Training law enforcement officers on new technology is a double-edged challenge. On the one hand, the latest technology now offered in tools and software can enable officers to respond to police calls more effectively, or dramatically improve the way certain duties are performed. Conversely, it takes time to learn any new technology, and with shrinking manpower and budgets, time is precious.
Is there just too little time to reap the benefits from training for technology in which your police department has invested? Not according to Ed Nowicki, executive director of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA). Nowicki is quick to acknowledge that "time and money are tight (for training)," and even notes that, by his estimates, "devoting only 15 minutes for training per day, five days a week, is more than a classroom hour, so technology can maximize this time!"
Considering that a police officer's job today is packed with responsibility, and that his "office" is in the field, technology must be designed to work well in the patrol car as well as on the officer's utility belt. And it must be quick and easy to understand and apply. For this reason, Nowicki feels that not only must police departments buy the right kinds of tech tools, but their value and usefulness should be immediately apparent. He further argues that getting all officers trained on new technology as soon as it's available within a police department is crucial.
"Things [that are technology based] change so often," Nowicki observes. In the meantime, it can take months to get trained on a new weapon or piece of equipment given the lengthy procurement process that is standard for most police departments. "By the time you learn a new form of technology, it's upgraded," Nowicki says. "Sometimes these are easy conversions, sometimes not."
Technology changes attitudes
For any training to be truly effective, some hard questions need to be asked:
- Do I need this new technology?
- Will it make my work easier, and render me more productive?
- Is the technology's functionality intuitive, and can I learn it quickly?
- Will I use the technology often enough so that it becomes part of my officer's toolbox?
The answers to these questions, of course, depend on how proactive a police department is about providing training and, in particular, the quality of training.
For Sgt. Steve Pascarella, training officer for the Monroeville (Pennsylvania) Police Department, training is a high priority. "We're constantly trying to keep up," he says. Meanwhile, Pascarella confesses there are some challenges. "The biggest thing is (officer) attitude," he says. "Some officers accept the fact that there's more technology to learn with the job, while others fight it tooth and nail." Yet, if a technology makes sense, and its features and operation are straightforward, officers often tend to embrace it once they have mastered a new tool or system.
Pascarella cites as an example the nationwide trend among police departments of installing Mobile Data Terminals (MDTs) in police cars, which offer wireless networking technology. The Monroeville PD has placed an MDT in each of its patrol cars. The benefits of both the training and technology have been clear, effective and widely accepted. Adoption of the MDTs means officers can more easily access data resources (i.e., suspect backgrounds, fingerprints, photo identification, etc.) and communicate better with coworkers and the dispatch center. These benefits, in turn, mean the community gets better police coverage. Officers appreciate the MDTs because they spend less time on administrative matters, so there's more time to respond to calls in the field. "This [the MDTs] is one of the systems that has helped change the attitude ofsome of the officers here," Pascarella notes.