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Walking the walk

Credible: Worthy of belief or confidence; trustworthy

Credibility: Something that takes considerable time and effort to achieve, but can be lost in an instant.

In my last article, Sensei versus instructor, I touched on credibility as part of an overall set of requirements that an officer must meet in order to become an effective trainer. But what is credibility and how does one earn it?

Just being a truly effective police officer obviously requires a sizeable amount of credibility, both amongst your peers and the general public. The former is often referred to as ‘professional’ credibility and the latter is often referred to as ‘street cred.’ But how about credibility as an instructor or field-training officer, or what I refer to as ‘trainer cred’?

Arguably one of the biggest issues that any new law enforcement trainer (whether firearms, defensive tactics, FTO, etc) faces is credibility. Even more so is having credibility within one’s own agency. As a popular saying goes, “You’re never a prophet in your own land.” But credibility, like respect, must be earned; it cannot be demanded or implied. To have earned credibility amongst your peers is one of the highest honors you can obtain as an instructor. The second, in my opinion, is having your trainees become more proficient than you due to the quality of your instruction. This is especially true with police officers that are by nature, highly suspicious and often times cynical.

But just how do you earn credibility?

Your ‘cred’ as an instructor, trainer, etc, begins from the day you first became a police officer and stepped into the building on your first day of work. From how you performed in the academy and your field-training program to the day-to-day activities you undertook in your various roles (patrol, investigations, etc), you were being judged and evaluated by your peers and your supervisors. During this period, through conduct and deed, you were either building your resume’ for future credibility as an instructor, or in some cases, undermining your chances altogether (a point, unfortunately, often lost on a few candidates).

Once you become ‘ordained’ as a trainer, the first thing your peers (trainees) in your agency check to see is if you ‘walked the walk’ as a patrol officer/investigator. If so, you’ve got a good foundation on which to build as a trainer. If not, you’ve got a long row to hoe, as most of your message will be lost amidst questions over your character.

As a trainer, you must lead your troops by example. This means being professional in all that you do. For example, I admit to being somewhat neurotic when it comes to spelling. If you submit written work, whether reports or training bulletins, and the material is rife with spelling and glaring grammatical errors, you erode your own credibility as both an officer and instructor. I’m not even going to go into supervisors who sign off on those reports as acceptable.

You don’t have to be perfect, but the standard to which you hold yourself and subsequently perform must be set high. Occasional mistakes show you’re genuine – and human – but consistent mistakes make you appear lazy and unprofessional. You have to inspire your trainees through professionalism to want to listen to what you have to say and to learn what you have to teach. In addition, you must teach them how the material you present relates to myriad situations they will encounter on the street; as well as effective reporting of their actions and how to put those actions into words (articulation). You will probably find that last one to be the hardest of them all.

It also takes a healthy amount of credibility to convince your trainee that they need to know what you’re teaching, as well as how and why it is important for them to know the material. Simply telling an officer that they must be proficient with their handcuffing techniques, for example, is relatively meaningless unless you also explain to them why it is important in context with their duties.

Your disciplines aside, realize there is much more to being a competent and effective trainer than passing the course and showing a few techniques or passing along some information. You must earn the respect of your peers and trainees through professionalism and dedication on a daily basis in everything that you do, not only in the message you wish to impart. Help yourself by finding trainers that inspire you and learn as much as you can from them as you grow.

Being a trainer is akin to being a sergeant, in as much as both are leaders. However, just as the title of sergeant doesn’t mean a thing if the individual bearing that title does not practice good leadership skills, the title of trainer means little if that individual does not back it up with competence and credibility.

In closing, I leave you with a story from the legendary Bruce Lee. Lee sits with his master as he pours Bruce a cup of tea. Bruce watches as the cups fills to overflowing, yet the Master continues to pour. When Bruce comments on his observation, the Master explains to Bruce how the teacup represents the mind and the tea, knowledge. The Master chides Bruce to ‘empty his cup’ so he may from time to time refill it with more knowledge.

If you think you already know everything, you have no room for more. Empty your cup.

John is a 25-year veteran police officer and a patrol lieutenant from Charleston, IL. A member of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association, John has trained officers both in and outside his agency for more than 20 years; both nationally and abroad. He continues to teach and learn at the street-patrol level with the primary emphasis on officer-safety tactics, risk management, leadership and a philosophy of proactive police service, individual readiness and professionalism. He has dedicated himself to awareness, education, research, training and motivation specifically tailored at saving officers lives, families and careers. John continues his mission after his tour via his work as a trainer, consultant, subject-matter expert and author, and core instructor for the nationally recognized Below 100 officer-safety initiative. email.

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