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How police trainers can keep their students coming back

In order to ensure that officers continue to reap maximum benefits from their training, it is the trainers’ responsibility to demand from themselves the maximum possible levels of preparation, credibility, and current material

Recently while teaching a portion of a Force Options Simulator Instructor course, I commented to the class that any instructor who had attended a basic instructor development course had been asked the question, “What qualities define a great instructor?” Rather than beating this dead horse, I simply reversed the question. I asked them to outline what defines a great student. In other words, what do we as trainers expect from our students? The answers I received were numerous, but synonymous. “Be engaged,” “focus on the task,” “be respectful of the instructor and others,” “Don’t be disruptive.”

All are great answers, but how do we as trainers extract these qualities from our students? Further, how do we keep them coming back? After all, of all the best practices in training, keeping them coming back is certainly toward the top of the list.

Any basic instructor development course covers the acronym RIDEM:


We are all familiar with these concepts; however, I have found another favorite, particularly when applied to law enforcement personnel. I operate under the acronym, WIIFM:


Whether teaching Information Systems or Advanced Firearms, most people ask the same universal question, “Why am I here, and what am I going to get out of this?” A large portion of capturing and retaining our audiences is salesmanship. Our ability to sell the topic is paramount to retention and application of the material. Two keys to success are remaining current in the topic, and instructor credibility. Teaching veteran officers the same material they received in the academy, utilizing the exact same format and delivery, is a recipe for failure. Current trends, statistics, and examples of the concept being applied, allows the officer-students the opportunity to place themselves in the situation.

Who Is This Guy?
In order for either of the above acronyms to be successful, the lead trainer must be able to establish credibility. Exaggerated resumes, embellished war stories and other attempts to fool your audience are most likely to be met with outward disdain. That being said, there are multiple ways to establish one’s self as qualified and credible. Years of experience, certain assignments, or years spent training in a discipline such as martial arts are all great ways to rise to the required level.

In the world of law enforcement trainers, one area that is sometimes overlooked is the trainer’s pre-police background. Most veteran officers will accept life experience over someone with a folder full of certificates. Although a certain level of credibility can be established during initial introductions, the actions of the instructor speak volumes regarding his/her overall credibility and experience.

Stay Current
As an academy coordinator, I faced this question more than once, “When I retire, will I lose my teaching position?” As an agency-specific academy, the overwhelming majority of our instructors were working law enforcement professionals. My answer was always the same: if you stay current, you may continue to teach.

Finding time to attend seminars, training, becoming involved in an industry, joining associations, researching incident de-briefings and staying on top of current case law is a daunting task. Add family commitments and work load and it may seem impossible. For trainers, however, at least some constant professional development is imperative. I once trained with a well-known firearms training firm. Being a firm believer in fundamentals reinforcement, I chose to attend this course again some five years later. The material was identical, including the instructor’s jokes. While I expected a certain level of repetitiveness, I also hoped for a percentage of updated information. A diligent practitioner will constantly work to reinforce previously learned material. Coming away with one fresh idea would have justified the course tuition.

We place high expectations on our students (and peers) as they enter a training environment — we owe it to them to be worthy of their “becoming engaged,” and their “focus.” Trainers have an immense responsibility. In order to keep our students safe, we have to keep them coming back.

Ken Hardesty served seven years in the U.S. Marine Corps before deciding to pursue a career in law enforcement. He has served continuously for fourteen years in large California agencies. His assignments include Detention, Patrol, Field Training Officer, Specialist Officer, Academy Recruit Training Officer, Basic Academy Coordinator and In-Service Training Officer. Ken is California POST certified to teach Firearms, Defensive Tactics, Chemical Agents, First Aid/CPR and Patrol Response to Active Shooter. Additional certifications include, National Rifle Association Tactical Shooting Instructor, Surefire Low Light Instructor and PepperBall Instructor. He is a court-certified expert in Illegal Weapons, and serves as a subject matter expert for the State of California in the areas of Firearms and Chemical Agents. Ken teaches Incident Response to Terrorist Bombings for the Department of Homeland Security as well as Leadership and Firearms/Chemical Agents Program Evaluation for the California Commission on POST. Ken is Charter Member and on the Board of Advisors for NLEFIA. Ken enjoys spending time with family and is the proud father of two.

Contact Ken Hardesty.