Baltimore Police Sergeants Training Using Adaptive Leadership Methodology with Don Vandergriff's AAR | Law Enforcement & Security Consulting

Don Vandergriff has applied the principles of the adaptive leadership methodology successfully throughout the Army and he continues to do so in the Army, the Marine Corps and now he is bringing these methods to a modern metropolitan police department specifically the Baltimore Police Department.

Most of you that know me have had an introduction in Don’s work through the courses I have designed and applied in trainings I have been privileged to facilitate through the Massachusetts Municipal Police Training Committee in Basic Sergeants School and in use of force workshops during In-service training. Dons ideas and his mentorship have been instrumental in these teachings. I believe this is how we should be leading and training law enforcement if we truly want to raise the bar of professionalism and perform with excellence in handling the problems and crises we deal with.

Criminals are evolving and the threats they pose are much more serious and asymmetrical. Hybrid forms in methods of operations, technology and the reasons why “motive” and “intent” behind why criminals do what they do are all the more prevalent creating an atmosphere where the frontline street officers and leaders must adapt more quickly if we in law enforcement are to gain the advantage.

Don was nice enough to forward me his after action review of the training conducted down in Baltimore. He also told me to share it with all of you who frequent this site so that the lessons learned through Baltimore PDs initiative spread throughout the law enforcement community. Note the candor and frankness of the AAR the way they should be conducted.

Adaptive Leadership methodology and Outcomes Based training is CHANGE from law enforcements normal way of leading and training and with change comes some descent but the feedback and buy in from the top and from the rank and file have all been outstanding and mostly positive, especially once cops experience it first hand.

Open minds are key to creating and nurturing a learning organization. Learning organizations are key to dealing with adversaries who through history have shown and continue to show they learn and adapt daily.  Its law enforcements job to set the tempo and climate within their jurisdictions through proactive and coactive policing. Here is the way of getting this done.

Stay Oriented!


The Vandergriff After Action Review

TO: Police Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld, Lieutenant Parker Elliott, Facilitators of Baltimore Police Department Sergeants Leaders Course, Sergeant Dennis Raferty

CC: Mr. Adam Walinsky

SUBJECT: Vandergriff Review of Baltimore Police Sergeants Course, review of course of action, discussions with cadre, and observations of leader development during fourth and fifth cohorts three days of course November 22-14, 2010.

1) Purpose: Mr. Vandergriff provide feedback in assisting Baltimore Police Commissioner and cadre in creating and evolving an innovative sergeants course that prepares officers of character to police in a 4th generation environment.

2) Findings: The Sergeants Course is clearly having a positive impact on the near term and long term health of the Baltimore Police Department. The sergeants attending the course are beginning to show competence and confidence in 21st Century policing. It is hard to believe how few of the sergeant students have had this quality of problem solving development prior to this course. Almost everyone of the students I talked to in this session responded with how much they were getting from this course, particularly the training offered in week 3. A lot of senior sergeants told me that, “I wish I had this when I made sergeant.” In order to be successful in dealing with policing in the 21st Century against the varied threats, individual officers must be developed and become confident and competence in dealing with complex problems.

a) Summary: Observing the 3rd week saw the beginning of a cultural change with the application of a new leader development model in place of the “competency” learning model techniques being used today in both learning institutions and most organizations. The Adaptive Leader Methodology (ALM) is cultural rather than a prescribed list of procedures and exercises. The facilitators were clearly developing adaptability using the experiential learning model to teach the Rapid Decision-Making (RDM) process focused on development of strength of character, specifically moral courage while using complicated individual and team tasks as the vehicle. All sessions closed with good AARs, and student feedback on the subjects taught.

b) Observations: Lieutenants Hyatt and Schludergerg are outstanding teachers and did a great job over the three day period (they were not present for the last day, the 24th, but other Sergeant Course facilitators did a great job overseeing the training).  Instructor attitude and knowledge, confidence, are outstanding, and it is easier to learn how to facilitate from this prospective than not being knowledgeable and confident. The students actually were motivated by his enthusiasm.

1) Monday 22 Nov-Tactical Situations and Barricades (classroom phase). Lieutenants Hyatt and Schludergerg did an outstanding job with this classroom period, and used the Case Study Method by having the students learn from both good and bad examples of other police forces. They ended the day’s class with situational exercise allowing the students to learn through doing. Their approach had many layers.  Thus, when it is taught well, each student will naturally find the layer that appeals to him and thus, regardless of his level of preparation or familiarity with the subject, will find something of value.

The ability to make good decisions is, in part, a function of having a stock of mental models that a decision-maker can compare to the problem in front of him.  (Psychologist Gary Klein calls this a “repertoire of patterns.”)  Whatever else is being taught, a well-taught case will add to the “repertoire of patterns” in each student’s mind.

Marshall Mcluhan was right:  “the medium is the message.”  Thus, as the case method is a medium that celebrates both story-telling and decision-making, its use sends the message that these things are important features of a Police culture.

