Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Six Myths of Police Training That Inhibit Effective Learning

     I thought about breaking it down one by one to force discussion. But, nonetheless, here it all is at once from Dr. Bill Lewinski's Force Science College/Institute. It is NOT just limited to police training.

Six Myths of Police Training That Inhibit Effective Learning

     As police training moves toward a more scientific base, certain widely accepted concepts in the teaching of physical skills are being challenged as myths that actually impede learning and, most important, retention.

     Robert Bragg, Jr., manager of fitness, force, and firearms training for the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission's Academy, called out some of these flawed premises during a presentation on applying science to psychomotor skill instruction at the latest annual conference of the International Law Enforcement Educators & Trainers Association (ILEETA). Recently, he elaborated on the subject in a conversation with Force Science News.

     "Relying on myths that are commonly perpetuated in training can be more than just a waste of time," Bragg says. "They may seem logical and time-tested. But, in reality, they create a gap between what works in the gym and what's needed in the real world. They can lead officers to develop a false sense of security by overestimating their capabilities."

     With 35 years' experience in training and a master's degree in exercise physiology and sports medicine, Bragg defines "skill" as "the ability to bring about a desired end result with maximum certainty and minimum outlay of energy and/or time."

     He identifies six beliefs and practices he says undermine officers' abilities to grasp and retain physical skills that could be decisive in life-or-death confrontations. "As an instructor," he says, "you're not likely to get more time than you're currently allotted to train officers, so you must make the most of the time you have by using the science of motor learning and performance to improve the training you deliver."

MYTH #1: Perfect practice makes perfect performance.

     This oft-repeated bromide "suggests there's 'a' perfect rep that can be practiced over and over in a stable, predictable environment with no variables," Bragg says. "In a sport like gymnastics, that may be possible, but police work is the ultimate in variability. Rather than repeat the same movement over and over again, you need to build your ability to vary and adapt your physical skills to surmount a wide range of situations that are hard to predict."

     "Instead of trying to master a perfect Weaver or isosceles stance that you'll probably never use in real-life gunfights, you're better off building experience in shooting under stress from many different positions in many different environments under many different conditions. You may not always perform with absolute perfection, but you can learn to perform with practical proficiency to get the job done."

MYTH #2: Slowly practicing a movement that needs to be delivered fast is beneficial.

     "There may be some value in this in the very early stages of learning to help you understand the motor movements involved in a new technique," Bragg says. "But spend very little time practicing slowly, especially where forceful movements are involved."

     "The neuromuscular demands of slow versus fast perception and movement are very different, and slow practice does not transfer effectively to fast performance. Your brain tries to keep pace with the feedback it's accustomed to at the slower pace, and it quickly becomes overwhelmed. It's like practicing only slow tai chi and then trying to fight at real speed."

     "There are very few skill-based actions in law enforcement that take place at slow speed. Train at the speed at which you need to deliver using realistic role-playing scenarios. Through repeated trial and error, you'll eventually learn what works best for you and how to do it. Your retention will improve when your practice environment mirrors the conditions in which you're expected to perform for real."

MYTH #3: Blocked instruction speeds learning.

     "High-liability motor skills like shooting, driving, and DT are often taught in a blocked format--intense cram sessions where officers are expected to grasp techniques well enough to replicate them shortly afterward to prove they've been 'learned.' It may be months or a year before their performance is tested again," Bragg says.

     "In the short term, the learning seems to happen faster, but the long-term retention rate where physical skills are concerned is dismal."

     "Distributed learning, where instruction and reinforcing practice occur over time, works much better. Short, spaced, mini-training sessions--15 minutes once a week, say--tend to dramatically improve skill retention. Some flexibility and creativity with scheduling may be needed, but the results are worth it."

MYTH #4: Immediate and frequent feedback hastens improvement.

     Bragg believes the science shows that an instructor who offers immediate and frequent critiques of a trainee's performance "programs the learner to depend on external feedback and does not force him or her to 'seek' feedback from their own body and behavior, which they ultimately must do in the game on the street."

     "A really good instructor doesn't say a whole lot. He forces you to answer questions yourself: 'Based on the information your body just gave you, what do you think happened?' You have to learn to self-diagnose, because then you'll know how to fix yourself, even in the midst of battle when there's no one there to correct you."

