In modern law enforcement we are forced to train to the lowest common denominator. Blame it on budget, admin’s general disregard for line staff, or rainbow farting unicorns, the reality is the same. The dirty little secret in law enforcement is that agencies train their people to statutory and case-law based minimum standards; hell most agencies don’t even have PT standards anymore. Here’s the kicker, the reality is that money and admin are just convenient scapegoats. The real reason Cops don’t get better training can be traced right back to the very line staff that most like to bitch, moan and point fingers at the bosses. That’s right I’m saying we’ve done this to ourselves.
I’ve been involved in my agency’s range training program for several years now. I’ve watched and worked with the entire gamut of shooters, from brand new recruits who’ve never held a gun, all the way to 30 year veterans who’d probably still run a wheelgun if we’d let them. What stands out to me is an interesting dichotomy:
These guys and gals are so fresh and so motivated they think a traffic stop in a hurricane is the best thing since sliced bread. They finish the academy and are desperate to prove themselves to their more senior peers. These folks, although eager, are often intimidated by their lack of knowledge and experience. When it comes to pushing for training I’ve seen very few go out of their way. The few that push are often dismissed by their senior peers as overzealous and uninformed. We’ve all heard the locker room conversation where the new guy’s great idea is pissed on because, “You don’t know how things work around here junior!” Despite passion and sometimes extensive background experience our new guys continually get shot down and passed over. I know because I was there, I didn’t give up and it has paid off, but I’ve watched countless other new guys throw in the towel and adopt the same jaded mindset as their naysayers.
The other side of the coin are the senior guys. Most of these guys are looking for an easy assignment where they can kick their feet up and relax, or they’re looking for the next stepping stone on their way up the promotion ladder. They have been there and done that, they’ve seen the administration change and they’ve watched the spoils and tribulations of the good ‘ole boy system. When training day finally comes around these guys gripe the loudest, “We’ve done it all before; It’ll be the same as last time; I shoot just fine I’ve never failed a qual…” These guys will smoke and joke their way through the training while all of the info blows in one ear and out the other. Be it the B.T.D.T. argument or the, “My way has worked for XX number of years” quip, this old dog ain’t interested in your new trick. This isn’t the end of the world until you realize that every new guy in the class is taking note. Just like magic the few motivated new guys are ground down through time and pressure into the same jaded mold as their senior peers; and so the cycle continues.
So I’ve exposed the ugly underbelly of our predicament. Now what do we do about it? Well it didn’t happen overnight and it sure as hell won’t be fixed overnight. If I’ve learned anything through years of dabbling in adult based learning it’s that success stems from the motivations of the individual student. Be it emotional, upward aspirations or just ignorant interest, the stronger a student’s connection to the material the more the student will retain. If the only reason you showed up to training is because someone told you to there’s a real good chance you won’t remember or accomplish much. No matter how good your overtime check is going to be or how many sheep dog cool guy operator quotes and videos I share if you aren’t connecting with the material you won’t retain it. I can already hear the civilians saying, “Shouldn’t all cops care and train hard, they carry a gun for a living?” Unfortunately I can say beyond the shadow of a doubt that this is just not the case. Most cops have met some personal status quo and no longer aspire towards a greater level of performance.
So why not force them to focus by testing them or scare them by showing videos of other cops failing and dying? Well don’t forget our audience, these are Alpha personality types; but more importantly they are adults. Make training more painful and they will push back even harder against it! Take the boot camp approach and you may very well scare off the few off the few passionate followers you have.
So test them and post the scores for all too see, shame them into working harder. I’m guilty of this mindset and for quite a while I pushed hard to see this put into place. Sure this concept will probably get your super motivated top performers on board and your SWAT guys will love it! However, you’ll pay by having the exact opposite effect on those at the bottom of the scorecard. Now Deputy Doughnut Dunker will associate every range training day with a skillset he hasn’t mastered and a very public attack on his inability to perform. Deputy D.D. now avoids the range like the plague and bad mouths the asshole instructors to anyone who will listen. Good job range Nazi you’ve just become the guy no one wants to ask for help!
This is starting to look like an insurmountable struggle… The issue is systemic and the resistance to progress is cyclic. We win this fight one student and one lesson at a time. You start by putting a passionate and skilled person in charge at the range and then give them the tools they need to succeed. Your rangemaster needs to love shooting, they need to love it so much they shoot every chance they get during the work week and still want to shoot on their days off. They need to chase down new training with the veracity of a starving grizzly bear. This person should pour their heart and soul into every lesson plan they write. Their efforts will show and slowly but surely students will find something to connect with. With each student that finds a connection a ripple effect of new found support will begin. That guy or gal will now return to their respective locker rooms and instead of bitching will regale their story of how they connected to the training. This new follower of the light may even seek out additional training; your astute rangemaster should be ready and willing to provide this training or suggest outside training venues. With time and or money invested our new apostle will be an open book and will in turn gain knowledge and experience. This is a powerful cycle and the continued ripple effect can begin to turn the tide against jaded negativity. You need look no further than the private training market. Bankers and construction workers will shell massive sums of their hard-earned money to attend CQB, long range precision and night vision operations courses knowing full well they will likely never need those skills. (Side note: As an active participant in this industry I am in no way insinuating that civilians shouldn’t attend these types of courses, quite the opposite! God Bless them for taking their individual rights seriously and going above and beyond to prepare for the unknown.) They continue to get more and more students every year because of this ripple effect, friends like to train with friends and so the market grows!
The private training market is booming and full of individuals who have followed their passion. This so clearly demonstrates the power of a connection with the material being presented. We win the fight against willing ignorance through persistent passion! Will we ever reach everyone? No, there will always be the few truly unmotivated slugs who only really care about collecting a paycheck… That’s fine we always need more desk jockeys. For those who showed up excited we continue to fuel that fire. For those who discover that newfound passion we bolster their interests and help them grow in anyway we can.
For those of you reading this article in a position to effectuate change listen carefully. Empower your rangemaster! Give them the training they ask for and don’t flinch when they ask for an increase in the annual ammo budget. Encourage your rangemaster to get new training and solicit feedback regarding their efforts to improve the training program. Got a slug for a rangemaster? Put your supervisor hat on and light a fire under their ass or replace them! The tide of willing ignorance will never turn without passion flowing top down.
For you rangemasters and range instructors keep you chin up and keep your personal interest fire stoked high. For every 10 guys that didn’t learn a damn thing remember that you may have planted a seed with one. They may not thank you for it, hell they may not have even recognized it, but that maligned 50th repetition of double feed malfunction clearances could be the very rep that cements the concept. A concept that could be the difference between a dad tucking his daughter in at night OR a daughter watching her Daddy’s funeral. The stakes couldn’t be higher and the current trend couldn’t be more obvious; A war on cops is being waged on the streets of our country. We the teachers are the last bastion of hope for our peers who don’t know what they don’t know!