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Becoming A Law Enforcement Trainer

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day and we were lamenting (as usual) about something or other. That day’s topic happened to be “where are all the new, young police trainers with fresh ideas and original concepts?”  I pondered the issue long after we’d hung up the phone and I began to ask myself “hey, where are all the new, young female trainers?”  After all, sworn law enforcement is approximately 12% female, with more women in corrections and in the federal ranks than ever before.  Most women are good communicators, they like to share ideas and they are drawn to helping people, so it would stand to reason that we’d be seeing more female trainers and speakers out there.

Don’t get me wrong, I meet a few women trainers in virtually every class I teach; from field training officers to firearms instructors.  But most of these terrific women don’t train outside of their local area. I’m one of many people in the training industry who would like to see more women out there. Whether you’re thinking about becoming an FTO, an academy instructor, or you’re a seasoned trainer who wants to take it to the next level, here are a few things to think about:

Look in the mirror.  If you’ve never been involved in training before, make your very first student the one you see in the mirror.  What would you like to learn more about?  What else do you wish you’d been taught in the academy?  What do you think others in this profession need to know?  One of my partners, Barb Harris, and I started teaching “Career and Officer Survival for Dispatchers” after we realized that police dispatchers were truly the “forgotten first responders” who often didn’t receive much training beyond the basics.  This revelation motivated us to combine forces, study the problem and come up with a classroom solution.  Even though I’m a former dispatcher, during that process I learned so much more about the dispatch function and gained an even greater respect for those men and women in the communications center.  Thanks to the response from the industry, speaking to dispatchers has now become one of my passions.

What are you interested in sharing with others?  Do you have a message that may help motivate or inspire others?  That’s how many trainers and speakers begin.  Women like Sergeant Jennifer Fulford and Officer Ally Jacobs took very different experiences that gained each of them international attention as well as numerous awards and accolades, and began sharing what they had each learned with others in the profession.  Both of these women are generous with their time and low key about their accomplishments, key elements in one’s success as a trainer.  After all, when you’re in the classroom or up on stage, it’s not about you, it’s about them.

Just do it.  If you’re interested in being a classroom instructor and it’s something you’ve never done before, just put your fears and your ego away and get out there! Not sure how to get started? Volunteer to give talks to local school, church and service groups in your jurisdiction.  Someone is always looking for a speaker.  This proved to be an excellent proving ground for many police trainers. Trust me, if you can hold the attention of 15 overexcited Cub Scouts trying to achieve their “law enforcement” badge, be ready to take it to the next level. Join a couple of professional associations and attend their conferences, check out the workshops.  Research the need, study the topic, and contact next year’s event organizers. Attend an instructor development class; learn how to put together a dynamic presentation, and read and research everything you can get your hands on and then get out there!

Check your work ethic and your integrity.  I was offered my first job as a trainer back in the 1980’s after I had attended a class for women officers and made some suggestions on how the course might be improved.  I had the “public speaking” part down, but coming up with a full day of original material was harder than I had ever imagined.  One of my inspirations at the time was author, trainer and retired prosecutor Val Van Brocklin.   More than twenty five years later, Val is still mentoring and inspiring me.  She continues to create new material, research new topics, and her delivery style is unmatched.  Find trainers whose topic and style you appreciate and attend their classes, read their articles, and quote them in your own training, but always give credit where credit is due. Make sure your material is your own or you are using someone else’s with permission. 

A few more things to ponder.  Your training career will probably ebb and flow with your police career and with your life.  I had to cut back on outside training when my daughter was an infant.  Traveling and training while working full time can be exhausting, but don’t wait until you’re about to retire to get out there.  Establish yourself by writing articles, attending (and getting involved in) conferences and events, and plan on doing a lot of it for free.  Make sure that you’re a role model for whatever you teach and don’t view yourself as a “woman trainer,” see yourself as a “trainer,” a professional who has something to offer.  Law enforcement needs fresh, young talent, male and female, willing to devote their time and their efforts to making law enforcement a better, safer, stronger profession.  I hope to see you out there soon!


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About The Author:

Sgt. Betsy Brantner Smith is a 29-year veteran of a large suburban Chicago police department. Recently retired as a patrol supervisor, she has held positions in patrol, investigations, narcotics, juvenile, crime prevention and field training. As a sergeant, she supervised her department's K-9 Unit, served as a field training sergeant, recruitment team sergeant, bike patrol coordinator, the Crowd Control Bike Team supervisor, and supervisor of the Community Education/Crime Prevention Unit.

As a patrol sergeant, Betsy served on the Elderly Services Team, the Crisis Intervention Team, and was a supervisory member of the Honor Guard Unit. From 1999 - 2003 Betsy hosted various programs for the Law Enforcement Television Network and served as a content expert.

A graduate of the Northwestern University Center for Public Safety's School of Staff and Command, Betsy writes for numerous law enforcement and government publications including and is a regular columnist for many police websites including Police Link. A content expert and instructor for the Calibre Press "Street Survival" seminar since 2003, Betsy also serves as an on-air commentator and advisor for Police One TV and was a featured character in the Biography Channel’s “Female Forces” reality show. Betsy has been a law enforcement trainer for over 20 years and is a popular keynote speaker at conferences throughout the United States and Canada and beyond.

Betsy is the lead instructor for the Calibre Press “Street Survival for Women” seminar and manages Dave Smith & Associates. Together, Betsy and Dave teach courses through “Winning Mind Seminars,” an Illinois based company. She can be reached through her website at