The Dirty Secret About Most Current Law Enforcement Training Programs

June 20, 2012 GTI President Chadd Harbaugh

(Part one of a muti-part report on redefining law enforcement tactical training)

Part One - The Dirty Secret About Most Current Law Enforcement Training Programs
Part Two - Building Training for Capability Development and Validation
Part Three - The Planning Phase of Training and Pre-Functional Area Analysis Work

The current model for most law enforcement training programs is failing our officers. In the past decade law enforcement agencies, the threats we face, and operational concepts have all undergone substantial change. It stands to reason that the thinking about our missions and capability and training must also change. We cannot train for yesterday's mission. Today's threats (career criminals, drug cartels, violent gangs, transnational criminal groups, anti-government extremists, terrorist groups and lone wolf attackers) are adaptive, smart and innovative. Their actions cannot be predicted with any degree of assurance. They look for ways to attack our vulnerabilities and will attack people using asymmetrical means. Our training must address the current threat.

At present and into the foreseeable future, tension and conflict exists within the U.S. and throughout the rest of the world that affects the U.S. both directly and indirectly. In years past, law enforcement has narrowly focused on the immediate threats we face inside our jurisdictions and changed training only when we received new technology, new equipment or faced a change within case law. Today's operational environment is changing more rapidly than ever before and is being shaped by factors far more vast than in our past. Science and technology, information technology, transportation technology, social networking, financial collapses, regime changes, and other geopolitical issues are rapidly changing our world. The complexity of today's operational environment guarantees that future operations will occur across the wide spectrum of missions that law enforcement officers and agencies are expected to handle (which has grown substantially since 9/11).

We are currently facing one of the most trying times in U.S. law enforcement training history. The conditions are ripe for a perfect storm to decimate law enforcement training budgets and programs, potentially change training delivery options and the way law enforcement operations themselves are handled. State and local governments face large deficits and public pension shortfalls, public sentiment on law enforcement and government officials in general is poor at best, public sentiment on government spending has rarely (if ever) been worse, federal grants through the DHS are being drastically cut, agencies are forced to cut staffing and programs, all of the major income sources of state government (including personal income tax, corporate tax and property tax) are meager, the threat of terrorism is high and public scrutiny on SWAT operations teeters on a boiling point in many parts of the country.

Agencies and their personnel are being asked to do more (potentially more than ever before) with less…less funding, less staffing, and less training. Unfortunately, these reductions will likely expose agencies, officers and potentially the public we serve to greater risk. With increased risk comes the potential for increased liability and the probability of increased litigation.

There are a number of pre-incident focal points that law enforcement agencies must seriously address to minimize liability, risk, and ultimately successful litigation. These focal points include but are not limited to: employees, policy and procedures, audits, tactics, techniques, supervision, discipline, risk analyses, course of action matrices and training. All of these issues fall under the broad scope of "pre-planning" and all have implications on training.

Gordon Graham, a renowned law enforcement trainer and risk manager, claims, "Things generally go wrong because well meaning people get involved in very complex incidents that develop and change very rapidly and the involved person makes a mistake." He also states, "Your career started in formal training at the academy, and throughout your life as a police professional you receive ongoing training. However, after you graduate the initial training, when is the next time you have to take a serious test that you have to study for? For many cops, the only test they ever take is the 'incident' itself."

We know that training is critical to protecting the public, our officers and our agencies. We also know that training competes for funding like all other services and programs within law enforcement. If we are going to continue to receive the funds necessary for training programs we need to change the way we look at training and ensure that every cent allocated to it meets its intended purpose. In order to ensure that we receive the funds required for legitimate training programs and can articulate the value of them to governing bodies, we must display that we are receiving a positive return on our investment (ROI) with funds allocated to training.

In tight financial times, taxpayers and elected officials have little patience for programs in which the need for the expenditure cannot be well articulated or the return on investment cannot be positively captured and displayed. Training has always been in a precarious position as both need and return have been difficult to validate or quantify. Those within the industry know the value and return intuitively but cannot necessarily transfer the knowledge through hard data to governing bodies that are trying to keep program costs at a minimum and constituents happy with their fiscal stewardship. It can be done.

One only has to look at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security grants to state and local law enforcement as evidence of the need to show taxpayers and governing officials both need and value. Since 2001, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has provided funding to state and local governments. These funds were distributed in a rather loose and haphazard manner until FY 2003, when DHS implemented more oversight and directives on the use of the funds. Every year subsequent to inception, DHS has attempted to build more oversight and direction. However, 11 years after 9/11, DHS still cannot show Congressmen, Senators or the American taxpayers that the $65+ billion allocated to state and local governments have improved their capabilities.

