By Captain Luther T. Reynolds, Director, Special Operations Division; and Sergeant Alfven Uy, Training Development Section, Montgomery County, Maryland, Police Department
Key elements of a successful training program are a stated vision, mission, values, and goals; strong core leadership that possesses a clarity of mission; and a level of competence in communication skills, trust, support, autonomy, innovation, accountability, and relationship-building skills.
n any law enforcement agency, training can be the key contributor to the nurturing and development of a professional mind-set, self-awareness, and ethical values for both individual officers and the organization as a whole. To these ends, it is important to identify a strong team of leaders who take their responsibilities seriously and lead the organization beyond the historical benchmarks set by past institutional practices. When the right training and leadership teams are in place within the training environment, the entire organization will experience a profound and exciting transition, placing training as a top priority in both an organizational and an individual context. Implementation of this approach can often lead to exciting, tangible, and meaningful changes in employee job satisfaction, motivation, and performance. Setting high goals and standards and leading by example and demonstration engage most employees and inspire them to participate actively in making the organization more effective and professional.
There are many formulas leaders can use to identify the “right” team, and there are many factors of which they should be cognizant when developing an understanding of what is beyond their control. As will be discussed, it is critical to provide the necessary leadership and autonomy to training teams as they progress toward and achieve necessary change. Key elements that must be present in this process are a stated vision, mission, values, and goals; strong core leadership that possesses a clarity of mission; and a level of competence in communication skills, trust, support, autonomy, innovation, accountability, and relationship-building skills.
Training must be led by a visionary who is clear on current and past practices and who is able to see what lies ahead in terms of challenges, needs, and opportunities. The vision an agency develops in regard to training must be realistic but at the same time must stretch current departmental practices and abilities, use new methods, and reach far beyond what most inside the organization can foresee as possible and necessary. The vision must incorporate organizational needs (past, present, and future) as well as operational opportunities. This type of vision is achievable and must be conveyed in such a way that others in the training unit, the executive staff, the budget decision makers, and participants must be able to share and support.
As an example, the Montgomery County, Maryland, Police Department (MCPD) training vision goes as follows:
Provide the highest quality of training and leadership development which prepares all employees mentally and physically for the tremendous demands of policing and functioning in support roles, on the Montgomery County Police Department
Mission, Values, and Goals
The importance of the mission must be emphasized consistently. Agencies can ensure that the mission is properly articulated through effective decision making, implementing new training ideas, soliciting input, proper planning, scheduling facility use appropriately, and making responsible budgetary allocations. These actions will make a greater impact than mere words and discussion.
Great returns can be had by striving to achieve the mission, often with little fiscal impact. It does not always cost a great deal of money, initially, to make significant changes and improvements to a training program. The mission should always push and challenge training staff and the rest of the agency’s personnel to set higher standards for performance and preparedness. As police officers tend to be very mission oriented, they will be more likely to embrace and share a forward-thinking training philosophy when stated in the form of a mission. A passion for the mission will reverberate within the agency as credible and effective instructors act as force multipliers.
The MCPD training mission is as follows:
We, the training academy staff, are committed to researching, developing and delivering the most current and best possible training to all members of the agency, always executed in a thorough and professional manner. Ownership and partnership of this training is shared by all police agency members and will incorporate outside expertise and related partners as often as practical and whenever applicable to the subject matter being covered. Training staff will constantly evaluate and improve all efforts to enhance training topics and service delivery, with the goal of raising the knowledge, confidence and skill levels of all who participate, always incorporating the highest levels of leadership, integrity and respect for participating members of this agency and the constituencies we serve.
