Police Training

The best police trainers never stop learning

Dave Smith
“JD Buck Savage”

One of the things I’ve noticed over my last few decades as a law enforcement trainer is that the good ones never stop learning. I’ve always tried to emulate that, but I must confess, sometimes it is pretty easy to just sit comfortably in my knowledge base and do training today the same way I did it yesterday.

I think that is why conferences and sites like PoliceOne are so important — they get us off our mental butts and getting us growing again.

I’d been getting behind in my reading (and growing) lately when my editor, Doug Wyllie, called to see if I was going to be on time with my article for today. I swore I would [Ed Note: Dave beat deadline by several days!] and wondered how he found out my middle name is Procrastination.

Practicing, Coaching, and Adapting

Going to my “to read” stack I had let get backed up, I grabbed a little tome I had been wanting to finish for a while and suddenly remembered why I had liked it so much.

Doug Lemov’s Practice Perfect is one of those books you can apply to your training programs, your leadership style, and your personal growth. So many times reading I would stop and think, “yep, that’s what I have been saying for years!” and a paragraph later saying to myself, “I wish I had said that!”

The premise of the book is simple, and whether you read it or not keep this mind.

Practice doesn’t make perfect, it only makes permanent. Ten thousand repetitions done improperly will leave you with a student who has some seriously bad habits. In our profession, such things can have dire consequences. Practicing correctly is the key and there are plenty of ideas in the book to help you design your training to be more effective.

But practicing isn’t the only aspect that matters in training — so, too, is how you coach the learner. Too many instructors have one method and one method only.

Being able to adapt to a learner is a sign of a great teacher. I remember a discussion several years ago with several top trainers, and we all agreed the greatest reward wasn’t how well our best cadet had done, but how our class had done (especially when we had one or two who seemed incapable of mastering almost any motor skill).

Proper practice using discrete skills, and enough repetitions, with effective feedback, can turn your apparently-hopeless trainee into a competent performer.

The problem is, we often don’t have enough time in the academy or in service training sessions to make a difference, so how we structure training and practice is very important. Getting the novice learner to a point where they can practice a skill on there is a huge step in developing skills.

Also, instilling a culture of learning and practice in our agencies is the other component that often gets ignored. Too often we just test, not train, in our in-service training. If we want learning and improving to become a basic part of our professional culture, we need to make it rewarding and not punishing, successful and not frustrating. How we design not only training but also supervision is critically important.

Continuing Education

Sergeants and supervisors have got to be considered a basic part of organizational training. They are law enforcement’s courtside coaches and should be trained to not only check paperwork but also all aspects of organization expectations including such things as officer safety, and tactics.

How many times have you watched a video of an officer getting injured or killed and wondered how did their skills get so corrupted?

I’ll tell you how — they’ve had routine erode their performance in repetition after repetition without any coaching from their sergeant. Feedback only works if it is given, and the closer to the performance it is given the more powerful the training effect!

Every activity is a repetition, and just as Lemov says in his book, “Practice all the wrong moves and your team will execute the wrong moves when it comes time to perform.”

He points out whether you are doing a skill or activity right or wrong, do enough repetitions and that skill will become a habit, and in law enforcement your habits are often the difference in life and death. Trainers and supervisors need to monitor performance and give feedback as quickly as possible to that performance.

Another key point is how that feedback or coaching is given is critical to long term success. Focusing on mistakes instead of successful performance simply leads to mistake-avoidance behavior.

The tendency to not try or grow doesn’t build a “success model” in the learner’s mind.

We are a high-risk profession and our folks need to have high levels of faith in their skills and abilities. Trainers and supervisors can play a key role. If you want to be a better trainer (and I believe all good trainers do), run over to the local library and check out Practice Perfect and be prepared to take notes.

Train hard, train safe, but always train correct technique!

 

About the Author:

As a police officer, Dave Smith has held positions in patrol, training, narcotics, SWAT, and management. Dave continues to develop new and innovative programs across the spectrum of police training needs designed to assist your agency and your personnel in meeting the challenges of policing in the new millennium. As a trainer, speaker, and consultant Dave brings with him unparalleled access to modern law enforcement trends.

Dave is now the owner of “The Winning Mind LLC,”  the Director of Video Training for PoliceOne Video and author of the new book “In My Sights.” His experiences as officer, trainer, manager, and police spouse lend a unique perspective to his signature class, “The Winning Mind.”  Visit Dave’s website at www.jdbucksavage.com.

Contact Dave Smith and Follow Dave on Twitter

Credits

Article originally posted on PoliceOne, republished with permission from Dave Smith & Associates.

Ensuring your training avoids negative training scars

Dave Smith
“JD Buck Savage”

The word “artifact” has many meanings depending on its context or what profession is using it.   Museums are filled with artifacts. So are computer programs. What matters to us is that so do many of our motor programs. The dictionary describes these artifacts as method-depend results. In police lingo we call it, “Playing the way you practice!”

