Industry Experts on Critical Training in Today’s Era of Law Enforcement

Industry Experts on Critical Training in Today’s Era of Law Enforcement

Today's law enforcement training requires a modern approach that fits the evolving needs of law enforcement officers, leaders, agencies, and the communities they serve.

In a recent webinar, well-known and respected law enforcement training leaders Sgt. Betsy Brantner Smith and Dave "JD Buck Savage" Smith, along with fellow law enforcement veteran and Vector Solutions Engineer Johnny Roberson, discussed critical challenges impacting training in today's era of policing and tangible ways to address them.

Keep reading for valuable highlights from their moving conversation and watch the on-demand recording for even deeper expert insights and an engaging Q&A session.

The Winning Mind: Proper Mental Attitude for Today's Law Enforcement Personnel

Betsy, Dave, and Johnny open the discussion with a classic crime-fighter tip training video of Dave "JD Buck Savage" Smith from the 1980s that uses humor and relatable references to illustrate how vital effective communication is in officer training.

Dave Smith acknowledges that a lot has changed since his time as JD Buck Savage, with a growing emphasis on officer mental health and increased scrutiny of police practices. He remarks how today's law enforcement training is one of the great stress points of American history, saying, "Law enforcement is in the eye of the storm."

Properly addressing the way we train and prepare officers today will be critical for the future of policing. And law enforcement trainers and leaders are key players in developing a healthy and productive workforce, requiring a life-long commitment to listening, learning, and growing.

Surviving vs. Winning

Too often and for far too long, officers have been taught to just "survive" their experiences, not take work home, and not discuss difficulties with loved ones. While acknowledging the high rates of officer PTSD, suicide, and divorce, Dave emphasizes the growing need to reframe officers from just getting through an event to getting through life. He shares, "Surviving is getting home; winning is keeping the home."

Dave dives deep into several factors that impact an officer's mental posture and on/off-duty performance:

  • Internal Belief System - It is important to monitor our internal belief systems. "I don't want my people out on the street doing that," Dave shares regarding pessimistic self-talk. "I want them believing in themselves, believing in a positive future. Monitoring what they say. Monitoring what they say about what they do."
  • Maintaining Optimism - Nurturing officers' belief in themselves and their mission among criticism. Training is critical, and trainers are critical change agents in every agency. Dave encourages trainers to challenge themselves and be willing to grow, quoting Adam Grant's Think Again, "Speak like a believer, but listen like you don't believe in what you said."
  • Law Enforcement Ethos - Duty, Honor, Courage, Loyalty, Strength, and Selfless Service. Dave explores moral courage and the value of communication, saying, "Too often, we let politics silence our debate. And you can't grow as a profession without proper debate."
  • Decision-Making Process Under Crisis - Dave discusses the old theory on decision-making: everyone's consciousness is involved in all decisions (leaving no room for variables), vs. the new theory: consistent training empowers officers to make "winning" decisions when faced with critical situations because they recognize the cues or specific stimulus (recognition prime decision-making).
  • Using 'Game Films' for Training - Betsy and Dave suggest watching officer tapes, both your agency's and others (many available online) with your people, as an opportunity to learn from real-world scenarios and develop innovative training to improve performance.
  • Developing Training around Policies - "The true element of reducing liability for the agency and the officers is critical training," Dave shares. Trainers are essential for aligning training with policies and procedures while designing a training program where everyone wins: the agency, the officers, the community, and society.

Leading for the Winning Mind: Leadership in a Time of Crisis and Change

"Leadership has nothing to do with rank," Betsy emphasizes when talking about the importance of law enforcement leaders to guide change. "How are you communicating both internally and externally? We have to be effective on both fronts." The panel discusses how changes in law enforcement need to be grounded in reality and anchored in understanding human nature, not based on a utopian dream environment that doesn't work in the real world.

Exploring the demands that society puts on leadership, Dave, Betsy, and Johnny discuss how 'vision' and 'communication' are core tenets of creating successful change.

  • Vision - More than just "glittering generalities" that serve no one, true vision requires specifics on expectations and details around what's being asked of officers to change. Define to your people and your communities the impact the change will make.
  • Communication - Effective communication, both internally and externally, is key to understanding what is and is not working. Make room for debate, discussion, and research. Use a scientific approach to get to the root of the problem and not just treat symptoms.

Beyond On-Duty Survival: Off-Duty Safety for Officers and Their Families

Betsy insists law enforcement professionals and their loved ones take off-duty safety seriously. "Talking about off-duty safety and off-duty survival is important. Not just for us, police personnel, but also for our families as well," she asserts and shares essential off-duty considerations.

  • Tactics & Your Family - Discuss what happens if responding to a crime in progress with loved ones. Talk about the stressors of the job.
  • Mental Health & Wellbeing - Utilize Peer Support and first responder hotlines, like Safe Call Now. Find appropriate counseling and other resources.
  • Doxxing, Social Media, & More - Trainers: train officers on privacy settings for their social accounts and talking to their families about privacy on social media. Leaders: create policies for tracking if officers have been doxxed and plans for keeping their families safe if involved in a potentially controversial situation.
  • Policy - Define expectations of off-duty officers around what can be carried off-duty, when they can take action, and develop training around the policy.

Betsy states, "You empower your family and your close friends that you spend time with off-duty by talking to them about what might happen, what could happen."

Stream the presentation to learn more and get the answers to these important questions asked during the Q&A segment:

  • Do you have any tips when encountering resistance reviewing 'game tapes' where officers view it as criticism and not as a way to improve responses?
  • Cops have always rejected the notion of Monday morning quarterbacking other officers' actions. How do we overcome that cultural barrier to learning and improved performance?
  • How to incorporate online learning into a basic training academy?
  • How to leverage online learning to maximize training time in a safe setting?
  • How to provide quality training with limited budget/time?
  • With COVID restrictions during the past year, do you think there will be issues with those who have attended so many online trainings vs in-person trainings?

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