Stated values are another indispensable part of a successful training program. The MCPD’s stated training values are as follows:
- Service Excellence: To provide timely and efficient service to the internal and external customers we support
- Continuous Improvement: To strive to improve service, processes, and support
- Stewardship: To be responsible in the management of resources entrusted to the division
- Creativity: To be inventive and imaginative in the work we do, always finding and utilizing the best practices and realizing that complacency is our enemy
- Integrity: To be honest and sincere so as to earn the trust of those we support
- Professionalism: To adhere to the highest standards of practice applicable to the work we do
- Teamwork: To cooperate and coordinate with others in a way that best supports the mission accomplishment
- Flexibility: To adapt quickly to changing needs of the academy, supported units, and the communities we serve
- Leadership: To lead by example in what we teach, how we teach, how we conduct ourselves, and by humility, allowing the fruits of our labors to speak the loudest
Equally important are the goals of an agency. The MCPD has identified the following goals:
- Focus on operational readiness
- Become a support unit that is highly effective, relevant, and valued by all employees
- Adopt best-practice approaches to all classes and identify topics that are proactive and not reactive
- Annually identify important themes that will be emphasized throughout training in a given year
- Be constantly involved in the capital improvements process for facilities and infrastructure
- Select, train, develop, and retain the best possible leaders to provide excellent components of planning and delivery of training products
Identifying and Selecting the Right Staff
Once the vision, mission, and values are developed, in order to possess and support the elements mentioned earlier throughout a training plan, leaders must have the right teachers and staff in place. The opportunity of annual retraining and other opportunities to interact with sworn and nonsworn personnel cannot be passed up by using training personnel that lack the right fervor, maturity, competencies, and discipline for training. An agency’s best people should be identified for the most sacred and coveted role and title of trainer. The actions, words, and deeds displayed by these people can make or break an organization. If trainers are respected and effective, they will mold and develop how many officers conduct themselves in their relationships with community members, in their respect for their supervisors, and in the maintenance of their appearance, as well as how they display their command presence, how they make decisions, whether or not they use profanity, whether they exhibit tactical awareness and self-discipline, what level of integrity they embrace, and so on. Trainers can help to reduce the dollar amounts paid out in lawsuits as well as the number of union grievances, community complaints, and line-of-duty injuries; their efforts can also result in increased case closures and improved investigations. Leaders must ensure that all training personnel who stand in front of the target audience make the greatest impact and wield the greatest influence possible, so they can have the best possible effect on trainee behavior and results.
In addition, organizations must commit to finding informal leaders who are credible and respected to be part of their staff. These persons are often not specifically interested in being trainers, because they enjoy the operational aspects of their careers and must be recruited and mentored into these roles. This type of instructor will lead and influence the rest of an agency in the most significant ways. An effective team must consist of instructors possessing such leadership qualities as integrity, honesty, commitment, passion, discipline, excellent communication skills, open-mindedness, a willingness to be innovative, and, most important of all, an understanding of and deep commitment to the agency’s and the community’s overall mission as it pertains to public safety. Training teams must be led by supervisors that will unconditionally support these traits and exhibit them through actions, words, and deeds. Typically, when leaders demonstrate leadership, credible and senior staff members will follow suit.
An agency’s best people should be
identified for the most sacred and
coveted role and title of trainer. The
actions, words, and deeds displayed
by these people can make or break
The first step in this process of selection begins with a fair, relevant, and credible oral interview process. Questions must be crafted that compel a good candidate to display these unique qualities. Candidates must articulate open-mindedness to new ideas and fresh perspectives. Many candidates will not be prepared for the demands of teaching their peers or recruits; for them, it is best to teach in advance on a temporary assignment, which gives both them and their supervisors/instructors an idea of their strengths, weaknesses, and overall motivations for filling this role. When individuals seek an instructor role for the wrong reasons (for example, to attain status, to harass the recruits or even to become friends with them, to beef up their résumés, to go on a power trip or to indulge their egos, or to get a day shift), this must be identified quickly to minimize the negative impact to themselves, the recruits, and the agency. No matter the instructional topic, it is critical for selected staff to personify the traits mentioned here across the training spectrum, from entry-level training to in-service training, executive development, and leadership development.
