Value Your Training Program
By Michael VanMeter, M.A.
How do police departments view training? As a former FBI National Academy instructor, I have spoken with hundreds of executives. Through these discussions, I learned that agencies often take a reactive approach. Yet, many leaders claim that their programs constitute a high priority.
Law enforcement agencies excel at providing basic training on such topics as firearms, defensive tactics, arrests, and search warrants. However, this represents only a fraction of what officers in modern police organizations should receive.
Executives also need to consider “futures”—related to long-range planning and forecasting—training.1 For instance, officers must learn to handle the toxicity of their career and the effects it will have upon them and their loved ones. Wellness, balance, and self-care constitute essential topics. Considering potential lost productivity and disciplinary issues, most agencies would benefit from such instruction. Based on my discussions with leaders, the small strides made thus far do not adequately address the problems law enforcement professionals face.
Leaders need to deal more effectively with change and develop a proactive mind-set. For instance, agencies should not create policies only when incidents occur. When making any decisions, leaders must focus on futures, analyzing all possible ramifications and creating mitigation strategies.
Supervisory Special Agent VanMeter, a former FBI National Academy instructor, currently serves at the bureau’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Do agencies prepare their leaders for potential issues? For instance, executives must understand internal crises, such as addiction—a serious problem in law enforcement.
One police leader had an employee with a significant substance abuse issue, which progressed until the individual’s actions caused a major legal issue for the agency. Local media outlets became involved, resulting in bad press. According to the executive, no one in the organization knew the problem existed. Proper training could have helped department leaders identify the issue before it got out of hand.
Without needed instruction, what actions do executives typically take? Often, they resort to warnings or discipline and require more employee assistance program (EAP) training. At this point, leaders may consider the problem solved. Unfortunately, this likely does not hold true, and agencies may face expensive lawsuits and lost criminal cases.
Police organizations cannot operate this way. They need to reassess their standard training, define it, and create a plan for implementation.
Immediate Supervisors and Officers
Leaders need to ensure that frontline supervisors and officers have the tools they need to recognize and address issues before they become a major problem for the agency. For instance, immediate supervisors may best recognize and mitigate an addiction problem. In reality, fellow officers first may detect the issue. Additionally, personnel on patrol address many calls for service related to substance abuse. Employees should know what signs to look for and how to proceed.
Do agencies treat their educators as valuable professionals? Strong, effective instructors are important, and only carefully vetted employees should hold these positions. Such consideration typically falls to training-department leaders who do not clearly understand the critical link between quality instruction and on-the-job decision making.
Preferably, these department leaders will have a background in training or education. They cannot fully understand the challenges and demands instructors face without experiencing similar situations themselves. Further, they should make decisions with input from agency educators to avoid lost credibility and difficult circumstances in the classroom.
In the training environment, executives should respect instructors; these individuals gained their expertise through experience and collaboration. Leaders should ask themselves if they really understand what these educators do. They should observe them in the classroom on a routine—quarterly or, at least, biannual—basis.
Law enforcement executives also should determine whether instructors have specialized skill sets and ensure they take advantage of these qualifications. For example, educators could offer training to benefit other agencies. Leaders cannot afford to stovepipe information within their organizations.
Police leaders must value instruction and ensure that it evolves with employees’ needs. Agencies that resist change may face significant training and personnel issues. Executives must consider which types of instruction can empower personnel to exceed expectations.
Every law enforcement organization should mine employees’ skills and talents and consider how they best may serve training programs. Additionally, agencies need to understand the value instructors bring to the classroom and to the long-term enhancement of student performance.
Educators can impact employees positively or negatively, even after training ends. Therefore, agencies should esteem them and help to enhance their careers.
Finally, leaders must place as much importance on instruction as they do on operations. Both are critical to an organization’s success and employees’ well-being.
“Executives must consider which types of instruction can empower personnel to exceed expectations.”
Supervisory Special Agent VanMeter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 For additional information, see Police Futures International, accessed August 28, 2018, http://www.policefuturists.org/.