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Take your law enforcement training to the next level

Follow these tips to enhance the training experience you offer officers


AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

Now more than ever, there is a renewed emphasis on quality training for law enforcement officers. Both newer and more experienced officers are more open to training because they realize that without it, they could face legal and financial consequences, intense public scrutiny, and severe physical injury or death. With this increased awareness of the need for training comes tremendous responsibility for law enforcement trainers.

This article reviews ways law enforcement trainers can enhance their police training programs, optimize their time and meet future demands of law enforcement training. My primary area of emphasis is on use of force topics, but many of the tips can be applied to a vast array of training subjects.

Set the tone from the start

One of the first ways to enhance any training course is to compose an excellent course description that lays out the objectives and explains the method in which they will be achieved.

Beyond that, if possible, create short videos of the essential skills to share with officers before they attend the course. This answers some of the questions officers may have about the training, and it literally gives them a look at the skills they will be learning, which is a mini-training session in itself.

Don’t go by the clock

Trainers should be willing to train during “off hours.” For example, many agencies conduct their training sessions during the traditional 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, with weekends and holidays off. While many courses can and should be completed then, there are times when training can be conducted during evening or weekend hours.

This allows officers on midnight and evening shifts to be more actively engaged in the activity because they won’t have to adjust their sleep cycles. Furthermore, this could also allow for training in low-light conditions that accurately reflect the environments officers will be working in.

Train a little less, more often. This may sound confusing, but over the years, I have learned that shorter training sessions conducted with greater frequency are almost always the ideal way to enhance and retain skills. Too many agencies are stuck on the eight- or four-hour training block once-a-year mindset.

Virtually, all skills that officers learn are perishable, so practicing more often is key to maintaining proficiency. Moreover, it is easier for most officers to focus more intently for shorter periods than to remain engaged entirely for several hours at a time.

Not all scenario-based training is equal

Properly conducted scenario-based training remains one of the best practices in law enforcement. Many agencies have embraced the value of scenario-based training, but not all scenario-based training is equal. To make this type of training the best it can be, the scenarios must be realistic, and the skills required to complete the scenario must be consistent with what the officers have been taught.

The role-players and evaluators must be highly knowledgeable about the goals of the scenario and how to handle a variety of responses from students. Scenario-based training can either be one of the best or worst training experiences that an officer has. It is incumbent upon trainers to make sure it is the former.

Link case law to training

Find relevant case law to discuss and apply to training. When appropriate, citing relevant case law to coincide with the skills you are training has a powerful effect on officers. This is especially true when the case law you mention comes from a court in or near your jurisdiction or if it is a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Note: When you incorporate case law into your training, it is best to ask your district attorney or a qualified lawyer to review the information to ensure its accuracy.

Go beyond what’s mandatory

Create elective courses for your officers. Too often, in-house training carries with it the stigma of being “mandatory.” In some cases, this is unavoidable. But it will enhance the morale of both trainers and students if some of the courses throughout the year were optional.

This approach would allow officers to explore topics beyond the basics and potentially influence officers to research issues that may become a unique specialty in the future. This does require an investment from the agency, but it is one well worth making. Having subject matter experts in your agency can be a valuable asset.

Make feedback more involved

Trainers should solicit verbal and written feedback for all their training sessions. Ask officers to write out their course evaluations instead of checking boxes or giving a numerical value to the quality of the course. Written and verbal evaluations can provide trainers with insight into the students’ minds that they may otherwise not have.

Rise to the challenges ahead

These tips are just a fraction of what can be done to take training from mediocre to outstanding. Trainers today have a monumental task. We need to constantly find ways to connect with and inspire law enforcement officers to be the best possible version of themselves. Train hard and be safe!

NEXT: Why and how to perform a law enforcement training audit

Tyson Kilbey has more than 25 years of experience in law enforcement, consisting of three years as a hotel security supervisor and 22 years as a deputy sheriff for the Johnson County (Kansas) Sheriff’s Office. He has worked in the detention, patrol and training divisions, SWAT and accident investigation units. He is currently a captain of the Training Unit for the Sheriff’s Office.

Tyson authored “Personal Defense Mastery,” a follow-up to his first book “Fundamental Handgun Mastery.” Tyson is a Jiu-Jitsu black belt under UFC Pioneer Royce Gracie. He has numerous defensive tactics and firearms certifications and has received multiple awards in competitive shooting and grappling. He is the Match Director for the Brandon Collins Memorial Shootout, a shooting competition named in honor of a deputy who died in the line of duty. Proceeds from the match go to charitable causes.