By George Epp, Sheriff (Retired), Boulder County, Colorado, and Executive Director, County Sheriffs of Colorado, Littleton, Colorado, and Brian Webster, Senior Vice President of Business Development, Knowledge Factor Inc., Denver, Colorado
Cases like this one grab headlines across the country. Solution of terrible crimes from cold case files gives law enforcement a tremendous boost. DNA technology has the promise not only to solve high profile cases but also to significantly improve the solution of the day-to-day cases that make up the bulk of the workload of every local law enforcement agency.
With few exceptions, most of Colorado's more than 300 police departments and sheriff's offices rely on the CBI laboratory to process evidence. In the past, because of scarce funding, the lab was forced to prioritize cases. Violent felony crimes got immediate attention, but evidence submitted in less serious crimes often languished. Recently CBI received funding to equip the DNA lab with robotic equipment. The equipment greatly increased the lab's ability to process offender samples and freed up laboratory staff to spend more time on the process of analyzing DNA evidence from crime scenes. In addition, changes in state law supported by police chiefs, sheriffs, and district attorneys have resulted in significant growth in Colorado's DNA offender database. There are more than 250 municipal police departments and 62 sheriff's offices in Colorado. These agencies are responsible for criminal law enforcement in their jurisdictions. Outside the Denver metro area, specialized crime scene investigators are a rarity. The CBI has a few field agents available to assist chiefs and sheriffs on major crimes, but the local patrol officer or investigator is always the first on the scene of a crime and often the only officer assigned to a case. County Sheriffs of Colorado (www.csoc.org), in cooperation with Knowledge Factor Inc. (www.knowledgefactor.com), a Colorado-based company that specializes in online training and learning, and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, has developed an Internet-based training program on the use of DNA evidence that makes significant breakthroughs in reducing costs and improving learning efficiency.
The Training Need
Only a few officers had enough knowledge of DNA and DNA evidence collection, preservation, and submission procedures and techniques to take advantage of CBI's new processing capability. Another problem, common to many agencies, is that the lack of knowledge results in a shotgun approach. Crime scene investigators who are not knowledgeable about DNA evidence often collect every bit of potential evidence and submit all of it to the lab, with-out supplying the lab with sufficient information to identify the evidence that is the likeliest to provide the identity of suspects. This results in confusion and wasted time for the lab.
The science of DNA and the techniques needed to properly identify, collect, process, and submit evidence to the lab have not been taught in most basic training academies. Expertise in DNA evidence has been passed on from officer to officer, but no for-mal curriculum was developed. Little training in evidence collection and processing has been available, and when available, the cost of tuition and the time away from regular duties often prohibit attendance.
Although it would be impossible to assign CBI's forensic experts to become full-time trainers in order to train the state's 14,000 peace officers, CBI Director Bob Cantwell saw that an investment in time by his laboratory staff to develop curriculum would pay dividends. Cantwell knew that investigators', patrol officers', and crime scene technicians' lack of knowledge of DNA evidence often resulted in frustration and wasted time for laboratory staff. Worse, lack of knowledge resulted in untold cases where evidence was not collected and crimes went unsolved. CBI agreed to assign forensic scientists to work with County Sheriffs of Colorado to develop a DNA training curriculum.
County Sheriffs of Colorado (CSOC) works with the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, the Colorado Regional Community Policing Institute, and the Colorado Peace Officer Standards and Training Board to provide continuing law enforcement education. These groups know that they have insufficient resources to meet the training demand and they work together to minimize wasteful competition and maximize the use of available resources. An informal agreement assigns each group a training niche. DNA training fit the CSOC niche.
The Cost of Time and Place
Law enforcement executives struggle, particularly in rural areas, to send officers to specialized training. If the DNA training were presented in a traditional format, it would be a two-hour classroom presentation. Sessions would be held in a central location, or possibly moved around the state to a few population centers. Chiefs and sheriffs would bear the cost of not only tuition but also transportation, meals, per diem, and in some cases overnight lodging. What might start out as a class costing $75 per student quickly becomes a $500 when all the costs are counted.
