Thinking Critically About Public Safety Policy Training

by | December 5, 2018

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series. Click here for the previous article.

Gordon Graham here and thanks for taking the time to read this brief article regarding your role in improving the quality of our profession. I wrapped up the last article with a discussion on the importance of training for every member of your agency throughout their entire career.

If you have read any of my work over the last 40 years, you know my position on this issue. Every day must be a training day—and training must be focused, not random. You must train every day on the “core critical tasks” specific to each and every job description in your department.

Time out for a definition. What is a core critical task? In every job description there are a limited number of tasks that are overrepresented in tragedy. As I have mentioned throughout this series of articles on risk management, I spend a lot of time studying public safety tragedies. These include deaths and injuries (both internal and external), lawsuits, reputational damage, rare criminal charges against our personnel and other nasty consequences.

I then look for the underlying incident that led to the tragedy—and it is the same stuff over and over again. In law enforcement, much of the exposure to tragedy comes in patrol operations. Of the thousands of things that patrol cops are asked to do, when you look at the events that lead to tragedy, you will regularly see incidents involving vehicle operations, use of force, arrest, detention and other Fourth Amendment issues. For a street cop, these are core critical tasks.

You can do the same analysis with firefighters, jail personnel, telecommunicators, School Resource Officers and every other job description in a public safety agency. These are the tasks that require constant training.

For those of you who have been to my live programs over the years, you may know I was fortunate to receive the Governor’s Award for Excellence in California Law Enforcement Training in 1994. Of all the nice things people have given me over the last four decades, this one means the most to me.

I received this award for a program I built for the California Highway Patrol with the stated goal, “to make every day a training day and focus it on the limited number of events that are overrepresented in tragedy.” That program was called SROVT (Solid, Realistic, Ongoing, Verifiable Training) and it helped reduce the number of tragedies the CHP experienced.

In 2001 I built a similar program for the U.S. Forest Service called “Six Minutes for Safety,” through which wildland firefighters receive six minutes of daily training on the core critical tasks they face. Over the years I have built similar training programs for other high-risk professions, including healthcare, construction, trucking, refinery, mining and aviation operations.

At this point you might be thinking, “Well, Gordon, that might work for the CHP, because I watched CHiPs —and you guys used to sit around in that briefing room with all the time in the world to chat and joke. We’re not so lucky—we go right to our patrol cars or the apparatus bay or the jail pods and we just start working, so I don’t have time to train my people on core critical tasks every day.”Trust me, I understand. When Bruce Praet and I created Lexipol two decades ago, he was focused on building the great policies and I was focused on making sure that all personnel were familiar with the policies. In the Lexipol world, this process is known as DTBs—Daily Training Bulletins. If you’re a Lexipol customer, when your personnel log on to your computer system, they receive a DTB that trains and tests them on your agency’s policies—including core critical tasks. So if you don’t have time to develop your own daily training, you can rest easy knowing the DTB system has you covered.Ultimately, of course, it doesn’t matter whether you use DTBs or another method. What’s important is your personnel are trained. I am fully convinced constant and ongoing training can better protect your personnel, your public, your budget and the reputation of your public safety agency.

In the last article I asked you what your response would be if you were on the stand in court and were asked, “When was the last time this officer was trained and tested on the shooting policy?” or “When was the last time your discriminatory harassment policy was updated? And can you produce training records to show your firefighters know and understand this policy?” If you have a solid training program in place, you will be able to confidently answer, “Every month my people are trained and tested on their core critical tasks.” If you don’t, you’ll be stuck saying, “I don’t know.”

Which would you be more comfortable saying, Chief?

The best policies in public safety are of no value if they are not fully understood by every employee in your organization. I am hopeful you will understand the purpose and value of the DTB program that Lexipol has put in place and that you will help “make every day a training day.”

Again, thanks for your continued support. In the next article, I’ll share some thoughts on another important training topic: non-punitive close call reporting.

TIMELY TAKEAWAY—The concept of constant and ongoing training isn’t limited to your professional life. Take the time to regularly talk to your family about their “core critical tasks” around the house, including first-aid, CPR, AED usage, what to do in the event of a kitchen fire, vehicle safety, ladder usage and other things that get people killed, hurt or in trouble.

GORDON GRAHAM is a 33-year veteran of law enforcement and the co-founder of Lexipol, where he serves on the current board of directors. Graham is a risk management expert and a practicing attorney who has presented a commonsense risk management approach to hundreds of thousands of public safety professionals around the world. Graham holds a master’s degree in Safety and Systems Management from University of Southern California and a Juris Doctorate from Western State University.

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