Did it stick? Evaluating police training effectiveness
How can an agency know whether in-service employee training is actually training department personnel?
Is your employee training working? Good question. How can an agency know whether in-service employee training is actually training department personnel? Planning, pre-testing, testing, demonstration, compliance and anonymous class evaluation can be excellent tools when evaluating police training effectiveness.
Before we delve into three methods to determine police training effectiveness, let us back up a step to the planning stages: What topics will be covered? What are the desired outcomes and how will they be measured? Exploring these issues early on can help flesh out the curriculum and the method of presentation.
Suppose the topic is sexual harassment. The desired outcome is a reduction or cessation of inappropriate conduct. One way to measure the outcome could be comparing the number of complaints about such conduct before and after the training.
Now imagine the topic is vehicle safety. Subtopics could include pursuits, responding to calls, and emergency responses. The core Below 100 tenets “Watch Your Speed” and “Wear Your Belt” could be prominent features. The desired outcome is reducing collisions, injuries and deaths; the measuring device could be statistics, as well as supervisor and peer or self-observation.
Anonymous pre-testing is a valuable tool, particularly to test compliance with safety procedures that may not be detected or disclosed to supervisors. Using the training topics of sexual harassment and vehicle safety, we can easily draft some questions to provide insight into the learner’s recent conduct:
- Have you ever felt uncomfortable (on your own behalf or for someone else) in the workplace due to inappropriate sexual conduct you saw or heard? (a) Yes (b) No
- Have you ever driven too fast in a patrol vehicle? (a) Yes (b) No.
- Do you wear your seatbelt on-duty? (a) Always, (b) Mostly, (c) Rarely (d) Never
Other types of pre-testing questions can be more knowledge-based, with an eye toward testing the learner’s subject matter knowledge before the course and afterward.
3 Ways to Determine Police Training Effectiveness
Once you’ve conducted the training, it’s time to determine whether the training is having the desired effect. Following are three common methods:
- Testing: The traditional written quiz or test relies upon the learner’s ability to recall the information presented in the class – that is, the learner’s short-term retention of the information. (As an example, I passed freshman algebra by successfully retaining the information well enough to pass the tests.)
- Demonstration: The second method of determining police training effectiveness is to assess whether the learner can demonstrate the new skill or knowledge by applying it to the appropriate task or situation. (If we again use my high school algebra class as an example, I have not used algebra since passing the course and could not now demonstrate the simplest algebra concept.) If the in-service training were use of a new CEW device, can the learner safely and appropriately apply the device in role-playing or simulation situations? Can they accurately target lower-center body mass? Can the learner administer a spark test, utilize the drive-stun mode appropriately, and articulate the issues of multiple applications of the device? Demonstrating the skill or use of the knowledge reinforces the information.
- Compliance: The final indicator is whether persons who successfully completed training and demonstrated the knowledge or skill are using it appropriately in their work. Is Officer Doe still “forgetting” to wear his seatbelt? Is Deputy Doe still telling off-color jokes in front of employees who are embarrassed or offended by such humor? If trained personnel show improved compliance a month after training, how is compliance three months later? Six months later? If improvement occurs, that is great, but what if that internal compliance just isn’t there? And how do you really know whether officers are wearing their seatbelts on patrol? That is where a follow-up evaluation and good supervision come into play.
It is a good idea to have learners complete an anonymous questionnaire so you can find out what worked and what did not and revise the training program accordingly. In addition, go back to the planning stage of the course and look at the measuring devices. What information do those metrics provide? Post-course evaluation should not be limited to student input. Instructors and training managers should also evaluate training and share relevant information with supervisors, who can reinforce the message of the training, providing the final puzzle piece to achieving compliance and improving future training.