When it comes to Police Training, When is Good Enough, Not Good Enough? | Law Enforcement & Security Consulting

I read a candid and thoughtful article Have a Great Training Program? I want to know about it! By Jim Glennon  Most reading this will know Jim but I get a lot of non-cop followers as well so here a snippet of his background: Lt. Jim Glennon (ret.) is the owner and lead instructor for Calibre Press. He is a third-generation LEO, retired from the Lombard, Ill. PD after 29 years of service. Rising to the rank of lieutenant, he commanded both patrol and the Investigations Unit. In 1998, he was selected as the first Commander of Investigations for the newly formed DuPage County Major Crimes (Homicide) Task Force. He has a BA in Psychology, a Masters in Law Enforcement Justice Administration, is the author of the book Arresting Communication: Essential Interaction Skills for Law Enforcement.

In the article Jim describes a problem in how police train for crisis situations and one I have seen myself over my 30 years a police officer and trainer:

 “Law enforcement takes a lot of hits when it comes to, well, almost everything we do and every decision we make. Most of what the politicians, pundits, and media pushes about the collective of law enforcement is based on their own biases. Their characterization of law enforcement is supported by the use of skewed and cherry-picked stats that feed a narrative. In one specific area, I, in a strange way, agree with those who look to vilify us. Training: I agree with those who disparage us when they claim that we train the wrong way in the wrong areas. My agreement, however, is qualified and comes from a completely different perspective.

Contrary to what’s propagated in the media—where it’s portrayed that we relentlessly train like military warriors—law enforcement, in reality, does the exact opposite.

We don’t train or prepare for high-pressure situations at all. At least most of the departments don’t.

Calibre Press did a survey and what we found was not surprising to those of us who have spent decades in the profession. The survey addressed how often departments mandate training in the areas of shooting and decision-making, hands-on-control-skills, and dealing with real stress. Here’s what we found:

  • More than 60% of the officers reported that they are required to shoot on the range only once or twice annually;
  • Only 1% said they are required to shoot monthly;
  • 82% train in dynamic, decision making, ‘shoot/don’t shoot’ scenario-type training once a year or less;
  • 25% NEVERtrain in dynamic, decision-making scenarios;
  • 55% do control/defensive tactics training once a year;
  • 30% do it less than annually; and
  • 42% never do any kind of defensive tactics training.

The responses revealed what is perhaps the principal and most significant fault in this profession: failure to train our officers in a manner that applies to what it is they do and in the areas that hold the most opportunity for liability, injuries and death—both officer and civilian deaths.

In police training programs proficiency is not achieved, not in the slightest. It doesn’t even pretend to try. At least in most agencies and in most subjects.

I believe our blatant disregard for essential applicable training may literally rise to the level of culpable negligence. And I realize that is a strong statement to make.”

Jim does make a strong statement, a statement of truth that needs to be said more often and a statement I completely agree with it. I wrote a piece back in 2009 Establish the Discipline to Train and Invest in Preparedness  and it is chapter two in The Adaptive leadership Handbook: Innovative Ways to Teach and Develop Your People which asked Are police truly prepared and ready to act under Emergency Conditions?

Here are some observations leading to change I have made training and talking with police officers and trainers over the last 30 years that will help evolve training and development of officers.

  • Most law enforcement agencies have settled for mere adequacy in individual and small-team skills—we can do better;
  • Police officers often had little understanding of the reasons tasks were performed a particular way;
  • Police officers are overly reliant on process, not focused enough on results (true in training, but also in planning and leading);
  • Most institutional training had a mechanical, check-the-block feel and was focused on throughput;
  • Most training was governed by inputs (hours, ammo, etc.) rather than outcomes or results
  • A pronounced tendency at all levels of law enforcement to control by rules—each problem seems to result in more rules (policies, regulations, directives, etc.);
  • Training methodology, combined with too many rules, stifled initiative: Waiting To Be Told What To Do;
  • Compensated for instructor inadequacies by providing them a script. This may have prevented failure in some, but it prevented excellence in many;
  • Training methods often not in harmony with human nature
    • Rarely required real problem solving and initiative
    • Misapplied stress: too much at the beginning, too little at the end
    • Little room for experimentation, mistakes
    • Focused on meeting minimum standards and avoiding failure, not on excellence
    • Faulty assumptions about how humans make decisions
    • Students could succeed without understanding why
  • Authority usually not aligned with responsibility, resulting in little accountability.

