For close to two decades I have had the privilege of travelling around North America training and interacting with law enforcement trainers and officers. These dedicated professionals have been from all areas and assignments within the law enforcement profession and I have learned a great deal and grown tremendously from these experiences.
One training philosophy I have heard for years, and continue to hear (from recruit trainers trainers predominantly), that bothers me however is, “We need to break them down so we can build them back up.” This is a hold over from the military boot camp philosophy, and linked to last week’s post where we still think of law enforcement as a paramilitary profession.
I start from the premise that we hire good people. I understand that some of the good people we hire are not a good fit for the profession and occasionally there is someone who makes it through the hiring process who is of poor character and lacking the proper values. For the most part however, we hire good people; people of integrity whose values are aligned with ours.
So, if we are hiring good people why do we need to “break them down”? What is the purpose of breaking them down?
One trainer explained to me, “We need to break them down to strip them of all the nasty ass civilian habits they have.” Really? I get that most recruits do not know how to be cops because they have never done the job. That is why we train them, to give them the skills, abilities, knowledge, competence and confidence to be law enforcement professionals. There are some new skill sets we need to teach them but, we need to build on what they already bring and not break them down so we can somehow mould them into what we think they should be.
We do not feel the need to break down new trainers and strip them of the “nasty ass patrol officer habits”, or break down newly promoted leaders to break them of any habits they developed prior to promotion. In these case we select good people and then build on the skills and abilities they have to give them the tools they need to succeed in their new position. Why are new officers any different?
Training is about giving, not taking away. It is about building on and building up, not tearing down. It is about creating a culture of excellence and daring the participants to be great at their chosen profession. It is about instilling competence and confidence.
It is time to rethink the “break them down” mentality in training.
As retired General Stanley McCrystal points out in his book Team of Teams, 20th Century thinking, systems and processes are not effective in the 21st Century.
As a profession we need to think differently, lead differently and train differently.
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