Trainers, Stay or Go?

"Man, I miss it," said a friend of mine who recently left the training division to go back on the street. He was lamenting the fact that he loved being a trainer; he was happy passing his skills and techniques on to his fellow officers. Not that he doesn't enjoy police work; he loves it and he can't imagine ever doing anything else. But he had found his niche; he found something that he was good at - something that made him feel like he made a difference every day. Being a trainer was part of his persona, and so he felt as if he had left a part of himself behind when he left the academy.

The problem, though, was that he had arrived at a crossroad in his career. He had time on the job and a ton of experience, but his kids were getting older, which meant high school and college were looming on the horizon. If he wanted to make rank, which meant more money, he needed to get back on the street and re-familiarize himself with policy and procedures - exams were heavily into that. And while his firearms, defensive tactics, physical training, and tactical knowledge, were superb, and critical for officer survival, they meant little at promotional exam time.

So my friend needed to make a decision. On the one hand, being a trainer was a job he'd always dreamt about, yet the practical side of him looked at the big picture. Advancement within the department meant, among other things, being versatile, i.e., having many skills and abilities and working in many assignments. Unfortunately, there seemed to be a negative connotation attached to those who've dedicated themselves to training. He'd heard the arguments and derisive comments:

  • he's hiding out
  • I've got more time in court than he has on the street
  • he couldn't find a shoe print in freshly fallen snow

I'm sure you can come up with some of your own remarks, but the point is this: trainers are an integral part of our survival on the street. Training is our frame of reference, especially when we encounter a serious situation; one that may put our life in jeopardy. It allows us to stay, at the very least, on a level playing field with the bad guy, and sometimes, even puts us ahead of the power curve for we can anticipate his next move. We do an injustice to those men and women who dedicate themselves to training others. Their job is no less important than those pushing a black and white around each day.

I will agree that in rare circumstances there may be a few trainers who are in place simply to avoid police work; they're easy to spot. One of the biggest clues is time on the job. If I see an officer assigned in a training capacity with just a few years under his belt, I get real suspicious. Unless he has come from another department or agency, there's no way this man should be in that position. Think about it: if you're sitting in a class and the instructor begins his bio and tells you he has two years on the job, you begin to wonder, What's this guy going to tell me that I don't already know? He lacks credibility. It's difficult to teach if no one in the room respects you.

Another example is the instructor who does have time on the job, but it's all academy time. He was on the street for five seconds before his "hook" got him the gig in training. He may know the topic he's teaching, inside and out, but aside from any technical information about the subject matter, he lacks the credibility to impart any other knowledge to his students. Believe me, if you're just a talking head in the classroom you may as well just show a movie. You're not going to hold anyone's attention. Contrast him with an instructor who's been on the street, made tons of arrests, and has plenty of court time. It's like comparing apples to oranges. Students will relate to the experienced trainer, the complete package, if you will. They will deride, embarrass, or otherwise ignore the empty suit.

One of the rationales that I hear given for putting an unseasoned officer in a training position is that no one else knows the subject matter. This usually presents itself when we're talking about technical subjects such as cyber security, physical security, computer related matters, etc. My answer: hire someone who has the knowledge, but don't hire them in a sworn capacity if they're not going to be a cop. We don't need another gun on the street in the hands of someone who doesn't have a clue about deadly force, but can hack a computer in a heartbeat.

That aside, this is a serious matter for many of us who have dedicated our lives to training. We sometimes stay at great personal expense, forgoing promotions, pay, and other benefits. We listen to the barbs and obnoxious comments thrown at us from uninformed dolts who couldn't be a trainer if their lives depended on it. They don't see the class prep time, the endless drills, the redundant classes in which we show the same enthusiasm for class one as class one hundred and one. They think trainers are on easy street.

So, trainers, if you find yourself at the crossroad where my friend found himself, what do you do? Do you stay, or do you go? It's not an easy decision. Sometimes it's made for us, i.e., a supervisor or a mandatory rotation. But if you have the luxury of being able to make the decision on your own, think about the long-term consequences and implications. That old axiom, The grass always looks greener on the other side, may be just the thing that helps you with the answer. My advice to you: ask yourself, "What makes me happy?" Job satisfaction, contentment, a positive outlook, they all add to longevity and success. Staying the course or leaving is one of those life-changing events. Think long and hard about it, seek input from family and friends, and seek His counsel.

Stay safe, brothers and sisters!