Are You Checking the Box or Training for Competence? Ask These 4 Questions.

June 28, 2022

By Lt. Kelly DeVoll (ret.), Senior Calibre Press Instructor

Well-known risk manager, Gordon Graham, has famously said, “If it’s predictable it’s preventable.” It would seem predictable that if I have schools in my jurisdiction, I might have to defend that facility and all those who may be inside. This would also indicate that in order to defend the facility I should be aware of and capable of breaching openings I may encounter in said facility. Tactics save lives. Do I know what tactics I may have to use?

In planning potential defense of these types of facilities, or in any response to keep the public safe, agency administrators have to understand what it means to properly prepare officers in the organization. This awareness requires tactical competence, not just confidence. How many law enforcement agencies test or evaluate tactical competence for promotion? I’m not talking about a round-table discussion or in-box exercise. I’m talking about putting on force-on-force gear and seeing if a candidate knows proper tactics. Is there any assessment of videos from the candidate’s actual work on the street to see if they have tactical competence? Recent events that have been news-worthy have shown law enforcement leaders who have a desire to help but who lack the tactical competence to do so.

What are we doing in our industry and why are we doing it?

Think about it. Agencies require college degrees to promote (some to even get hired), which is not necessarily a bad thing, but honestly, how have those degrees protected our communities? Education is important and should be ongoing but there is little or no emphasis on the skills necessary for sound tactics to lead in this industry. We pretend we are building true tactical competence within our agencies. We notoriously check the box and move on, believing we are “ready.” Are we?

Here are some questions I hope more agencies will carefully consider:

1. Are the formal leaders in our agencies tactically competent and capable of properly evaluating the performance of officers under their command?

So many issues we see could be avoided if supervisors had the knowledge and skill to correct tactical mistakes before anyone gets hurt or killed. Did the officer pick a safe stop location? Did the officer make a safe approach? Did he or she park in a proper location based on the nature of the call? Is the officer using a proper interview stance, handcuffing technique, safe search tactic, etc.?

2. Do supervisors have a thorough enough understanding of human performance issues to adequately judge use of force cases?

Understanding human performance under stress is paramount to being adequately prepared to thoroughly evaluate behavior during a use of force incident. It’s also critical to the planning of effective training strategies that properly prepare officers for the realities of the streets.

3. Is our agency conducting training in a way that will build day-to-day competence or are we just “checking boxes?”

For example, active shooter training. Do we walk away from that one- or two-day training and honestly believe, “NOW we are ready if this occurs tomorrow?” Statistically speaking, the chances of us responding to an active shooter are slim. But, if we look at the steps of active shooter response we see some activities that we participate in with some frequency. Emergency vehicle operations (daily), threshold evaluation and crossing open areas (domestic disturbance, alarm calls, just to name a couple), mechanical breaching (not daily but, “Be en route to 1234 Main Street. Caller requests a welfare check on her mother who is elderly), first aid (patrol officers are often first on-scene where someone is in need of immediate medical attention).

On down the list we could go but the point is this. We may not put all the steps together and respond to an active threat, but if we focus our training on the steps of responding we build day-to-day confidence AND competence should we have to respond to an active threat.

4. Have we honestly assessed our agency’s processes and are we willing to hear the results of that assessment?

Agencies will bring in outside assessors to make sure we are doing our paperwork well, but when is the last time you knew of an agency that brought in outside assessors to evaluate training programs (in-service, field training, firearms development, etc.) and make recommendations to improve agency competence?

Moving Forward

If we want to truly develop competence we will be proactive in the answers to the above questions. I firmly believe that those who will be leading uniformed men and women to do this job should know how to do the job themselves. Law enforcement supervisors should be tactically proficient. This proficiency should be the foundation that allows formal leaders to be resources for leading men and women in the most important divisions in our agencies—patrol. Test tactics to promote as a law enforcement supervisor. If your tactics are not sound, you should not be a formal leader in this industry.

Develop sound training strategies to build competence in your agency. This means you might be very well served by bringing in outside assessors to give a fresh look at what your agency is doing and how they are doing it. We can no longer be satisfied with simply “checking boxes” in our training programs. We MUST build COMPETENCE! True leaders will be satisfied with nothing less.

Develop a culture within the agency that demands excellence. Tactical excellence, professional excellence, and excellence in leadership. That starts with me! I can have no expectation of excellence if I’m not there first. Focus on the agency mission and fulfilling that mission as well as possible, not just well enough.

This profession deserves the very best. The best agency, the best leaders in the agency and, most importantly, the best, most professional individual serving the community. Anything less than that is failing our communities and the oath we took when we pinned that badge on our chests.

“I do solemnly swear or affirm that I will execute the duties of the office of Peace Officer of the State of Texas, and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States and of this State, so help me God.” 

Do you?

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