Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, law enforcement has had to adapt. Officers are wearing masks, face shields, protective gloves and other types of PPE (personal protective equipment) that are being issued by their agencies or not being issued by their agencies, and individual officers are paying out of their own pockets. These changes are what people see on the surface, but most people will never understand what lies beneath. In the world of law enforcement, staffing and training have taken the biggest hits since this pandemic.
Most of our agencies do not have the funds or the manpower to send officers to training. Those of us who are slightly more fortunate to get training are finding it harder to get into classes than ever before. Most of the courses are cut down more than half the original class size due to COVID-19. We are problem solvers. We adapt and overcome challenges daily. What is going to be done about this?
Well, there are different answers and options for various types of training. There are very different options depending on your answer. The officer who is concerned with collecting certificates is going to go a very different route than the officer who is trying to keep sharp on the street with tactics and making sure they are on top of their game. There are lawyers, officers and administrators who will make the argument that if the training certificate is not documented on paper or in the database, then it never happened, and this is true. The very first step is to make sure that you have met all the minimum standards set forth by your state. The state of Illinois has the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board (ILETSB), which mandates a designated number of hours in training annually for a police officer to maintain their certification. You need to make sure you know of the mandates in your area. If your agency is not helpful, contact your local academy coordinator or state police.
If you find yourself in a position where you need more certificates, there are several options. In most states, there are regional representatives who can walk you through what classes meet the criterion of the training category you are currently lacking. The regional representative will also have contact information for different training groups. In Illinois, the training groups are referred to as mobile training units. The two training agencies in the northeast corner of the state are North East Multi-Regional Training (NEMRT) (MTU 3) and Tri-River Police Training (MTU 16). Do not spend money out of pocket for training from an entity that is not recognized by the governing board. It will not help you if you do not have your required minimum standards met.
Once you have met all your standards, you can start looking beyond these minimum standard qualifications. People in law enforcement have said, “bad training is better than no training.” They could not be more wrong. Bad training teaches bad habits and engrains training scars. Training scars will hinder the performance of a good officer both in the field and in training for a considerable amount of time. Seeking training on your own can be very overwhelming, but talk to other officers in your area and look for national companies. There are good cops and well-intentioned people out there putting on some great training and some awful training.
One of the places we look to vet anything from guns and gear to training is Primary & Secondary, LLC. P&S has a reputation for calling it like it is. They do their research on a sufficient sample size and base their articles, reviews and discussion based on real-world experience and conditions. They have multiple platforms where people can discuss semi-strictly conversations, which keeps the topics informative. They are also a great place to start looking for decent training in your area. P&S will cover training companies and trainers for a myriad of training types.
Another great place to look for training is Street Cop Training. We have never attended one of their courses but fully intend on doing so. We have seen some of their materials through social media and work with several officers who have attended their training. They are bringing tools to the table to bring back proactive police work in the 21st century.
For firearms and tactics-related training, Sage Dynamics is a phenomenal company. Their owner/lead instructor Aaron Cowan is one of the best in the business. I (Dan) took the MRDS pistol instructor class through Sage, and Aaron was the instructor. At the time I took the class, I considered myself to be a veteran officer and firearms instructor. When we made it to the range, I was beyond impressed. The class consisted of the best group of shooters I had ever had the pleasure to train with, and Aaron was still able to give every person in the class a bit of a learning curve that made them a better shooter by the end of the day.
Although the training you will find at P&S, Street Cop Training and Sage Dynamics is top notch, it can be expensive. That being said, even if you cannot afford a ton of formal training classes, there is still plenty you can do to keep your skill set sharp.
If you want to keep your shooting skills sharp, it is tempting to get a membership at a local range. I (Lauren) work for a sheriff’s department that has both a pistol range and long gun range, and I also hold a membership at a local gun range shop in town for more shooting practice whenever my range is closed. However, this will only work to sharpen your accuracy skills, which is an important aspect of shooting. But also, finding other officers, especially firearms instructors, to work with on land or a range that will permit movement drills, firing at cadence and utilization of cover would be far more beneficial than throwing rounds downrange. Another option for keeping your firearms skills sharp is competitions. All competitions are not created equal and will not translate to a gunfight equally well, but the International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) has some very good courses of fire. They are worth looking into if competing is a training tool for you.
We talked about firearms first because so many officers tend to focus on firearms training. When you need to perform in that area, your life literally depends on it. However, another skill set that your life may depend on is your hand-to-hand combat skills. There are MMA gyms popping up all over the country, as well as jiu-jitsu classes. Some agencies even started sending instructors to become certified in the Gracie method of jiu-jitsu before the pandemic hit. Take a couple different classes and see what class and discipline will place you in the best possible position to defend yourself in a street fight.
Once you’ve got a plan to keep your combat shooting skills and your hand-to-hand skills finely honed, you need to be sure you can explain why you did what you did. Too many cops say they know the law and their agency’s policy, and that is where these officers’ responsibilities end. We both have worked in Cook County, Illinois, and we have had horror stories about the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. Officers need to study case law. There are plenty of downloadable applications out there on web pages and training groups. Start with the simple ones, then move to an internet search — “case law every cop should know.” Once you read the results, go and read the cases.
For those of you who are thinking that’s a lot of work that you are not going to get paid to do and a lot of time you do not have, unfortunately, that’s what this job has come to due to the shortage of training courses and the pandemic.
Police officers are under closer scrutiny than they have ever been before. There is little to no room for error. There are budget cuts, and training is one of the first things to go. Your chief is not going to jail if you make a mistake; you are the one who is being blamed. So, if you want to do this job with the most accuracy, you need to make sure you have all of the right training, knowledge and tools under your belt. And due to the pandemic and the shortage of training, this does not mean you need to stop training on your own. Your life, livelihood and freedom depend on training yourself to be the very best on patrol and making sure you get home safely at the end of every shift.