Reality Based Training: The Paper Trail

“Where’s your paperwork?” I ask this question of many of my students during the practical phases of my 5 Day Reality Based Training instructor school. Far too often, trainers who embark on the pathway of reality based training (RBT) do so in a disorganized and haphazard manner. Role-player scripting will consist of a couple of lines of instruction. Logistical considerations? An afterthought. Student performance documentation? Umm, errr, we’ll take care of that later.

Like it or not, documentation is the backbone of effective RBT training programs. Too many agencies have RBT projects rather than RBT training programs. A project is a one-shot attempt at implementing some form of RBT. Trainers plead, prod and cajole the upper echelons to get a bit of cash and support for this type of training, and when they finally get some token amount, they celebrate their small victory, taking what they can get. While this truly is a measure of progress, it’s not optimal primarily because of the poverty mentality it’s often born of. Also, accompanying the sense of relief is the likelihood that future efforts to get more support are usually abandoned because getting to pay-dirt the first time was just so draining.

Hey, you’re not alone. But times are changing. More and more, RBT training is finding its way into well-established training regimens, but not with the level of organization necessary to truly make for an effective program. And that means (shudder) planning, organization and the dreaded “p” word—paperwork.

Forms, Forms & More Forms

In my program, students are flooded with paperwork when it comes to the practical phase of the training. There are logistics forms, scripting forms, evaluation forms, safety checklists, etc. These forms are necessary to not only ensure the immediate training exercise has all of the organization necessary for that particular day, but that the program has continuity because, in the world of law enforcement training, the position of “trainer” seems to be a rotation rather than a career. I’ll go off on that tangent another time, but for now let’s just accept that as an organizational reality.

How many of you out there have had the same people doing the role play for years? Not many, I’ll wager. As a result, each time a new role player steps into the arena, there’s a new learning curve.

Typically, role players are not tightly scripted and end up improvising much of the time within a general conceptual set of guidelines, such as, “You’re a homeless guy looking in car windows. When the police show up, be belligerent.” That’s not

a script. A script details the language used, what the role player will do according to various officer responses and the counter responses to those responses. It’s as if you are writing a branching FATS-machine scenario that has different response buttons. If the officer uses verbal commands, it goes in this direction. Physical force options will go in a different direction. Appropriate tactics will take it in another direction entirely. It’s a dance, and you must carefully choreograph the steps.

What about the evaluation paperwork? For each scenario, there must be a clearly stated performance objective and a set of observable tasks that will demonstrate compliance with that performance objective. The evaluation form is, essentially, a list of the “gotta do’s” that, when completed, function as the testing criteria for passing that performance objective. In my classes, these evaluation forms are a must, and yet time and time again I observe the class participants who happen to be functioning as the exercise controller (evaluator) either not using the forms they developed in class or rolling them up in their hands and never referencing them during the scenario or the debrief following the scenario.

If you don’t know what you’re testing, how do you know when the test has been effectively completed? There’s an adage that suggests that in the law enforcement training community, if the training is not documented, it’s deemed by the courts to have not occurred. There must be some basis to this in case law, although neither I nor any of my esteemed colleagues have been able to find a case cite. (If you know of it, please drop me a line!) And it just makes good sense to have some written record of the training that occurred that shows your officers have successfully completed the training in a manner consistent with departmental policy and the law. An evaluation form as described meets these criteria.

Logistics forms are essential. What equipment do you need to conduct various scenarios? How much protective gear and what type? What type of weapons and ammunition? Who are the various players? What type of location do you need?

And how about safety briefings and participant searching protocols? Remember, we are losing two officers per year on average to negligent safety practices. How do you conduct your safety inspections? Are they done “by the numbers,” or in a haphazard fashion with some skewed expectation that just because all of the training participants are cautious professionals, they are incapable of bringing lethal, live-fire weapons and ammunition into a simulation training environment?

Safety staff must be well-trained, meticulous people, and the safety rituals must be respectful yet rigorous. There’s no wiggle room when it comes to this aspect of preparation for any form of simulation training. Highly experienced people have allowed training participants in their care to get shot and killed or beaten to death during training exercises.

They Will Get It

When my students first look at the mass of paperwork I want them to fill out in the development of their scenarios, they look at me like I’m crazy. They find the scenario scripting process tedious and time consuming. I tell them that at the conclusion of the program, they will understand the necessity for all of it despite the fact that I want them to write a very simple scenario. At the end of the five-day process, they all get it. They realize the immense amount of detail necessary for a comprehensive scenario training program entails. And they appreciate that when the day comes when they have to rotate to another place in their agency for career advancement, they have developed a set of standards that will stand the test of time and permit those who come after them, if they understand the underlying principles, to continue the program just as it was bequeathed to them.

Developing a comprehensive RBT program is not easy. It’s not supposed to be. But if this is the pathway you choose to walk, you must do the work. There are lives at stake, and nothing less is acceptable.

Until next time, train hard and train safe.

 

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