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Is Training Driving Your Operations?
By Marvin Preston, LT, NH DOC
Published: 09/28/2009

Martialarts “The consequence for not adequately training your Huns (men) is their failure to accomplish that which is expected of them”
        Attila the Hun, 5AD

Is the training you are providing your department changing your operations, or is what’s going on in your facilities refocusing your training? This is a simple question that many of us should take a look in the mirror and ask ourselves. With today’s tighter budgets and shrinking workforces, we need to ensure that any and all training we provide, get’s as much bang for the buck as possible. Corrections training needs to be focused and applicable to the job at hand, not the latest and greatest that comes down the pike. It needs to be kept simple due to the lack of training time we can all wrestle away from our administrators that run our facilities. Every hour away from the unit needs to be productive and worthwhile. Corrections Departments across the nation are being faced with these challenges and are looking for answers. I spent a number of years focusing most of my efforts and work in either the tactical or specialty teams operations and training arena. A couple years ago, my position was changed into more of a department wide training position. I had to take a breath and reassess my views on the product I was trying to produce. Will line officers desire to be trained like my tactical members? I spent some time talking to the officers I was going to train and was pleasantly surprised to find something out. They wanted to be trained! This seemed to make my job so much easier. So I thought.

The first area we looked to change was our Use of Force training. Not unlike many other agencies, we seemed to be stuck training the same thing again and again every year. We handcuffed and handcuffed willing, standing, complying subjects over and over and over again. But what about if an inmate resisted and/or ended up on the ground? We trained an arm bar take down, that required 7 separate moves for 18+ years and couldn’t find anyone that had ever witnessed it being used! Were we training are officers for the challenging environment they must work in or were we just checking the boxes for our next ACA audit? One common complaint was that the classroom and practical training seemed to always tell the officer what they had to do in specific situations. This left the officer feeling handcuffed in real life situations with what they were being faced with. There were too many variables in use of force situations to expect if an inmate does that, you must do this. They wanted to be trained like the professionals and adults they were. If we don’t focus our efforts to get the officers ready for what they may face, we’re selling them short. And the officers know it.

I gathered a small group of my trainers to develop a strategy. In our initial table meetings, I found a great shortcoming of mine. While I had been a weapons trainer for the entire time I had worked here, I never sought out to become a defensive tactics trainer. I was at a disadvantage while we were trying to work things out on paper. As soon as I could, I got myself enrolled in the Defensive Tactics Instructors class at our certifying agency, the New Hampshire Police Standards and Training Council. This probably wasn’t the smartest idea at almost 50 years of age, but it was tremendously beneficial in my quest to develop a better training module. Our lead instructor, Paul Mauler, delivered a great week of instruction. I even learned to appreciate being slapped, pulled, and thrown horizontal then driven face down into a mat. This gave me confidence in the material I was going to teach. But being the older student, I also took the time to ask as many questions as I could. Can we shorten this? Can we modify that? How do we make this easier to understand? All of these seemed to be questions Paul had heard and listened to before and was very good at answering.

I returned and re-gathered the trainers and we went to work. We introduced a new 3-move arm bar takedown that was much easier to remember. We worked at targeting our training to the average CO and not the lowest functioning student. We put together a legal issues class that empowered the officer to think and react in a reasonable way. But the training was geared to give the officer options and not directions.

Finally we provided a Train the Trainer for every instructor that was going to teach this module to our staff. In this block we stressed that we were trying to deliver something new. We emphasized that our students were all adults and professionals. We wanted to ensure that our message was one of teaching, not yelling or directing. We had all our instructors conduct teach-backs of techniques they had learned. This was the first time as an agency we did his and we found it to be very helpful for those of us scheduling the trainers and the instructors themselves. We had a chance to view strengths and weaknesses of the different trainers so we could partner them up with other instructors that would compliment their styles. It gave the instructors an opportunity to view different styles and judge themselves.

Now that our annual in-service training is coming to an end, we have been pleased with our results. Our class evaluations have been overwhelmingly positive. Officers have responded with comments like “Finally I’m learning things I can take back to the block” and “Training is finally recognizing dynamic situations and not expecting robotic responses”.

In closing I’d like to ask you. Is your training driving operations? Or is training being responsive to it? Are you developing, scheduling and conducting training with the mindset of satisfying your next audit? Or are you looking to put something together that may assist the officer on the line hang up his keys and go home at the end of their shift? Do you target your training to your least performing student? Or do you challenge your average officer? And do you train your staff like the professionals they are? These are all good questions. Your staff depends on honest answers to all of them.

Lt. Marvin Preston works at the New Hampshire Department of Corrections. He has been in corrections for more than 17 years, and also is a retired Marine.

Other articles by Preston:


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