Training Tomorrow’s Officers
2018 Comprehensive Survey
For additional information about salaries, insurance, retirement and more, click here to download a PDF of the entire 2018 Comprehensive Survey.
As the saying goes, few things are more certain in life than change. As technologies progress and societal issues demand new law enforcement skills, the Department of Criminal Justice Training seeks to meet and exceed the needs of Kentucky’s officers and leaders.
In DOCJT’s 2018 Comprehensive Survey, a plethora of training topics were examined. Among this year’s significant findings were those related to online, leadership and school resource officer training.
The Future of Online Training
Educational opportunities available online are vastly growing. The demand for knowledge at the click of a button has led colleges and universities to offer everything from a few college credits to doctorate degrees.
DOCJT has offered online training through its Distance Learning Program since 2005, said DOCJT Information Systems Analyst Mike Keyser. However, this online training traditionally has been geared toward mandatory recertification, such as Breath Test Operator training.
In the survey, 79 percent of respondents said they already participate in DOCJT’s Distance Learning Program, and 82 percent of those believe it has been beneficial to their departments.
“It is beneficial because of the ease of scheduling people for classes,” Keyser said of distance learning training. “When we have Breath Test Operator recertification, we can put 200 to 300 people in one online class, versus having to go somewhere and spread the training out over 10 days to get that same number of people certified.”
Several Kentucky law enforcement executives said they would like to see the options for online training grow.
RESPONDING AGENCIES THAT AGREE STREAMING TRAINING PROVIDES THE SAME QUALITY OF TRAINING AS TRADITIONAL TRAINING
“We are a different animal in Southgate because, of our eight full-time officers, seven of us are retired rehires,” said Southgate Police Chief John Christmann. “We have been doing this so many years, and all of us would happily take an online course to get our 40-hour requirements. That being said, I don’t want an online class that is a bunch of filler. I would vote for online classes on critical policy issues like legal updates, domestic violence, sexual harassment, pursuit driving and topics like those.”
Christmann was one of the 87 percent of respondents who said they believe online options – including streaming training offered close to their agencies – will reduce their training costs.
“Back in 1993, when I was a patrolman, we didn’t have computers,” Christmann said. “Today you can’t do your job without them. My guys will say, ‘I can’t work today, my MDT (mobile-data terminal) is down.’ They do everything online. It’s a different world than it was when I first started. Colleges are offering degrees online – that is just the way the world works in this day and age.”
Hopkinsville Police Chief Clayton Sumner said he is an example of the success of online education. Since he became the western Kentucky agency’s chief in 2014, he has earned his bachelor’s degree and graduated in December with his master’s degree from Murray State University.
“It’s very convenient, especially while trying to run an agency and raise kids,” Sumner said. “I equate training for our officers with having that same opportunity. For me, it’s a four-and-a-half-hour drive to Richmond. Online training opens up a variety of opportunities.”
DOCJT Special Assistant Carey Kitts said several agencies had expressed a desire for blended training – an opportunity to complete part of their training online and part in a traditional classroom. However, only 32 percent of survey respondents voiced their request for this option.
“Agencies want training that is closer to home so their officers don’t have to travel, it can be done in a 40-hour block, and they’re done for the year,” Kitts said.
In 2018, DOCJT began streaming courses at satellite locations across the state in partnership with Kentucky Community and Technical College System. Eighty-four percent of survey respondents voiced their support for streaming as a future training option.
DOCJT’s 2019 Training Schedule does not include streaming training options, but Kitts said it could be added later if it is needed.
“Streaming training is not gone,” Kitts said. “We are going to try to revamp it and make it better. But we need the support of chiefs and sheriffs if this is something they really want.”
Supporters of online training – both distance learning and streaming training – agreed that it has its subject-matter limitations. The top-three supported topics for online training opportunities included legal (95 percent support), investigations (75 percent support) and leadership (70 percent support).
Alexandria Police Chief Mike Ward said he sent a couple officers to DOCJT streaming training last year, and while he sees the potential, he has a couple concerns.
“I think we need to be selective in which courses are offered online,” he said. “There is a fine distinction between education and training. Unless we are looking at each other’s eyes, we lose that interpersonal relationship. That’s a huge problem with these younger kids we are hiring – their interpersonal relationship skills are lacking to begin with.
“The other argument is, maybe they would be better at it because they’re used to doing more electronically,” Ward continued. “I don’t want to be an old stick in the mud and say you have to have your butt in a seat for 40 hours because that’s the way we have always done it. But I do think we have to think about it based on the particular subject matter.”
“It doesn’t apply to everything,” he said. “Basic report writing can be taught online. A basic understanding of communication and de-escalation can be taught online. I just don’t know that I’d want to dive into tactics.
“Don’t get me wrong, I guess it could be like playing (Nintendo’s) Duck Hunt,” Sumner joked. “We’re just not there yet.”
Keyser agreed that online offerings would continue to be topic specific. Skills training opportunities could be offered with a blended approach of online material followed by skills practice.
“I’d imagine a topic like a decision-making class based on driving or firearms would be appropriate for online,” he said. “I don’t like to say never. I think there is always something you can do to enhance the other training.”