Police training must shift from training police officers how to apply solutions and enforce standards, to teaching officers how to frame problems and solve them. We must invest in this type of development. This is called “adaptive leadership” Main difference is our acceptance that we cannot predict all the types of problems our leaders will have to solve so we must train officers who can succeed in almost any situation. Analogous to shifting from industrial-age mass production by fairly narrow experts (i.e. Newtonian determinism, Fredrick Taylor and scientific management, Rene Descartes’ engineering, all great methods and theories for technical problems) to more individually tailored crafting by all-around artisans who can solve adaptive challenges.

Distinguishing technical problems and adaptive challenges is where in my experience we fail in making training programs applicable to policing. Technical problems have clear problems and there are clear solutions.

One example of a technical problem in policing would be the collection and preservation of evidence. Follow the checklist or procedure and ala you have a nice chain of custody.

An adaptive challenge requires learning both of what the problems is and how do we solve it. An example of an adaptive problem let’s use a domestic violence incident. One of the procedures taught in police response to domestic violence responses is to “separate the parties” involved. The idea is to get the arguing people away from each other in an effort to calm the situation. Makes perfect sense and it works most of the time. But what happens when one party says I am not separating. Now what? What often happens is responding officers now get hung up on this procedural factor and the “separation of parties” becomes the focus. As the officer fails to adapt and gets hung up on procedure the domestic violence call becomes the police officer verses the non-cooperating (will not separate) party. All too often a physical altercation takes place between the police and this person. An adaptable response might be to allow the people involved in the domestic to stay in the room with the agreement one will talk at a time. If this agreement is violated then separation will take place. Often people will agree to this and the problem solving remains focused on the issue at hand.

Look at the length of explaining technical verses adaptive problems. I have sentence of 30 words on the technical problem and 206 words to explain an adaptive challenge.  These yes of problems are simply not the same and hence we cant solve them in the same way:

“The most common cause of failure in leadership is produced by treating adaptive challenges as if they were technical problems. What’s the difference? While technical problems may be very complex and critically important (like replacing a faulty heart valve during cardiac surgery), they have known solutions that can be implemented by current know-how. They can be resolved through the application of authoritative expertise and through the organization’s current structures, procedures, and ways of doing things. Adaptive challenges can only be addressed through changes in people’s priorities, beliefs, habits, and loyalties. Making progress requires going beyond any authoritative expertise to mobilize discovery, shedding certain entrenched ways, tolerating losses, and generating the new capacity to thrive anew.” ~Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky (The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World)

An investment in preparing police officers to handle the types of problems they face and hence you, the police administrator, face is an investment in being a more successful organization.  Training in my view is “practice” and practice makes us better at what we do, not perfect, but much, much better. I say not perfect and I am often questioned as to why not, PERFECT? My answer is we will strive to lessen the effects of crisis, rather than cause or add to a crisis situation. We will try to reverse or reduce the effects of an emergency situation, which will lead to more lives saved. Perfection in crises, in the unexpected, uncertain and rapidly unfolding and changing circumstances is virtually impossible.  The size and scope of the crisis and the sense of chaos and confusion it creates leads to information overload and makes developing an adequate response a challenge. We simply cannot prevent every bad thing from happening despite our best efforts. But we can get much better at it.

One of the main reasons for my analysis is that preparation and response to crisis situations takes practice and experience to lead, and respond to. It takes effectiveness at all levels federal, state, local, organizational and the citizenry learning, unlearning and relearning how we work in crises individually and collectively to truly is successful. We are nowhere near ready; we are sadly still in the talking stage and must move in a more robust way to walking the talk stage and preparing police through realistic training and education that prepares them/us for what lies ahead.

When it comes to police training, when is good enough, not good enough?

