The most loaded—and arguably overused—word in modern American lexicon is "misinformation." It's everywhere. It's so pervasive that its very meaning has become diluted, distorted, and distrusted—no irony there whatsoever.

There are many examples of "misinformation" in the reporting of incidents involving law enforcement—most notably the "hands up don't shoot" narrative following the August 2014 fatal shooting in Ferguson, MO—but there have also been misrepresentations of the truth in police training itself.

For example, it's been a long-held belief that Officer James Pence—one of four officers with the California Highway Patrol to be murdered in the Newhall Shooting—had pocketed the spent shell casings in his jacket during the gunfight. The story goes that this practice of "catching the brass" was a training scar from what he and his fellow CHP trainees had done on the square range in an apparent effort to save time in cleanup after the training was over.

It's a great story with important lessons about training scars typically capped off with idioms like "Always train the way you fight" and "Only perfect practice makes perfect." Trouble is, it never actually happened.

Then there's the continued devotion to the "21-foot rule"—that an average attacker could cover approximately 21 feet in the 1.5 or so seconds that it took an average officer with a holstered weapon to place shots on target. Trouble is, it was never intended to be a "rule" at all—an officer isn't suddenly safer from an attacker at 22 feet.

Then there's the steadfast adherence to the idea that Sir Robert Peel wrote and disseminated a set of nine "principles"—and three core ideas on which they are founded—to the Metropolitan Police of London in 1829. Trouble is, he didn't.

Wait. What?

Down the Rabbit Hole

Kerry Avery—owner of Odin Training Solutions—came upon this little nugget of information that Peel himself didn't actually write "Peel's Principles" after seeing something posted online by an academic she follows.

Avery—who holds a Master's in Education from Athabasca University and two certificates in Adult Education from the University of Alberta and Brock University—explains that in essence, Peel's principles were written by Peel's disciples.

"I was shocked, and I fell down the rabbit hole of doing research. Lots of universities and academic institutions still [say] Robert Peel wrote [Peel's Principles], but I did finally find a number of sites that all have the same synopsis—basically, the principles didn't actually come about until like around like the 1950s, 1960s, which was long after [Peel] was gone."

Avery continues, "He did write the basis for policing in what he thought policing should be when he created the London Met, and then academics over the years summarized his writings into Peel's Principles."

Avery says that this particular piece of "misinformation" is rather innocuous, but that it points to the importance for trainers to conduct vigorous research into the materials they're presenting in order to be certain that what they're saying is founded in fact.

"Technically he didn't write them, but there's no harm in that," Avery says. There's no harm being done by essentially giving him credit for writing the principles that he didn't write. The challenge is when we start getting into things that are either harmful or wasting time—that's where we get into the research."

Avery says that there persists one pretty widespread—and as it turns out, potentially unhelpful—myth in law enforcement training.

One Big Training Myth

"In my world of training and development, it's definitely learning styles—this idea that we're either visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learners," Avery says. "The concept that we need to teach to multiple senses is not wrong—multimodal delivery is correct—but this idea that we have a specific learning style, or there's a way that we actually learn better than other ways just isn't true."

Avery continues, "The harmful part is the amount of time that is spent on it. We've all spent time doing the surveys, answering all the questions, identifying what our learning style is. That's a waste of time because it actually does nothing—and then it pigeonholes people. 'I can't learn this way because I'm a visual learner—I can't listen to podcasts because I'm not auditory.' Now people start shutting out areas because they believe that they can't learn a certain way when all of their research shows that that just isn't true."

Avery says it is true that people tend to prefer certain learning styles—some people derive more enjoyment in learning through reading, watching, or doing, but that has nothing to do with how much that person actually learns. In fact, catering to the notion that people learn in certain distinct ways may actually undermine their confidence in their own learning abilities, and place false limitations on what they can (and cannot) accomplish in a particular training setting.

This isn't to say that some training topics aren't best suited to one form of instruction over another. Reading and understanding ballistics tables certainly has merit, but firearms proficiency is achieved through the physical practice of shooting on the square range. Learning the dynamics of gunfighting is best done in force-on-force scenarios and in shoot houses.

But classroom instruction—which is the foundation for practically every element to law enforcement training—should eschew accommodations for "preferred learning styles" and instead favor multi-modal instruction strategies.

Experts in adult learning have found that utilizing different types of stimuli—specifically, visual and audial—helps learners encode information in their brains most effectively.

"We have a ton of research on things like dual-coding—the use of visuals alongside of auditory or speech—that is successful in vast majority of the people," Avery says. "So I wish people would spend more time focusing on having good visuals for your presentation, because now you're linking multiple parts of the brain. One is looking at the pictures and one is listening to the words—that improves learning, that helps us remember, that gives us more ways to draw back on [information]."

Skeptikos and Skepticism

Humankind has a rich history of relying on myth for important life lessons—Icarus and Daedalus inform us on the wisdom of elders, for but one example. There's usefulness in things like Tueller's "21-foot rule" and "Pence's pockets" as teaching tools—as long as the person providing the instruction concedes that the lessons are built on legend.

An ancient Greek school of thought doubted the possibility of real, true, and complete knowledge beyond directly felt experience. This sect of people—followers of the philosopher Pyrrho of Elis—routinely challenged accepted assumptions about what is "known." They were deeply unsatisfied with what was widely held to be "truth" and became known as skeptikos—skeptics.

Contemporary trainers should have a healthy measure of critical thinking—a responsible skepticism—while researching books and articles on which they base their training. The key is building a really good network among other trainers—other academics, even—when building out a curriculum, and diving deep into the rabbit hole of research to determine what is and isn't truth.

Author

Doug Wyllie
Doug Wyllie

Contributing Editor

Doug Wyllie has authored thousands of feature articles, opinion columns, news reports, and tactical tips with the goal of 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).

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Doug Wyllie has authored thousands of feature articles, opinion columns, news reports, and tactical tips with the goal of 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).

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