Several years ago when I was a patrol sergeant we made it a practice to have new officers coming into the agency and onto our shift show us what they knew relating to critical tasks for the job. We wanted to know, tactically, where they stood and what we needed to work on to make them more proficient.
At one point we had two new officers assigned to my shift and we decided that we would have them demonstrate a high-risk traffic stop. This tactic is basic and something everyone learns in the academy.
The initial portion of the stop wasn’t too bad as they were competent in safely removing occupants from the vehicle. But, then they began to discuss what they should do next in order to safely visibly check the interior of the vehicle. We couldn’t hear their conversation but what they did next definitely caught our attention.
They began removing their uniform shirts.
One of my senior officers looked at me with an expression of both amazement and confusion. Two police officers in the middle of a high-risk traffic stop were disrobing and neither of us knew why. Was this some tactic? Or did they believe they had completed their task so well that they would now celebrate their success with some fraternity-style naked chest-bump? All we could do was wonder what would be happening next!
We were fixated on the two rookies as they continued by removing their ballistic vests. Rolling down the windows of their squad they laid the vests over the doors! They then reentered their unit and slowly drove up to the suspect car and looked it over.
Both stunned and amazed, we wondered why on earth they chose this bizarre tactic as it put their own bodies at risk on so many levels.
Unable to wait any longer I asked a question that is posed to police officers time and again. “Why did you do that?”
Their answer? “That’s the way we were trained!”
What’s an Expert?
Unbelievably someone at the academy, for some reason, taught this as the preferred and acceptable tactic. The rookies apparently gave no thought to the reasoning behind this technique or considered its practical application in the field. The new officers relied on the “expertise” of the supposedly experienced officer and in doing so were unwittingly putting their lives on the line.
In other words their thought process–if you want to call it that–was, “If they taught it in the academy it couldn’t POSSIBLY be wrong!”
We discovered upon a quick inquiry that the academy these officers attended allowed a small-town chief to instruct high-risk vehicle stops because he fancied himself and ‘expert’ on the matter. In exchange he provided police units for EVOC training.
The fact is that some people who are instructors are doing it for the wrong reason. They forget that the point is to train people not be revered as an expert because someone put them in front of an audience.
And, time on the job, years of doing does not equate to automatic ‘expertise.’
There is an old saying: “Those that can, do. Those that can’t, teach.” Well, as an experienced instructor I have a variation of that: “Those that teach learn to do better.”
The best instructors are in a constant state of wonder. Looking and searching for what makes sense, can be taught, has a proven track record and is easily applied and applicable in real life.
We need thinkers in this industry. Now more than ever! When asked the question, “Why did you do that,” we are looking for an explanation of the tactics and why those particular tactics were chosen at that time and under those circumstances. We want to know that there is a thought process, not blind adherence to a training method.
It doesn’t matter who the instructor is or who is putting on the training. There should be an honest evaluation and vetting of the tactics to see if they make sense and are the proper response to the issue faced by officers. This should occur on an individual basis as well as departmentally in order to properly assess the value and quality of training.
What we have learned over the past year is that most mistakes, that appear to be abuse can be traced back to a lack of realistic and practical training. Let’s make an effort to change that.