6 Ways Law Enforcement Training Can Fit Today’s Recruits

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By Janay Gasparini, Ph.D., and Jim Dudley

Are we doing enough to tailor our training to today’s law enforcement recruits and candidates?

That’s the question we posed during our session at the National Association of Field Training Officers’ 2022 conference on “Bringing University-Level Training Pedagogies to Police Field Training.”

Recruits at the Los Angeles Police Academy, they discuss tactical concepts during practical exercises.  They learn the basics for making sound decisions in potentially rapidly changing situations.

Recruits at the Los Angeles Police Academy, they discuss tactical concepts during practical exercises. They learn the basics for making sound decisions in potentially rapidly changing situations. (Photo/LAPD)

Teaching Generation Z

While POST programs have changed to address emerging issues such as technology, hate crimes and cybercrime, the teaching methods have remained constant: a unique approach. Field Training Officers (FTOs) need access to a variety of skills and educational resources to reach today’s recruits.

Consider the education system, parenting styles, and social constructions of extracurricular activities that may have shaped the expectations of new recruits in any learning environment, including police academy and field training . By now, we’ve all heard the adage “everyone gets a trophy”, and maybe even encountered a conversation or two about entitlement and the lack of respect for authority that sometimes accompanies members. younger generations. Could any of these go more against the “sit, shut up, listen and learn” stereotype that sometimes accompanies trainers?

New hires are accustomed to high communication, clarity of expectations and rationales, and partnering with those around them as part of a team to achieve a common goal. A more relaxed learning environment where instructor rapport and support are key is much appreciated.

In the tips below, we provide strategies for positively leveraging the realities of the best way for new hires to learn and respond to training. However, at no time should officer safety be compromised in order to have a “teaching moment”. FTOs should have the discretion to act first and teach later when situations call for it.

6 tips for reaching new recruits

1. Communications

Explaining “the why” and creating an environment where two-way communication is encouraged are best practices. Candidates today will likely move on to another agency if they encounter periods of no communication.

There will always be a pool of candidates among those looking to enter the law enforcement profession, while others may be “on the fence”, wondering if they have what it takes to become policeman. Assigning a mentor to the candidate will connect them with a constant presence throughout the recruitment and testing process.

During field training, communication is key to preparing the recruit for what’s next. By explaining policies and procedures, recruits gain a better understanding of what they are doing and why. Modeling the FTO’s desired behavior will show recruits what is expected.

Again, officer safety should never be compromised in situations that require full attention to the task at hand. The opportunity to debrief the recruit should arise once the situation is calm and resolved. The recruit will be more attentive and will accept effective and lasting criticism (good or bad) in a calm and controlled environment.

2. Gamification

Gen Z candidates are often connected to their phones and electronic devices to communicate and access apps that help them in day-to-day life. We have made strides over the years to integrate gamification into training with training simulators, virtual reality and other technology-based systems.

Send recruits mobile-friendly links and information. Think games and cards, and communicate via chat, text and live video.

Recruitment systems such as InterviewNow allow constant contact between the candidate, frequently asked questions and even real-time contact with their agency representative. The agency can send text messages with updates on upcoming tests and appointments.

During field training, the varied use of training methods can reach recruits who have difficulty simply being told to read a learning area. Video instruction can be repeated for recruits who need to review an area for better understanding.

3. Mentoring

Mentoring is necessary at the first stage of the recruitment process. The “impostor syndrome” is real. It is often more present in candidates “on the fence” who doubt they have what it takes to succeed. It is often seen in students at the university level. These students need individual guidance and attention. There is a real fear of the unknown in the recruitment process. Some face external pressures such as friends or family members who don’t see their career choice in a good light or fear that they will disappear and become unemployed. The delay in the testing process, with no updates, could be the excuse a candidate needs to abandon the process.

4. Low-Risk or No-Risk Quiz

Students tend to participate more and take more risks in a learning environment when they know they will not be graded. FTOs have the option of pre-testing a section of a learning area before the testing schedule. The student can be asked a series of questions on a topic and be allowed to answer freely. The FTO may make corrections or suggest alternatives. This is a chance for the FTO to use the low-risk impromptu quiz as an assessment tool to understand what the recruit may need in a particular area.

5. Learning in “motor pieces”

When learning a complex task, the brain breaks the task down into digestible blocks of information. This element of neural cognition has become particularly relevant in light of shorter attention spans. Better retention can be achieved by introducing new skills or information in installments. Sessions should be short but repetitive.

6. Use heuristic pedagogy

Heuristic pedagogy is a pedagogical method well suited to police training. The instructor poses a problem, and through the use of logic, critical thinking, and imagination, the student works the problem toward a solution. The teacher remains present to guide throughout the process. This method encourages decision-making skills and autonomy, qualities that we want to instill in new recruits.

Since heuristic pedagogy is based on trial and error theory, it is also prudent to remember that by establishing positive channels of two-way communication between trainer and recruit, making mistakes becomes a valuable channel for the trainer. ‘learning.

Adapting to a new generation of cops doesn’t equate to lowering agency standards, but it does require taking different teaching approaches. By intelligently and creatively applying what is known about how Gen Z recruits communicate, what they value, and how they learn, agencies can develop effective recruiting and training programs.

NEXT: Listen to Jim and Janay discuss this topic on the Policing Matters podcast


About the authors

Janay Gasparini, Ph.D., has been teaching college criminal justice courses since 2009. Gasparini began teaching at the State University of New York (SUNY) – Ulster in 2009. In 2015, she accepted a position at full-time teaching and chairing the criminal justice and security program at SUNY Dutchess where she was tenured in 2020. From 2020 to 2021, Gasparini served as an assistant professor of criminal justice at Shepherd University. Currently, she is an Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at SUNY – Ulster where she also coordinates the Police Basic Training Academy program. Outside of academia, Gasparini has been a certified New York State Police instructor since 2007. She has taught on a variety of subjects at several police academies. Gasparini is also a Certified Women’s Self-Defense Instructor, Police Fitness Instructor, and Police Ethics Instructor.

Jim Dudley is a retired deputy chief who has served the San Francisco Police Department for 32 years, in all offices and ranks below chief. Jim holds a BA from San Francisco State University in Criminal Justice Studies, an MA in Criminology from UC Irvine, and is a graduate of the Senior Management Institute for Police at PERF and the 192nd class of the FBI National Academy. Jim is in his 10th year teaching Criminal Justice Studies at San Francisco State. He is a consultant and SME in police organizations, recruitment and promotional evaluations. Additionally, Jim is a Police1 columnist, host of Police1’s Policing Matters podcast, and co-debater with Chief Joel Shults for Police1’s State Your Case column.

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