Opinion: Why police trainers must stop teaching the ‘same ole way’

There are real dangers when we fail to regularly evaluate our training programs


Other than bad training, the worst thing we can offer is stale, out-of-date, irrelevant training.

“But it’s the way we’ve always done it.”

Is this a good enough reason to continue doing it that way? Like a long-time marriage, it is easy to fall into a comfortable training routine, but the best thing we can do for those we train is to look at the training we offer through the critical eye of life experience.

There are several organizations you can join that will afford you the opportunity to meet some great trainers.
There are several organizations you can join that will afford you the opportunity to meet some great trainers. (Paolo Grandis, Tadpole Tactics)

The current training hiatus induced by COVID-19 is a prime time to do a little program housekeeping. Not only does this offer us an opportunity to reevaluate our current programs, but it should spur us to come up with new and creative ways to design kickass training that works within the current political climate and ammo shortages.

How training programs become antiquated

To fix a problem, we must recognize the problem, identify the cause of the problem and determine a course of action. So, why do some of our training programs become antiquated? Consider these three reasons:

1. Lack of experience

The most common reason is some instructors simply don’t know what they don’t know. Far too many instructors end their education at the “instructor development” level. At this point, while they may be deemed by their agency as an “instructor,” their knowledge and experience are so limited that they are just barely above the user level. Just like when we’re young, these instructors believe they “know it all.” But without the experience and all the trials and tribulations that go along with it, they are simply regurgitating what they have been told.

As many recruits leave the academy believing they have all the answers, so do new instructors leave their instructor development courses believing they know it all, when in fact, they likely received the government version of one-size-fits-all training. It requires experience to view these lessons with a critical eye. It isn’t until they have plenty of instructor time under their belts do they realize that the development course was just scratching the surface of what a good trainer needs to know. If you desire to be an excellent trainer, you must regularly attend training held outside your agency. The infusion of fresh ideas and experiences of other fellow trainers is crucial in keeping police training programs current and relevant. 

2. Lack of drive

The second most common reason for atrophying training programs is laziness. It requires the right person with the right attitude to really excel as a law enforcement trainer. Along with evaluating our programs, we must evaluate our staff. Is your instructor cadre a strong balance of planners, organizers and doers? Are they motivated to provide their best efforts at every training? Or do they simply check the boxes and say it’s done? When it’s done right, at the end of the day, the trainers and instructors should be exhausted because they gave their all.

3. Lack of autonomy

Lastly, it might be a control issue.

Some agency staff and training administrators may be reluctant to relinquish some of the power they perceive from wielding control over the training programs. Some of this control is understandable. If responsible for a budget, it is reasonable to want input on where those funds are spent. However, if trainers are creative and energetic it is easy to ease those concerns and gain some autonomy with your programs. Prove to the bean counters that you can conduct high-quality training that is realistic, up-to-date and cost-effective.

The other control issue is when an administration fears the unknown. After all, those in charge received the same training, so they may question why change is needed. This will require some finesse to overcome. You want to leap forward while not stepping on toes. True leaders will recognize that times have changed, societal expectations have changed and our personnel has changed. Sometimes, we aren’t only seeking a different means to an end, but a different end altogether.

How to revive your training program

Once the decision has been made to update your current training program, how do you go about it? You have a plethora of inspiration at your fingertips. There are no training problems that someone somewhere hasn’t already solved. Consider these three steps:

1. Peer networking

This can save you a lot of time and energy. Use your connections from neighboring agencies, as well as the contacts you make while attending national and international law enforcement training conferences. If you don’t have these connections, make some. There are several organizations you can join that will afford you the opportunity to meet some great trainers who share your challenges and can help you overcome them.

Find an agency that has a training program that does it better than you. Be humble and set your ego aside. Be willing to admit you don’t have all the answers. Reach out to subject matter experts. Even if you don’t personally know them, send an email. Many are extremely personable and willing to share information. Ask good questions and see what you can glean from their responses. There is a reason such folks are recognized as subject matter experts by courts and trainers throughout law enforcement circles. This kind of networking can be beneficial to your students, your department and your career.

2. Staying current

Tracking current events and court decisions is an excellent way to keep your training relevant and up to date. New precedent is set regularly, especially when it comes to use of force and search and seizure. Search and seizure case law is a deep pool of information, and most LEOs are not as well versed as they should be. Take one of the exceptions to the search warrant requirement and put together some great training that is practical and useful to your officers on the street. Ensure they understand the plain view exception and can adequately explain their lawful authority to search incident to arrest.

There are constant changes in criminal law at the state level. Most officers do not take it upon themselves to read and research such things and could use more training on these topics that are immediately applicable to their working environment.  If this is not taken into consideration when training your staff, you are already behind the curve.

Use your connections from neighboring agencies, as well as the contacts you make while attending national and international law enforcement training conferences to improve your training.
Use your connections from neighboring agencies, as well as the contacts you make while attending national and international law enforcement training conferences to improve your training. (Noel Aher, Oregon Dept of Public Safety Standards & Training)

3. Getting ahead of the tech

Part of the responsibilities of a good trainer is to keep up with technological advances. Innovators are constantly coming up with ways to improve equipment. For example, there is a host of duty-ready optics for handguns. If your agency isn’t already equipped with handgun optics, get the wheels rolling by doing your own T&E. These can help keep your officers and communities safer, but there are policy and training requirements that must be in place before making the change.

Keep in mind that while revamping your training programs, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Build off what exists by keeping what is working and reworking what is not. Make changes knowing that the old way is still there as a backup. If plan A doesn’t work as you had hoped, there is always plan B, or the old “tried and true.” Just make sure your tried and true isn’t just old and blue.

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