DOCJT Commissioner Alex Payne agreed that to maintain the quality of training, online opportunities will never take the place of hands-on, participation training.
“That would be horrible,” he said. “If a recruit graduated from basic training and, for the rest of their career, all they had to do was log on to get their 40-hour in-service, that wouldn’t be appropriate at all.”
Training from behind a computer screen will not help officers become proficient with driving, firearms or tactics, he added.
“You’re actually going to have to get out there and put your boots on the ground and get your hands dirty with it,” Payne said. “As long as those skills are required in law enforcement, then it’s going to take hands-on training to teach them.”
The Next Step for Kentucky’s Leaders
In 2006, graduates of DOCJT’s first School of Strategic Leadership class got an early taste of what online training can offer, Ward said.
The School of Strategic Leadership (SSL) was aimed at the state’s top-level law enforcement leaders. It consisted of five college courses, taught by Eastern Kentucky University professors, during a three-semester period.
“Dr. Gary Cordner taught the online class,” Ward said of the inaugural SSL course, of which he was one of 10 graduates. “We had to read a book, then every Sunday night he would post a question on the chapter, and we had to respond. Cordner told me later he was overseas and agreed to do the class because it should be a real easy thing. We wore him out. It was funny because (former Elizabethtown Police Maj.) Troy Dye would always post something he knew was going to be controversial. We were hammering back and forth on subject matters. It was a great class because we were engaged.”
Graduates of SSL classes, and those who have heard about the course, often have requested SSL be returned to DOCJT’s curriculum.
“We looked into bringing SSL back, and it was going to cost about $10,000 per student,” said Chip White, DOCJT Leadership Section instructor. “It just isn’t feasible. But we have been looking for something to offer beyond the Criminal Justice Executive Development (CJED) course for those who may not be able to go to (University of Louisville’s) Southern Police Institute or the FBI (National Academy).”
Of survey respondents who graduated from CJED, 69 percent voiced their support for a next-level leadership course. Forty-four percent of non-CJED graduates also supported the class.
Curriculum is being developed for the yet-unnamed course, which will be designed to challenge Kentucky’s leaders. Completion of CJED will likely be a prerequisite, White said.
RESPONDING CJED GRADUATES WHO SUPPORT A NEXT-LEVEL LEADERSHIP COURSE
SSL’s success was largely attributed to the topic-based discussion among peers. White said his vision includes encouraging group discussion, and that the class will be student driven.
“When we do that, the students always say that’s when they get the most out of learning, learning from their peers in the class,” White said. “Plus, from my own experience, I know it is kind of boring to sit and listen to six hours of PowerPoint lectures.”
Early plans for the class include students meeting quarterly during a weekend for a total of 10 training hours per quarter. Dinner and networking would be encouraged Friday night, while Saturday morning would begin class work and discussion. Some pre-course assignments might be assigned online before the class, and a written assignment will be due following the in-class portion of training.
“The plan is to have each session be a totally different topic,” White said. “They will all be independent curriculums. We want to keep things at a higher level to challenge people.”
Advanced SRO Training
School Resource Officers (SRO) have been a topic of note on the national stage as communities everywhere seek to keep schools safe from tragedy. Thirty-nine percent of survey respondents reported utilizing SROs. Of those, 95 percent have completed DOCJT’s Basic SRO training course. Another 51 percent have completed the Advanced SRO course.
However, the question of whether more training is needed to prepare officers for their duties inside school walls was addressed in a survey question about a potential three-week SRO academy. Seventy-three percent of respondents agreed they would support a training academy specific to SRO functions.
“I think it’s a good idea because schools are a strange environment,” Ward said. “There is a distinction between what school administrators and SROs can do for a kid.”
Ward noted locker searches as an example that needs more attention.
“A school administrator can open a locker any time they want,” he said. “We need a search warrant. Attorneys will tell you opening the locker has to occur by a school administrator. We do not have the authority, short of having consent to search or a warrant, to open it.”
The complication of an SRO academy, however, lies in the vast differences between school systems, Sumner said.
“I think the idea of saying yes to an SRO academy sounds good,” he said. “And I am probably one who said yes. However, practicality is another issue. Basic SRO skills should not take even a 40-hour course if the officer is already a certified, sworn police officer. The real training needed would be so greatly sporadic, based on individual school district’s needs, wants and expectations, that an overall academy wouldn’t suffice.”
RESPONDING AGENCIES THAT UTILIZE SCHOOL RESOURCE OFFICERS
School safety was a hotly-debated topic during Kentucky’s 2018 legislative session, as two students were killed and another 17 injured during a school shooting at Marshall County High School earlier that January, shortly after legislators convened. As discussions have continued, Kitts said DOCJT is making preparations to provide the training deemed necessary.
“We are preparing, if need be, to set up an academy,” he said. “I’m not sure how many weeks it would be yet, but it is something that could be added later on in the year.
“We know it’s coming,” Kitts said of potential continued SRO training. “As a training agency, we are preparing for the future so in the case that, if any legislative changes are made, we will be ready.”