(a) Whatever the subject at hand, a good case well taught also fosters the following virtues:

(b) Enthusiasm for learning, whether in or out of the classroom

(c) Curiosity and the habit of seeking out information

(d) Empathy

(e) Humility

(f) “Joy in taking responsibility” (the willingness to make a decision that serves the common good, particularly in an ambiguous situation.

(g) An understanding of history

(h) Judgment

(i) Critical thinking

(j) Self-awareness

(k) The ability to explain the rationale behind one’s decisions

2) Tuesday 23 Nov-Room Clearing and Building Cover Exercise. Here the students got to master the basics—clearing a building and a room, as well as learning the “move or hold” method. These fundamentals that build toward tools to use in decision making. I got to observe every team go through every aspect of this and was impressed with the one on one mentorship shown by the facilitators. Lieutenant Schludergerg brought in SWAT personnel to assist in the development, and this greatly enhanced learning with a low instructor to student ratio, usually one to four. What is good about this is the interaction between special units and patrol, building a bridge between the two.

3) Wed 24 Nov-Active Shooter and Free Play Force on Force exercise: This period was made more intense with the use of SIMMUNITIONS.

(a) Active Shooter Free Play: Sections of four students, with a TAC officer went through an Active Shooter drill several times, while also applying the tactical approach of “move or hold.” It was good that the students were able to learn from their mistakes because initially most stuck to “hold” prior to the TAC pushing them through. The TAC also improved the training by adding the use of a “chalk talk” prior to and after each team ran through their problem. This approach uses a chalk board drawing where the TAC walks the team through what they might do, seeing a picture speaks a thousand words. The facilitators changed the conditions each time in order to challenge the students and keeping it from being a rote process. Every student team improved throughout the morning. The Sergeants also are learning, not just here, but throughout the entire Sergeants Course, the value of teamwork and lateral communications with other professionals in order to solve the complex problems they face.

(b) Team Force on Force Free Play: The students learned two valuable lessons, communication and teamwork. In addition, the need for a solid physical fitness program was brought up by several students after only one iteration. I loved the use of competition during this phase as well. At the end of the day, there was a clear winner and loser, with each understanding why they won or lost. I would recommend an AAR after each iteration, instead of one after the entire period. Though, I observed several students standing to the side after they had fought, going over what they did right or wrong.

(4) After Action Reviews. Improved throughout the period of observation. The one that ended the training on Tuesday and Wed were outstanding. I also saw outstanding uses of mentorship, particularly by Lieutenant Hyatt toward students during the room clearing exercises.

a) Evolution: Officers are discovering how much more they need to know to be successful, while gaining more confidence. They have also discovered that they need to stay on a disciplined regime of physical fitness. Many of the officers were exhausted after the Tuesday and Wed training sessions, and remarked how they had to get back to doing physical training and stop some bad habits, such as smoking.

4) The way ahead (these are works in progress):

a) Strategic Information Plan must be created and executed to show off the course, the Commissioner should meet weekly with the cadre and with the students at the end of the course to update this plan and talk about the way ahead. This is the Commissioner’s course and the main effort on how he is going to evolve the culture of his organization. This includes articles written or signed by the Commissioner and Lieutenant Parker (or anyone who wants to do it in the course), and published in a professional journal.

b) Develop a follow up plan to see how the Sergeants who have graduated from the course also use what they learned to be better. This approach should now reach into other areas of the Police Academy, to include the police recruit training as well as in-service training.

c) After the Sergeants, then run all Lieutenants through the course, and eventually the majors and members of staffs.

d) Develop graduations standards to select an honor graduate as well as deal with non performing students. After this session, I believe more than ever, that the facilitators and course director should be able to identify non-performing and weak sergeants, allowing the department to take action to keep them from leading people.

e) Bring in guest speakers, ensuring that they will reinforce what you are trying to produce through the course.

f) Add Physical Training and Nutrition instruction to POI. I know police officers work long hours, but physical fitness has to be part of the whole person concept in regard to strength of character parallel to critical thinking (mental cognitive skills). Physical fitness and eating right must become part of one’s daily routine. I would recommend that innovative physical fitness be done for one hour every other day. The U.S. Army Physical Fitness Center of Excellence at Carlisle Barracks, PA (home of U.S. Army War College) provides excellent material on this subject. It is surprisingly easier than we realize. I went through the course in November 2009.

5) Conclusion: In the three days I attended the training, students were always in a situation conducive to the development of personal initiative and adaptability. Everyone took an active role in the course. This consisted of learning how to evaluate their peers through other students leadership and team work in the exercises where adaptability was or was not demonstrated. This served two objectives: demonstrated experiential learning and kept students actively and positively engaged in all aspects of the course.

Donald E. Vandergriff

Major, U.S. Army retired

Maverick Leadership LLC


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