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Minimum Training Doesn't Create Competence

In my opinion, you cannot legitimately complain about the outcome when you’ve engineered the process.  In other words, a county, city, agency, politician, administrator or command staff has little right to complain about the actions of officers on the street when they put a poorly trained officer out there.

Recently the NYPD has ordered retraining for its officers based on an issue surrounding a neck restraint and an in-custody death.  Truth is, that the death had little or nothing to do with the alleged choke, after which the subject was still resisting and speaking.  We hear nonsense like “illegal choke hold.”  Whether the officers involved are disciplined is one thing, if they are disciplined it is simply based on the politics of force and not the facts.  They cannot be criminally charged with violating policy and the use of a headlock or neck restraint in such circumstances, considering the totality of the circumstances, including the height and weight of the offender, could be found to be objectively reasonable (and that is the law).

It is truly sad, in my opinion, that money for the “retraining” of officers is now available when it wasn’t available prior and that those politicians now thumping their chests were the ones who cut police budgets to begin with.

It’s a Question of Competence

Let’s face it; agencies want to hire new police officers the cheapest way possible.  Few, care about the quality of training the officer is getting.  Oh, they may test them, investigate their background, polygraph them, check their fitness, on and on but most don’t want to pay them for the time they’re in a basic program and may even pay them reduced rate while training.  Add to that a basic program which only meets the minimum performance standards as delineated by state POST and you have a recipe for a poorly trained officer being released on the street. 

The question is, are they competent?  Has their firearms training properly prepared them for the street or has it been based around passing a qualification course?  Are they competent in their suspect control skills or do they just know enough to get themselves hurt?  Can they make sound decisions based on their limitations and control the patrol vehicle at speed, as learned in their driver’s training, or have they only learned to parallel park or maneuver at slow speed?  Have they properly learned use of force law and, been forced in scenario training to make decisions in situations which are tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving, or have they only been a photocopy handout of Graham v. Connor and been forced to engaged in static, blocked training sessions?  Certainly the FTO – Field Training Officer, program is a sound one, but it cannot and will not make up for a poor basic and advanced training design or overall lack of training.

Are they competent?  If not, then they will not be confident in their skills, abilities and decision making, possibly resulting in two divergent outcomes: over-reaction and under-reaction.  You see competence breeds confidence and that helps control the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) or what laymen refer to as fight or flight.  Without competence/confidence we see officers resort to high school wrestling techniques or grab a suspect, pull them to their center and muscle them to the ground or in more violent incidents, throw big haymaker punches possibly breaking their hands, and so on.  Without competence/confidence we see officers curl up in fetal positions and take a beating versus having a practiced motor program, fight back and win.  This hyper-vigilance, as it is known, results in officers slamming the brakes to the floor and locking down on the steering wheel, instead of steering, and a variety of other negative outcomes.  The officer’s brain, overwhelmed with the stimulus in front of them, literally shuts down and does nothing or repeats an unsuccessful technique over and over again.

Fear is a natural response but without training the officer can be overcome with fear, whereas a properly trained and prepared officer uses the positive effects of SNS to empower themselves to win.  Are properly trained officers fearful?  Absolutely, but they’ve learned through training and experience that they can control and operate within that SNS response.  Take away training and you force an officer to learn that through experience only.  And that, my friends, is a dangerous proposition where failure can cost lives.

Up the Chain

Would you want a front-line supervisor out on the streets without any training as to how to supervise or command?  Oh we know that most the time supervisors are not required to make life or death decisions but what if an active killer starts shooting at the middle school or something like a bank robbery, hostage incident, running gun battle like recently occurred in Stockton, California.  It’s a heck of a time to find out that the sergeant only sought promotion to keep from answering calls on the street.  It’s also a heck of a time to learn how to command officers in a crisis.

Chiefs and other bosses are not immune.  A big use of force incident occurs and ignorant of the law and training because they never go to in-service or have exempted themselves from the physical part of training.  As an example, telling the range officer, “I have a meeting, can I just qualify and leave?” or calling the range and saying, “Put me down as qualifying today.”  Then when something big happens they, A) Cannot properly evaluate the use of force because they don’t know the law, B) Engage in second guessing from the quiet sanctuary of their offices, C) Don’t ask those people within their organization who do know because their ego won’t allow it, D) Throw the officer under the bus to serve their own career, or E) Make their decision based on the “politics of force” not on the totality of the circumstances at the moment the officer used force.

To the bean-counters who have cut training over the years, let me ask you this.  Would you want an inexperienced accountant with only a high school math class under his belt, to sit down and balance your agency’s books?  If not, then why would you want an ill-trained and ill-equipped officer making live or death decisions, driving at high speed through your city streets or trying to control a hyper-violent criminal suspect?  If you would spend money to get a good accountant so your books are up to snuff, would you not want a good and competent officer patrolling the streets of your city?

Writing policy is not training.  Further, putting policy in place without training is negligent.  Even further, finding the cheapest way to put cops on the beat while ignoring their basic, advanced and in-service training is not leading, it’s managing and setting the officer and agency up for failure.  I would not feel comfortable in the passenger compartment of a jetliner knowing the pilot had trained only to “minimum standards” so why would I feel reassured that a new police officer armed with the ability to take a life, empowered by the state to exceed speed limits and disregard control devices, who has the ability to take away the liberty of a citizen – was given “just enough” training to get by.

I know I’m a dying breed because I honestly care and have not sold my soul for promotion, advancement or given up because they’ve worn me down.  I guess looking into the faces of officers who have gone in harm’s way, won and then said, “Training saved my life,” has a way of changing a man – if he still cares…

If you helped create and manage a flawed process, have sat on your hands, not standing up for what’s right or fighting for the best training or equipment possible, or have thrown an officer, who did nothing wrong under the bus, it is you who need to be retrained or replaced.