In my humble opinion based on 30 plus years of training police and military our training is still way too heavily lecture based. All too often police training is done in silos. For example there are training blocks on laws, community policing, domestic violence, pistol, rifle, shotgun, defensive tactics, OC spray, handcuffing, use of force, etc., etc., etc. all these topics are taught separately one at a time and in a traditional let the instructor tell you what to do, which only bring officers to a certain minimum standard.  We must take policing from a training culture to a learning culture. Col. John Boyd says: “We can’t just look at our present experiences or use the same mental recipes over and over again; we’ve got to look at other disciplines and activities and relate or connect them to what we know from our experience and the strategic world we live in.” How we trainers develop our people is the key to how police officers learn via their observation-orientation-decision and action cycles (OODA LOOP) in real-time under the pressure that conflict, crisis and violence unfold in.

All too often in policing we trainers have tried to simplify the OODA Loop. Unfortunately, the ooda loop is not as simple as “observe, then orient, then decide, then act.”  In fact such a sequential model would be very ponderous and would not well describe how successful competitors operate. When Boyd talks about “faster OODA loop speed.” he means the entire loop – all 33 or so arrows. The key to speed turns out to be the two “implicit guidance and control” arrows at the top.  In other words, most of the time people and groups do not employ the explicit, sequential O-to-O-to-D-to-A mechanism. Most of the time, they simply observe and act.

The question, of course, is, “What action do we train and develop our people for?”  A thinking opponent doesn’t provide us with a laundry list of his tactics so we can work out responses in advance. The mechanism which handles this uncertainty and makes the loop function in a real world situation is “Orientation.” In other words what do we believe is happening? Note I did not ask what procedure are we to follow? How do we follow a procedure for an unknown set of circumstances? Our training has to consider this and must begin to develop cops who look outward at the problem they face and decide what options to take, instead of looking inward at the process (tactics) they have been taught to apply when the conditions do not match the school solution, they have been taught. We have to develop police officers who can think on their feet, during crisis situations, not just follow procedures.

As we suck in information via the “Observe” gateway, and particularly mismatches between what we predict and what actually happens, we have to change our orientation (and hence the implicit guidance and control, flowing from orientation. Orientation shapes observation, shapes decision, shapes action, and in turn is shaped by the feedback and other phenomena coming into our sensing or observing window. Note that “OODA” speed is quite different from the speed of our actions. Doing something dumb, but doing it at high speed, may not provide much of a competitive advantage. ~Chet Richards 

An essential task of leadership is to create – mainly by example – an organization that gets better and better (and better) at these things. How do we get better performance? Training that is scenario based and experiential in nature.

A major problem we confront as police trainers, teachers, and developers is as Dr. Robert Bjork states in his outstanding research at the UCLA, Bjork Learning and Forgetting Lab 

“Conditions of instruction that make performance improve rapidly often fail to support long-term retention and transfer, whereas conditions of instruction that appear to create difficulties for the learner, slowing the rate of apparent learning,  often optimize long-term retention and transfer. In other words our ability to take the knowledge we have gained then apply it to the rigors of police work, is improved when we slow things down, challenge those officers to learn by doing.”

A learning culture is where police training needs to evolve. A learning culture is about continuous improvement that achieves the outcomes they seek. These outcomes measured in tangible and intangible factors in context with the actual circumstances that took place, the decisions made and the rationale behind those decisions.    This is quite different than training that offers a school solution, policy and procedure, checklist or standard operating procedures to a list of problems that may be encountered. Instead a learning culture understands policies and procedures must be written in such a way that specifics are left to the cops on the street facing the problem, a bottoms up approach whose vast experience and education will allow him to pick the right solution for the right situation (mutual trust is crucial here).

A learning culture recognizes at the tactical level, an officer will make decisions according to the particular conditions of environment, the adversary or crisis his own resources and the overall mission and intent set by the leaders of the department using his best judgment. Currently, police training centers on teaching specific techniques or habits so they can be repeated in a consistent manner regardless of conditions.

The difference between how we currently train and prepare versus the philosophy of learning I am advocating is similar to the difference between techniques and tactics. Techniques require inflexibility and repetition, while tactics require flexibility, good judgment and creativity. Officers can only gain the ability to execute this new philosophy with experience and education, stressing learning day to day, on every call.  Training is about developing people and to develop people we must take advantage of every opportunity to make problem solving and sound decision making as fluid and effective as we can.

