The Conscientious Trainer
Law enforcement training, like every profession, is subject to the Pareto Principle; for many things, roughly 80 percent of the effects come from 20 percent of the causes. Applying this to performance in L.E. training, ten percent of trainers are excellent, dedicated, passionate people who strive to improve their performance by networking with other top trainers and daily examinations of their methods and material. Ten percent on the opposite end are slugs, gaming the system. Eighty or so percent fill the rest of the scale and can be good, average (the best of the worst) or poor. Ask any law enforcement officer about the people who trained them and they’ll tell you about one or two they remember as excellent, a few that were downright lousy and most so-so.
There is a relevant riddle in medicine. What do you call a med student who graduates last in the class? ….. Doctor, buh, dumph, bum bumph!
Further complicating this issue is that government agencies have less incentive to recognize competence in selecting and promoting people because they do not have to worry about the bottom line. Government agencies producing substandard goods and services continue their bureaucratic incompetence as long as taxpayers have money in their wallets, though of late, it appears the wallets are empty and first responders are finding this out with department closings. Organizations that rely on political connections or identity quotas rather than competence to fill slots, especially leadership positions, are disasters waiting to happen, and increasingly throughout the U.S.A. city halls are running police agencies rather than cops who know their business.
Law enforcement training has particular problems because people in charge of academies and instructors are seldom chosen for their educational acumen. They may have been excellent police officers, but that does not necessarily translate into good trainers. The worst case scenarios involve placing political minions in leadership positions who are concerned with pleasing those on the bureaucratic level above. In some cases competence and self-confidence may be detrimental to a person’s career because it is threatening to bureaucrats who were placed in positions with responsibilities they couldn’t fulfill due to their lack of expertise and unwillingness to learn the ropes. Hubris tempts everyone that has been given power and particularly those feeling protected because their clout’s connections appear to wield substantial power in the hierarchy.
All this creates terrible frustration and dilemmas for the excellent, dedicated, passionate trainers. They work on themselves harder than they do on the job, but are not given the training and/or resources necessary for them to properly train their charges. When training is poor, the consequences are lousy service to taxpayers, unnecessary lawsuits, and serious injury and death to both citizens and first responders.
Fortunately, more times than not, poorly trained first responders have close calls that move them to learn important things on their own. The best ones seek training on their dime because they understand the depth of their deficit and the serious consequences likely if they remain ignorant; others rely on luck, foolishly believing bad things won’t happen to them.
When a student is involved in an incident related to training given by a conscientious trainer the trainer reflects on how their training could have been better and they suffer a sort of survivors’ guilt. An officer hurt or killed in the LOD is devastating to the agency and profession; even more so for conscientious trainers. They ask, “What could I have done better?” and re-play the training they believe relevant to the incident. In essence, they “take on the sins of the world” even though probably little could have been done, due to constraints created by political minions who wield power of the purse or simply wish to please those above them.
Doing the right thing threatens current and future position in the organization. Politics trump ethics every time in hierarchies long down the road of corruption. Those who challenge are ostracized, demonized as job security, position, schedules and safety are threatened; comply or get crushed. It is ugly and not surprising that people do not stand up and speak their mind, for when they do there is another waiting to fill their spot.
The conscientious trainer walks a fine line. He/she knows their students learn life-saving information and skills because of the trainer’s abilities and passion. When resources allow for effective training, the conscientious trainer is sated by accomplishing his/her purpose for being. Deprived of adequate resources, he/she often gets creative and finds ways to train effectively. There are times, though, when depravation is too great.
I’ve seen excellent trainers request transfers, refuse to do training inadequately, and put their reasons to paper risking repercussions from above. Some, burn out, become slugs on the opposite end of the Pareto distribution, to no good ends for them. One I know returned to a beat car as an FTO, a smart move on his part, the only downside being losing days and weekends off, but ultimately a plus for his mental health and stress management. He cared too much.
There is always a fine line to walk for a trainer that involves the organization’s real goals, not stated ones, political considerations, and available resources. Each person struggles with contradictions to their personal ethics and must recognize the price paid for ignoring whispers from their conscience. Going along to get along may cost more than they wish to pay. Pretending to train officers for the sake of reporting is damaging to the trainer, trainees, the agency and citizens. Trainers playing that game increase stress, and temptations to engage in self-destructive personal behaviors; in essence, their nature recoils upon itself.
Human nature changes little. The conscientious trainer will do well to remember Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity prayer:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.
May your family and friends have a blessed and peaceful Christmas and healthy, happy 2019.
Thomas Cline, MBA, MAP, 50-years in law enforcement is past president of the International Association of Ethics Trainers, LETT board member, a writer/trainer at the Chicago PD, and a consultant. He’s authored Cop Tales! (Never Spit in a Man’s Face…Unless His Mustache is on Fire) and Psych Firefight – L E Job Satisfaction in a hostile environment. For information on training and workshops Email: [email protected]