FSI on Police Training – Update

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The Force Science Institutes’ new review of police training is addressing issues already well known in LE training circles, but apparently not within the halls of Police Academies or executive offices. Sometimes it takes a project such as this – and lawsuits citing this research that will inevitably follow – to make change:

Part I

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“Unfortunately, this research informs us that officers might not be as well prepared as they need to be as was previously thought. Regardless of the commitment and passion of the instructors, it appears that time, cost, traditional training delivery methods, and shortages of training personnel are so restrictive that they compromise the suitability and sufficiency of current force training. Though this study is groundbreaking in the researcher’s application of scientific methods to determine student learning and the level of skill retention and perishability, it’s not the first to suggest there is a need to improve police training. These studies consistently inform us that the average officer, within months of leaving an academy, will only be able to describe how a given suspect-control technique should be used, but the officer will have little ability to actually apply it effectively in “a dynamic encounter with a defiantly resistant subject.” Even simple skills like baton strikes may be ineffectively delivered in a static environment in as soon as two months after completing the training. Other clinical skills, including communication and decisions skills, taught in the same fashion, appear to deteriorate as rapidly.”

Part II

“FS concluded that not a single academy program in any country used modern principles of instruction to build and integrate force skills. Research conducted for over 100 years has informed us that the method of instruction used across academies in all three countries was less than effective.  It is the type of instruction which accomplishes teaching objectives but not learning objectives.

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“A high school football player who trains and plays a twelve-week schedule for one season (no pre-season training) would train approximately two hours per day for four days.  They would play an hour and half game on day five.  This totals nine and a half hours per week, or approximately 114 hours for one season.  That includes a full trial of their skills in all-out competition at least once per week.  It would likely be considered unfair to place them in a football game, or something similar, with an unknown opponent who doesn’t have to follow any rules on an irregular or unknown field with no referee. In the law enforcement profession, it is a good thing we hire good people, because no professional tries so hard and does so much with so little!”

Imagine if instead of football it was jiujitsu, and officers were getting even half of that 9.5 hours per week?

Part III

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The block training, siloed separately from other skills, is also how training continues (if it continues at all) throughout an officer’s career.

“Dedicated Trainers

Despite how some of this information may sound, FS found many positive aspects in academy training. Common themes emerged in all three countries and in all the academies studied.  It was evident the instructors were skilled, talented, accomplished, and committed professionals. They were challenged to provide the best instruction possible, to everyone, given the range of attitudinal and psychomotor abilities that are present in every academy class. They bore the burden of knowing the limitations on their instruction-time, funding, equipment, and limitations in facilities. In summary, academy staff are under tremendous pressure to accomplish the stated “learning objectives,” but the limitations of time, personnel, and resources available, often defy the reality of being able to successfully teach them.  It would be valuable to see the results these trainers could deliver given more time, resources, and the use of instructional techniques, based on modern, scientific foundations for learning.”

I have a quibble with this comment. First and foremost, for a trainer to be “dedicated” they must be committed to their own skill development in a valid and provable medium. This simply is not the case with many – most – law enforcement instructors. Most go through a state program, receiving titles such as “instructor” and even “Master Instructor” with no background in martial or combative arts outside their in-service DT training (that is, a few hours a year at best, the same few hours the student officers are training). Maybe they have attended specialized DT Instructor training (so, another week or two a year), and perhaps even received training in an instructor class that certifies them to teach after a thirty to forty hour program of instruction. That means that one can be a “Defensive Tactics Master Instructor” with what amounts to several weeks worth of training, and maybe a yearly week long re-certification class. And, with no background in the subject matter whatsoever, one can become say a “Ground Survival Instructor” after  a forty hour class.

Really? We call this dedicated? These are (supposedly) “instructor” and even “master” level tacticians we are talking about.

This is not to cast aspersions on the good intentions of many police instructors – though a few simply like being the center of attention and the opportunity to stand up in front of the class, many simply want to  better themselves and make their peers safer.

But that comes from doing the work, not punching a card. Being an expert requires years of commitment and time dedicated to being better at a craft – not a few hours a month and a week or two a year. Thats no expert, its dilettantism. In my experience with law enforcement instruction, very few instructors do much if any meaningful learning outside the state mandated and department offered programs of instruction. A major issue in lack of confidence from rank and file officers and defensive tactics is that many instructors don’t know what they are doing, some embarrassingly so, and the students politely go through a few repetitions of some poorly demonstrated, unworkable technique while hoping for the class to be over quickly. This is a key area that is not addressed in this FSI research.


There is much more to police work: tactics, law, liability, communication and threat assessment skills, and weapons capability, which it looks like FS will be getting into as well.

Can we hope for change? For meaningful transformation in how training is conceived, delivered, and applied in the field, over simply changing policies and adopting slogans and buzz words?

This USA Today article seems to hint at a step in the right direction (emphasis mine):

“Some police departments are also taking a new look at what they call “hands on” force. Los Angeles Police Chief Michael Moore said his department is considering whether to institute refresher training in grappling techniques used to subdue suspects. At present, recruits get the training, but it was discontinued long ago for veteran officers because it was causing too many injuries among them.

“Grappling is not the only answer, but it is one more tool,” officers can use to prevent escalation to deadly force, Moore said in an interview. “It is only going to improve their readiness.”

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