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Police Scenario Training Instructor Development

Chuck Deakins has spent years helping law enforcement agencies integrate modern simulation-based police scenario training systems with their existing programs. At some point in every “train the trainer” session, he finds himself saying the same thing:

“Stop talking, start training.”

Deakins–a 30-year veteran of law enforcement often asks instructors to remember how they learned to ride a bike as a child. None of our parents taught us to ride a bike by sitting us down for a long talk at the kitchen table. “They sat us on that bike, let us ride away and crash, and then picked us up, showed us what went wrong, and put us back on the bike.”

Until recently, that would have been a ridiculous way to approach law enforcement driver training. A kid rolling off the driveway on a 25-pound Huffy can’t do nearly the same damage as an officer losing control of a 2.5 ton Dodge Charger Pursuit. Safety mandated that most of the pursuit training officers received to be in the form of lectures, supplemented with very constrained EVOC driving.

The new generation of immersive police scenario training sims has changed all of that–simultaneously making pursuit training more engaging, more fun, and more effective. But we need to tweak our police scenario training to take full advantage of everything this new paradigm has to offer. First and foremost, we need to get away from lectures and “war stories.”

Emotional Impact Yields Greater Retention

There are several problems with lecture-based teaching of practical skills, Deakins points out.  First and foremost, it simply isn’t very effective. He’s found that, if you’re primarily relying on lectures, you can expect only about 10 percent skills retention.  

A part of this has to do with the fact that lectures or what other simulation trainers often call “death by PowerPoint” is an inferior fit for police officers and other public safety workers (such as firefighters).  These are people who have selected a career specifically because it combines public service and hands-on work in their communities.

But biology is also against us.  We intuitively understand that a sleepy classroom leads to wandering minds.  But there is also research to support that “mild and acute stress facilitates learning and cognitive performance.” Getting the adrenaline pumping helps us encode memories and learn new skills.  Telling our driving “war stories” in a lecture is a rudimentary attempt to trigger some of this cognition-enhancing stress.

But in an age of immersive simulation-based training, “We don’t need to tell war stories, because we can have the students experience them directly in the sim. Your story about getting t-boned at an intersection on a rainy night doesn’t have nearly the impact of having someone directly experience it in the sim.”

But Deakins always reminds his trainers, “A sim is only a tool; it doesn’t run itself. The instructor makes the program, so I want to be sure that each instructor in each agency has what they need to be absolutely the best they can be.”