By Scott Harris, Freelance Writer
|Note: Police Chief magazine, from time-to-time, offers feature-length articles on products and services that are useful to law enforcement administrators. This article features training and testing.|
echnology is constantly shaping all aspects of society. Law enforcement is no exception. Because of this, keeping up with new information is more challenging than ever. But even as technology makes it harder to keep up, it also facilitates the education process by making learning easier and more accessible.
This is where technology intersects with testing and training. Add in a still fragile economy and evolving national demographics, and the equation becomes more complex. This means that while other industries move entirely toward digital platforms, law enforcement training and testing organizations must adopt a hybrid approach. While they must deliver content more easily, that can never be the sole answer. This is an inherently human endeavor that will never completely forsake the flesh-and-blood interactions on which it is based.
“It’s not unlike other new technologies. Younger agents are much more used to them,” said Donald A. DiFrisco, president and CEO of International Surveillance Technology, Incorporated, a Florida firm offering continuing education to law enforcement through the National Intelligence Academy. “Obviously the economy has been tough on everybody. There are far fewer training and travel dollars available. That’s why the trends around training today center around online and distance learning.”
Technology is changing the way police officers are trained. General law enforcement strategy, technology, ethics, crime patterns, and even foreign languages are a few of the subjects that can be relatively easily studied online.
“Spanish proficiency is becoming critical in the public safety sector. With millions of Hispanics entering America yearly, it is becoming a necessity to know basic public safety Spanish,” said Kendal Knetemann, founder of Spanish on Patrol, which offers Spanish instruction courses entirely online. “Law enforcement officers deal with a large variety of issues. They need to be prepared for situations such as DUI traffic stops and domestic situations and for building a stronger relationship with the Hispanic community. Dispatchers for 9-1-1 need to be able to communicate without body language. This is extremely difficult in an emergency situation, so it is essential that 9-1-1 knows Spanish.”
Less intuitive areas are finding their way online as well. Pennsylvania-based company iSniper is one company taking marksmanship training to a whole new level by fully computerizing the shooting range and making it available without great cost or a suite of intricate equipment.
“In 20 minutes, you can have a great picture of shot placement,” said iSniper CEO Andrey Safanyuk. “There’s a lot of flexibility. It only takes 10 or 15 minutes to set up. When you shoot at the screen, there’s not only shot placement, but you can see the gun movements as you draw it.”
Digital training environments facilitate access to information, but still must be done thoughtfully in order to achieve learning objectives.
“We want to ease the burden on law enforcement to have to come to a classroom,” said Banyon Pelham, an associate in research for Florida State University Panama City Public Safety and Security Program. “But we’re not just putting a textbook online. We are on iTunesU; you can take classes from a patrol car. There are video pieces, audio pieces, and discussion boards available to students.”
The day-to-day work of law enforcement, of course, rarely happens in a digital world. That’s why, according to educators, online public safety learning often works best when it builds on a brick-and-mortar foundation. Use-of-force simulation experts IES Interactive Training, Ti Training, the Northeastern University College of Professional Studies, the Sirchie forensics training center, and the American Public University System all combine the benefits of physical and virtual environments.
“Certainly, distance learning is becoming a desirable and important part of the development of law enforcement professionals’ education and career development,” said Victor E. Kappeler, PhD, associate dean and foundation professor in the School of Justice Studies at Eastern Kentucky University’s College of Justice and Safety. “It definitely has advantages for place-bound individuals and those whose professional and personal lives do not lend themselves to rigid schedules. Many law enforcement personnel are finding that a blend of on-campus learning and distance learning best fits their changing lives and work assignments.”
That is particularly true when considering the constant need to work with physical evidence. Nevertheless, the cost of in-person training can be prohibitive. Therefore, even when online training is not viable, institutions are finding ways to accommodate prospective learners.
