Most trainers use videos in their programs. Some trainers use a lot of videos and some of us use them sparingly. Some of the videos are just short humorous clips to provide a little levity, some are clips from TED talks or other similar presentations, many however are videos of actual incidents captured on in car video cameras, body cameras, or cell phones involving officers in violent confrontations. Videos can be a great learning tool or can potentially set the viewers up for failure. I have seen videos used a number of different ways.
Sometimes trainers use the videos for “shock value”. After the video has been shown the trainer talks about all the things the officer did wrong and issues a warning, “This is a dangerous job. If you do what this officer / deputy / trooper / constable did, then you are going to get hurt, killed, etc.”
Sometimes there is a discussion following the video about what the participants in the class would do differently from the officer in the video. The problem with these answers is that they are based on knowing the outcome of the incident. The people in the class know for example that the subject goes back to his car, pulls out a gun and shoots the officer. The officer in the video however, was operating in real time and did not have the advantage of seeing into the future and knowing the outcome. There is little learning value talking about what you would allegedly do in an event when you know the outcome of the original event. Remember the greatest lie in law enforcement always starts with the same seven words, “If I was there I would have.” There is value in reflecting on what occurred and discussing and imagining what you would most like to do when you find yourself in a similar situation.
Is there a better way to use video? Yes. Can we use video to enhance decision making and critical thinking skills? Yes.
Here are some thoughts on how to use video differently.
Note: Never watch video to be critical of what the officer or officers did. In most cases they did the best they could with the tools, skills and training they had. Watch the video to determine the learning that can come out of other peoples real life experiences. Also always keep in mind the limitations of video. Videos are only two dimensional, and we live in a three dimensional world. Video never captures the incident from the officers perspective. Video records but does not interpret what it records. Video has no training, or experience and video never feels fear, anger or any other emotion. Video does not experience inattention blindness or other human elements. Video quality can alter the speed at which you believe things are happening.
Start by doing some research to gather as much information as possible about the incident. What was the reason for the stop or the interaction in the first place? What information or intelligence did the officer have regarding the call and the subject prior to the interaction? Did the officer have access to backup? If so, how far away was it? Was there anything unique about the location of the stop or interaction? What was the officers training in dealing with the type of situation they were facing in the video?
The next step is to watch the video a number of times with the sound on and the sound off. Make sure you watch the whole video and not just the actual fight or confrontation. Look for decision points in the interaction where the officer makes a decision based on information he or she had prior to the stop, the behaviours of the subject or new information that becomes available during the interaction. Watching with the sound off will help you better focus on nonverbal cues from the subject as well as the officer(s).
Decide if there is a reason (other than shock value) to show the full video first in training. My preference with many videos is to not show the entire video first. I prefer to give some background information to set the stage for the incident and when I do show the video to stop at each of the previously identified decision points. You can then guide the discussion to talk about the decisions and options available, the potential impact of those decisions, legal authorities and the possible meaning behind the actions and words of the subject. These discussions are not criticisms of the officer in the video. They are a discussion about available options based on the totality of the circumstances as you know them at that moment in time. The discussion leads to each participant in the room deciding on a course of action they would take in a similar situation. You can even have people take a couple of minutes and have them close their eyes and imagine putting their plan into action.
You could take the time to progress through all the decision points in a single class or you could stop and discuss a single decision point in the incident in an academy class or at shift briefing every day over the course of one or two weeks. The break between discussions provides the opportunity for the participants to continue the discussion with their peers and also research legal authorities if there is some debate about what the law and policy allows them to do in that situation.
If you are doing this as part of academy training program, or a longer block of inservice training, you can also stop the video and move from the classroom to the combatives room and recreate the scene from the video. You can let officers slowly work through solving the physical challenges posed to the officer in the video. This allows the officers to enhance problem solving skills in a physical confrontation using all the tools, resources and equipment they would have available on the street. They can work with people of varying sizes and body types to figure out what could realistically work for them on the street.
Does this approach require more preparation time on your part? Yes.
Does this approach to using videos take more time in class? Yes.
Does it mean you might have to use fewer videos in your program? Yes.
Does it enhance learning, retention and recall? Yes.
Does it enhance critical thinking and decision making skills? Yes.
Is it worth the investment of your time and energy? Yes.
Take time to reflect on the videos you are using and ask yourself, “How can I use these videos more effectively and provide greater benefit to the men and women I have the honour and privilege of training?”
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