Train for your life

It’s boring, really: doing the same thing over and over until it becomes reflexive, until it can be done in your sleep, eyes closed, hands going through the motions like they belong to someone else. And then one day you shoot out most of your load while...

Here’s another thought from California State University at Long Beach professor and retired L.A. County sheriff’s deputy, Daryl Meeks, who says that back in the day he and his fellow officers were given 30 rounds once a month and sent to the range to shoot. Then budgetary cuts changed everything and the agency cut back by sending its officers to the range once a trimester.

“What they found out was that (individual) accuracy and the officers’ proficiency…diminished (because) you were no longer handling your weapon on a routine basis,” Meeks says.

He believes agency heads need to reassess cuts in their training budgets and find better ways to mitigate those reductions. “I think many of our executive leaders in law enforcement have not been able to harness this balance,” he says.

Meeks also believes that keeping training current, relevant and accessible should be one of an agency head’s priorities. He says supervisors with fewer dollars may want to find unconventional ways to train their officers, such as using time that might otherwise be used less productively in order to squeeze in extra training.

“We bought video training tapes…designed for that 15 to 20 minute briefing or roll call,” he says. Other agencies use the time to refresh officers on changes in the law, reinforcement of skills, introduction of new weapons, changes in criminal behavior and review both the law and departmental policies.

From the other side of the fence

To critically evaluate the importance of good training to police agencies, consider the views of one of the country’s leading policy liability consultants and expert witnesses. G. Patrick Gallagher of The Gallagher-Westfall Group has testified in dozens of lawsuits against law enforcement agencies. Gallagher also audits and reviews departments often working both with the agencies and their insurers to keep risk at manageable levels.

“I say you have to worship at the altar of performance because policies, training, supervision, discipline, review and revision are inputs, and the only output that we want is high-level performance,” Gallagher says. He says civilians don’t necessarily correlate new policy manuals and training to better policing: they simply want to see the results of those components with more competence and fewer lawsuits. Gallagher says many departments simply don’t understand this concept.

One area of training that’s often neglected, says Gallagher, and which has been the focus of a number of police lawsuits, is training aimed at off-duty behavior. He says that the public has grown to expect an off-duty officer to intervene, even if the intervention could make matters worse. “We’re talking about the issue of officer safety…(even if) the chances of success are slight,” says Gallagher.

He acknowledges that sometimes the officer wins, but adds that in many cases where the officer does get the drop on the perpetrators, officers responding to the scene can misinterpret what they find, resulting in officer-upon-officer shootings. “There’s more chance that we’ll be attending a police funeral than a medal ceremony.”

His recommendation: Assess departmental tasks and the skills officers are expected to maintain. Determine what level of performance is acceptable. 75 percent? 95 percent? (Note: Gallagher readily admits this is a trick question; what chief or sheriff is going to settle for less than 100 percent?) Then, train accordingly.

Do it economically

The North Carolina Justice Academy main campus sits on a flat, sprawling area of land adjacent to the small town of Salemburg, N.C., just outside of Fayetteville, home of Fort Bragg’s U.S. Army base. Mark Strickland, the academy’s director, is unapologetically biased when it comes to his belief in the importance of police training; but then, he sees the results that good training can make in a department every single day.

“We at the academy really pride ourselves in providing good quality training (using) cost effective measures for the entire state of North Carolina,” says Strickland. In addition to basic skills like defensive driving, firearms courses and investigatory procedures, the academy also has specialized offerings. And the best part of the package is that this training costs state law enforcement nothing except the price of meals and transportation.