Smorgasbord Training

By Massad Ayoob

Going back in history, American police training used to be a lot more parochial than it is now. “Not invented here” syndrome. “We’ve always done it this way.” “Our department knows best what our department needs.” Great programs and concepts arose from NYPD to LAPD and in between, but “East was East, and West was West, and never the twain would meet.”

Modern communication has been a big part of changing this, but so are what I’ve come to call “smorgasbord seminars.” Top instructors in specialty fields teaching not just an element of their discipline, but showing how to teach it to other officers. The immediate value is obvious, but it also acts as a sampler. If an attendee likes what this or that trainer is offering, he can sign up for more at the trainer’s home base or bring the trainer to his own department.

The concept goes back to around 1974, with the founding of the Justice System Training Association, which was geared to defensive tactics instructors. Charlie Smith, the legendary founder of the S&W Academy, liked the idea and applied it to firearms training. I had the privilege of being at his founding meeting of IALEFI, the International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors, in the early ’80s. IALEFI today offers regional and national seminars (www.ialefi.com). JSTA and IALEFI were both specialized, the one on DT and the other on firearms and tactics. JSTA is no more, but IALEFI flourishes.

The next evolution was a broad-based approach offering a menu encompassing hand to hand, less-lethal and firearms, deadly force training and police psychology. Even advanced adult learning theory, administrative and HR issues and dealing with the press were part of it. It was created by Ed Nowicki and Johnny Vazquez in the 1980’s. ASLET (the American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers) lasted until 2006, when its role in offering the “generalist training smorgasbord” was essentially taken over by ILEETA, the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association, founded in 2002 (www.ileeta.org).

Off-duty use of deadly force was among the topics discussed at length at ILEETA.

I just completed the 2017 ILEETA conference in St. Louis and was yet again reminded of the value of this concept. There are armorer and instructor certification courses. There are panels of experts assembled to discuss firearms training, or ambush/counter ambush trends, or patrol rifle training and policy. Whatever your specialty, you can be there for a week devoted to variations of the topic and “fill your entire dance card with it.” Of course, you can mix and match with other disciplines that interest you too.

Here’s a sample from the 2017 seminar. If you’re a cop, you probably have dashcams in your patrol vehicle, maybe bodycam too, and hopefully both: the cameras have exonerated far more good cops than they’ve gotten in trouble. Yet you’ve also seen video being misinterpreted. ILEETA offered two excellent classes related to this. One was taught by an old friend, Lt. Dave Rose, a much-in-demand expert witness for police, who completed a distinguished career with the Placer County, CA Sheriff’s Department. The other was Major Thom Jackson of the Nevada Highway Patrol.

Dave was a consultant for the defense in the notorious Fruitvale Station shooting in Oakland in 2009. He emphasized the importance of enhancing such video, not changing anything but enlarging small things so they can be seen more clearly. He also pounded on the importance of running these things by the department’s resident use-of-force expert, who can pick up subtleties laymen cannot. Walking us through the vids in the shooting, it was clear the cop had thought he was using his TASER (you can see his thumb moving as if to turn it on) until the shot, when you can see his stunned reaction to the recoil of the SIG P226 .40.

The jury understood, as did the judge, which is why the verdict was manslaughter instead of murder, with a very short time served. We can never forget the camera lens’ view is not the same as the officer’s, and it’s the latter perspective the cop must be judged by at law.

Valuable Insight

Thom reinforced this by showing vids of one shooting from two dashcams. On one, it looks like cops shooting a fleeing man in the back for nothing. In the other you can see the object in the suspect’s hand looking so much like a gun after he had pointed it toward the officers (one of whom was seen to reflexively duck), they shot him.

One issue with UOF (actual Use Of Force) video evidence is whether or not the officer should be allowed to see it before giving a post-shooting statement. Advantages to letting the cop see it include elimination of conflicting narratives and assisted recollection. Disadvantages include the possibility seeing it might alter the officer’s original memory (a key element) or open the door to false allegations. Thom’s solution? Take the initial statement, then let the officer see the video, take a second statement incorporating this, and sort out any differences, which after all can be expected to occur when memory is involved.

Smorgasbord training. Sometimes you get more than you expected. It’s a tremendous value for the police instructor, and for the agency or community he or she serves.

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