We all know you perform a motor program under stress exactly as you trained it and anything the learner does in the performance of that repetition during training will do it under duress.

Faulty Programmers, Faulty Programming
The problem is, when students do a skill a certain way to fulfill the criteria for measurement, the limitations of the facility — or the whim of the trainer — that student can get programmed with useless or detrimental artifacts.

Firearms’ training is filled with artifacts, from the design of ranges to courses of qualification.

Why are we standing, without cover, at seven, fifteen15, and twenty-five25 yards?

Why is a two-by-four bolted on a pole considered a barricade?

Why are some agencies still having officers shoot two and evaluate? Evaluate what?

If you do enough repetitions, this is will become an artifact that will pop up in the midst of a life-and-death struggle. We shoot until we stop the threat then we look for another…period!

Early firearms simulators simply reinforced the bad artifact of standing in the open. Worse they taught students to continue to stand, frozen in place in the open.

Today, simulators shoot back, cover is often used and video feedback is given to the officer to enhance learning and give feedback that help minimize artifacts. This is sort of the same as scrimmaging in sports to give a skill context and mitigate or eliminate any artifact the initial learning phase may have given the athlete.

In law enforcement the student is an athlete of another sort performing under extreme stress without the benefit of referees, coaches and timekeepers or even boundaries.   Our skills are performed in a purely “open” environment where sports are performed in various degrees of structure or “closed” activities.

Graphically, a continuum of activities or skills it would look something like this:

Closed Skills Open Skills
Darts Archery Basketball Soccer Hunting Policing

In darts, the instrument, the distance, and the board are all fixed. As we move down the continuum more and more ambiguity is introduced and the participant needs to have a greater and greater awareness of the outside world — there is little time for introspection or pacing, mostly recognition and reaction.

Whereas darts is one, self-paced skill, law enforcement has no line to stand at, no starting whistle, no clock to run out. There is pure ambiguity as to when a particular crisis will occur and what skill you will need when it does.

The Artifacts of Measurement
Unfortunately, traditional firearms training has been a lot closer to darts than police work. This was due to the need to acquire a training score (versus winning a life-and-death struggle on the street.

Because the artifact we are looking for in our training is a high level of performance designed to win on the street, our training should have a lot more scrimmaging than standing. The need to qualify often leaves the officer with several bad habits which are nothing more than the physical manifestations — the artifacts — of measurement.

Trainers can introduce artifacts by simply doing repetitions a certain way because of facilities or ease of observation, or by the way they measure the progress of the learning, or simply failing to have the learner do the skill in the context it will be performed.   Where does this skill occur, what are the cues that trigger it, what are cues that the performer needs to attend to, and does the officer believe in that skill?

In this day and age, we can use Airsoft, Simunition, and red man gear, to train in context…to scrimmage, and that is an essential element in the training process.   Not only does the brain learn the final parts of the “schema” of a motor program but the trainer can spot any artifacts that are being done and correct them.

Getting smacked with Simunition is a pretty good reinforcement for effectively using cover!

The goal of our training isn’t to just get a certificate or to qualify — it is to WIN on the street and WIN in life.

The trainer is in a unique position to not only provide skills to our officers, but to help them to develop and maintain a winning attitude and faith in their performance that will give our law enforcement folks the edge they need.

The main artifact of training should be a Winning Mind!

 

About the Author:

As a police officer, Dave Smith has held positions in patrol, training, narcotics, SWAT, and management. Dave continues to develop new and innovative programs across the spectrum of police training needs designed to assist your agency and your personnel in meeting the challenges of policing in the new millennium. As a trainer, speaker, and consultant Dave brings with him unparalleled access to modern law enforcement trends.

Dave is now the owner of “The Winning Mind LLC,”  the Director of Video Training for PoliceOne Video and author of the new book “In My Sights.” His experiences as officer, trainer, manager, and police spouse lend a unique perspective to his signature class, “The Winning Mind.”  Visit Dave’s website at www.jdbucksavage.com.

Contact Dave Smith and Follow Dave on Twitter

Credits

Article originally posted on PoliceOne, republished with permission from Dave Smith & Associates.

Is your life really balanced?

Betsy Brantner Smith

When I first became a field training sergeant, we had a young male rookie on my shift whose wife was pregnant. She gave birth too early and then she and the baby had to be flown to separate hospitals for advanced treatment. It was a scary time, especially for the young family.

Within a day or two, this officer was back at work, much to the shock of me and my lieutenant. We sat him down in the office and asked him why he was back so quickly.

He told us, “My first priority is to the agency and to my fellow officers. My personal life comes second.”

“There’s Life Outside of the Job?!”
My boss and I proceeded to deliver one of our best, most passionate “this-job-is-not-your-life” speeches and we sent the newbie back home. At that time, I also had a little one at home and the situation got me thinking about my own life and my own priorities.