     "Feedback that's intermittent and delayed is most helpful for skill retention."

MYTH #5: Muscles have memories.

     "Muscle memory is a catchy phrase," Bragg admits, "but it suggests that muscles are the only thing involved in mastering a physical skill. It's a concept that usually accompanies the block teaching approach, and it gets you thinking that all that matters in learning are reps."

     "To really learn, your whole nervous system has to be involved--your brain and your neuromuscular network."

     "When you're learning a new physical skill, you tend to be stiff and robotic. Over time, you train your brain to activate only the muscles you need to perform the required movements, and you get rid of what's unnecessary so you're smoother and more efficient."

     "You need to stay mentally involved. Once your brain is no longer engaged, you're just going through the motions. You cease to learn."

MYTH #6: Repetition is the key to learning.

     Forget the claims that it takes 3,000 reps to learn a new physical technique or 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery, Bragg advises. "People have different abilities and learn at different rates. Yes, repetition is essential--you've got to get the reps in--but what you do before and after the repetition may be more important to learning than the mere repetition itself."

     He recommends this approach: "Form a mental image of the movements you want to make. Imagine and feel the movements before you do them. Then do them. Then analyze how you did. How close did your performance match your imagination? Was your attention focused on the right things? That makes a valuable rep, not just going through the motions."

     "This can be a laborious process, much harder than thinking you can just do a lot of reps and magically get better. It takes mental work to learn a physical skill. But at some point, you'll find that your performance becomes reliably automatic and can be replicated without conscious thought when you're under real-world stress."

     "That's not to say, though, that you reach a point where you can afford to stop learning. Motor learning is a process that never ends."

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Vanishing Police Baton/Stick Use in the USA.

     Shall I start with a confession? "I have hit people with police nightsticks."

     The police nightstick. It was well used and carried when I started in 1970s. I was trained in the old school L.A.P.D. methods in the military police academy and Texas police academy. It employed striking, blocking, and a lot of grappling. The baton was standard gear. With each subsequent decade, the police stick transformed into the car-antenna-like expandable baton, with a slight trend back to the "straight stick"  in the last few years.

     In between those times, there was a fad of using the long, sturdy, oversized flashlight as some sort of an impact weapon. I did. But I think the invention of these super mini flashlights killed off the big flashlight fad. That could be a subject of a whole other essay. We also see the rise and fall of other impact weapons like the PR-24 with its unnecessary side-handle (if you really know how to use a stick, the handle just gets in the way) and even the "nunchucks." Through it all, the expandable baton won the popularity contest for police carry gear.

     Many a year, I stepped out of a squad car and shoved the long wooden or later super-plastic stick in the ringer on my gun belt. Running was a problem, as that stick flopped around. The old holsters would flop, too! If you want to see this, watch the old 70's and 80's cop shows Adam-12 and even T. J. Hooker and watch them run, trying to keep the stick and holster from flapping wildly. Expandable batons and better holsters stopped this.

     In these last few years, USA Department of Justice Use of Force reports claimed that the baton was used in about 10% of their force report cases. That 10% resulted in about 40%, or at times sometimes way more, of all police lawsuits. (I am rounding these numbers off; for exact annual figures, look them up.) This was a degrading message and a pathway to lawsuits.

     Lawsuits. The very word makes the police world shake, shimmy, and otherwise pee in its polyester pants. The policies began to differ from agency to agency. The real message was:

     "Here's a stick, but don't use it,"  or ...

     "Here's a stick, hit him where it doesn't matter. Like on the thigh."

     Ergo, in the last 20 years, officers with batons in some agencies could not raise the stick and stick arm above their heads, suggestive of an incoming head shot or clavicle break. The mere movement without an actual strike, just the very prep movement alone, meant a violation. The rules got screwy. It was not clear for some officers I know whether they could strike the weapon bearing limb of an armed attacker--a most common-sense application. Some agencies still allow various other body-part targets. I find this freedom of choice raw.

