Advanced Officer Training Day
“If you want something you’ve never had, then you’ve got to do something you’ve never done.” ~ Thomas Jefferson
Recently, I participated in a testing process to become the supervisor of our police department’s Advanced Training Unit. This unit’s mission is to provide training on every major topic within law enforcement to 400 sworn annually – firearms, tactics, driving, reality-based training scenarios, legal updates, defensive tactics, etc.
As I was preparing for the testing process, I spoke to the 3 officers and 2 civilians that are assigned to the unit to assess what the biggest challenges are. In speaking with each of them individually, the one common theme was the perspective that department training had become something officers “have to do” and not something they “get to do.” I recognized this to be a culture issue throughout the department because, I too, had experience some of these same feelings as an officer and a patrol supervisor. Trainings felt like they were just the same old thing, but a different year.
When I was given the job of Advanced Training Unit Sergeant, I knew that the first significant move needed to be finding a way to help alter the department’s culture regarding training. It does not do any good to have awesome training activities/classes if only 30% of the department shows up and officers are looking to just do the minimum in order to stay certified.
I first met with the unit’s primary instructors as a team. We discussed what we believed may be the various causes of this culture that is so stagnant to learning. Then in response to those, we looked at what we could control in order to start addressing some of those issues. First, we discussed altering the times training was available. Instead of doing things on “banker’s hours,” we needed to be flexible and offer learning opportunities at various hours, including nights and weekends. It also meant leaving the training building and taking learning out to the 4 districts throughout the city. Then we talked about how we could apply our 4 Squad Culture Tenants of Positivity, Activity, Teamability, and Humility as instructors. This was going to be our new P.A.T.H. If we wanted the officers to demonstrate this kind of culture as learners, it was necessary for us to recognize that it starts with us demonstrating Positivity, Activity, Teamability, and Humility first. Lastly, we came up with the idea of creating the Advanced Officer Training Day because it was not going to be enough to talk about it; we needed to show everyone what was happening in the training unit.
The Advanced Officer Training Day was designed to be an internal conference-style training event to make learning policing fun again and share our new training philosophy. It order to avoid issues with staffing and overtime, 2 months prior to the training, every sergeant of each squad/unit was asked to nominate one person to attend the training. We asked for them to send who they considered to be the most hard working, informal leader of their squad/unit. This created a recognition opportunity for the sergeants and guaranteed that our audience would be comprised of the biggest line-level influencers in the department. The total number of officers was capped at 42 so we could make each class a small, intimate learning environment where they were encouraged to work as a team.
The next question became what did we want to teach? We reached out to our various connections throughout the department and came up with these 6 learning opportunities:
- Officer Down and Contact/Crisis Team Decision Making – This was an interactive class that took place in and around the department’s shoot house. The officers would be put into multiple scenarios with ever changing details that would force them to make quick decisions and implement plans regarding saving a downed officer or making entry into a structure. Once inside of the structure, they were then pushed to making more decisions regarding pushing, holding, or tactically retreating based up the circumstances.
- Effective Courtroom Testimony – This class was developed by an officer with a vast amount of courtroom testimony experience and two attorneys from the city prosecutor’s office. There was a quick presentation regarding testifying in court and then the students were each given a mock departmental report. They were to review the report as if it were their own and then would be put on the stand in the mock courtroom that had been set up in the back of the classroom. One of the attorneys played the part of a prosecutor and the other played the role of a defense attorney. Debriefs, questions, and comments were made after each officer had their turn on the stand.
- Drug Impairment Beyond DUI – This class was prepared by the department’s most experienced Drug Recognition Expert (DRE). Officers reviewed the signs/symptoms of the 7 major drug categories that cause impairment and then discussed what other uses there are for this type of information beyond DUI enforcement. They discussed use of force reporting, interviewing techniques, identifying search/seizure opportunities, articulating the development of PC for searches, and multiple officer safety considerations. This classes was specifically designed to take very specific information usually taught in reference to DUI enforcement and generalize its application to all of policing.
