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4 keys to creating a UOF ‘training day’ for civilians

Because hope is not a strategy and luck is not a tactic, police agencies are well-served when the training unit builds a special use-of-force training day for the public, the press, and the politicians

How many times have you as a law enforcement officer said to yourself or a colleague, “If only the public, the press, and the politicians really understood police work...” If you’re like most cops, you’ve said it more than once. But what have you (or your agency) really done to teach those audiences about issues they don’t understand?

Captain Brad McKeone told Police1 that in Coral Springs (Fla.), the training cadre put together a session in which about a half dozen reporters and camera operators underwent about three hours of training in which they had to make quick decisions about use-of-force in stressful, dynamic, and rapidly unfolding situations.

The effort has already born great fruit, with news segments airing by a couple of reporters who admitted that they learned a lot about police use of force. Before proceeding further, check out the videos and continue on to learn about how you can implement a similar effort at your department.

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Proactively Teaching Use-of-Force Issues
McKeone explained, “With everything going on in the media — with people showing small video clips of someone being taken into custody or having an interaction with law enforcement, whether it be a verbal confrontation up to a use-of-force situation — we wanted to come up with a program to expose members of our community, members of the media, and the next phase of this is going to be inviting our local politicians to show them that what you see on TV is only a short snippet of what’s really taking place.”

The department spent several months building a compelling set of scenarios that would answer some of the questions many people have about what happens on the street. McKeone said that following all the drills, the trainers did a quick debrief with the reporters, asking them “What happened? What were you thinking?”

Among the compelling comments from the press who participated, McKeone recalled one reporter who — after completing a scenario in which a very large African American officer portrayed a violently resisting subject — said something to the effect of “To be honest with you, I don’t even know what the guy’s race was. All I saw was a large individual coming at me, and I was in fear of my life, and that’s why I shot him.”

McKeone said that a situation in which a female officer played the role of the subject generated some interesting feedback as well.

“We had a smaller-stature female and you look at her and you might think, ‘How hard can it be to take her into custody? How hard can she fight? She’s a small female.’ But then you see someone who’s not even trying to hurt you — who’s just tensing up and resisting — and you had one person who said she’d never be able to get that subject into custody. We had some of the male reports who had to stop because they were completely exhausted from fighting with this 120-pound female.”

McKeone added that the participating press said things like “We never realized how quickly things change” and “We didn’t know how quickly you have to make a decision.”

4 Keys to Build a Similar Program
If your department has an in-service training cadre and a sufficiently motivated cop who can drive the effort to educate the masses, you too can put on a similar training. Follow these four steps to get started:

1. Steal from the nightly news. Try to use as many real-life situations as you can to make simulated scenarios as current as possible.

“Build your scenarios from real-world incidents as closely as you can. They don’t have to be direct replications of a scenario, but try to do things that people can relate to. Coincidentally for us, the night before we did this training in our city, the city adjacent to us had a shooting of an unarmed homeless man — literally the night before — and in one of our scenarios we had exactly that type of situation where the TASER failed and they end up having to use lethal force.”

2. Carefully cast your characters. Your scenarios will not be as successful if the role players are not sufficiently convincing so you have to find people who can effectively act the part of the bad guy.

“That really is a unique skill that some people have and others simply don’t,” McKeone said.

3. Do a test run (or two). You can use in-service training time to refine your scenarios (and coach up your role players). McKeone said that in the first few months of 2015, the agency added this use-of-force / decision-making segment to their Citizens Police Academy and were able to get the training ready for the press and the politicians.

“They were our test group to see how long things take,” McKeone said. “Sometimes the media won’t come out to something that’s long, so we were able to cut things and focus in on the scenarios that the participants will get the most out of.”

4. Build relationships with the press. If you have an active public information officer (or entity), start right away to meet one-on-one with as many media members as you can before you even unveil the training.

“We actually have a pretty good relationship with the press here, so when we started calling around, the reaction was pretty instantaneous that they would be coming out to participate,” McKeone said.

The Future in Florida
The Coral Springs Police Department already has a range day for local politicians during which they examine new equipment they’re looking at acquiring and explain — by demonstration — why the gear should get budgeted. McKeone said that during the next event, the training cadre is going to build the scenario-based training into the experience.

“The politicians — both in our city with our commissioners and in the immediate area like senators and congressmen — get complaints about police, so we want them to have the firsthand knowledge. It was the same thing with the press. The message we wanted to get to them was, ‘We understand you have a job to do. I think law enforcement has to do a better job of getting information out there more expeditiously,” McKeone said.

“They’re going to talk to somebody. Time and time again they get information that is proven to be wrong. However, because it was the first information given, it becomes the truth, no matter how wrong it is and what you say afterward. Maybe through your experiences going through this you will see there are other questions you can ask and you can dig a little bit deeper than the first account of a story,” McKeone said.

Some of the best training in law enforcement is scenario-based, with officers as role players in plain clothes, modeling the behaviors of subjects they see every day on the streets. Those are behaviors which most people don’t have a ton of exposure to. As law enforcement officers and trainers, we can do a better job of helping police critics better understand the incidents for which they criticize the police.

Doug Wyllie writes police training content on a wide range of topics and trends affecting the law enforcement community. Doug was a co-founder of the Policing Matters podcast and a longtime co-host of the program.