A new era of scrutiny and public demand for police transparency has put agencies and officers in the white-hot heat of a spotlight in search of reform.1 Police can no longer look at threats as rapid “shoot/don’t shoot” situations; rather, they must look at every contact as an opportunity for in-depth evaluation and crisis management, with the objective of neutralizing the crisis and mitigating long-term social effects. Time for this kind of advanced mental processing might be available when sitting in a workshop, but it is rarely available in the moment-to-moment work of law enforcement—especially in crisis situations. Officers are operating in a complex game of chess where they must assess the potential outcome of their actions from far more than just the immediately present perspective, with split-second moments in which to make these decisions.
Solving this problem requires training police to move from procedural-based convergent thinking where past experience produces one result, to divergent thinking, which considers experiential knowledge in an attempt to consider multiple possible results.2 This shift requires a different cognitive process, one that involves pushing the learner’s brain toward creative solutions. The focused emphasis on creative thinking in curriculum design is at the heart of 21st-century education and accomplishing this move toward creative thinking in law enforcement means drastically changing the manner in which police personnel are trained.3
In short, it is time to take training from the antiquated idea that the field can get by with simply making officers better marksmen in a reactionary force to making them, instead, masters of crisis management through creative de-escalation.4
Current Training Methods
Training methods among law enforcement agencies vary based on factors such as agency size, budget, mission, and available training resources. Officers may be trained using tools ranging from dry-erase boards to integrated multiuser simulators, depending on the context. Simulators with multiple interactive learning objectives provide an easy way to conduct limitless, repetitive training tasks in a controlled environment. When used frequently, consistently, and with competent instructors, they improve agency readiness through development of motor and cognitive skills.5
The key component in any training is the skill and effectiveness of the trainer using the technology, and this is where current methods vary most significantly. In smaller agencies, additional duties pile onto one or two officers every time new requirements emerge. They are “voluntold” of new responsibilities with little to no additional development of their expertise. In some agencies, the training department is where officers are placed due to physical limitations or political decisions. Elsewhere, contract trainers are brought in for their expertise, but only officers available at the time are able to participate, which leaves training gaps within the department.
None of these methods are ideal, and none offer the comprehensive requirements to effectively develop officers on a deeper cognitive level.
VerPlanck, Joy.“Reenvisioning Police Training: The Need for Creative Thinking and Instructional Design,” Police Chief Online, April 27, 2022.