To put it simply we need less silo based traditional training and more purposeful blending of training that’s teaches officers how to think and solve problems, while nurturing adaptability to deal with the rapidly changing face of crises.

“Adaptability” is: the process of adjusting practices, processes, and systems to projected actual changes of environment, e.g. the situation or the enemy. It also includes the creation of innovative organizations, doctrine, systems and training concepts as demanded by the environment, allies and the enemy. And finally someone who is adaptive can think of solutions to problems in chaotic, unpredictable situations that are based more on intuition than on analysis, deliberate planning and doctrine. ”~Don Vandergriff

Good enough is generally good enough but when it comes to police training, good enough is nowhere near the level of professionalism we need to be at. But it’s important to remember that the option exists. In their book Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool state:

If you wish to become significantly better at something, you can. And here is the key difference between traditional approach to learning and the purposeful practice or deliberate-practice approaches: The traditional approach is not designed to challenge homeostasis. It assumes, consciously or not, that learning is all about fulfilling your innate potential and that you can develop particular skill or ability without getting too far out of your comfort zone. In this view, all that you are doing with practice indeed, all that you can do is to reach a fixed potential.

With deliberate practice, however, the goal is not just to reach your potential but to build it, to make things possible that were not possible before. This requires challenging homeostasis, getting out of your comfort zone and forcing your brain or your body to adapt. But once you do this, learning in no longer just a way of fulfilling some genetic destiny; it becomes a way of taking control of your destiny and shaping your potential in ways that you choose.

Adaptability comes from training in all the dimensions of conflict moral, mental and, physical, decentralized control with strict individual, organizational and community accountability. This involves lifelong learning of all involved and takes more effort than what the culture of policing requires now out of its leaders and front-line personnel. This requires the same out of the community as well. An outcome based approach to training is what it will take to continually improve and deliberately raise the bar in police training.

An outcomes based approach is a holistic approach to the planning, preparation, execution, and assessment of training that goes beyond task proficiency and incorporates a focus on developing critical attributes in Officers and Leaders by emphasizing the “why” behind actions and the consequences of decisions within a wider context. Development of officers in how to adapt based on new circumstances by training that focuses on how to do and education that teaches police officers how to think.  Why? Traditional training and education may not meet all the needs of policing and developing new approaches are necessary.

How we learn verses how we think we learn is crucial for police trainers to understand and able to apply as they facilitate and develop cops. We cannot just keep teaching using lecture, competency based education and teaching school solutions. We must develop police officers who can think, size up situations and solve problems. We must use methods that challenge both student and teacher if we are to succeed at becoming more effective in handling 21st century policing in a free society.

There are, in fact, certain training conditions that are difficult and appear to impede performance during training but that yield greater long-term benefits than their easier training counterparts. ~Dr. Robert Bjork 

Most law enforcement cultures developed in a fairly stable, predictable environment. Police training is very good at teaching officers how to respond to certain well-defined problems. Officer and Leader training focused on how to apply solutions and enforce standards—very effective as long as the situation was predictable. Over time, this type of training has fostered a culture of bureaucracy, rules, and engineered “best solutions” and TASK-CONDITION-STANDARDS.

Now the environment is changing rapidly and requires thinking leaders leading thinking officers. Officer training must now focus on identifying the problem and solving it using the tools available. Policing must accept less standardization, more focus on achieving desired outcomes with leader judgment replacing detailed rules. ALL TRAINING must be designed to include decision-making and develop judgment. How do we approach this training and leadership methodology? Below are some steps and if you want more info on this topic and how to do not hesitate to reach out:

  • Use real problems as the basis for training;
  • Generally start with the particular rather than the abstract theory;
  • Focus on the why, not just the what and how;
  • All teaching must combine doing with explaining and student understanding; all training requires employing skills to solve problems;
  • Standardize by outcomes, not by inputs or processes—allow both teachers and students the opportunity to try new approaches—minimize controls;
  • Create an environment in which it’s ok to make mistakes—penalize only failure to think or failure to try;
  • Constant feedback is essential—and must be acted upon;
  • Assess what’s important rather than what’s easy to measure;
  • Align incentives. What’s rewarded?  What’s penalized?
  • Cross-share what’s worked and what hasn’t at all levels

Are there challenges to evolving our training programs to experiential learning (adaptive) methodology? Most certainly there challenges and I have been dealing with them since I started using these methods back in 2001. Here are some you will have to deal with and solve.


