Law enforcement training programs have reached a crossroads. Over the past two years, training budgets have been slashed to the point where officers receive the least amount of training required to maintain certifications. Politicians, news media and loud special-interest groups have colluded to defund law enforcement.
The money removed from department budgets has resulted in fewer police officers on the street. Hiring has been cut back, officers are resigning in droves and the number of officers retiring early has skyrocketed. The result is a staggering loss of knowledge and experience. Couple this with a severe cut in training budgets, and officers are being set up for failure.
If you are interested in a successful law enforcement career and staying out of prison and away from the media spotlight, you must take responsibility for your own training. I’ve heard all the excuses. “If my department won’t pay for it, then it’s not important.” “Training is expensive, and I can’t afford it.” “If I pay for my own training, my department won’t bother to pay for any of my training.” There are more excuses, but I’m sure you get the idea. You may have even muttered a couple of these yourself.
But here’s the bottom line: You’re the only person responsible for your well-being, career and family. If you do something that captures public attention but is within your department training and policy, you will be the one who will suffer the long-term consequences. If you lose your job or go to prison, your department will continue as if nothing happened. Sure, the command staff will be under some scrutiny, but in a matter of days they will fill your position with another warm body.
It won’t happen to me
Optimism bias — when someone believes they are less likely to experience a negative event compared to someone else — is a cognitive bias stemming from the mistaken belief that our chances of experiencing negative events are lower than those of our peers. Looking at current events, there are several high-profile incidents that have garnered a lot of media attention, forced officers to resign and placed officers in front of a judge facing criminal charges. I’ll bet these officers never thought it would happen to them.
Even if you aren’t the focus of attention, you likely work with someone who, because of their skill level, may do something to garner such attention. We all work with at least one person who fits the definition of minimum standards. These are the LCDs — lowest common denominators. You cover them on their calls, and they show up at yours. You need to be even better so you can recognize a bad situation before your LCD creates one for you. This is where better training comes in.
Police officers usually mock people affected by optimism bias. These are the people who leave valuables in their unlocked vehicles because “It’s always been a safe neighborhood.” These are the same people who are convinced a school shooting or violent protest won’t happen in their community. When it does happen, they are shocked since the really bad stuff only happens to other people. Officers know there are some simple things these people can do to help prevent the likelihood of being a victim, and preparation is at the top of that list. That same preparation applies to you and your career.
Training is key
There are things officers can do to prevent optimism bias from affecting their preparation. Most importantly, accept the fact that it can happen to you. You are not immune. The next contact, traffic stop, domestic assault or bar fight could result in your picture being flashed on the nightly news.
Secondly, you need to seek your own training and professional improvement. Many officers aren’t interested in advanced training. Once again, these are LCDs who are satisfied with minimum standard training programs. We all have our own life priorities and interests, and seeking your own training takes time and money away from those other activities. But consider this: You chose a career that requires you to carry a weapon and repeatedly put yourself in situations when you may need to use it. You owe it to your loved ones to be as prepared as you can be. Are you prepared? If not, it is your responsibility to get the training you need to be more than an LCD.
Cost is a factor
In a perfect world, our departments would have all the money needed to provide advanced training to every officer. Everyone would be highly skilled with their equipment, all officers would have exceptional interview and report-writing skills and we would have driving skills on par with Formula 1 race car drivers. This isn’t realistic, but we have to do better. Quality training requires money. When money is pulled from training budgets, our communities are going to get a lower level of performance.
Individually, we can improve our own training, which will make us better and safer and help keep our families secure. Not all training needs to cost a small fortune. There are plenty of online training opportunities available for law enforcement officers at minimal cost. Most quality online training providers cover a huge range of topics, from firearm skills to de-escalation and first aid to leadership courses. It’s there and ready for you when you make the time.
When it comes to physical skill training, most communities have a martial arts school located nearby. This type of skill training can help police officers in several ways. When you’re confident in your skills, it shows through your command presence. The physical activity is a good stress release and can help you lose those extra pounds. Martial arts are also centered around some form of human conflict. The more we’re exposed to interpersonal human conflict, the less stressful it becomes. When we’re not as stressed about someone resisting arrest, we make better decisions.
Another option is to get involved in competitive shooting. It’s not tactical training, but it is quality trigger time that allows you to work on putting accurate rounds on target in compressed time frames. Participation in these events will improve your shooting performance. You will send a lot of rounds downrange under the stress of rules, a shot timer, people watching your performance and the spirit of competition. No, this is not combat stress, but it is stress. Learning to perform under such conditions will increase your comfort and competence with your firearms.
If you’re considering attending a large conference or training school on your own time and dime, many organizations have scholarships available to help defer part or all of the cost. All it takes is a little motivation and ambition. The application for these scholarships may take a little extra time, but it can save you thousands of dollars in travel expenses and tuition. It’s not unusual for organizations to have extra scholarship money that goes unused from year to year because officers don’t apply for those programs. Whether it’s because of the time involved in the application process, not bothering because their department denied the training request or the idea of asking someone else for financial assistance, many officers who would be eligible for training scholarships fail to apply and never get the training benefit.
Make an honest assessment of your own training. Are you satisfied with the quality and quantity of the training provided by your agency? Is your department training producing highly professional officers who are skilled with all their equipment, write great reports and conduct thorough interviews? Your department won’t be there with you in the alley at 0200 hours when the nightmare call comes for you. You will be on your own, having to rely on your training to get you through it. You owe it to yourself, your co-workers and your family to get the best training you can afford.