Which would you prefer?

When I was a police officer I performed various roles. I did half my service in uniform and half in plainclothes. Two of the roles I carried out were as a public order trained officer and as an foundation undercover officer. Public order cops are what most people refer to as “riot police”. They are the police you see wearing riot helmets, limb armour and carrying shields at public protests. In Scotland, they also have responsibility of arresting VDPs (violent and deranged persons – yes, the nomenclature probably needs updating). As an undercover officer, I was tasked with buying drugs such as heroin and crack, stolen property and an number of other covert policing activities. Both rolls require different skills and the officers applying for these roles are selected and trained quite differently from each other. They are both voluntary roles so motivation (at least at the start of training) is a given, we all wanted to be there.

The purpose of this article is to illustrate how various teaching methods affect your emotions and performance.

Initial training for PO is 5 days. You are taught the tactics, put through your paces (HOLD THE LINE!) and given various scenarios where the instructors give you a hard time by throwing heavy things at you, barricading themselves in rooms and hitting your shield with pick axe handles. It’s all good fun. You then have to requalify twice a year for a couple of days to keep your skills up. You may or may not have been deployed in that role in the interim. On one requalification, they were running scenarios where we had to enter a building and arrest the instructor who was playing a violent person. They asked for volunteers for team leader. I put myself forward and was given the scenario. The instructor asked for my plan and I told him what I was going to do. He acknowledged my plan, told me it was a good attempt and then reminded of a couple of things I had forgotten about. With the additional information, I revised my plan and went to work with the team.

Learning points

  1. My efforts were reinforced. I felt good about volunteering. Everyone else on the course say that my decision to volunteer and my attempt at the plan were reinforced. They would be more likely to step forward for the next scenario having seen that. If they had witnessed me being berated or mocked for getting it wrong, do you think they would be more likely or less likely to step forward on the next round?
  2. Certain knowledge was assumed but it was also recognised that I didn’t know the tactics fluently so I was reminded.
  3. Having been given meaningful feedback, I revised my plan. Having a plan which was safe and effective, I was given the greenlight to proceed. Job done.

How do you think I felt about that experience? Good? Bad? Happy to volunteer next time? Overall, great teaching from the instructors who were running the class.

A few years later, I am on my foundation undercover course. I won’t go into it in too much details but over the course of 8 days, you are put through your paces. Long hours, taxing learning scenarios, being put under pressure emotionally and mentally. The teaching is very different. They want to select free thinkers, people who are dynamic, can react quickly, tactically aware, can think on their feet, sharp witted. Due to these learning objectives, they have to put you through lots of unpleasant situations to see how you will react. Your life could depend on it when deployed, quite literally. The key reminder here is that everyone wants to be there. Every officer on the course asked to be considered for the role. Over a hundred applied, 12 got on the course and only 6 of us passed. But we were all volunteers and we could quit at any time. The instructors also monitor you all the time to see how you are doing and you are repeatedly set up to fail to see if you can spot the traps. All good fun.

One morning, maybe day 2 or 3, we went for our tea break. The classroom was left unlocked and everyone of us left our notes on the desks in an unlocked room. The information we are given is restricted so our notes are now restricted. We had failed to notice this, made assumptions and made the mistake. When we returned form break, all our notes were gone. One of the instructors (who is now my friend), cam in with a black bin bag full of our notebooks and folders. He threw the bag onto the floor, the notes scattered all over the room and then shouted at us to pick them up and told us the reason why they’d been taken. Point made. As the 11 of us (we had a faller on day one) were on the floor, I could see a couple the the younger cops’ faces flash with anger and humiliation. I whispered to them to just take the telling and not show they were upset (I had my own moments through the course too). We got ourselves together and went back to our desks.

Scenarios like the second one littered my career in the police. Being shouted at by our driving instructors for not cleaning the cars to a standard which was unknown to us is hardly fair. Being shown something once and then assumed that you know how to do it and getting sanctioned for getting it wrong. Supervisors not recognising that you make mistakes because you have been working for 16 hours, three out of the last 4 days, not eaten properly or seen your family in that time and then not being aware enough to recognise this may affect your performance.

Given the two scenarios, which way would you rather be taught? Given that you are not training your dog for undercover work, do you need to shout at him or be harsh with him for getting it wrong? Do you assume that he “knows” or that he can perform that behaviour under all conditions all of the time? Can you? People who compete in dog sports might say that these “corrections” prepare your dog for the ring. Do they? Is your dog a volunteer in that scenario the way I was above? Are we doing it because you want to win, because we need that perfect score? How does your dog feel during the process?

I think our dogs deserve us to consider whether we are assuming that they are motivated to do the behaviour and whether they know what we are asking them to do. Surely if they were, they would do it and not need corrected for not?

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