- Advanced Pistol Range – The Firearms Staff was given the opportunity to present some fun, challenging firearms drills to push the students to the limits of their shooting abilities. These drills while fun and challenging still forced the shooters to focus on the basic fundamentals of marksmanship while also utilizing movement, cover, distance, etc to successfully complete the drills.
- Traffic Stop Quick Reaction Drills – On the driving track, officers were placed into a fully marked patrol car, asked to drive ¼ lap around the track, and then pull up behind the mock offender vehicle. They then were expected to react to whatever occurred from there. Scenarios ranged from a regular traffic stop where nothing of consequence occurred all the way up to one where the suspect jumps out of the car and rushes the patrol car. This was done in a fast paced, small group format and each scenarios was debriefed with the group using a Socratic questioning method to bring out the information the instructor was looking to emphasize. If mistakes occurred or there was a better suggestion for handling the situation, officers were given the chance to redo it and learn from the first attempt.
- P-R-I-D-E Adaptive Decision-Making – This class introduced officers to the P-R-I-D-E Adaptive Decision-Making Model and the utilization of “Policing Priorities” to guide their decision-making. This model discusses situational awareness and making both fast and slow decisions. Being introduced to this model provided the officers with a common language to discuss the various decisions they were making in the other classes throughout the day. This model was developed by Thin Blue Line of Leadership and you can read more about it here.
This is what the schedule of the day looked like . . .
0800 – 0830 Welcome/Sign Up for Breakout Sessions
0840 – 1030 Breakout Session #1
1040 – 1230 Breakout Session #2
1230 – 1330 Lunch
1330 – 1520 Breakout Session #3
1530 – 1720 Breakout Session #4
1730 – 1800 Conclusion/Feedback Critiques
As you may be noticing, there are only 4 Breakout Session times, but 6 classes offered. This was a key factor in getting buy-in from the officers by giving them the opportunity to develop their own day of training. They got to pick the 4 classes they were most interested in attending.
Three of the classes were more firearms/tactical outdoor oriented and the other three classes were more traditional classroom-based learning opportunities. So, if an officer leaned heavily one way or the other, they were forced to try at least one other style of activity and push them outside of their “comfort zone.” Sign-up sheets were utilized to organize distribution of the officers among the classes and were capped at 7 officers per class.
In order to help spread the lessons learned, the officers that attended were given network access to all of the lesson plans, PowerPoints, and reference materials so they could create small blocks of briefing trainings for their squads/units to help spread the information further. The training made use of these influencers to not only spread the word about the changes going on within the training unit, but also the actual lessons taught in the classes. If officers do not feel comfortable teaching the information, then they had at least developed a connection to an instructor that could.
The Advanced Officer Training Day was run for the first time on Wednesday, April 19. It was an extremely successful event and was very well received by the officers in attendance. Anytime an officer leaves a comment that says lunch was too long and we could have saved time there to make the classes longer, then you know you have done something right. As expected, getting to pick the classes they wanted to attend was recognized as an integral piece to the success of the day. Other comments also recognized the instructors for representing the P.A.T.H. Instructor Philosophy which assisted in making the entire environment a more positive one geared towards learning. The department plans to run the Advanced Officer Training Day twice a year, so this will become an expected event and something others will be clamoring to attend all because they “get to,” not because they “have to.”
Well, this is not the typical leadership blog that comes from Thin Blue Line of Leadership, but packed within this blog are multiple leadership lessons and it also shares a tangible idea for other departments to consider as a unique training option. If you have questions about the Advanced Officer Training Day, feel free to comment at the bottom of this post or DM us on Twitter.
The mission at Thin Blue Line of Leadership is to inspire law enforcement supervisors to be the best leaders they can be by providing positive leadership tactics and ideas. Positive leadership and creating a positive squad culture are on-going commitments that must be nurtured and developed over time. Thin Blue Line of Leadership is here to help.