Although my “baby” is now grown, I still struggle to maintain balance in my life, and I’m guessing that many of you do as well. How do you balance the extraordinary demands of a law enforcement career with your life outside of “the job?”

Most of us spend so much time and energy getting hired, keeping ourselves fit and ready for the job, and then working our way up the chain of command, that if we’re not careful our professional life may overshadow everything else.

Police officers are notorious for allowing our job to become the central focus of our lives. That doesn’t make you a better cop, and it sure doesn’t make you a better person. Here are a few suggestions for a young cop (or a veteran cop who wants to make some changes) on how to gain and maintain a more balanced life.

Keep Your Family Involved and Informed
“My family just doesn’t understand what I’m dealing with!”

I hear this from so many people in law enforcement. But when I inquire further, I discover that most of them don’t really tell their family members — or friends — what their day to day life is really like.

When I was in the academy my mom was battling cancer, my dad was taking care of her, and most of my non-police friends were still in college so I only had my academy classmates to talk to.

Looking back, it was a very emotionally isolating experience. Talk to your family members and non-cop friends about your experiences. And don’t just tell them the funny or heroic stories — tell them the things that scared you or angered you or even things that confused or worried you.

It’s okay to tell your spouse or partner, “I’m really worried about that felony assault trial next week” or to admit to your best friend from grade school, “I responded to a really bad fatal crash today and I’m really bothered by what I saw.”

Sometime talking to non-cop friends can help you frame your concerns differently that just talking to your co-workers.

If you have kids, talk to them about what you did at work today. Tell them one or two age-appropriate stories, and then ask them about their day and what they did. Trading stories is a great way to communicate kids, and I always found that it worked better than the standard “how was your day” questions that usually result in one-word answers.

If you went to training, teach them what you learned that day.

Kids love to learn about all the parts of a handgun and the differences between “cover” and “concealment,” so get them involved. If you’re in the academy, ask friends and family to help you study for exams and shine up your gear. They’ll feel more connected, and you’ll feel more balanced — everybody wins!

Don’t Give Up Your Non-Police Activities
When I was a new cop, one of the things that helped save my sanity in the police academy and in field training was something I’d been doing all my life — working with horses. For the first year I was on the job I lived in a small apartment on a horse farm where I worked off some of the rent cleaning stalls and exercising the owner’s horses.

No matter how stressed out I was, engaging in a familiar and pleasurable activity that had nothing to do with my job was a true joy.

As a rookie, my husband coached wrestling for a small high school.

Police work, especially in the early stages, tends to consume most of our time and energy, and by the time things settle down and we feel able to engage in other some fun, we often find ourselves with a list of what Dr. Kevin Gilmartin calls “Usta’s.”

I “usta” go fishing, I “usta” play softball, I “usta” visit my parents once a week, I “usta” get together with my high school girlfriends.

Keep the constructive links to your “before” life connected. Be proactive about scheduling time for activities that don’t involve police work — it’s essential to your emotional health.

Gender Roles and Police Life Balance
I talk to thousands of female cops every year, and achieving that work/life balance seems to be especially difficult for women. Many of them are dealing with less-than-supportive friends and family who don’t understand their career choice and frankly, law enforcement is still a very male-dominated profession and not all police departments are as welcoming to women as they should be.

I know many women who spend all day (or night) at work and then go home and make dinner, help with homework, bake cookies for the PTA fundraiser and do the laundry. Other women may be caring for aging parents or coming home to a spouse or partner who is resentful of the long hours spent away from home and the inevitable changes in attitude or demeanor that every cop experiences.

It may be helpful to seek out a more experienced female co-worker who has a similar lifestyle and get some advice. There are also associations and online forums (like PoliceOne!) that offer articles and advice to women in law enforcement. Don’t just stew in frustration, reach out!

Whether you are male or female, a rookie or a veteran, make sure you own a copy of Kevin Gilmartin’s “Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement” and Ellen Kirchman’s book “I Love a Cop.”

Reach out to your brothers and sisters in law enforcement and to your family and friends outside of the profession. Achieving balance in your life isn’t easy, but it’s extremely rewarding.

You’ve got to “train” for your personal life as hard as you train for your on-duty survival.

Stay safe!

 

About the Author:

Sergeant Betsy Smith has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience, retiring as a patrol supervisor in a large Chicago suburb. A graduate of the Northwestern University Center for Public Safety’s School of Staff and Command and a Street Survival seminar instructor for more than 9 years, Betsy is now a speaker, author and a primary PoliceOne Academy consultant. Visit Betsy’s website at www.femaleforces.com.

Contact Betsy Smith and Follow Betsy on Twitter

Credits

Article originally posted on PoliceOne, republished with permission from Dave Smith & Associates.