Once a training team is established, it is critical to develop synergy and trust. Once in place, these characteristics will help the agency maintain a high level of mutual support, encouragement, and exchange of ideas. This is accomplished through such events as brief team meetings emphasizing their importance in the training environment and also through group training or field trips to off-site facilities, where team members can garner contacts and also gain different perspectives on training and policing. It is important to hold ongoing planning sessions away from the training environment. Supervisors must foster a creative and open-minded atmosphere, consulting and using outside resources such as local colleges or universities, local businesses, and other law enforcement jurisdictional partnerships, all in an effort to maximize finite resources and foster an environment of innovation and creativity.
Strong Core Leadership
Training requires strong team members to lead the charge by creating excitement, demonstrating relevance, and imparting a sense of importance and urgency to students through the topics covered. A successful team must consist of strong leaders who believe in the training environment and work well together. If the team is assembled properly, training staff will align themselves with the proper core values and will attract similarly strong leaders for succession planning and the development of future leaders in critical discipline areas. The training staff must include a person who is open to change while maintaining a strong vigilance over and commitment to the mission. Another member should be of the type who is always attempting to make direct improvements to the program through building relationships and partnering with others. Instructors should always be helping others to reach levels of success and should not try to “beat them down” or belittle their performance, even when it is not at an acceptable level. Trainers must be instructional in their approach and understand the basic idea that their role is to be active participants in the learning process. Sometimes trainers become mentors and coaches to students, depending on the length and nature of their role in a given block of instruction or class. The degree to which trainers can serve as mentors is tied to the trainer selection process and the oral interview component, in picking and retaining the right people. Core leadership must embrace change, accept critiques, be willing to take risks, support their people, and be effective in navigating the human environment. Both trainers and trainees come in many different personalities, and achieving a balance is a journey that never ends. Strong core leadership must always be prepared for brutally honest feedback. Without this feedback, training strategies will plateau, precluding the training team from achieving maximum results.
An important aspect to creating a team environment is trust. Coordinators must be able to trust team members and, from top to bottom, members must possess integrity, honesty, commitment, open-mindedness, and a willingness to innovate. These values must be institutionalized from the beginning with the entire training cadre. If team members do not feel there is mutual trust, group communication will break down. Trust goes both ways—from the bottom up as well as from the top down. This must be demonstrated in both words and deeds. The team must frequently hear, “I trust you in this training project to do what is best for the department.” By having the proper team in place and creating an empowering environment through emphasizing trust, a training program will flourish.
Material resources and funding are scarce in today’s world, with the current condition of the economy, the lack of grant money, and nonexistent training monies. Support for training can take two forms: moral support for instructors and providing the necessary resources for training staff to carry out the mission properly.
Training coordinators, in fact any law enforcement leaders, must show support for the regular training schedule as well as for bolstering the training standard and expectations. This support should be realized through talking daily with training staff, actively listening to their fervor for training, and validating their passion.
Agencies that traditionally do not make the funding of training a priority must change their thinking. As advocates for trainers, leaders need to highlight the importance of good training and the consequences of bad training. It will require a major effort to educate everyone around the training element about these issues. Because law enforcement inherently involves critical thinking under extreme conditions, it is important for officers to train their minds and skills to respond to situations effectively and appropriately. Leaders must convey to their chiefs of police or associated designees that training is critical and resources are needed.
Unfortunately, many trainers have experienced the micromanager method of oversight—the least effective way of leading a training team. Leaders must follow the tenets already described in this article to establish the most effective type of training team, which consists of independent thinkers and doers. A team must be given autonomy to have the desired impact. The leader’s responsibility is to keep staff focused while allowing them a sufficient degree of freedom to achieve mission success. As long as core agency and training leadership provides direct and consistent reporting to the focal leader, the focal leader should provide trainers with the freedom needed to accomplish the mission.