     Did I say screwy? Listen to this. In Wisconsin in the late early 2000s, two deputies went to serve an arrest warrant on a large, husky farmer. The farmer punched and knocked out one officer. When the deputy woke up next to him on the floor, the farmer was atop his partner choking the life out of him. The deputy sat up, pulled his baton, and struck the farmer in the head, knocking HIM out and saving the partner's life. This deputy was fined and suspended for striking someone in the head with a baton. He could have shot and killed the farmer, and that would have been justified. But the rule book said no baton strikes to the head. The deputy, in a way, had also saved the farmer's life by just knocking him out. Yeah. Screwy.

     Dr. Bill Lewinski of Force Science U. just reported this week that "batons are gathering dust."

     ... almost all officers (96 percent) carry a baton the survey found, but a slight majority (51 percent) have never used it as a striking tool. About half reported that they “rarely/very rarely” use the device even for leverage or control, with another 40 percent saying they never do so.

     "It seems as though the baton, once a commonly used police tool, is losing its prominence,” the researchers note. "It is not a ‘go-to’ tool for the majority of officers ... it is possible that the use of batons, even when appropriate, appears to be more aggressive, and officers are concerned about public opinion.”

     One police officer told me, "At my last agency, I discovered boxes of quality sticks. I was told to leave them alone and later ordered to destroy all but a handful. The chief and assistant chief said they were 'civil rights violations waiting to happen.'"

     Part of this disappearance is due to the severe lack of stick training available today and what little there is available--such as PPCT (the "creators" of the mandatory, virtually worthless thigh strikes)--would lead anyone with smarts to avoid using the stick, given the rules and regs.

     After all the "old-school" baton training I'd received, coupled with the Filipino stick work I'd done since 1986, the more modern police impact weapon systems were pretty much a lame, empty joke. (Don't misunderstand me; I don't think that Filipino stick material is great police baton training. It MUST be modified. There is not a lot of "stick dueling" in crime fighting--remember so much Filipino stick material is based on "stick versus stick.")

     The lack of practical training leads to a lack of impulse use and use in general. I have also noticed the popular baton courses of recent years have slowly disappeared. Gone. And this almost a self-fulfilling prophecy. A vicious cycle. No stick work, no courses. No courses, no stick work. We can easily see that in a world of pepper spray and taser options, the stick may be an imposing, wounding choice for any officer to consider.

     There is still an official need for enforcement stick work in certain situations, especially with the riot stick. Riots will continue and sadly will probably increase. Riot stick training includes psychological intimidation, physical manipulation, one-hand grip striking, two-hand grip striking, one- and two-handed grip blocking, shield and stick work, and stick retention. (Don't be like the major police agency I dealt with that first bought long, thick riot sticks requiring two-hand grip manipulation and then the next year bought the riot shields. While holding the shield in one hand, you could not wield the long riot stick with one hand! It was a several-thousand-dollars mistake.)

     And, of course, many police agencies around the world, especially ones that do not carry firearms, carry batons as their main weapons and rely on them much more than in the USA. The socio/political/crime/lawsuit problems of America do not fit their local situations. Some countries don't care about lawsuits. Some care about the same. I do worry about how lame their stick training might be, also.

     Some say that the Rodney King mess in Los Angeles way back when had a lot to do with "killing the nightstick," as the film showed King being beaten with sticks. I started this article with a confession. "I have hit people with nightsticks." But that was mostly early on. As the decades passed, I too became less inclined to use the stick. I think "the nightstick baton" is on a long, slow, official death knell for all these reasons mentioned above.

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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

War Stories Are How Cops Get Trained

“War stories are how cops get trained,” 

    - says Seth Stoughton, a former patrol officer in Tallahassee, who’s an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law. There’s no universal model for police training, with almost 650 police academies around the U.S. and more than 12,000 local departments, according to the Department of Justice. In addition, many agencies provide continuing education offered by their own officers or private companies. One constant is the emphasis on danger. Officers are often told death is a single misstep away," Stoughton says.

* * * * * *
    And this is true to a certain extent. Experiences in EVERY field of endeavor are important. They might not be your personal experiences, but they can be learning tools from the wins and losses of others.

    This is true of the military also. One of the life-changing sentences I heard in Army basic training years ago, was the phrase from my Drill Sergeant.

"This is how they will try to kill you."

He knew. They knew. They were vets. That one single sentence eventually shaped my filter and focus for all martial training for years to come, and why I did what I did, moved around, left and dismissed, and settled into what I do now.

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