A member agency sends two cops to a train-the trainer session at the computer center. In a scant four hours, these two receive the 130 page user guide and are turned into "experts" on the new computerized crash report.
One of the cops on the afternoon shift returns after 5 days off (by the way, he is a friend of mine). One of the new "experts" takes my friend aside to train him on the new software. My buddy is shown which icon on the screen to click to get access. He is shown how to get into the report writing screens and where to click to draw the diagram.
Voila! In less than 5 minutes, my friend is now an expert, too. (aaargh) However, my friend did NOT get 4 hours of classroom time. He also was not offered (or even told about) the 130 page user guide. He was left with this parting directive: if you need any help on your first report, hookup with someone else on the street that has already used the software to get your questions answered. And THAT, my brothers and sisters is what this department calls technology training.
A neighboring agency took a little different approach. The designated expert who went to the computer center is now charged with working one-on-one with any officer who requests help. He reports that completing a traffic crash report used to take about 20 minutes.
As of this writing, most cops are spending about 1.5 hours on the same task - using a computer. An added note: the designated expert now spends most of his working day helping others in his agency struggle through the new reporting system.
Our current failed training methods are quietly stealing the benefits we most desire from our investment of time and money in the new gear. It frustrates the cops who must adapt with little preparation and the administration who must listen to the complaining.
This training style needs to go the way of call boxes, carbon paper, typewriters and index cards in dispatch. It is outmoded, ineffective, and inappropriate. Worse, it is getting people killed.
BUT THAT'S NOT ALL
This sad story is not just about the failure of our current training methods when it comes to the "how" of using the computer.
More important, it is about the failure to train "when" and "where" to use a computer while remaining tactically safe about it.
You think that's not important? Really?
Do you think the spouses of Sgt. Mark Renninger, Officers Ronald Owens, Tina Griswold, Greg Richards and Mark Sawyers would agree that technology tactics are not worth training? These cops are all gone from our midst, in part because of their use of computers in public settings. We will find their names on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. in May.
Four of them are from Lakewood, WA. One is from Sterling Heights, MI. All are dead. We mourn their loss. But, now what are we going to do to avoid a repeat?
"BUT, TRAIN-THE-TRAINER DOES WORK," YOU SAY
Yes, it does. We are accustomed to using this approach when an agency sends officers for training to be their point person on their sidearm of choice. We have used it with chemical spray, expandable batons, and a host of other topics.
But, there are a couple of significant differences. First, in these other areas, the trainer becomes certified to teach others. He has studied and passed an established course of material in order to be qualified to teach others.
This is possible because of one key factor: there is an existing body of knowledge that can be drawn upon to develop curriculum, teaching aids, testing materials, and other items germane to the teaching/learning process. This body of knowledge is governed by a state-level commission on law enforcement standards.
Mobile computers are an emerging technology. They involve hardware, software and decisions about how/when to use them. This technology is dynamic and rapidly evolving. Many agencies still select hardware that doesn't come close to matching its intended use. Software? We will just adapt something from records. Training? These kids already know how to use computers. That's good enough - right?