Forget What You Learned in the Academy
Photo Courtesy: Anne Arundel County Police Department
“Failure to select the best trainers will only create those ‘training gaps’ we see all too often.” SPO Inken Myers, PTO Coordinator Hampton Police Division
“Forget what they taught you in the academy. I’ll show you how we do it out here on the road.” This statement is made all too often to new officers when they get in the car with their field training officers. It seems like such a simple statement; but it could cost an officer their job or even, their life. As a member of my division’s training unit, I dread hearing these words and watching our new recruits slip into the realm of “this is how we’ve always done it.” We teach our recruits many new concepts, procedures, and techniques in the Academy to which most senior officers are not accustomed.
How do we ensure the training the recruits receive in the Academy stays with them when they finally hit the ground running in the “real world?”
How do we prevent these training gaps from occurring?
First, get buy-in from the top down. Everyone needs to be part of training the new recruits. The phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child,” holds true even in our profession. Every officer the recruit sees and talks to influences the young officer’s performance. They are sponges and soak up all the behaviors they observe. Secondly, the trainers must ensure that they are always demonstrating proper performance of the skills we are teaching the new recruits. We must empower the new officers to lead, to make decisions, and to “fail forward.“ This responsibility is especially important for police training officers. Police training officers will often forget they are not only trainers, but also mentors, coaches, supervisors, and leaders. Training officers are looked up to by new recruits, and they have the most powerful influence on their trainees. We must challenge the police trainers to facilitate and guide the learning process by encouraging them along the way. Finally, we must recognize what our young officers bring into this field, and we need to harness it. We will continue to stifle the progress of the recruit, if we as trainers, continue to tell them how to handle everything. We are doing them a disservice when we do not allow them to use their creativity to solve problems. There is no “one way” to solve or handle a situation. As trainers, we need to encourage this creativity and keep our trainees on track without doing their work for them. If we continue down the same path of “too much teaching,” our profession will never reach its full capability.
I remember being newly assigned as a Detective in the Property Unit. The Detective who was training me was very set in his ways and he was not open to any investigative style other than his own. I had read books on investigative techniques and had taken some coursework in college on best practices for these types of cases, so I was very excited and eager to apply what I had learned. “That’s just not the way we do things down here,” wasn’t what I was expecting to hear from the person who was training me, and I was discouraged and disappointed. I was fortunate to have other mentors who encouraged me to tap into my full potential, and I utilized my skill set.
In sum, resist the urge to impart the wisdom of “the road” on new recruits. Training gaps are created when you do so. Get buy-in from the top down, demonstrate the best practices to the recruits, and allow them to explore new ways of getting the job done. Encourage them to be creative in their response to community concerns and guide them as they grow.
Lt. Scott Keller is a 28 year law enforcement veteran of the Hampton Police Division in Hampton, VA. Scott has served in Uniform Patrol, Narcotics, SWAT, and training, where he holds state certifications certified in Firearms, Defensive Tactics. Scott is currently serving as Commander of the Division’s Training Academy and as an instructor for Command Presence Training.