The Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) has a program that allows state, local, tribal, and territorial officers to attend classes at FLETC along with federal agents/officers, and I was afforded the opportunity to attend the Use of Force Instructor Program.
Other state/local agencies represented in the class were the Alaska State Troopers, the New Orleans Police Department, and the Gwinnett County (GA) Sheriff’s Office. Federal agencies represented in the class included Immigration and Customs Enforcement, National Park Service, Diplomatic Security Service, Federal Protective Service, Federal Air Marshals, Treasury Department, Customs and Border Protection, Defense Intelligence Agency, Homeland Security, and the United States Coast Guard. Numerous FLETC staff instructors also attended as students.
Academics and Testing
The course was two-weeks in length and included numerous testing points along the way. At the end of the first week, students had to pass a written test covering the academic blocks presented in the first week. During week two, we had graded practical exercises, an individual oral review board with a panel consisting of an instructor and a lawyer, and each student made a 30-minute presentation on an assigned topic. A failure at any testing point resulted in dismissal from the program. Not everyone made it to graduation.
A note on the testing: this was not a “gimme class”. It was not taken for granted that a basic instructor training had prepared students to develop and deliver presentations. This had to be demonstrated in the class. The practical exercises were no joke. The oral review boards were the real test. While the written test measured recognition, the oral board required recall and the ability to explain the material. Some of the questions were simply knowledge checks, but there were others in which applying and explaining the course material was required. Students had to truly know, understand, and be able to explain the material.
The academic training included blocks on legal aspects of use of force, liability, human performance factors (Force Science Institute stuff), and procedures for training with non-lethal training ammunition (NLTA) and developing training programs. The first week also consisted of numerous laboratories in which students were exposed to drills and scenarios. During the second week, we ran drills and scenarios that were developed by the class.
Drills, Scenarios, and Practicals
The training methodology involved the initial use of drills. The student would be given specific instructions for a response such as the use of a baton or a firearm, etc. Sometimes the drill would include a transition from one implement to another. Each drill would be followed by a debrief in which the student articulated the actions of the role player as well as their own actions.
After the drills came scenarios in which students were given a pre-brief such as a type of call and other pertinent information and sent into the training area to handle it. Sometimes the role players would comply; sometimes they wouldn’t. The student was expected to respond in an objectively reasonable manner. As previously stated, each drill/scenario would be followed with a detailed debrief.
The purpose of the dictated response drills, particularly those involving transitions, were to “build the files” for responses to avoid the euphemistic “404 file not found”. The courts describe such incidents as tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving. The facts of an incident often change during an incident, and when the facts change; the response changes. For instance, in one scenario, I was sent to arrest a person on a warrant for not paying child support. I found the suspect at his job site. It so happens he was a groundskeeper, and he didn’t want to go to jail; a point of view he emphasized with his shovel, but he reconsidered his opinion once I drew my pistol; however, at that point he decided to resort to fisticuffs. I countered his argument with a baton. Of course, a debrief followed.
The scenarios didn’t require a specific response. The response had to be objectively reasonable based upon the interpretations and procedures of the Supreme Court. The responses to such incidents are not cookie cutter responses. Where one officer my utilize a baton while another officer might utilize pepper spray in the same instance, what matters is that the response is objectively reasonable based upon the facts of the situation.
Our graded practical exam involved functioning as the instructor to include giving the pre-brief, observing the scenario, and then conducting the debrief. The “student” for the scenario was a FLETC staff instructor. This was followed by going through a scenario as a student to test our application of the material to the facts presented and our ability to articulate our actions.
Ample of use of the Student Centered Feedback Model was the method of debrief. This method, if used properly, is a very effective tool in both drawing out the details of the incident and breaking free from “cop speak”. For instance, there is a difference between “he took up a fighting stance” and actually describing a fighting stance so that it is clear exactly what the person did.
To any agency heads that read this, I strongly recommend that you get people from your training units through this class and allow them to come back and implement what they learned. Also, don’t get a case of sticker shock when look at the costs. The published costs are a worst case scenario for if no on-center housing is available and the student has to stay at a contracted hotel, and there may be other ways to offset the costs fully or partially. Even at the full published amounts the training is worth it if you allow your personnel to implement the material across your entire organization. Don’t look at it as an expense; look at it as an investment, and I would put this class alongside the Force Science Institute program as far as the quality and usefulness of information, which reminds me, you need to get your training staff through that course as well.