by LT. William Boyd Kiphart II
In the post-Ferguson age, post-Cleveland, post-Baltimore, post-North Charleston age, in the age of consent decrees and the proliferation of video and audio recording from inside as well as outside the law enforcement community, it is time to take a hard and honest as well as scientific look at the nature of law enforcement training.
We are continually hearing that we need more and more training. I have heard stories of training and certifications being required for metal detector wands that have one button on them and a two-sentence instruction manual. I have heard stories of required training for rifle slings; no mechanical parts nor associated manuals. So why does this occur? I am sure we could philosophize on this endlessly, but the fact remains that after each high, and some not so high, profile incidents, the calls come for “MORE” training.
As a result of trends from several decades ago, the threats of liability and litigation were responded to with stacks and stacks of documentation “proving” the depth of our training. As the Rodney King incident and the following riots permeated the ever-expanding media, the reaction from much of law enforcement was to inundate their files with the documentation for defense in possible future litigation. The slippery slope here is a contingent within law enforcement training that has become so preoccupied with the “What if we get sued for this” syndrome, that forward momentum in legitimate training has stagnated. We choose not to teach officers to fight in a real-world training environment for fear of them getting injured and suing the agency, so we simply put them on the street without that experience, skill, knowledge, or ability; that is a deadly compromise. Not only for the officer but for the agency and those they are sworn to protect.
Hours upon hours of “training” are declaratively force-fed; the vast majority of that sitting in a classroom listening to a lecture or watching a PowerPoint presentation or video. The result is any available agency time for legitimate teaching or training is consumed with one more “check the box” class. At the end of which, no legitimate teaching has taken place nor, has any legitimate learning; and true learning is the test for any legitimate teacher.
Training, by sheer definition, requires teaching and learning of a skill or behavior. Ponder that for one moment and then ask yourself when you last actually “learned” a skill or behavior during your in-service “training”. Keep in mind that for a skill or behavior to be learned procedurally, it must be able to be routinely and proficiently demonstrated. Yet, we continue to check a declarative learning environment box.
While I am going to use the topic of “use of force” as my example here, please be very clear on the fact that I do this to keep the discussion as focused as possible and because I believe it is an obvious example, but this teaching reform must occur at all levels of law enforcement training.
Let’s start with an uncomfortable moment. Do we truly, honestly, honorably ethically and morally want to teach our officers to perform in the safest manner possible, within the letter of the law and in support of policy and procedure and truly support the mission of your agency in a manner expected by us and our community?
Or, are we interested in building the most convenient and economical paper trail so that when they fail to meet expectations in behavior or performance, we can say we “checked the box” on that training and distance ourselves from the incident while attempting to mitigate our liability? Keep in mind that the most dramatic failures here result in the loss of life, families, and careers; both for our officers and those we are sworn to protect and sometimes apprehend. The stakes here could not be any higher.
This is a post-Ferguson age of body cameras, in-car cameras, consent decrees, civilian oversight boards, claims, and calls for changes in leadership and management and calls for absolute transparency. Combine this with nearly unlimited informational access via technology and the web and then ask ourselves, do we believe in our training model?
With all of this in mind, law enforcement training, for the most part, has not changed since the 1930s reform era as a result of President Hoover’s Wickersham Commission.
I will not even more than mention, the dramatic generational changes in our new officers, their learning styles or leadership, and management needs, and these are abundant.
Current basic training models are based vastly on lecture, minimal development of static two dimensional and compartmentalized skill sets; shooting at static paper targets, tazing static paper targets with little, or in most cases no decision-making skills at all. Decision making is a huge portion of our job particularly under levels of stress and time constraints that are not known anywhere else or in any other occupation. Combine these factors with the lack of an in-service system to reinforce and maintain true functional proficiency of these skills and we should not be shocked at all with a breakdown in an officer’s performance under stress.
Let me say again to be clear, we are still, since the 1930s, using a declarative based model to “INSTRUCT” rather than teach procedural skills.
Factor in the science of human physiological responses to stress, where our most critical decision making occurs and the training deficit becomes more apparent IF you are looking for it; and our continuing education is in just as poor condition as is our basic training.
Let’s look at a random but very average Use of Force Training example for the current year.
– 4 hours classroom lecture, primarily being video review with comment on policy and law
– 60 rounds on static targets, maybe 120 rounds if you’re being progressive
– Tazer cartridges on static targets; at a separate time and place of course
– 3 Inert pepper spray discharges on a static target; at a different time and place
– Check a box saying you have read and will comply with the use of force policy.
All boxes checked and everything is good; correct?
Now do we really, in our heart of hearts believe, that with all the media and public scrutiny concerns in our officer’s minds, when they are by themselves, at 2:00 AM in an unlit alley, in a one to seven second time frame, with the siren blaring, overhead lights flashing, shots being fired, heart rate at 175 or above, sympathetic nervous system hyperactive, depleted CO2 levels, adrenalin surging and cortisol flooding the forebrain, that not only will they make the correct decision, first and foremost for their safety and the safety of any bystander, but also as you want them to do under the law, policy, procedure and in support of the mission of the agency. Do we believe they will have the proficiency and procedural skills and abilities to effectively and safely deploy the proper use of force option?
Do we believe that we have provided them with the absolute best training necessary for this moment? Have we even attempted to truly teach them to make critical decisions under such circumstances, and yes we can do that if we want to.
How does a doctor learn to perform surgery? How do you learn to play any sport, martial art, or even golf? Not to be a professional athlete, just to be mildly capable or proficient? How much time does that take? In hours, days, weeks, years?
