Micro Training for Macro Culture

As record numbers retire, how do we transfer experience & a healthy institutional culture to the next generation?

By Art Carlos  |   Oct 19, 2016
Photo Courtesy St. Louis Police Foundation

Whether the call for change is from PERF*, PROP*, or the latest social-media-savvy critic—it’s clear we must build a different training model to meet the needs of this evolving profession. Technology is driving our policing practices, laws have become increasingly complex, and the recruitment of the most desirable prospects is being lost out to the private sector at alarming rates.

Let me put it simply: This is a dangerous job that not just anyone can do. Today’s communities and citizen demand extreme professionalism and patience, regardless of the particular situation or how volatile the situation.

Agencies, meanwhile, expect the individual officer or deputy to carry an increased workload, through slowly rising or stagnant salaries and depleted budgets, with minimal training opportunities. As much as training has suffered over the years, the real cost is for the individual officer or deputy. While this trend is occurring, what is being lost is the culture of the agency trainer. Culture is the cornerstone of any organization, and losing training culture to budgets is beyond short-sighted.

Agencies are losing a generation of seasoned veterans at a rapid rate. To cope with this depletion in personnel, we are hiring—and in many cases, struggling to hire—young officers and deputies at a frantic pace to keep their working numbers from dipping dangerously low. We’re in a frenzy to hire the best we can, yet many of our best and most seasoned trainers are on their way out.

Most of these veteran personnel retiring out now are the ones holding key teaching and trainer positions. This leaves agencies taking the younger, less experienced, officer or deputy with nowhere near the same experience and tossing them the reins of the training programs. Train-the-trainer programs are great, but can’t fulfill the full cultural indoctrination of a professional trainer. On top of all of this, new trainers are also overworked with ancillary assignments.

What, you may ask, are the missing components? Personal investment and accountability of their craft.

If we were to look at some other historical models, one in particular stands out. In most martial arts, there are teachers (another term for “trainer”) who teach not only a physical skill-set or discipline. They also impart a cultural understanding of the particular discipline and they deliver a process to help the student grow through this interaction within the particular discipline. There may be colored belts or some other type of progression distinguishing growth. The teacher looks at the student from their past performance, their current actions and present exercises to help move them toward a desired performance level (standard). They help them fit in, becoming an integral part of the martial arts school.

There is a type of aliveness in this process between the teacher and student that is fluid and mutually rewarding. Contrast this to: Sign in, sit down, do the minimum as noted on the outline to satisfy a basic POST standard. Sound familiar?

Simply: Training is teaching. It’s a dynamic transference that bridges the known and the unknown. Good trainers not only impart skill-based mechanics, they also develop confidence in the individual officer and agency. Everything taught should add to the personnel’s overall development.

Nowadays trainers must push past the training methodologies that limit the student or new hire we are charged with training. This is a new time, with unique professional demands and greater degrees of liabilities than ever before. Can we meet these challenges? We can, but we’ll need to develop the best trainers possible—and soon.

We need to differentiate between two concepts: What I call “situational confidence” and “core confidence.”

Situational confidence training—experience-based learning, i.e. “done it before.” This is the current training philosophy at most agencies, in my experience. This model has been developed from the concept of cutting out all the “unnecessary” elements of training. This sort of training seeks to meet state POST minimums for the smallest range of proficiencies. Minimum standards = minimal growth.

The result is a participant who develops situational confidence. What I mean by this is, the officer is trained to perform well within the paradigms of the training scenario. But what happens to them when they get into the real world?

Core confidence training—learning that is principle based, in order to be applied to wider conditions. This training seeks to impart confidence in the officer, as well as proven fundamentals. The participant operates from an inner core set of abilities, experiences, and knowledge that creates a different thought pattern that is accepting of new situations and environments.

This model of training takes forethought and planning on the part of the instructor. It requires the instructor be experienced with what’s really happening out in the street. As Carlson Gracie says, “If you want to become a lion, one must train with lions.”

Why illuminate the distinction between (SC) situational confidence and (CC) core confidence? Why are these terms important for agencies and departments? Because training is teaching! Your training units and instructors are not only transferring the “minimum” professional standards, they are teaching your agency’s culture.


Culture is the organization’s identity and heartbeat. When this important aspect is missed, systemic problems ensue and litigation is close behind. The result of missing this concept is poor decision-making, higher uses of force, increased policy-driven protocols, and higher incidents of internal affairs investigations or disciplinary actions. It matters. An officer, deputy or agent indoctrinated in a training culture where core confidence is the fundamental paradigm, by contrast, has the ability to negotiate each real-world encounter with a higher degree of professionalism.

Bottom line: Newer officers, deputies, and agents look to the Department trainers for not only how to legally act, but how to fit into the professional culture. Do they see excellence? Or do they see boxes to be checked?

  • PERF – Police Executive Research Forum: PERF helps to improve the delivery of police services through the exercise of strong national leadership; public debate of police and criminal justice issues; and research and policy development.
  • PROP – Police Reform Organizing Project: “PROP works to expose and correct abusive police tactics that routinely and disproportionately do harm to our city’s low-income communities and people of color.”