Training officers to be able to professionally, competently and safely fulfill their duties is one of the most important responsibilities for departments around the country. From new hires to seasoned professionals, there is always more room for officers to improve at their jobs. Skills such as de-escalation and survival tactics will always be at the forefront of training, while the changing face of the job, local policy changes and the use of new technologies remain hot topics.
Law Enforcement trainers are always looking for reality-based training scenarios to ground their information and their trainees firmly in the real world. What, then, could be better than using footage that has been captured from real scenarios? While in the past an LE trainer would have had to rely on pure luck to capture the appropriate footage, the prevalence of dashcams and bodycams means that there is now an abundance of material to draw from.
SELF-REFLECTION AND PEER CORRECTION
One of the most useful aspects of using dashcam or bodycam footage in training is the ability to observe and criticize the actions of other officers in a ‘safe’ way. As the trainee is not worried about their own actions being criticized, they are free to take a more critical stance on what they see. This leads to improved self-reflection as the trainee recognizes their own habits and approaches by watching those of another officer.
This is not to say that trainees are encouraged to ‘nitpick’ the actions they’re observing. They also need to understand that each officer has their own way of approaching a situation, and these differences don’t necessarily mean that they are doing something wrong. Instead, they’re encouraged to look for the efficacy of the tactics they witness in the video and to consider if they would adopt these approaches themselves or if they would have done things differently. As training expert, Dave Smith says, “Sometimes a sergeant will project that their own specific technique or their own specific procedure is the only way. I’m a big believer in that there’s a lot of ways to the proper ending.”
THE SHOOTING OF OFFICER MCGAHAN
One piece of footage that’s been used extensively in training is an incident that involved Webster Groves Police Officer Brendan McGahan. The 12-minute video was taken from the officer’s dashcam as he performed what initially seemed like a routine stop. On May 5, 2020, Officer McGahan approached what appeared to be a stranded driver parked on the side of the Interstate. As the officer approached, the driver of the vehicle opened his door and shot McGahan six times.
Fortunately, Officer McGahan survived, returning fire and killing the shooter. He was saved in equal parts by the body armor that he was wearing and his decisive reaction to being shot at. The video of the incident is being used in training sessions to show trainees how quickly a seemingly normal situation can turn dangerous, and how the officer’s survival tactics and rapid response saved his own life. The footage was also used to protect the officer from any legal prosecution following his shooting of the suspect: the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office announcing that the officer’s lethal use of force was justified after a review of the video.
MAXIMIZING THE EFFICACY OF THE FOOTAGE
While dashcam and bodycam footage can be a highly effective tool for LE trainers, as with any tool it can be applied in more or less useful ways. Here are some tips for selecting the best footage for use in training:
- Vary the footage: Officers face a wide variety of scenarios in their line of work, and so training is more effective when it covers as many of these different situations as possible. Instead of sticking to one kind of situation or interaction, trainers should attempt to vary the kinds of situations they’re showing to their trainees. Traffic stops, DUIs/DWIs, community policing interactions, high-risk warrants and officer-involved shootings are just some of the possible scenarios to cover.
- Encourage discussion: Trainees will be more engaged with the training when they are able to contribute and interact. Rather than simply showing footage, trainers should encourage the trainees to actively engage with what they’ve seen. This may include discussion, re-creating the situation in the classroom or suggesting alternative approaches.
- Pre- and post-tasks: Many trainers will prove tasks following the review of a video, such as a quiz or a group discussion. However, it can also be highly effective to also include pre-tasks in order to prime the trainees and increase their interest in the video they’re about to watch. This may include general discussions on the topic of the video, or speculation on what they’re about to see. Trainees are generally more interested to watch the video and see if their predictions play out when they’ve completed a pre-task before watching.
- Trainee-led material selection: Choosing the right video to show in order to make a certain point is obviously very important, and something that a trainer will do naturally. However, it’s also very useful to share this opportunity with the trainees. If the trainees are given time before the training and know the general topic of the session then they can be encouraged to show a video of their own selection that they’d like to discuss or cover with the trainer.