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Trainers: Evolve or Devolve

Training - we most often survive the street because of it. Granted, there are times when divine intervention or luck plays a role in getting us through a critical incident. But to the extent that we can, we dramatically increase our chances of going home at night when we participate in regular training. The way you train is the way you fight, no getting around that axiom. When things go south in a heartbeat there’s no time to think. That’s why training is integral to our survival. The training dynamic can be broken down into two simple components: trainers and trainees. Let’s first look at trainers.

I’ve been a trainer for thirty years. I consider the position to be an honor and an extension of my regular duties. It’s something I choose to do for two reasons. One, I become a better cop because I constantly review the latest tactics and techniques, and two, my colleagues become more professional due to the training I deliver. Training should be a win-win situation; both components, trainer and trainee benefit from the session. The trainer hones his instructor skills as he prepares for and then shares his information, while the trainees benefit from the trainer’s expertise in his chosen field. Time constraints and budget considerations being what they are in these tough economic times, it’s imperative that the allotted training time not be wasted. That’s why as a trainer you play a pivotal role in your department or agency’s training program.

Having been on each side of the training fence, I’ve experienced both ends of the trainer spectrum. On one end are trainers who are constantly on top of their game. Right from the start, they grab hold of their audience with a great opening line or demo. Perhaps they show a snippet of a video that puts the trainees in the right frame of mind. Or maybe they tell a poignant story, one that relates to the topic they’re about to address. Once they’ve captured the students’ attention they never let go. Good trainers engage their class by getting their students involved in discussions, answering questions, demos and breakout sessions. An experienced trainer knows that standing in front of a class for forty-five minutes, doing nothing but talking or reading Powerpoint slides is not only a waste of time, but an insult to all attendees. The caring, well-informed trainer swings for the fences each time he steps up to the plate.

On the other end of that spectrum is the trainer who never quite lives up to expectations. More often than not, the lackluster trainer chose to become an instructor for all the wrong reasons. Perhaps the instructor class was in a desirable location, or maybe the one or two week in-service got this officer off midnights for a while. I’ve heard a couple of cases where two officers teamed up and attended the instructor training so they could be together. You provide the rest of the scenario.

Regardless of the reason, if it wasn’t because the officer wanted to become a subject matter expert and help his fellow officers work better, easier, quicker and more professionally, then that instructor slot(s) was wasted. Case in point: I know of officers who attend in-service training, whether it’s an instructor course or not, who upon completing the training never share that information with their colleagues. I don’t know what’s worse, the guy who attends an instructor course and never puts on any training, or the one who attends the course and then botches the delivery when he tries to train his fellow officers. Either case is a lose-lose situation for the department and the officers.

The poor trainers amaze me. They think they can pull the wool over the eyes of the officers who are seated before them, or who they are sharing the firing line with. But a seasoned officer can tell in the first thirty seconds whether the trainer is credible or not. Teaching an adult group of learners is a difficult task. It’s not like teaching kids in school. However, standing in front of a group of hardnosed cops is ten times harder, for they will see through the bs and call you out on it. Veterans don’t like having anyone talk down to them or wasting their time. If you look out over your class and see guys wearing a disgusted expression on their face and sitting with their arms folded across their chest, you may as well show a movie. Nothing you say will resonate with them.

Big time offenders are trainers who talk the talk, but haven’t walked the walk. They are on par with supervisors who haven’t paid their dues on the street, and then want to tell you how to do things. It doesn’t wash with real cops, and trainers who haven’t paid their dues on the job don’t stand a chance of being accepted by their audience, unless it’s a group of green recruits.

The last point about trainers has to do with those who fail to keep up with the latest equipment and techniques. The whole concept of evolving is important, regardless of the discipline you teach. Keeping abreast of the latest shooting techniques, weaponry, ammo and tactics is paramount for a firearms instructor’s continued success. A DT instructor needs to know the latest and best techniques for subduing a non-compliant subject and the best ground fighting moves. Legal instructors need to stay abreast of current local, state and federal decisions that impact a police officer’s arrest authority.

The bottom line is this: if you choose to be a trainer, you must continue to update your knowledge base and teaching techniques. Police work and tactics are ever evolving. What worked ten years ago may not work in today’s environment, either because the bad guys have evolved, the environment has changed, or a law has been overturned. Whatever the reason, a trainer needs to stay informed. Your department and colleagues expect you will know the latest and greatest tactic or technique. Don’t disappoint them. Do your part to get them home at the end of the day.

Stay safe, Brothers and Sisters!


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About The Author:

John M. Wills spent 33 years in law enforcement as a Chicago Police Officer and FBI Special Agent (Ret). He is a Freelance Writer and Speaker whose third book, TARGETED, is now available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Contact John through his website: