5 Keys to Training Right: Do It Now or Pay for It Later.

By Scott Hughes  |   Jun 22, 2020

After reading Jim Glennon’s article, “Get Off His F***ing Neck!”: Where Do We Place the Blame?” that boldly confronted underlying issues that likely contributed to the behavior we see in footage of the Minneapolis incident involving George Floyd, I was compelled to share some of my own thoughts as a Chief.

That incident has yet again sparked debate about police training and tactics. Rightfully so. The images of a police officer with a knee on the neck of a handcuffed man on the ground for nearly nine minutes is disturbing. As the facts of the incident continue to emerge, I want to address what I believe to be a significant underlying issue: the lack of adequate, real-world police training.

Training in law enforcement generally, well, sucks. Contrary to the belief of some in politics and the public, we do not spend hours and hours on the range; or on the mats practicing how to disarm and handcuff people; or on the driving pad practicing how to drive a squad car.

You want to know what a lot of American police officers do to train in 2020? The same exact thing we’ve been doing for the last 20 years: virtually nothing. They train to reach the bare minimum requirements. In many states that “requirement” is going to the firing range once annually – maybe twice – and throwing a few rounds down range while experiencing no stress or feeling any realistic concern for your safety or the safety of your fellow officers.

When are we going to stop burying our heads in the sand and address these real issues head on?

It is high-time for; No more excuses!

I am extremely fortunate at my agency to have a group of elected officials who “get it.” They understand that spending the money to properly train our police officers is minimal compared to both the unwarranted injury to citizens and the amount of money they would spend defending officers for poor tactics.

The fire service has embraced the importance of training since their inception. Yes, they have more hours a day to conduct training but their approach to training as a top priority is something police agencies must mirror. As law enforcement leaders we can’t let financial constraints and schedule impact how we decide where to place training in the priority scale. As a renowned police trainer and attorney once said: “pay me now or pay me later.” In other words, pay the money (overtime) up front to train the officers – properly – or pay me later to defend them in lawsuits.

It’s 2020 and I am appalled that many in the profession believe that putting officers in front of a computer screen to learn about critical issues facing law enforcement is sufficient. You cannot address the realities of this profession until you put these officers in the same rapidly evolving, high stress situations they’re going to face on the street. We have come a long way with firearms training simulators and other technology-driven approaches to training, but even these simulators are just that: simulations. They generally don’t raise your stress level to a level comparable to that experienced in an actual combative encounter, nor do they replicate a realistic situation you may face on the job.

So how do we effectively train our officers? I’ve got five suggestions.

1. Make it a priority.

2. Make it realistic.

3. Constantly evaluate your approach and your programs and make the effort to alter as necessary.

4. Research what works and just as importantly, what doesn’t.

5. Use Videos of actual force events and learn from mistakes and mirror successes.

Consider this: By the time you’re watching the news after what clearly appears to be an egregious police-involved incident, it’s too late to turn back time. The storm has erupted. But as you sit here and read this, know that it is NOT too late to improve your approach to training. Do it now…or pay for it later.

The frustrating paradox of training.

The cry for improved and increased levels of law enforcement training is deafening. It’s a legitimate concern…and not a new one. In addition to politicians, activists and the general public demanding more police training, police officers themselves are asking for it, and have been for decades.

It’s probably safe to say no one would disagree with the idea that training should be evaluated, enhanced and increased. Here’s the paradox:

Law enforcement training budgets are notoriously tight. Whenever overall policing budgets are negatively impacted, training budgets are generally the first to get hit even harder.

Now, legions of people from every slice of life—including officers—are demanding that law enforcers get more and better training. In the same breath, scores are also demanding that law enforcement be defunded. Add to that the near complete cessation of law enforcement training nationwide in response to COVID-19 gathering restrictions and we’ve got a perfect storm of legitimate need & demand smashing head on into intensifying financial infeasibility and virtually complete unavailability.

So, what next? In my opinion, the answer is twofold. I’m oversimplifying, but conceptually we as a nation need to do two things:

1. Think long and hard about the impact “defunding” will have on law enforcement training. I believe enhanced and expanded training of the tens of thousands of outstanding officers actively serving and protecting their communities is a worthy investment. Instead of divesting funds from law enforcement, let’s look at investing in our officers, their training and the safety of our country.

2. It’s time to intelligently reintegrate in-person training back into law enforcement. There have been major advancements in online training offerings like the ones we’ve developed at Calibre Press and taking the opportunity to participate in those programs is critical. But I and many others believe it’s just as crucial to combine that with in-person, interactive instruction…and it CAN be done. The academic world is already doing it. They have invested the time and effort into creating strategies for delivering live, interactive education in a safe, health-sensitive fashion and they’re putting them into play. Law enforcement can, too. We must.

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Scott Hughes
Chief Hughes holds a bachelor’s degree in Organizational Leadership from the University of Charleston and is a graduate of The Supervisor Training and Education program as well as The Police Executive Leadership College. Scott is also a graduate of the 133rd FBI-LEEDA Command Institute and is a certified Law Enforcement Executive (CLEE). Chief Hughes is an active member of the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police where he serves on the education committee.