicky Farnham is vice president of Defense Training International and co-author of "Teaching Women to Shoot, A Law Enforcement Instructor's Guide" and "Women Learning to Shoot, A Female Officer's Guide." Farnham suspects that in their determination to treat women the same as men, law enforcement agencies may inadvertently give them the short shrift. And nowhere is this more pronounced than in firearms training.

Farnham cites presumptions associated with spatial relationships as a prime example of an ongoing inability of law enforcement trainers to recognize fundamental differences in the biological makeup of men and women.

"For many men, it's intuitive to look at the gun and figure out what this lever does, what that lever does, and move forward," Farnham observes. "Range instructors often accept this as a given for all students, but it's not. Men naturally tend to be more intuitive about how things work."

Citing natural encoding, Farnham notes that the caveman's "hands-on" approach to rock throwing gave him the "hunter/gatherer" edge. "Our ancestors' desire to chow down on a wooly mammoth depended upon his ability to wield a rock. The heft of the rock...the velocity with which it might be hard it would impact. These were mechanical things that men routinely dealt with," Farnham explains.

Deprived of such evolutionary baggage, Farnham contends that women are less intuitive when it comes to mechanical

"The female brain can come to understand how hard to throw that rock," Farnham emphasizes. "But generally speaking, somebody has to explain it to her. If not in words, then through a diagram or demonstration. Because our capability in understanding spatial relationships is spread throughout our brain. With men, the right side of their brain is set up to understand spatial relationships intuitively."

One of the most conspicuous examples of where this need for spatial education of women officers becomes apparent is at the firing range. Many instructors just don't want to take the time to answer female recruits' questions nor do women recruits want to ask the questions, which they fear may embarrass them.

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