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Ethically Checking the Morals Box

An honest assessment of law enforcement training in a new age

In the post Ferguson age, post Cleveland, post Baltimore, post North Charleston age, in the age of consent decrees and the proliferation of video and audio recording from inside as well as outside the law enforcement community, it is time to take a long, hard and honest, as well as scientific look at the nature of law enforcement training.

In law enforcement, we are continually hearing we need “MORE” and more training.  As a result of trends from several decades ago, the threats of liability and litigation have been responded to with stacks and stacks of documentation “proving” the depth of our training. 

Hours upon hours of “training” are declaratively force fed; the vast majority of it with officers sitting in a classroom listening to a lecture or watching a PowerPoint presentation or video. 

Let’s start with an uncomfortable moment.  Do we truly, honestly, honorably ethically and morally want to teach our officers to perform in the safest manner possible, within the letter of the law and in support of policy and procedure? 

Or, are we interested in building the most convenient and economical paper trail so that when our officers fail to meet expectations in behavior or performance, we can say we “checked the box” on that training and distance ourselves from the incident while attempting to mitigate our liability? 

Factor in the science of human physiological responses to stress, where our most critical decision making occurs and the training deficit becomes more apparent, IF you are looking for it;  and our continuing education is in just as poor condition as is our basic training.

Let’s look at a random but very average Use of Force Training example for the current year.

4 hours classroom lecture, a good deal being video review with comment on policy and law

60 rounds on static targets, maybe 120 rounds if you're being progressive

2 Tazer cartridges on static targets; at a different time and place

3 Inert pepper spray discharges on a static target; at a different time and place

Check a box saying you have read and will comply with the use of force policy.

All boxes checked and everything is good; correct?

Now do we really, in our heart of hearts believe that with all the media and public scrutiny concerns in our officer’s minds, when they are by themselves, at 2:00 AM in an unlit alley, in a one to seven second time frame, they will perform as expected? With sirens blaring, overhead lights flashing, shots being fired, heart rate at 175 or above, sympathetic nervous system hyper active, depleted oxygen levels, hormones, adrenalin surging and cortisol flooding the forebrain, that, not only will they make the correct decision, first and foremost for their safety and the safety of any bystander, but also as we want them to do under the law, policy, procedure and in support of the mission of the agency? 

Consider for a moment that a quick check of finds the following information.  To obtain a Cosmetologist license in Missouri, 1500 hours of classroom training are required in addition to 3000 hours of apprenticeship. That is 375, 8 hour working days; actually doing the job under direct supervision; that is more than a year of field training to become a cosmetologist.  To obtain an Embalmer’s State License, a two year apprenticeship, two years of field training, is required “before” one can even take the test.  In both cases, practical application and procedural learning must be demonstrated BEFORE licensing.  Checking the box on a written test is only a very small portion of the licensing requirement.  I am fairly sure I can effectively argue the operational margin for error on both these occupations is somewhat greater than in our profession.

Most legitimate teaching and learning in this profession has historically taken place by trial and error on the street.  We all know this has been the case for decades in law enforcement.  For decades, the “on the job training” approach has been somewhat effective due to a large “operational margin of error” in the profession.  The fact is, the “operational margin of error” for

on the job learning, in our profession, has become nearly non-existent now and will completely cease to exist very shortly; and take note this is occurring in months not years.

If we do not admit and address our oversights immediately the result will be calls of deliberate indifference, change in leadership and training and the voiding of our entire training doctrine.  With that will come more criticisms, civilian oversight, consent decrees and restrictions in law and policy.  This very potentially may have a catastrophic impact to the profession which will create another mass exodus and leave us scrounging for even the most basic of qualified candidates rather than the seeking out of the best and brightest as it should be for our vocation.

The fact is, the expectations of our knowledge, behavior, skills, and performance, not only by the agency but the general public, far exceeds our level of training and actual learning. 

So what do we need to do?

Delta P, a change in philosophy, a paradigm shift in our training, from instructing to teaching and documented procedural learning.

While we may need to spend some additional money, more importantly, we need to better spend what we have on restructuring and developing legitimate teaching to facilitate learning and prolonged behavioral changes whether that change is how our officer handles a gun fight, hostage rescue, traffic accident or citizen on the street. 

This is about addressing the science of human physiology and human behavior to promote the required knowledge, skills and abilities to perform as expected and required in this day and age, even under extreme levels of stress and during sudden critical incidents.

Last week my eight year old daughter and I studied her homework on the Lizard Brain and its affect on decision making under stress.  The second grade homework covered procedural learning methods to overcome these physiological effects and responses, specifically as they relate to confrontations on the play ground. If she can understand it and begin building procedural memory and learning to address bullies in a weekend, I would hope we could in our profession and our academies.

If you would like a copy of the full article or if you would like to know more, please contact me.


LT. William Boyd Kiphart  II

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