Improve training to improve officer performance

Training programs should be required to keep up with best practices and national trends around law enforcement operations


By Adam Blanton and Brandon Krofta

Every law enforcement agency must have a strong training program that provides constant progressive training as well as remedial training. Training programs should be required to keep up with best practices and national trends around law enforcement operations. Our world is constantly evolving and so should police training. 

Here are some suggestions on how to accomplish this:

1. Daily lessons

Training divisions can push out daily lessons that are disseminated at roll call and during shift. Studies have shown that short, frequent training improves performance and skills retention. These quick lessons can make a tremendous impact on officers’ careers.

Roll call training should ask provocative questions or pose challenging scenarios to help develop critical thinking skills. Training must be interactive; you cannot just hand an officer a piece of paper or an email and expect them to read and comprehend the information. Ask questions about the lessons and spark debates. A simple way to spark discussion is to pose a scenario and then ask officers:

  • What happened?
  • What went well?
  • What didn’t go well?
  • How would you have handled the situation?

2. Reading assignments

Reading is a way to stimulate thought and provoke creative and critical thinking. Give officers readings from scholarly articles, books, newspapers and magazines, then ask your officers to discuss the content the next day at roll call. For agencies that are not running from call to call, this could be done during shift. 

An email of a reading could be sent at the beginning of shift and towards the end, the group could discuss the reading or offer contributions. This can be done in a matter of 10-20 minutes.  

Scholars and leaders alike note the importance of reading and its ability to prepare the reader for situations that they have never seen before. By learning from someone else’s story, we can truly ensure that there is no such thing as unprecedented.

3. Comprehensive training

Conduct training on a monthly or quarterly basis at a minimum that ties the daily lessons together and evaluates comprehension. These trainings should emphasize real-world scenarios that blend psychomotor skills with legal, moral and ethical decisions.

In a recent article, Force Science Institute founder Dr. William Lewinski writes about the importance of interdisciplinary and integrated training, best achieved through scenario-based training that presents officers with real-life situations. Studies have proven that it is not necessarily the content of the training but the delivery that creates long-term learning.

To understand why scenario-based training is such a successful tool, we must first better understand human intelligence.

Science has shown that the human brain can separate up to seven things at a time during a normal stress load. Science also shows that the brain's ability to separate items decreases to just three items during increased stress or extreme boredom.

This is important to keep in mind because when things get extremely volatile or stressful our brains automatically shrink in abstract capacity. The reason for this is because during normal stress load we are able to engage the prefrontal cortex of the brain which is largely responsible for critical thinking and problem-solving. 

As stress begins to mount, our thinking shifts from the prefrontal cortex to the limbic system or “reptilian brain.” The limbic system is often referred to as our primal brain and is related to the fight, flight, or freeze reactions. The limbic system, which is engaged at roughly 115 heartbeats per minute, is the part of the brain that focuses on survival. The limbic system is not just triggered because we're in a fight for our lives but by anything that the brain begins to recognize as out of the ordinary or stressful. 

The human brain is incredibly efficient and will recognize changes in the environment, as well as physiological changes, and immediately begin to assess the situation and coordinate the next move based on the desire to survive. The brain will then react in an instinctual way to ensure survival.

Scenario-based training allows us to put officers into real-world scenarios with stress. When officers are able to see these scenarios in real-time it adds stress that is difficult to replicate in static training. When we increase stress and add in multiple cognitive challenges, we trigger the limbic system and begin to shut down the thought processing center of our brain. 

It may seem that we have juxtaposed our goals, but in fact, we allow the officer to create a mental database of actions, which is what we can describe as instincts while desensitizing them to stress. By putting these officers in a very similar physiological state as they would find themselves in real life, we can begin to build instinct and teach the body to stave off the limbic system response and retain control of the thought processing center of the brain.

It is important to note that trainers or evaluators should not be overly critical of the officers or spend a great deal of time breaking each training down. We say this because far too often valuable training time is lost when we breakdown a troubling situation. The point of this exercise is to gauge the success of the lessons that have been implemented and to see what you have taught that sticks with the officer and what has not. This can also be a great time to see if your training needs to be retooled or corrected. Make notes of the training and events and use these to key in on your future training. This allows your training to be progressive and always building. 

Closing

By using concepts such as daily lessons, readings, and comprehensive or benchmark training, we can begin to combat some of the many pitfalls that exist in modern policing today. It is true that we can change the landscape of our profession by taking small conscious steps every day to be better prepared and better understood. As the Greek poet and soldier Archilochus said, "We don't rise to the level of our expectations; we fall to the level of our training."

About the authors

Patrolman Blanton is an eight-year veteran of law enforcement at a moderate-sized sheriff’s department in Indiana. Patrolman Blanton is a certified veteran K9 handler of a dual-purpose patrol Malinois. Blanton is a decorated patrol officer and maintains active nursing licensure in both the State of Ohio and Indiana. Patrolman Blanton is a certified emergency vehicle operation instructor, field training officer, IADLEST de-escalation instructor, and a certified Drug Recognition Expert.

Patrolman Brandon Krofta is a seven-year veteran of law enforcement at a moderate-sized sheriff’s department in Indiana. Patrolman Krofta is a decorated patrol officer and SWAT officer with a multi-jurisdictional team. Krofta is a certified LE firearms instructor and field training officer. Krofta is also an area leading instructor in active shooter and soft target recognition training.

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