Having innovative, creative, and forward thinkers involved in training is an important element of success. Trainers must get away from the traditional methods of instruction, such as a classroom lecture accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation. In contemporary learning environments, educators are embracing various platforms of teaching, such as distance learning, group activities, practical and demonstrative exercises, and case study reviews.
Focus must always be placed on serving the target audience and crafting/delivering the proper message to the appropriate audiences, through the best mode and at the best time. Newer generations are more comfortable navigating a technology-driven environment, and their attention spans are much different from the generations of the past. Adapting to this changing thought process can be a slow transition for many trainers, but for long-term impact, it is beneficial to integrate a technology-driven instructional environment for today’s audiences.
Video production is one popular trend that has arisen recently in law enforcement training and marketing of classes. As younger generations enter the law enforcement profession, many talents and skill sets are presented to training coordinators. Training teams should embrace those who are interested in creating dynamic training videos. Leaders will be surprised to see the experience and interest in this new field and how it can be applied to law enforcement training efforts.
Various video production software packages are used in many agencies because they are user-friendly and create a high-quality end product at little cost. Often, officers who have a thirst for this type of training platform can produce such videos in a short time frame. With some training and more hands-on experience, agencies can benefit from such a minimal investment. There are also numerous companies, such as the Response Network, which has partnered with the IACP, that are starting up entire Web portals dedicated to training first responders and sharing the best, most credible, and most updated electronic training and access to other information and networks for a low per-officer cost. Although e-learning is certainly not a replacement for more traditional training efforts, it is a less expensive and more efficient vehicle to provide certain types of training.
A key component of any quality training program is the ability of that program to hold all parties accountable for giving their best to the training itself. This includes instructors, executive staff, and students. A training program must make it known to students that they will get out of the training, proportionately, what they put into it. Therefore, it is important to have high standards of excellence. As such, training teams should focus on making the following aspects of their training programs a priority: topic selection, research preparation, quality of materials presented, quality and commitment of the instructors and the agency to the topics, the facility, and the level of passion and leadership presented throughout the entire process—how the classes are marketed, how well the agency utilizes automation, how class times reflect student shift schedules as necessary, and so forth. Success lies in the details, and classes must begin and end on time with very little downtime. It is important to incorporate a philosophy embraced by some military units: “high speed, low drag.” Students appreciate a class that is challenging and from which they walk away having learned something that is relevant to their duties and that can make them more effective and confident in the performance of their work. Training programs that establish consistently high standards will more easily translate their classroom successes into the real-life practices of officers in the field.
Relationships are the glue that keeps teams together, and, more importantly, they are what maximizes and focuses the finite resources available to any agency. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the Columbine High School and Virginia Tech shootings, it has become paramount to share information, ideas, and resources. No agency has all the necessary resources to conduct every type of training. However, every region has resources that could be shared and utilized in ways that benefit all agencies. The days when agencies kept information, techniques, and communication capabilities to themselves and did not share them with others are thankfully over. Training should be a means to cross over disciplines, divisions, and agencies and bridge any previously existing gaps to become stronger and more prepared for the important challenges that lie ahead. Personnel must get to know each other and their instructors as agencies gauge how to focus their efforts. Agencies must focus on building on their strengths and minimizing their weaknesses. No agency is perfect; any agency that believes otherwise is in big trouble, because that mentality will stunt growth and be the death of any training efforts. Every agency has weaknesses, and, keeping this in mind, trainers must identify a role they will take on in the improvement process. Both formal and informal leaders must create an atmosphere that sustains skills development, a winning mind-set, and knowledge enhancement. No agency should ever reach the point that it believes it can stop growing. On the contrary, a learning organization understands that the more it learns and adapts to ongoing trends and needs, the more it needs to learn and improve.
Just because an agency builds and values relationships does not mean it does not have a bottom line of accountability or is not focused on results. On the contrary, staff must know that there is a mission to be accomplished and that they are supported but are accountable for their decisions, actions, and results. There must be a constant feedback and evaluation process, both formal and informal, that focuses on continual improvement.
