Why making connections matters during police training

Taking a 'block and silo' approach to police training does not adequately prepare officers for the complexities of virtually every call for service

Today’s police officer wears a lot of hats and, as a result, receives training in multiple areas. Because of this, many agencies resort to a “block and silo” approach to training. In other words, a block of training is dedicated to each topic until officers are inundated with information about everything from firearms to de-escalation, first aid to defensive tactics.

The downside to this style of training is that it can be difficult for officers to see how the skills they learn during each training block complement each other. In virtually every call for service, officers need to use multiple skills, so why aren't we training cops that way?

One way to address this police training deficit is to make connections between the various skills we train officers in through studying concepts that overlap those skills. In this article, I would like to connect two high-profile training topics that are paramount to officer and citizen safety: Defensive tactics and defensive driving.

Recognizing recurring themes in police training is valuable.
Recognizing recurring themes in police training is valuable. (Photo/Tyson Kilbey)

The Reactionary Gap and the Space Cushion

Most agencies train officers to understand the value of maintaining a sufficient reactionary gap when dealing with potentially volatile subjects. Although it’s not always feasible, extra caution should be exhibited when someone is within the appropriate reactionary gap (usually closer than six to eight feet).

This same concept is taught in the context of defensive driving, and for many of the same reasons. When driving, leaving a sufficient amount of space between the officer’s car and the vehicle in front of them gives them additional time to respond to rapidly evolving situations.

Equipment Checks

Prior to their shift starting, officers are trained to inspect the various defensive tools they have on their duty belt or load-bearing vest. They are also trained to inspect their vehicles to ensure they have the required equipment and are functional. In both cases, these checks could contribute to a successful resolution to a serious situation or help avoid a vehicle accident.

Disengagement Options and Escape Routes

In defensive tactics training, officers are taught to evaluate when to disengage as an option. This could be to deploy a tool or wait for backup officers.

In defensive driving, the driver is taught to locate potential escape routes in the event of an abrupt stop or other hazard they may be confronted with on the roadway.

Either way, these two valuable concepts apply to both topics.

Maintaining Control

In both disciplines, an extremely important concept is the ability of the officer to maintain reasonable control over the situation. This translates into a higher likelihood of a successful resolution.

In defensive tactics, a well-trained officer maintaining control is less likely to use excessive force in a given incident. In defensive driving, maintaining control of the vehicle is essential to avoid collisions.

In both of these cases, it isn’t necessarily the “toughest” officer or the officer who can drive the fastest that succeeds, but instead the officer who understands how to maintain control of the situation.

Knowing Laws and Policies

Knowing relevant use-of-force laws, as well as traffic laws, is an absolute must. Furthermore, officers must be extremely familiar with their individual department’s policy on these topics. This not only improves their ability to make safe and reasonable decisions, it protects them from liability in these two oftentimes hotly contested subjects.

Recognizing recurring themes in police training is valuable because it helps officers use general concepts from one area of training, and subsequently apply them to other areas they may not be as familiar with. Training becomes more relevant and impactful when an officer realizes they can take the tools and skills they learn in one area and use it in a variety of contexts, which helps maximize training time and improve overall officer efficiency.

Train hard and be safe!

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