“We have several clients that are interested in our crime scene collection training, but securing the training funds needed has been a challenge for them,” said Tim Kupferschmid, executive director of Sorenson Forensics, based in Utah. “The feedback we have received from our clients is that, despite the online capabilities of training, the in-person course we provide is the more preferred method of training delivery.”
A high number of trainers can hold specialized training at their own sites, take the classroom to the client or both. For example, the University of Tennessee’s National Forensic Academy will come to your agency, Harley-Davidson offers driver training for its vehicles, and My Force offers training on its security systems.
“A lot of the things we do are onsite,” said Kim Kohlhepp, manager of the Center for Testing Services and Career Development at the IACP. “We can develop simulation exercises that capture specific challenges an agency describes to us. For example, we have an in-basket exercise. Pretend you’ve been out of the office for a while, and you come back and there are piles of memos and emails. We re-create that experience. We also do things like simulated press conferences. We have professional role players who are briefed with responses to different questions and scenarios that may unfold.”
Indeed, the practical, everyday challenges of law enforcement cannot be lost in training, whether it is in person or online. This could include less obvious but no less important facets of the job.
“Overwhelmingly, agency training money is devoted to tactics. But when you pick up a newspaper, the stories you see about police are overwhelmingly about ethical lapses,” said Mark J. Wittenberg, a former police lieutenant and now a trainer with Josephson Institute Center for Policing Ethics, which has worked with the Los Angeles, California, and the Chicago, Illinois, police departments, among others. “Ethical behavior builds trust. It’s not an extra add-on of policing; it’s the foundation. It’s the driving force behind how we deploy the law.”
Florida State’s safety and security program pairs larger issues with more practical matters, so that officers are fully prepared from day one.
“It is our belief that the only way we’ll be a benefit is to blend higher education with practical applications,” Pelham said. “We teach skills like writing search warrants. Most of your programs are targeted to administration or research. That’s great, but it doesn’t help first-level supervisors. We don’t even accept applications from potential faculty unless they have 10 years of law enforcement experience.”
The demographics of the nation are changing as well. I/O Solutions, an Illinoisbased human resources firm specializing in recruitment and promotion in the public safety sector, is developing testing programs that not only reflect these shifts but that also keep them in compliance with regulations related to diversity and help make testing and promotion programs more color-blind.
“Minority candidates may not have the same educational opportunities coming in as far as certain academic areas go,” said Fred Rafilson, I/O Solutions cofounder and CEO. “But that doesn’t mean they’re not as motivated, hardworking, or honest. We want to focus on integrity, attitude, and drive. There are no ethnic group differences in those kinds of areas.”
These changes are happening not only externally but internally, as police agency leaders search for ways to find and maintain connections between themselves and incoming officers. Communications methods may sometimes be taken for granted, but according to Bill Reilly, a retired assistant chief from the Hartford, Connecticut, Police Department and head of Finest’s coaching services, that’s exactly the rationale that causes trouble among the rank and file.
“When a chief’s vision is known and shared, you increase the likelihood that people will be willing and able to help you get there,” Reilly said. “This has worked for years in the private sector, but it just doesn’t happen much in the public sector, especially among law enforcement. Leaders often express frustration over why they are not getting the desired behaviors among frontline officers. But it’s all about communication. If management displays behavioral inconsistencies, you’ll see even greater inconsistency at the front line.”
Effective communications can be especially tricky when interacting with international agencies and partners—or simply those with whom you are unfamiliar.
“If it doesn’t fit the needs of the local area, it’s not going to be sustainable,” said Joseph Hauer, managing director of Arizona-based International Police Training and Consulting Services, which regularly conducts training sessions for police forces in various countries. “We deal with the political, legal, and regulatory issues facing that nation. We focus on translating training programs into the right language. Otherwise, six months down the road, there may not be any real difference.” ♦
Please cite as:
Scott Harris, "Training and Testing," Product Feature, The Police Chief 80 (February 2013): 44–46.