  • Convincing leaders—especially old-timers
  • Every level must buy in or they will disempower those below
  • Getting the outcomes right, and getting buy-in
  • Aligning perceived incentives
  • Finding and changing policies and procedures that interfere with initiative
  • Training the leaders


  • New methods no longer mesh with other systems
  • Lots of people and agencies feel empowered to say no
  • Takes a while to develop data proving that this way gets better results—even then, many will resist. WE HAVE MUCH MORE RESEARCH NOW IN THIS AREA BUT RESISTANCE IS STILL ALIVE AND WELL IN POLICING

What are some of the desired outcomes for police officer development? Each officer will:

  • Demonstrate the courage, character, physical and mental toughness, and values required to succeed as a police officer;
  • Be proficient as an individual officer;
  • Be proficient as a member of a team in select tasks;
  • Solve tactical problems at squad level and below, using principles that underlie doctrine and the dynamics of conflict;
  • Demonstrate effective leadership as a police officer;
  • Have gained a perspective of the policing and its role in the Society;

We also have to remember those intangible things not easily measured but oh so important as we develop officers:

  • Lives a life that complies with the honor code and policing values
  • Displays the police ethos
  • Physically fit and mentally tough, with habits and knowledge to lead a life of fitness
  • Demonstrates consistent sound judgment
  • Overcomes peer pressure to make difficult right choices
  • Demonstrates self-confidence
  • Considered by peers and seniors as a team player
  • Demonstrates self-discipline and personal responsibility
  • Performs successfully under stress
  • Spiritually and emotionally balanced
  • Demonstrates commitment to personal and professional growth

Police Leaders must demonstrate effective leadership:

  • Leads by example
  • Cares for and is actively involved in the success of subordinates
  • Communicates effectively
  • Allows subordinates latitude in how to accomplish a mission and holds them accountable
  • Instills attention to detail and discipline in subordinates without losing sight of the big picture or removing room for judgment
  • Accepts accountability for his or her unit
  • Ensures subordinates are prepared for the mission
  • Can explain what he or she is trying to accomplish and how success will be judged
  • Can perform essential tasks, can explain why they are performed that way, and can teach them to subordinates
  • Leads effective after-action reviews that help subordinates improve their performance
  • Coaches subordinates effectively and provides them with useful feedback
  • Judged by subordinates as competent, confident, and trustworthy

I could go on here but this post has already taken on a life of its own (thanks Jim GlennonJ) but ultimately we need police officers of all ranks who can solve tactical problems using principles that underlie doctrine and law enforcement lessons learned. Officers must understand the roles and capabilities of the elements of a department and can analyze a tactical situation and explain its essential points using his or her, own words. An officer must also be able to apply what he knows to solve tactical problems on the street using the tools available while communicating adaptive plans effectively.

Col John Boyd’s theme for vitality and growth focused on a unifying vision:

A grand ideal, overarching theme, or noble philosophy that represents a coherent paradigm within which individuals as well as societies can shape and adapt to unfolding circumstances—yet offers a way to expose flaws of competing or adversary systems. Boyd’s Aim: Improve fitness as an organic whole to shape and expand influence or power over the course of events in the world.

Ingredients needed to pursue this vision:

  • Insight: Ability to peer into and discern the inner nature or workings of things:
  • Initiative: Internal drive to think and take action without being urged:
  • Adaptability: Power to adjust or change in order to cope with new or unforeseen circumstances:
  • Harmony: Power to perceive or create interaction of apparently disconnected events or entities in a connected way.

Hopefully this piece has generated some thoughts we can utilize to focus our efforts and pursue this vision of police training. The police and the communities they serve will greatly benefit.

Be sure to go to and read the full article by Jim Glennon and the other links provided here as it will give you some ideas on the how and why good enough is not good enough, anymore. We can’t just use the same mental recipes over and over again. In police training we must challenge the prevailing mindset. Because good enough isn’t anywhere near GOOD ENOUGH!!!

Thanks to Jim Glennon for reopening this topic for discussion. It is most certainly one that is needed.

Stay Oriented!


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