Training In the Shadow Of A Sacred Cow
By Corporal Mark Croll / PoliceDriving.com
The subject is emergency vehicle operations instruction, but I suppose that all disciplines of knowledge and/or skill could fall prey to the same issue. Everybody reading this has seen the phenomenon. A program gets developed, the standards set, and the instructors trained. The program continues down the tracks originally laid by the programs founders, and few things, if any change. What if the program features a “sacred cow”? You have seen it; perhaps it was the Weaver stance in firearms, or a certain inward twist wrist lock in defensive tactics. But you have seen it. The tactic or technique has been ingrained in the institution or programs culture, and it takes an act of congress to even look at changing it. And those who seek change often fare as well as witches at the stake.
From where I stand this has been the case with shuffle steering. I’m willing to bet that your agency does some version of shuffle steering. Regionally this technique has somehow transcended from a major part of the way we operate our vehicles to a method protected by the instructors with the fervor like none other. In our region we use a version that is anticipatory, the hand consistent with the direction of the turn slides along the wheel to exactly twelve o’clock. If more input is needed past the three o’clock position the opposite hand mirrors the first hand. If they meet at six o’clock the second hand becomes the primary hand. If the hands meet again at twelve o’clock the initial hand takes over again. As you unwind the steering wheel the hands will meet yet again at twelve and six with the initiating hand finishing at twelve o’clock. The advantages of this method are said to be that you will always know when the wheels are straight. It also slows the steering inputs down, making the platform of the vehicle more stable; both of which are as true as the sun setting in the West. It is also true that this skill has been the single largest hurdle to recruits and veterans alike when it comes to proficiency at Emergency Vehicle Operations Course (EVOC). If it seems complex and cumbersome in writing, place yourself in the seat as a new recruit, and trying to absorb all the information during EVOC training.
If the law enforcement community was made of EVOC instructors there would be no issue here. We are a dedicated group of individuals who pride ourselves on our set of skills. We maintain these skills at a very high degree. We also take pride in watching our student’s progress through training. With regard to shuffle steering, I have seen first-hand the frustration in learning this very complicated yet basic skill. I have seen it in many recruits and many veteran officers. Bright, sharp recruits come through the academy, and most struggled with the concept and application. Veteran officers attend training, men and women at the top of their game, suddenly become ham fisted desperately trying to do some version of shuffle steering. Once beyond the gates of the academy or the training venue, the technique as currently taught is almost universally abandoned at the earliest opportunity. This begs the question: Why insist on teaching it? If the barrier to learning and retaining the technique is so great, clearly another solution is needed.
Be it the veteran or the recruit I believe it boils down to a couple of factors:
1. The driver is so pre-occupied with trying to recall this complex technique that it affects whatever he or she is trying to do with the car.
2. When simple frustration occurs with the technique and the driver reverts to what is comfortable.
Attempts to discuss an alternative to the current version of shuffle steering have met great resistance. There are several other widely accepted techniques. The techniques brought up were not new or unproven, nor were we taking training in a backwards direction: Other highly trained, high-performance car control instructors outside the field of police work agree that shuffle steering is a technique best left for the next higher level of training. This next level rarely, if ever comes in our profession.
As a trainer it is indisputable that our first obligation is to the student no matter what their tenure. It is a great disservice not to explore options, infusing the program from time to time with new views and perspectives. Naturally there will be ideas that will not stand on their merits. New ideas and techniques deserve an honest, objective assessment. We owe it to those we serve to seek out concepts that will be grasped and taken into the field. These concepts must be truly retained and carried into duty. We have failed if we train for the moment only.
Does your program have a sacred cow?
What are you willing to do about it?
I strongly suggest we must all have the courage to call “bull” when we see it, and work to change that which needs change. Not change just for the sake of change, but where it is needed.
Corporal Mark Croll is a full-time officer and PoliceDriving.com Associate. He is the administrator of the Police Driving Forum.