Returning to a post-COVID world
How to get officers back up to speed
Gordon Graham here. I recently read an article by Todd Fletcher regarding revisiting your firearms training post-COVID 19. I would like to expand on his thinking in this piece. The ultimate point I want to make is that the issue of “refreshing perishable skills” is not just limited to police firearms.
Let me start with this. My mother was a genius. Although she had very little formal education she thought differently and as a kid, growing up “summer vacation” was anything but. My mom’s view was that “an idle mind is the Devil’s playground,” so those three months of vacation became “summer school” for me and my brother, with a robust reading program in place.
Brookings has covered the “summer learning loss” that occurs across our nation. In some studies up to a 30% loss of knowledge occurs between June and September. Sadly, some kids take months to re-capture that knowledge when the new school year starts, and I am fearful that this could increase the “knowledge gap” between the U.S. and other nations that do not have three-month vacations.
Re-introducing cops to patrol work
Why am I boring you with this? When I was active in law enforcement, we had cops get seriously hurt who ended up being off duty for a long period of time. When they came back to work there was no “retraining” program or “acclimation period” to re-introduce them to field patrol work; they came back and immediately returned to doing the complex high-risk jobs they did before.
During the years of the war in Iraq, I knew a lot of cops who served in the National Guard who were deployed for long periods overseas. Too often I witnessed their coming back stateside on a Friday and going back to work as a street cop the following Monday with no retraining, testing or acclimation period. Going from a world of being shot at daily, constantly being fearful of IEDs and any vehicle coming near you, with combat-related “rules of engagement” to a relatively peaceful job as a street cop with no acclimation period, no retraining or testing is very risky – and I believe a “plaintiff lawyer's dream” should there be a collision or officer-involved shooting.
With more women coming on the job in the 80s and 90s we had women take pregnancy leave – some taking a year off – and then coming back to work – again with no acclimation period, testing or retraining.
While I cannot point to any “specific tragedy” caused by any of this I viewed this then and now as a “problem lying in wait.” On a personal note, I went down hard on my department motorcycle in 1981 and came back to work a year later with no one being concerned about my skill level. It took me a while to get my “officer safety” and “defensive driving” skills back up to speed where I again felt comfortable doing my job.
The post-COVID world
All of this brings us to today in the almost "post-COVID” world. Todd Fletcher did a great job of talking about firearms skills in his writing, but what about vehicle operations? What about “tactical awareness”? What about other “high-risk” activities? There is also the issue of re-indoctrination training if an agency is bringing back retired cops to backfill positions.
I decided to reach out to some of the Police1 columnists to find out how their agencies handled this process.
- “Anytime an officer had a long absence and needed some time to re-adapt and get re-acclimated, they would hit the streets with other officers. A long absence can play on an officer's confidence. Sometimes major changes in policy, technology and equipment have occurred and those returning officers need to be updated. This period of re-acclimation may take only a few days or weeks, but it’s a valuable extra effort on behalf of an officer, who probably won't ask for it but will appreciate it. This would also include a refresher on firearms and defensive tactics.” – Lt. Dan Marcou
- "After long absences from injury, we tailored training to include a Continuing Professional Training (CPT) week. After a return to duty from a shooting or as a fitness for duty evaluation, we sent officers to the police academy for refresher courses in firearms, use of force, defensive tactics and if relevant, Emergency Vehicles Operations Course (EVOC). In all of these situations, training and immersion back to the field are necessary to ensure good decision-making for the safety and well-being of the officer, their colleagues and the public." – Deputy Chief Jim Dudley
- “A policy for re-acclimation is something I've thought about often. I'm on our Peer Support Team and I think assigning someone to those folks after a long hiatus should be mandatory. It's also imperative that we don't make that officer feel like a rookie again by putting them in an FTO situation. There should be a program in place that everyone understands (written in policy) that is more like a ride-along or a ‘re-orientation’ period where the officer in question dresses in full uniform and rides with a fellow officer with no restrictions. This should NOT be an FTO, as that would be degrading. It should just be an experienced officer possibly chosen by the returning officer.” – Lt. Warren Wilson
If your department is not doing these things then maybe you who serve as supervisors and managers can get something started in your agency to ensure that all “perishable skills” are addressed prior to putting personnel back into their high-risk jobs.
Let me know how your agency handles re-orientation. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.