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Trailblazing in Law Enforcement Training

In 2003, I began a master's program in performance improvement and instructional design. On the first day of my human performance technology class, I introduced myself to classmates and discovered that I was the first police officer to have participated in the program. As an experienced law enforcement trainer, I was skilled in many areas. At the time, I worked for one of the most prominent weapon manufacturers in the world, where I had been tutored and groomed by some of the finest law enforcement and military trainers alive. But sitting in a classroom filled with project managers, engineers, teachers, and instructional designers, I admittedly felt a bit out of place. However, the program was life-altering for me, and I learned higher level approaches to training and development that I could transfer to my job.

I realized quickly, though, that the concepts I learned in school were not respected by those in my police agency. For example, one police administrator denied my academic reimbursement request, stating "Your education has no benefit to this police department or the community." I feared that particular agency might never understand the benefits of a more professional and technical approach to training and organizational development. However, the military has been using a systems approach for more than 30 years. Certainly there had to be a path in law enforcement training where I could practice and hone my skills as an instructional designer, but where? Perhaps, I realized, I would have to blaze my own trail.

Building confidence

In 2005, the city of Fort Worth, Texas, hired me to design firearms and tactics-related training for their school resource officers (SRO) to better prepare them for school-related violence. At the time, no course existed for this type of training, so the challenge to create one was irresistible to me. Initially, the Fort Worth training department found it unusual that I wanted to involve their SROs as well as their administration throughout the entire instructional design process. Instructors were reluctant to share their policies and current training standards until I spent time educating them about the ADDIE process and the tie-in and subsequent buy-in required to measure success of the program at every level. The course turned out to be a success, and Fort Worth remains one of my clients. The SRO course now has been delivered in five states to more than 30 law enforcement agencies.

As a part-time faculty member of the Washtenaw Community College Police Academy in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I designed and implemented a performance improvement planning system for police recruits to address gaps in performance. I also implemented problem-based learning in many of the training courses, as well as gaming and simulations and Gilbert's Behavior Engineering Model, which was well received at the academy level by both the administration and the cadre of instructors.


These experiences have built my confidence during my quest to share what I have learned (and continue to learn) to other public safety instructors. Unfortunately, the culture of law enforcement training has created some road blocks. For example, at two law enforcement conferences in 2006 and 2008, my presentations on instructional design strategies for specialty units were not well attended. I found out later that learners considered the content to be over the heads of average police trainers. This surprised me, because many attendees were experienced and accomplished police trainers representing agencies from across the country who had been introduced to ADDIE as a part of their basic instructor training.

A changing culture

Finally, at a 2009 conference, I watched a presentation on Gagne's nine instructional events. An opening ceremonies speaker discussed a law enforcement instructor training program that exposes participants to the concepts of student-centered learning, instructional systems design, performance objectives, and learning methodologies. I was thrilled to hear some of these 30-year-old concepts and disciplines coming through law enforcement training channels. However, we are still behind the curve at the state and local levels.

In contrast, Canada and the United Kingdom educate police officers as professional trainers. People in the United Kingdom literally "mind the gap." Many of my Canadian colleagues introduce instructional systems design at their most basic levels of instructor development. In the United States, however, it is impossible for trainers to educate their administrators on the benefits of performance technology if they do not understand their role in the larger picture of organization performance. Additionally, we are not yet skilled at showing decision makers how the training function affects our organizations' missions, goals, and objectives.

Today I am paid as a consultant to provide the same concepts, knowledge, and skills that were ignored inside my former agency. I know I am not alone. Police trainers are constantly fighting for training dollars to better prepare our officers to perform their duties and to survive. My goal is to encourage other trainers to find creative avenues when approaching their police administrators to sell them on the training function.

Law enforcement agencies that are proactive lead the pack in the area of technology and professional development. These agencies, like the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, take a more sophisticated approach to design training that produces more tangible results and illustrates ROI by reducing liability. Unfortunately, many more agencies are reactive and view training as a necessary evil. In these instances, a tragedy must occur before training is implemented. Some forces use training solely to address performance deficiencies, creating a punitive approach to HPI. Progressive trainers are too often seen as troublemakers by administrators rather than as problem identifiers - but they are the real trailblazers in law enforcement training.

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