There is no vast body of knowledge. There has not been decades of experience from which to learn. Academies across the country generally leave computer training to the FTO, thus ignoring what will become the recruit's most used tool.
Cops are trained with great frequency throughout their careers. The training usually falls into a few categories.
- Cops are sent away to school, i.e. radar certification, field sobriety, intermediate weapons, etc. They are taught in a structured setting, like the advanced classes at the local academy.
- A short list of cops is sent to a school where the officer is certified to teach others. They learn about the product or device and they also learn the nuance of teaching fellow officers. Such classes are held by Glock, Sig-Sauer and TASER, to name a few.
- Another more costly method is when a certified instructor is brought into the agency and classes are held for the troops.
I have been conducting technology & tactics classes for over 10 years. Most student evaluations indicate that the student cops view the class topic as primarily covering officer safety and secondarily, how to use technology to help improve it. There is a curriculum, outlines, handouts, hands-on training, and audio-visual aids to drive the message home. Written student evaluations enable continuous improvement in delivery methods.
Could I train a trainer to produce a similar learning experience for their agency? You bet! It takes 32-40 hours of class time for a person to receive my certification that he/she is prepared to deliver the goods. Most administrators question why proficiency cannot be achieved in a couple of hours. Pose that question to the chief in Lakewood, WA. I am sure that he can tell you.
THE BLIND LEADING THE BLIND
I have spent many years teaching cops about using technology in their cars and in public. About half of the class time deals with the specific mechanical issues of the software being taught: i.e. electronic crash reports, ticketing, NCIC inquiries, etc.
The remainder of the time covers using the technology safely. We must learn from the deaths of the 5 officers who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
Now, there is an added risk: On November 5, 2009 a Jefferson City, MO officer struck and killed a pedestrian. He had been glancing at his computer while driving.
The typical knee-jerk reaction from most administrators: write a policy telling cops they cannot use the computer while driving. Uh-huh. Sure. I bet that policy will be violated within the first shift after it takes effect.
It is not practical. It is not reasonable. Going back to Detroit PD in 1960, when they got the first mobile radios that Motorola had to deploy. The general order came out shortly after the first crash: don't use the radio when the car is moving. I could imagine doing that, couldn't you? Uh-huh. Sure.
The computer is a critical communications element. Dispatch sends runs to the cops on the computer. The sergeant and other officers communicate important information on the computer. Cops know if a car is stolen or the driver is wanted - before making the stop - all using the computer.
Don't use the computer when the car is moving, you say? I might as well sit down at the coffee shop and take my runs from there, if that is the new rule. The bottom line: such a rule is not realistic, it is not practical and it is not safe.
WHAT TO DO
First, recognize this is NOT business as usual.
We are not training cops on how to use a typewriter or a fax machine. There is no huge legacy of knowledge and experience on which we can rely for guidance. There is no one else whose footsteps we can follow. We are feeling our way, collectively.
There are many analogies between computer technology today and where we were with TASERS when they were first introduced. We collectively recognize that a cop must understand how to activate and use the device. We must know how to load the cartridge without shooting the probes into our own hands. Equally important are the legal, practical and other implications of when we should (and should not) use this device. They are inseparable. Think of mobile technology training in the same manner as you think of TASER training.