Two weeks ago I wrote about the dangers of the ‘stress academy mentality’. The following is a response from a trainer I have a great deal of respect for which I am posting with his permission. At the end is my response to him:
Good Morning Brian,
I am a frequent reader of your Excellence in Training blog and I have gained much valuable information from your insights. I must admit, your recent entry; Beware the Stress Academy Mentality at first struck a nerve with me, but as I read it again, I understand your opposition to high stress academy training.
In the next few moments I will attempt to convince you there is some merit to this approach if (and only if) it is done correctly and for the right reasons. To know a little about my background will provide a better understanding of why I am not ready to pull the plug on highly structured police recruit training. I am a retired Arkansas State Police Sergeant (25 years LE experience) and retired USMC (reserve) Sergeant Major. I was not a Marine Drill Instructor, but I did serve as a Drill Instructor at 7 ASP academies over a 15 year period, 3 of those were as the lead drill instructor. I have seen the good, bad and ugly of these types of academies. I believe I have also witnessed the value of this training model both on the battlefields of the Middle East and on the highways of Arkansas. While I have seen recruits graduate with the negative attributes you described, it has been my experience that those individuals were the exception rather than the rule and it in many cases arrived Day 1 with those undesirable traits.
This style of recruit training is high risk/high reward, much like reality based training. Its value is totally dependent on the quality of those conducting it. Much like a role players who can not stay in his lane and takes scenario training in a nonproductive direction, a drill instructor whose only objective is to harass and humiliate students is counter-productive and harmful. If that is the reality of an agency’s program, then you are correct and the program should be ended.
However I am convinced that done properly, this type of training has great value and produces a well-rounded, confident, professional officer who will perform his or her duties with integrity and courage. I don’t base that assertion on my bull-headed belief that is the way we have always done it, but from my observations of the professionalism 200 plus troopers who I have had the privilege to help train and develop over a 15 year period.
Based on my experience, in order for this type of training to be successful it must be founded in 4 Principles:
- Leadership by Example- Drill Instructors must be demanding and rigid. The standards they hold recruits to must be high, but even more so of themselves. They must demonstrate through their actions the qualities of a professional law enforcement officer.
- Servant Leadership- The end result of police training should be to produce Public Servants. This can only be accomplished if they have had that behavior modeled to them throughout the training process by Drill Instructors who understand their needs are second to the recruits. (the students may not appreciate this at first, but over time will see it very clearly)
- Paradox Principle- Die to live. Recruits must understand that everything of value comes through sacrifice. Character is tested in the fires of adversity. Drill instructors must be not only willing to stoke those flames but also walk with the recruits through the fire.
- Drill Instructor’s Role Clearly Defined- Drill instructors must realize where the recruits are in the process and what level of direction they require. As recruits progress in their skills and ability, the level of direction has to decrease, to the point that the DI’s have slowly transitioned to the role of coach/mentor. (I have successfully used the model below to help my DI’s understand the progression of their roles)
I don’t assert that this is the sliver bullet that will fix law enforcement training for any agency. Training that enables officers to make critical decisions and perform correctly in life and death encounters has to be cornerstone of any training program. However this training model can be a valuable piece of the puzzle as we strive to produce well adjusted, capable public servants. I don’t have any hard science to base my beliefs on, just an overwhelming amount of Troopers who over the last 15 years who not only selflessly serve everyday, but have also expressed their gratitude to me for the manner in which we conducted their training and the high standards that we held ourselves and them to throughout the process. I have a shelf at home that has many pictures, cards, and gifts from former students. Hardly a week goes by that one of them doesn’t call or email me; even in my retirement. I say that with all humility and credit it to my belief that done properly, there is value in conducting training in a difficult and regimented way.
I appreciate the opportunity to have this dialogue and look forward to hearing form you.
Thank you for your well written response. I believe you and I are in agreement. I have seen the bad and the ugly which caused me to write the blog post and an article which is wordier. What you are describing to me is not what I would call a stress academy. It sounds like a professionally run academy with high standards, quality people graduating professional officers. What I have seen in the title of stress academies are ones where those four key elements you mentioned are all missing. The trainers seem to feel it is their right to treat recruits like crap for the entire academy in the name of good training. I think you and I are in sync and I may have not expressed myself well enough.