Take the Stand, Officer

Do you have an established procedure for building scenarios? Or do you just brainstorm ideas and pick the ones that would be the most fun for the instructors?


Hey, I've got an idea. Let's have a domestic scenario, but with a twist. Let's make it a mother-daughter fight where the mother is the primary aggressor. And we could have the mom be this elderly woman in a wheelchair...

Whoa! If this sounds like your usual planning session for scenario-based training, you're short-changing the process--and it could come back to bite you. Imagine yourself on the witness stand...

"Officer, you designed the scenario involving a mother-daughter domestic, correct?"
"Yes."
"What was the purpose of this scenario, officer?"
"To see how the officer would deal with the situation."
"What situation?"
"Well, the batterer was an elderly woman in a wheelchair."
"So the purpose of the scenario was to evaluate the officer's ability to arrest violent elderly wheelchair-bound female suspects. Do you run into a lot of those?"
"Well...no."
"I see. Well, I'm sure you must have had a good reason for including one here. Please describe the design process you used to develop The Case of the Paraplegic Perp."

Are you sweating yet? How would you answer the attorney's last question? Do you have an established procedure for building scenarios? Or do you just brainstorm ideas and pick the ones that would be most fun for the instructors?

In an earlier column, I talked about how important it is to have a "curriculum connection"--a tie between the competencies and learning objectives in your state's published law enforcement curriculum and the elements addressed in your scenario-based training. The curriculum connection is important because it ensures that your scenarios reflect the real world of policing. Not surprisingly, if you want to build a court-defensible scenario, the place to begin is with the curriculum.

Step 1: Choose your learning objectives.

Before starting to design scenarios, you should become intimately familiar with your state's law enforcement curriculum. If the competencies and learning objectives are well written, you can use them to guide your scenario development. Suppose, for example, that you are teaching a segment on domestic violence. The first step in developing an appropriate scenario is to choose which learning objectives you want the scenario to highlight. Inevitably, because scenario-based training includes context, your participants will never be practicing skills in isolation--in fact, that's part of what makes scenario-based training so effective and realistic. But you can pick particular learning objectives you would like to emphasize.

Let's build a scenario to emphasize these learning objectives taken from Wisconsin's Basic Training Curriculum (curriculum section in parentheses):

  1. Articulate mandatory arrest. (Domestics)
  2. Define predominant aggressor. (Domestics)
  3. Recognize the factors that influence decision making. (Ethics)
  4. Develop probable cause for violations based on simulated situations. (Constitutional Law)

Step 2: Create a Situation

Certainly we need to have our situation involve domestic violence. After all, our first two learning objectives are taken from the portion of the curriculum addressing investigation of domestics. And we will need to have the officer prepare to arrest the predominant aggressor. All of these would apply to any "ordinary" domestic. But there is one more learning objective: recognize the factors that influence decision-making. One of the ways to build that objective into a domestic violence scenario is to make the domestic dispute be between people other than the usual male-female couple or to make the predominant aggressor be someone unexpected--challenging the officer to overcome his or her preconceived ideas. So our situation will involve a relationship that is not the usual husband-wife or boyfriend-girlfriend and perhaps will include an unexpected aggressor as well.

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