Every year—or so it seems—there's one massive and mighty area of focus that dominates the discussion among police trainers. Sometimes it's the same focus for several years in a row, like it's been of late with the matter of teaching de-escalation tactics and techniques.
There are obvious areas of focus for police training for a reason—there is an obvious need. Recognizing and responding appropriately to mentally or emotionally disturbed persons, for example, is a regular occurrence for nearly every agency, so training must be provided for those incidents.
Ambush attacks on officers are on the rise, so counter-ambush tactics must be taught and practiced. New tools introduced into the inventory—everything from radios to less-lethal devices—need to be mastered. Changes to policies and procedures need to be memorized. The list goes on and on.
Countless hours are spent attending train-the-trainer seminars. Slide presentations are subsequently built and branded as "a unique approach" to the subject at hand. Drills are developed and deployed at academies and in-service training.
But there are also things that merit the attention of the training cadre that may—without careful examination and purposeful contemplation—be less obvious.
POLICE spoke recently with three internationally recognized police trainers to get their thoughts on this question—what follows is a short summary of those conversations.
Making Good Decisions
Brian Willis—who serves as the deputy executive director for the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA) and president of Winning Mind Training—says that the fundamental skill of decision making is sometimes overlooked in favor of what the resulting effect ends up being.
Willis says, "De-escalation is an outcome, based on decisions that are made by all parties involved in an incident from start to finish. We've been lured into this feeling that de-escalation is about words. What we need to do is train decision-making."
Willis says that trainers need to get away from telling trainees what to do, and instead ask them what they can do.
"There's a difference between the words could and would—there's only one letter difference but there's a huge difference, I think, in the implication," Willis says. "If I say to you, 'What would you do?' that word implies that there's a right answer. But if I say to you, 'What could you do?' it implies that there's a multitude of possibilities on how to fix this problem."
Willis continues, "Now we can talk lawful authority, we can talk about tactics, we can talk about skills."
Duty to Intervene
Dan Marcou—a law enforcement trainer with 33 years of experience as a highly-decorated officer and the author of numerous books, including "Street Survival II, Tactics for Deadly Encounters"—says that among the many physical and psychological skills an officer must have on the streets is the ability to prevent a fellow officer from potentially precarious actions.
"One of the things that I trained in use of force was to physically stop an officer who's 'losing it,'" Marcou says. "An officer who's 'losing it' is going to do damage to every officer there—and we've discovered that sometimes that'll be multiplied nationwide."
Marcou refers to what he calls "officer overdrive" and suggests that everyone on patrol should be trained to recognize it and communicate with one another in something of a code to keep everyone under control.
"When you'd see somebody who was starting to let the suspect get under his skin—you knew the person well enough and you could see the temperature rising—we'd give the code, 'They're they want you on the radio.' That was the code, which means, 'You're losing it—I'll take it from here.'"
Marcou says that if this is properly trained it can save peoples' careers. He suggests that it can be taught in scenario- and reality-based training and also in the classroom setting.
Marcou concludes, "I did it in my ethics classes, where we did role plays and scenarios, but it always would start with an isolation exercise, giving them first a correct response that kept them safe physically, legally, and emotionally."
Training as Recruiting
John Bostain—who spent 13 years at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Glynco (GA) before founding his own Command Presence, LLC training company—says that one of the areas of focus for police trainers should be the quality and quantity of training itself.
"I think people don't realize the role of training in retaining your officers," Bostain says. "Everybody thinks of people jumping agencies for money. We're finding absolutely that is not the case unless it's a big, big, hike like in area of $20,000 signing bonus. As a general rule, they're not jumping switching agencies because of money. They're switching agencies because of culture. That is the number one thing."
Bostain says that young recruits should be given training opportunities that put them on a path upward in the profession, hopefully within that agency, which ultimately has a positive impact on not just the individual's career, but the department's own succession planning.
"I'm not talking about mandatory training," Bostain says. "I'm talking about providing officers training in areas that they're interested in. That is a retention issue. If you won't do it, other agencies with better culture will."
Bostain concludes, "Recruiting and retention in law enforcement has to be like Division I schools going after the best athletes in the country."
An Open Discussion
We're now nearly a full month into 2022, and in many places the training agenda has been all but cemented into place. However, it would be prudent for police leaders—and training cadres—to create time and space in which they can address some of the not-so-obvious areas of focus for training thier officers.
Ask, "Why do I know what I think I know? Upon what evidence do I make that conclusion? Is there other evidence—either intentionally or errantly ignored—that might alter my thinking, and consequently, the training I'm providing?" How can I weave those finding into my existing training?"
Have an open discussion with every stakeholder—from line-level officers all the way up to the chief of police, and even including citizen review boards and elected leaders—to unearth those training opportunities that would otherwise remain hidden from view.
Chances are you'll be glad you did.