Litigation-Proof Training

Photo: Coach Bob Lindsey is a training legend and the 2014 Law Officer Trainer of the Year.

Training officers have an awesome responsibility in any law enforcement agency. As trainers, we’re not only responsible for the conduct and behavior that occurs within the training environment (be it the classroom, range or gym), but also what occurs later; in real-life situations on the street. The very nature of police street work is such that officers will often be called upon to make split-second decisions based on their training and experiences.
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First, as police trainers, we must never forget that most learning occurs through sight. When students see something done incorrectly, they run the risk of that behavior becoming a learned response. This is why trainers should always use positive teaching methods and be sure to demonstrate correct performance if improper performance (due to state-mandated or required curriculum) is viewed through no fault of your own. In spite of the fact that you may be forced to stick to a very rigid lesson plan, you, as your agency’s trainer, are responsible for the quality of the training you provide.
Second, real estate professionals have a saying: location, location, location. There’s another saying that police trainers need to keep in mind: documentation, documentation, documentation. Most trainers are familiar with Whiteley v. Warden, the U.S. Supreme Court case that’s often cited as the source of phrase “if it isn’t documented, it didn’t happen.” While the case had nothing to do with police training and doesn’t actually contain those words (it dealt with undocumented probable cause for an arrest warrant) that theme is important for us, as trainers, to remember. A good concept to keep in mind is “undocumented training is the same as no training.”
Third, regardless of the type of training you focus on—be it firearms, defensive tactics, impact weapons, chemical agents, weapon retention or electronic control devices—it has to be conducted safely. The challenge is balancing realism with safety. Your goal should be to provide the most realistic training possible with zero injuries.
Fourth, at the risk of bruising a few egos, make sure your instructor credentials—and those of your staff if you’re the boss—are up to snuff. Some of the most embarrassing moments I can recall came as a result of an opposing “expert” being found unqualified to opine on a force matter where he had absolutely no certifications in that skill set.
Trainers should never fall victim to the temptation of instructing in areas where they have neither the expertise nor the credentials. Make sure you and your agency maintain all your up-to-date certifications in the event an officer you trained is ever hauled into court.
Lastly, all agency trainers should strive to maintain affiliation in professional organizations (i.e., state licensing boards, NRA, International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors (IALEFI), etc.) that promote and foster continuing education within their field of expertise.
Special thanks goes out to Forensics Consultant Steve Bunting with Bunting Digital Forensics, LLC for his thoughts on law enforcement training. Mr. Bunting is a retired Captain and Trainer with the University of Delaware Police Department.  
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