There have been attempts to show improvements. The recently released 2012 DHS National Preparedness Report states:

"The nation has made measureable strides towards improving preparedness for the full range of hazards at all level of government and across all segments of society. National preparedness has improved not only for the countless threats posed by those who wish to bring harm to the American homeland but also for the many natural and technological hazards that face the Nation's communities."1

While the NPR makes it sounds as though we have made enormous steps forwards in preparedness, a closer examination of the report details a methodology that fails to provide true quantitative data that externally validates the improvements. DHS's data was derived from, "Reviewing 2011 State Preparedness Report (SPR) data, including statewide self-assessments of core capability levels submitted to FEMA by all 56 U.S. states and territories through a standardized survey."2

While there is little doubt that DHS compiled a good report from the data available to them, the output is only as good as the input and a self-assessment survey is not the most valid source of data input. Without implementing a validation and credentialing program, DHS has no empirical evidence we are any better off today than the pre 9/11 era.

Congress and the American public have had enough and state and local programs are suffering the consequences. There have been expected fluctuations to grant programs since inception but cuts to programs were limited to single digit percentages until 2011, when State Homeland Security Grant Programs (SHSGP) were reduced 44%.

When considered on the whole, the current law enforcement-training model is plagued with problems. Serious issues exist at every level of the training cycle and the most common cause is the lack of effort that occurred at the planning phase (if problems and issues are not identified at this stage, they can never be properly rectified or solved in subsequent stages). These problems diminish the ability of law enforcement agencies to perform optimally and threaten severe degradation of our future performance.

From the TEAM aspect, the current situation in which many agencies find themselves is analogous to a design team attempting to design and build a 747 aircraft without the use of CAD drawings and input and involvement from engineers. "Let's put some parts together and see what we come up with." Of course designing and constructing anything in this manner leads to errors, increased cost, increased production time and massive re-engineering efforts.

Few law enforcement tactical teams perform a Functional Area Analysis in which tasks, conditions and standards are applied to core competencies, required capabilities and mission essential tasks. As such, curriculum developers, trainers, team leaders and commanders are left with no valid criteria to measure performance against and no valid plan to build capabilities within set parameters. Consequently, legitimate capability evaluations cannot be performed because there are no defined standards and conditions to measure the capability against. Therefore, a functional solution to an identified capability gap cannot exist.

From the INDIVIDUAL aspect, the current model should be compared to that of a doctor, surgeon or nuclear scientist…imagine individuals in these professions receiving minimal training that is not standardized nor optimized to meet the specific need of defined core competencies and turning them loose to perform their respective functions by receiving "On the Job" training. In using this analogy before I have heard the response, "Well it is law enforcement training, it's not like it is brain surgery." It's true, it's not brain surgery - the major difference between the brain surgeons or scientists and law enforcement officers is that they make life and death decisions (as do police officers) only they make those decisions without the added stressor of being faced with death themselves should they make the wrong decision, apply the wrong tactic or delay in their immediate actions. Few professions require the requisite skills of a law enforcement officer or soldier; the requirement to apply surgical psychomotor movements and split second life and death cognitive decisions while undergoing sympathetic nervous system activation. Developing training programs that build and sustain that competency requires enormous understanding and effort.

While everyone professes intuitively to be able to recognize a good team or good tactical operators - the "I know it when I see it" phenomenon - few are able to articulate their dimensions with sufficient clarity to permit the development of training procedures for producing them or empirical programs for assessing them.

Tomorrow's operations require mentally agile leaders and operators, able to work in any operational theme across the spectrum of missions. Just as all leaders, from the highest to the lowest levels, must understand both the art and science of operations and command; so too must our trainers and curriculum developers understand the art and science of developing and delivering training that develops and hones the tactical decision making process of individuals, provides precision in psychomotor skills, is retained and utilized by officers when facing real-world threats and is relevant, accurate and timely. Outdated and dogmatic training programs, which were reactively designed to address an old threat, do little to prepare our officers for today's current reality.

Chadd Harbaugh
Government Training Institute

1 U.S. Department of Homeland Security, "National Preparedness Report" PDF File, March 20, 2012, pp.i
2 Ibid, pp. 2