The law enforcement profession contains many disciplines and other areas requiring sound decision-making skills: technology, resources, facilities, changing legal decisions, civil litigation, physical fitness standards and expectations, navigating union environments, the criminal justice system, community policing, and crime trends, to name just a few. However, the most difficult aspect of building a strong team environment is ensuring the proficiency of those on the team in navigating the “human terrain” and possessing emotional intelligence. Dealing with people is a challenging skill set that not everyone possesses; like integrity, it is difficult to teach. Leaders often fail to navigate well in the human environment, which can have a catastrophic impact on training and leadership efforts.
For these reasons, it is critical to ensure that staff members are capable of working in a team environment. Maturity and a sense of clarity in the understanding of the mission are necessary characteristics for all team members, as well as a willingness to make sacrifices to further the goals that support the mission. Solid training leaders get to know their people, actively listen to them, and incorporate their ideas throughout the program. As with any organization, people are the most important asset. Staff members must understand that they are important, are valued, are recognized for their excellence, and are appreciated. Part of this process entails not only picking and developing the right people to be trainers but also removing those who are not appropriate for the team, for whatever reasons. As leaders build relationships with their training teams and the teams grow closer, there will likely be many unanticipated positive developments.
Training environments will always present a variety of challenges and inherent opportunities. The bigger the problem that requires attention, the greater the opportunity to create positive change and have an effect on the organizational goals, expectations, productivity, competencies, and overall confidence of personnel. As students become excited about training and see it as relevant and challenging, they will expend more energy in the process and will benefit more from their efforts. Over time, if training is conducted with passion and excellence, ethical leadership is modeled and considered as the appropriate approach to decision making, problem solving, and community interaction. The key to accomplishing this modeling is thorough research, quality staff, quality presentations, and consistency in serving students. Any training program must incorporate distance learning and use the newest and most updated products, keeping mindful of the Internet, mobile data terminals, and other available resources. The target audience should always be considered when creating a course, and that includes the newer generation of tech-savvy students who have grown up in the computer generation and embrace technology as an essential part of learning and staying interested or engaged. Critical to implementing a strong training effort, as with any team endeavor, is teamwork. Following the guidelines described earlier will enable an agency to build on the success of a training team and help build a legacy and a future that will affect generations to come. A proper training effort, when nurtured and done properly, will minimize the effects of an agency’s weakest links and set the organization on track for long-term success. Through structure, direction, and a sustained record of success, agencies will realize significant changes in the training environment and get their desired results. Increased numbers of officers will embrace training, while instructors will feel a sense of pride in making a true difference in people’s lives. A final benefit is that instructors will enjoy coming in every day to take on new challenges presented in the in-service and entry-level training environments.
One piece of concluding guidance is to develop a plan and provide the team with a clear direction while providing it with input and a sense of ownership in the process. Create a sense of urgency and value while incorporating the fact that leadership, innovation, and risk taking are desperately needed. Recognize and reward successes and support staff through failures and learn from them when they occur. Leaders who find themselves operating in a poor training environment should remember that the problems were not created overnight and that they will not be fixed overnight. Insanity has been defined as continuing to do the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results. Step back, discern where the agency needs to be, and realize that much can be done to effect change in significant and positive ways. ■
Captain Luther Reynolds has served the Montgomery County Police Department for nearly 20 years in various assignments and executive positions. Currently director of the Special Operations Division, he is a member of the IACP Training and Education Committee and has presented at the annual IACP conference.
A 16-year veteran with the Montgomery County Police Department, Sergeant Alfven Uy is currently assigned to the academy, supervising and leading the in-service program. He has been an adjunct professor at Patrick Henry College in Virginia as well as the University of Maryland–Shady Grove, teaching criminal justice and counterterrorism courses.