The Importance of In Service Training... Even for the Chief
Sgt. Betsy Brantner Smith
You’re out of the academy, done with field training and out on your own. You may be just off probation, ten years into the job, a detective, a supervisor, a manager; you may even be the chief, but chances are, you’re hoping to never have to sit in a classroom again. After all, isn’t most of what we learn in law enforcement “on the job” training? You probably learn something new almost every day just by being at work (and if you don’t, you’re not paying attention), but here’s a few reasons why you should look forward to, embrace, and even seek out in service training.
The Nature of Perishable Skills
Motor skills are by their very nature perishable. They require some form of repition or practice to maintain or improve the level of performance for each and every skill. Skills that will be performed under stress will require a higher level of repetition or intensity during their initial development and will still require constant “maintenance” through physical or mental repetition; ideally a combination of both. The old adage that you never forget how to ride a bike is true; however riding a police mountain bike down a flight of stairs takes it to a whole other level. And once you learn those police bike skills, as any IPMBA instructor will tell you, if you don’t consistently use and/or practice them, you won’t be able to perform them well, especially under stress.
“Routine” Can Either Train or De-Train Us
Routine is invisible by its nature, whatever you repeat will become your norm. If you repeat bad habits they will become second nature, if you repeat good ones, they too, will become “routine.” Repetition is repetition, and your brain doesn’t know the difference unless you make a conscious effort to eliminate the bad habits and replace them with solid tactics. Does “practice make perfect?” NO! As veteran police trainer and author Dave Smith tells his students: “Perfect Practice Makes Perfect.” Make sure that you don’t let the routine nature of some of our job functions, like making traffic stops, answering routine calls, even driving, “de-train” you into becoming complacent.
Lead by Example
What if you’re the boss? Even if you’re the Chief of a fairly large agency and it’s likely that you’ll never be in the position to handcuff a suspect ever again, do not neglect your in-service hours. Be the first one on the mat, be the first one in the range, sit in the front row at report writing class, be the first one to learn how to use the new booking system, and make sure your command staff does the same. When line level personnel see the bosses going to and getting excited about in service training, they will be more likely to do the same.
Cops tend to thrive on competition, but our society has spent a generation or two trying to downplay and diminish it. Don’t let this happen to your agency. Reward the officer who had the fastest time in speed cuffing class or the team who had the best collective score on the range. In fact, go out on a limb and have the commanders vs. the patrol officers in a shooting competition; the “losers” buy the “winners” a round of coffee and doughnuts the next morning. There is nothing wrong with healthy, well-managed, light-hearted competition to make in service training more fun, not to mention more effective. Performing under the “stress” of competition has great benefits to the learner, do not eliminate it from your training.
Don’t Make It All About “Bats and Guns”
Not all in service training is tactical in nature. If you’re a line level employee, is there something you’d really like to learn about but don’t know where to find the information? I know agencies that have held in service training on retirement planning and the pension system, basic fitness and nutrition, stress management, and many other “out of the box” topics. After a string of internal affairs issues, my department tasked my supervisory team to come up with in service training to give employees the skills to intervene in each other’s bad behavior, both on and off duty; it was extremely well-received and helped the department heal from a particularly difficult year.
Bring In the Civilians
Because so much of our in service training tends to be tactically oriented, we often leave out our civilian employees or provide them with separate training. Civilians, especially dispatchers, should be included in almost every non “hands on” class that sworn personnel attend. It’s also a good idea to allow the dispatchers to observe any simulation training you may conduct. Watching officers make deadly force decisions on the firearms simulator or search and clear a building during active shooter scenarios will help your dispatchers better understand what they are hearing on the radio and how they need to respond during an actual critical incident. Bringing sworn and civilian supervisors together for a leadership class can do a lot to bring consistency and cohesiveness to an organization.
Don’t Make “Remedial” Classes a Shameful Thing
Not everyone learns at the same pace or retains everything the first (or fifth or tenth) time. If you or someone else needs additional time on the range or in the classroom, realize that adult learners are a very diverse breed. If you’re the one managing the training function, don’t make “remedial” training shameful or painful for your employee. Find out what they need, why they aren’t learning, what might motivate them and then do what you and the organization can to help them. Managed properly, in service training can boost morale, help build and strengthen teams, and improve the performance of everyone, even those who need a little extra help.
What If Your Agency Won’t Provide Additional Training?
Every week I talk to police employees who tell me “I’d love to go to that class” or “I’d love to learn how to do that” but that “the department just won’t send me.” If that’s true, then bite the bullet and pay for it yourself. Some of the best firearms training I ever received was at a pistol class I paid for myself. Instead of a new hunting rifle, an expensive new purse, or a weekend getaway, use the money for a class that may help save your life someday. Nearly 50% of the attendees at the Calibre Press “Street Survival” seminar pay their own way. Make a deal with your boss: if you pay for the class, will they give you the training days? It never hurts to ask, and the boss may appreciate your initiative. There are also many police associations that will allow you attend their conferences for free if you volunteer to help with the conference. Make training and learning a priority in your life, even if the department doesn’t. And if you’re lucky enough to work for an agency that does, take advantage of every minute of in service training you can get. Whether you’re a brand new rookie or you’re a 20-year chief, you are always a student and there is always something new to learn.