I am teaching another Team Leader course in a few weeks. During the course of a year and with different topics being taught, I invariably get asked whether my course is “certified” by a specific entity. One of the reasons I started a training company was because I felt like a lot of courses that I attended were liability driven, or lacked depth or left me wanting more from an instructor who could not relate what he was teaching to a specific example or callout.
Whether or not a course is “certified”, does not mean it is good or bad. But the question is odd, since Tap-Rack Tactical, LLC is the only entity responsible for its course content. How can another entity certify it? Even POST certification doesn’t mean much since the person reviewing the course material may or may not know anything about the topic. Did they certify spelling and grammar on the PowerPoint, or the actual material? In the case of my team leader course, did a team leader with equal or greater experience than me review it? And even if they did, they haven’t sat through the class. The PowerPoint is designed to keep me on track through talking points; it is not a substitute for the instructor lead discussion. Throw in field exercises or range time, and how the heck could that be “certified” without attendance?
In regards to the team leader course, the topics I cover are very similar to most team leader courses. Info on selection, standards, case law, training and mission planning are all in there. I’ve been living the job for the last 16 years, I consider myself a professional and apply myself to the job, so I believe I can pass on relevant information as it relates to my EXPERIENCE with these things. That is not to say that others don’t have viable and sound experience, but it is possible that they cannot share their true feelings on a topic due to organizational control. As an example, I taught at the State Basic SWAT school for a period of time. The state tactical association was responsible for the content and instructors, and the state academy supported the organization. There were 7 instructors, 6 of them acting as squad Tacs and 1 guy was the oversight dude keeping us all on schedule. When it came to content, we ALL made concessions and taught a single curriculum. This was critical to the large class to ensure the training was consistent and was required since all of the instructors came from different teams with different TTP’s. In some cases, I did not agree with what was being taught, but on its face it was not unsafe or unsound so I got with the central program.
The larger the organization, the more bureaucracy and red tape there is to initiate change in the curriculum. In addition, the large organization is absolutely concerned about its own liability. It has been my experience that their courses are extremely risk averse and focus on the student’s liability in police SWAT operations. And that, in my opinion, is bullshit. The job requires risk, it will require that you order men into harms way, it will require that you are the conduit for force applications and property damage. The mantle of leadership is a heavy bitch; if you aren’t willing to shoulder that burden then you shouldn’t be the leader. And you should go into the job with both eyes open. You will be sued, you will be the last guy granted qualified immunity, and based on your position you might not. Get over it or get out of the way, but the remedy to most of this is GOOD TRAINING.
Now you have to decide whether or not the big organization is actually providing the good training. As stated above the travelling instructor may be restricted in only teaching the party line. The fact that the training is coming through the “Cool Ass Tactical Officers Association” (CATOA), doesn’t necessarily mean the instructor knows his business. And this is where this gets kind of strange to me. I know dudes vet me and my training, and good on them for doing so. All good trainers and purveyors of training will tell you to vet the instructor. But when the CATOA puts out their course info, the instructor that happens to be teaching the topic is rarely vetted. There is an assumption that CATOA has done that for you. And that is a dangerous and unwise practice.
In the case of a SWAT team leader course, I want a guy teaching that has a metric shit ton of experience LEADING MISSIONS! Not just a few, and certainly not command time. Because SWAT Commander and SWAT team leader are two different jobs and they don’t necessarily apply to each other. I want to know what his team members thought of him as a team leader, not just the bosses. I want him to have been sued, shot at and I want to know how he has led his team in those times. I want to know if he has been through a lot of different team leader based training, not just the CATOA’s program. I want a well-rounded presentation and perspective on SWAT team leadership, and dare I say that I want him to be able to tell me where he has failed as a team leader over the years, what lessons were learned and what was put in place to prevent that failure again. Early in my assignment as a team leader I left CP’s ashamed of myself for not speaking up, I swore after the second time that I would never do it again because the men deserved more from me. I never have since then. I have made mistakes in mission planning, personnel actions, team direction and training. That is the shit you need to hear about, the personal mistakes laid bare so you don’t do the same. Vet the instructor, not the organization. If the CATOA can’t tell you who the instructor is going to be up front, or if they have a “pool” of instructors and don’t know who will be teaching the course you are going to attend, well, all I can say is caveat emptor and recognize that you are doing exactly what everyone that attends professional training says you should not do. Apply the above to guns, tactics, breaching and leadership training.