Internet-based training can cut some of these costs. All an officer needs to take an Internet class is a computer, an Internet connection, and some otherwise unoccupied time. Internet access has grown quickly in Colorado. High-speed access is available in even the most remote communities.
CSOC, CBI, and Knowledge Factor came together to create a program known as Using DNA as Evidence. It is based on a training methodology that has gained national acclaim for its success in other public safety and health care venues where competence is critical. The process, called Confidence-Based Learning (CBL), is designed to ensure that learners achieve 100 percent mastery of the subject matter in which they are trained. Officers cannot pass the course by guessing correct answers or even by harboring doubt about correct procedures.
CBL was attractive to the County Sheriffs of Colorado for several reasons:
- Training is more efficient and effective if an individual training program is developed for each student based on a pretest.
- The pretest identifies what each student knows with confidence, what they do not know, and what they think they know but are mistaken about.
- Students train at their own speeds and may log off and return as many times as needed to master the material.
- Because employers, especially law enforcement agencies, are held legally responsible to train their employees, the CBL system provides employers with a record that shows the employee's progress and mastery of the training material.
Existing training systems are adept at giving information to students. Where they fail is in knowing what the officers and investigators actually leave the training exercise really knowing-that is, what they know confidently and what they merely heard and will soon forget. And all traditional training and assessment methodologies suffer from a universal shortcoming: the possibility that someone can guess the correct answers and skate through the exercise without being fully knowledgeable of the information being taught.
For example, two people can get the same score on a certification; let us say it is 85 percent. One may understand 85 percent of the content that was evaluated, while the other guessed on half of the questions. Employers usually accept these two people as the same and therefore they are given the same responsibilities. But their performance on the job will likely be vastly different. One employee may be qualified, but the other is a risk. Assessments that cannot distinguish between guesswork and honest answers are incapable of accurately measuring what a person truly knows, let alone identifying knowledge gaps that must be remediated.
Other problems can arise with a student who scores an 85 percent. What if the 15 percent that they do not know, or wrongly believe, are questions that are faced on the job the next day? To address this issue, the CSOC-Knowledge Factor training requires that each student obtain 100 percent mastery on 100 percent of the material to receive certification.
What differentiates CBL from other training processes is its ability to identify the following in learners:
- Mastery: correct and confident knowledge
- Doubt: correct knowledge that is believed without full confidence
- Guesswork: lucky guessing that is not accompanied by competence
- Ignorance: no knowledge
The pretest and identification of knowledge already confidently held is significant for increasing the efficiency of training pro-grams. What law enforcement officer has not sat through hours of training that he or she already knew well, waiting and waiting for some nugget of new information? The Confidence-Based Assessment identifies the material a learner has already mastered and focuses the learning program first on material that the student wrongly believes and then addresses areas where the student does not have sufficient knowledge or harbors doubt. Retention is increased when students make mistakes and then immediately receive correct information.
Research also shows that the best predictor of a person's performance is not knowledge alone but knowledge and confidence. Confident people act on their knowledge. Less confident people do not. If we cannot measure confidence, we have no way of knowing the competence of officers. Worse still, we have no way of knowing when a person might have a high degree of confidence in wrong information. The solution to this dilemma lies some-where in the type of training that is delivered, because if the training is properly delivered and the results properly monitored the possibility of risk diminishes and the probability of success increases.
Using DNA as Evidence
CSOC's online training program, Using DNA as Evidence, consists of two modules. The first covers the basic science of DNA and its use as evidence. The second module is on the nuts and bolts of identifying evidence, collecting and preserving evidence, and submitting evidence to the lab. Patrol officers, investigators, evidence technicians, and prosecutors make up the intended audience. Although designed for Colorado officers, the training applies across jurisdictions.
The Knowledge Factor training approach is designed to offer chiefs and sheriffs a new opportunity to provide the public with officers who are better trained. It also pro-vides an opportunity for the law enforcement executive to demonstrate clearly that an employee was trained and mastered the material. In the unfortunate but all too frequent circumstances where an employer must defend against a lawsuit alleging negligent training, this system can help prove that adequate training was provided.
For more information on this training program or on CBL, go to (www.csoc.org) or (www.knowledgefactor.com).■