If you have a son or daughter on a select sports team how much training and practice are they doing each week, or month? Is that a life or death issue? Are lives, families, or careers in jeopardy as a result of their actions or decisions on the field?
Consider for a moment to obtain a Cosmetologist license in Missouri, 1500 hours of classroom training are required in addition to 3000 hours of apprenticeship, that is 375, 8 hour working days; doing the job under direct supervision; that is more than a year of field training. To obtain an Embalmer’s State License, a two-year apprenticeship, two years of field training, is required “before” one can even take the test. In both cases, practical application and procedural learning must be demonstrated. Checking the box on a written test is only a very small portion of the licensing requirement. I am fairly sure I can effectively argue the operational margin for error on both these occupations is somewhat greater than in our profession.
Most legitimate teaching and learning in this profession has historically taken place by trial and error on the street. We all know this has been the case for decades in law enforcement. Most of us learned out on the street with that twenty-year man who knew it all and had done it all; which brings us to the point to consider today.
For decades, the “on the job training” approach has been somewhat effective due to a large “operational margin for error”. We could discuss a prior lack of mass media, cultural issues that kept existing media more pro-police, a lack of real-time reporting by anyone with a cellular phone, proliferation of video camera saturation, a new degree of micro-accountability…and I can go on endlessly on cultural and environmental variables that have changed drastically. The fact is, the “operational margin for error” for on the job learning, in our profession, has become nearly non-existent now and will completely cease to exist very shortly; and take note this is occurring in months not years.
While the transition largely began to gain momentum on March 3, 1991, we all know too well what the current environment is on the street and at the front lines. Make no mistake, the next generation of progress will bring real-time video command and control as has already happened on the military battlefield. Not only the officer’s actions, but the command and control response and direction will be on the five o’clock news and will go viral. Yet, “training” has remained primarily static, two dimensional, declaratively lecture-based, and compartmentalized as mentioned with little or no decision making development or human factor consideration.
We continue to address trends and the threats of liability and litigation by inundating our files with documentation “proving” the depth of our training for defense in possible future litigation. At the same time, we neglect the legitimacy of any real teaching and learning. While numerous recent events and consent decrees have begun to address training, thus far, quantity versus quality has been the mantra.
If we do not admit and address our oversights immediately the result will be calls of deliberate indifference, change in leadership and training, and the voiding of our entire training doctrine. With that will come more criticisms, civilian oversight, consent decrees, and restrictions in law and policy. This very potentially may have a catastrophic impact on the profession which will create another mass exodus and leave us scrounging for even the most basic of qualified candidates rather than seeking out of the best and brightest as it should be for our vocation.
Based on much of the same research used to develop our new training model, the military has changed its entire use of force training doctrine initially starting in 2007 and building in 2013. This change is based on a body of progressive contemporary physiological research in the training field. There is a building tide of progressive research supporting these findings and conclusions on the type of legitimate training needed to address human physiological factors in decision making and use of force incidents.
The fact is, the expectations of our knowledge, behavior, skills, and performance, not only by the agency but the general public, far exceeds our level of training. So who is truly responsible for that?
And while you may or may not be familiar with the science of human behavior, human physiology, stress, and decision making, it is not a secret nor is it considered being that complicated; it is simply being ignored for the status quo for a myriad of reasons.
So what do we need to do?
Delta P, a change in philosophy, a paradigm shift in our training, from instructing to teaching, and documented procedural learning.
Restructure our academies and continuing education to promote long term procedural memory and learning based on cutting edge research into human philological factors. Stop just reading research on the use of force and related teaching and learning and let’s start writing it.
A multi-phased three dimensional teach/learn model institutionalized at all levels of the agency. A model developed to incorporate the field training program and continually be reinforced through roll call teaching/learning and driven by line level supervision and command.
Please keep in mind I am not just talking about applying this paradigm shift to just the use of force. This change must occur across the board and at every level and on every topic of both the basic training and the continuing education model.
Let me be very clear, we are not talking about millions of dollars of additional training money. Time more than money is what is needed. While we may need to spend some additional money, more importantly, we need to better spend what we have on restructuring and developing “legitimate” teaching to facilitate learning and prolonged behavioral changes whether that change is how your officer handles a gunfight, hostage rescue, traffic accident or citizen on the street.
This mission is about true proficiency, mastery of our craft, professionalism, honor, and duty not as an institutional request or directive but as an institutional imperative, standard, and culture. That is how we truly protect our officers, community, and agency.
This is about addressing the science of human physiology and human behavior to promote the required knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform as expected and required in this day and age, even under extreme levels of stress and during sudden critical incidents.
While my motives remain strictly on saving lives, families, and careers by truly teaching our officers, it will not be long before someone much smarter than I comes along, with the same information, but from an adversarial perspective…and I expect this sooner rather than later based on the homework my second-grade daughter is bringing home.
Last week my eight-year-old daughter and I studied her homework on the Lizard Brain and its effect on decision making under stress. The second-grade homework covered procedural learning methods to overcome these physiological effects and responses, specifically as they relate to confrontations on the playground. If she can understand it and begin building procedural memory and learning to address bullies in a weekend, I would hope we could in our profession and our academies.
If you read this article, you are now responsible for taking a stand and protecting those officers who protect your community by ensuring they have the proper knowledge, skills and abilities to keep them alive as well as employed and performing in a manner expected of them by you, your agency, and your community.
So what is your first move? Let me know.
LT. William Boyd Kiphart II
This first appeared in The Havok Journal on August 11, 2020.