When the budget gets constipated, your goal as a training officer remains the same: conduct at least some form of training. The question :How? One of the best things you can do is to assemble the folks in your department who have a passion for training into what I call an “idea factory.”
A group of like-minded folks working to get the training to the troops is a good concept during flush times, and it’s even more critical when times are tough. The idea factory should be made up of instructors from different disciplines within the department, as well as outside experts, where appropriate. Discussion and debate are signs of a healthy balance. A good rule of thumb here was put well by George Patton: “If everyone is thinking the same, then someone isn’t thinking.”
Once selected, the working group should create a set of realistic training goals. To demonstrate a shared sense of purpose, the group should work out any differences before taking their recommendations to the administration.
A Few Thoughts
Following are some ideas I’ve come up with to help you get started.
Share: Consider seeking out trainers at neighboring departments. A mutual aid approach to training may provide you with benefits that go beyond just the training issues themselves. Pooling talent and resources can develop darn good training, with the bonus that officers from different agencies are working together.
Reach out: Are there any civic groups or large businesses in town that might be supportive of the training program at your department? You would have to clear this with the administration, but if given the OK, I suggest you get permission to go to the Rotary Club or other civic groups. Give them a show-and-tell presentation about the department and its training program, focusing on how important it is to the community to have well-trained and proficient officers.
You don’t want to appear to be begging, but requesting support. For example, if you use 1-x-2-inch pieces of wood to hold up the targets on your range, ask the local lumber yard if they would care to donate some. It’s not much, but it’s something, and it may help sell the program to your administration if you can come up with some alternatives that soften the training program’s financial impact. Remember: Times are tough all over, and you may come up empty-handed, but if you don’t try, you won’t know.
Reduce overtime: This a big one in the context of officers coming to qualify or train off duty. Look at your operational deployments or get with the scheduling guru to see if there’s a way to creatively get officers to the needed training on duty rather than off. You may need to go to the police officers’ association through the proper channels to seek cooperation in the modification of work hours so training can be conducted on duty.
Poor cop FATS machine: Here’s how you do it. Get a camcorder or digital camera. Take a series of pictures or video footage depicting scenarios that consist of both shoot and don’t-shoot circumstances. Use footage with some actors duplicating scenes that require decision making, communicating with the suspect/subject, use of cover, less-lethal options and other important tactical aspects.
Load the scenes into something like PowerPoint. You can add narration, sound effects and so on, as needed. Depending on your facility, you can play the scenarios at the range or in a training room, so long as you observe the appropriate safety protocols for the training environment. To do the playback, I like to use a clean white bed sheet as a projector screen. This is especially relevant if you’re using live-fire weapons or even Simunitions-type guns. Take your department LCD projector and either hook the camcorder into the projector directly or run the program off a laptop fed through the LCD projector. Position your student officers so they don’t block the projector beam.
You can run them through the scenarios with you or another instructor as the voice of the suspect/subject (and act as dispatchers on the radio) projected up on the screen. You can also run this as a dry-fire or Simunitions scenario in a classroom or other venue if you can’t do so on a live-fire range. (I learned this “poor cop’s FATS machine” approach from the NRA’s Law Enforcement Activities Division, and I think it’s a great idea.)
Qualification vs. training: Qualification is not necessarily training. To some degree you can mitigate this by incorporating certain steps into qualification, but by and large, it doesn’t go far enough. Administrators should understand this. It may fall on your shoulders to make sure they understand the critical difference between the two and how negligence in the realm of failure to train comes into play under such a set of circumstances.
You’re going to have to make some tough choices prioritizing what training you can afford to conduct. This prioritization must be directly related to critical areas of performance on the streets. More than once, I’ve heard my friend Gordon Graham talk about the importance of proper training in the use of deadly force, non-deadly force, driving and observing the laws, and policies of search and seizure. To this training checklist I would add officer safety, first aid and workplace harassment. A number of these can be addressed on a limited basis by doing briefing training, but at some point, the real hands-on instruction must take place outside this venue.
A court case that I often cite during my classes is Popow v. Margate (476 F. Supp. 1237 D.N.J. 1979). A key point of the Popow case: The police department failed to provide training that was relevant to the officers’ use of lethal force. It came out in court that there was no department training on such topics as shooting at moving targets, low-light shooting and use of lethal force in an urban environment. The outcome of the case should be clear and serve as a reminder to all the importance of proper training—even when money is tight.