As you might imagine, I encourage people to seek out and attend as much training as possible. Most police department training budgets are less than the department administrators want or need. Usually, it is up to the department to determine who goes to what training. Beyond that, officers may choose to attend training on their own time and their own dime. Either way, it is important to make the most of the time and the dollars you spend. The following are things to consider as you prepare for your next training course.
Do your homework
Whether you've been assigned to a training course or are selecting one yourself, make sure you understand what the course is about. Different courses and different instructors emphasize different things. A class may be about marksmanship, tactics, decision-making or a combination of these skills. You need to know the topic in advance, so that you can prepare.
When you are selecting a course, be realistic about what you want, need or can accomplish. Make sure your skills are consistent with the course you have selected. Many basic level courses are available, and it is always important to have a good foundation before you move on to greater challenges. But it is also possible to find excellent advanced courses that will take you to a new level of competence.
All good firearms schools and instructors have progressive levels of training. And all of them are happy to discuss their classes and make suggestions about how you will benefit from their programs. A little bit of research, in advance, will guide you to useful, appropriate training that will help you build skills in areas you need or want. It is certainly good to want as much training as you can get, but be prepared to prioritize your wish list and concentrate on your greatest needs first. Ending up in the wrong training can be frustrating and counter-productive. And please, be realistic in your expectations as well as your assessment of your own abilities. It's your time and your money -- use it wisely.
Be A Good Student
Once you've decided on attending a training class, make the most of it. Instructors vary widely in their teaching methods, techniques and their philosophies. It is possible that a particular course or instructor will teach things that differ from what you are currently doing. Maybe these techniques or methods are better but perhaps they are not. You really don't know until you give it a try. I see no sense in going to a class with a closed mind, but I see people who show up for classes with an "invisible protective shield" surrounding them and their preconceived notions about what is "right." They then spend their class time making themselves, their classmates and their instructors miserable, while doing a good impression of a hostile learner. It is impossible to know everything, so open your mind and see what new training can do for you.
Quite possibly, it's not just about you. Maybe what you will get out of the class are things you can use to help others. Maybe you'll develop some good ideas to help another student, who is having trouble learning or is a hostile learner.
If you don't open your mind, you'll miss opportunities to expand it. After you have diligently applied yourself in your training, you can keep what is good and useful, and relegate the rest to your mental archives. Notice I didn't say throw it out. You never know when something you have learned may be useful for a specific application. In fact, some instructors build their techniques or philosophies around relatively isolated applications. They find something that works for a particular instance, and then try to apply it to everything. As a result, you may recognize this and start tuning them out. Don't. Learn what you can from everyone, then decide how and when to apply it for your needs.
One common trait that top-notch instructors share is they are all good students. I have been to many classes that have been attended by instructors only. Talk about intense people! Those I have been privileged to know are like sponges; absorbing, analyzing and anticipating how information will be useful in their courses and to their students. Free time is spent discussing and reviewing the information with other instructors. They challenge each other and provide feedback. No instructor worth his salt thinks he or she knows everything. They may have their own style or methods, but they are always good students in someone else's class. That is a good example for anyone who attends any type of training. And, let's face it, if you attend a training class, your department is likely to want you to share what you have learned with fellow officers. To do that effectively, you must first be a good student yourself.
Check your gear
Instructors will usually list the equipment needed for the training course. Make sure you have the necessary gear, and that it's in working order. I see people all the time who show up for training with gear they just bought and have never used -- this includes their firearms. I've been to countless competitive pistol matches (yes, they are a form of training also) where people show up with guns they haven't fired recently, or that "just came back from the gunsmith." And they have problems. This is certainly counter-productive in a situation where you are trying to compete with others and do your best.
Certainly any gun, or other gear, can break at any time. But when someone tells me they just bought the gun and haven't fired it yet, that tells me they are not prepared. Other gun problems include: guns that haven't been kept clean and lubricated, sights that are loose or out of alignment, magazines that are damaged or just plain dirty, and holsters that don't fit the guns. When such situations occur, these students end up focusing on their equipment miseries instead of the training.
If a gun or gear fails during training, students learn a valuable lesson at a time and place that will not cost them or someone else their life. But there really is no excuse for showing up with the wrong or inoperable equipment to start with. Don't waste the good money you or your department spent on the class by bringing equipment that is not up to the task. A few magazines of ammo, fired through the gun beforehand, will save you a lot of grief. Even then, always bring a spare gun and spare magazines. You never know.
A little bit of planning on your part can make any training a positive, useful experience. Don't just show up at the appointed time and place. Prepare yourself in advance and you will be able to get the most out of the experience. You may or may not be able to select the course, but you certainly can control your own attitude and preparation. Empower yourself to get the most from your training!
Steve Denney is a former municipal police sergeant, USAF Officer and chief of security/safety officer for a large retirement and healthcare community. A former SWAT officer, crime prevention officer and both military and police firearms trainer, he is currently an instructor for LFI Judicious Use of Deadly Force, LFI Stressfire, and NRA and other defensive tactics disciplines. He currently trains police, military and private citizens. He is a charter member of ILEETA and a member of IALEFI.