Training staff on policies and procedures: Part 2

Part 2 of 3

In Part 1 of this article, I discussed the importance of properly training correctional staff members on the agency’s written policies and procedures. It was noted that management has a proactive responsibility not just to develop good policies and procedures but also to be sure that staff members are trained on the policies and procedures.

The two key purposes for training are to be sure that staff members are properly prepared to do their jobs, and to serve as a key tool in liability risk management — that is, to help defend against allegations of failure to train in a civil lawsuit against the jail or prison.

Training staff members on policies and procedures has three key elements:

  1. Training on the cognitive aspects of policies — that is, knowledge of the contents of policies;
  2. Training on key psychomotor skills necessary to implement, or carry out, policies; and
  3. Training on good decision-making so that staff members can properly apply policies and procedures.

The first of these elements — training on cognitive aspects of policies — was discussed in my last article. This article discusses the second and third elements.

Putting it into action

Staff members must be trained on use of any psychomotor skills necessary to carry out policies. If a policy indicates, implicitly or explicitly, that a skill is involved, then staff members must be prepared to implement those skills. Not preparing them to do so could amount to failure to train. To take a common example, law enforcement agencies have written policies governing use of deadly force. Such policies indicate circumstances in which deadly force may be used and other cognitive issues affecting such use of force. Use of firearms is the most common mode for application of deadly force.

Thus, law enforcement officers must not only know the cognitive aspects of their deadly force policies, but must also be proficient in use of firearms so that they can properly apply deadly force, per the policy, when necessary and appropriate.  It would be impossible for an officer to comply with such a policy without adequate training in the psychomotor skills associated with firearms use. And if there were a lawsuit alleging that an officer applied deadly force inappropriately and evidence showed that the officer had not been trained properly in firearms use, it would be a big problem.

A psychomotor skill is one in which the brain and body work together to accomplish a task. An example would be skills necessary to apply use of force at any level (not just deadly force, as discussed above). There are many specific tactics and techniques involved in use of force in a corrections environment, ranging from posture and positioning to escort or compliance holds to passive countermeasures (decentralizations) to active countermeasures (blocks, stuns, strikes), to use of various weapons (aerosol sprays, electronic control devices, batons, perhaps firearms, etc.).

For each such tactic or technique, staff members must be trained to perform the skill to a requisite level of proficiency.

Psychomotor skills training has to be done right in order to be effective. The generally accepted approach for such training in regard to use of force tactics and techniques is to first train "by the numbers," "slow for form,"  and then up to full speed and power.

There are many other psychomotor skills that officers must be trained to do in order to implement correctional policies and procedures.

Some include: searching inmates at all levels of searches; searching inmate living areas, such as cells, rooms, pods, dorms, etc.; writing reports and other documents; conducting initial medical assessments and providing basic first aid and/or cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR); use of keys and locking systems; use of surveillance and communications technology; application of basic fire safety skills, such as extinguishing fires; use of self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA); conducting search-and-rescue operations; evacuating inmates from the facility and finally, intervening in apparent suicide attempts.

Interpersonal communications — i.e., verbal communications — is very much a psychomotor skill. Like other such skills, proper communication techniques must be trained to a level of proficiency and reinforced. Such skills apply across the board, rather than necessarily to application of any specific policies and procedures.

Training in psychomotor skills must be continuous. It is not enough just to learn skills once, such as in basic (academy-level) training. That is just a start. Skills must be continually practiced and reinforced, or people will lose their abilities to perform skills properly and proficiently. Thus, agency managers and trainers must carefully plan and implement ongoing training of staff members in skills, at different levels: FTO training, regularly-scheduled in-service training, roll-call training, and so on. Moreover, if a staff member displays a performance problem or deficiency related to carrying out a policy and it is determined that such problem or deficiency is based on improper application of a psychomotor skill, it would be necessary to provide remedial training on that skill or skills.

Making the right decision

The third element for training staff members on policies and procedures issues is decision-making. Not only do staff members have to know the contents of the agency’s written policies and procedures, and be able to perform any skills associated with implementing policies and procedures, but they also have to be able to make good decisions as to proper actions regarding policy provisions. The key goal of decision-making training is to enable staff members to move beyond knowledge and comprehension toward higher objectives such as application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation, according to Bloom’s Taxonomy of educational objectives.

Use of force is one example, in this regard. Staff members must be very familiar with the cognitive information in their agency’s use of force policy and must, as noted, be able to perform all of the authorized and trained use of force tactics and techniques. But use of force always involves decision-making by officers. The first decision is part of what is often referred to as “approach considerations”—the factors that an officer must consider when responding to a disturbance emergency in a jail or prison. When an officer is considering making contact with a subject or subjects, he or she must answer two questions:

  1. Is contact legally justified?
  2. Is contact desirable at this time?

Both of these questions involve making decisions based on an officer's best assessment of the facts of the situation. A corrections officer's justification for making contact must always be based on an assessment that the contact is reasonable and is for a legitimate correctional purpose: ensuring security, safety, order or control.  

The decision as to desirability of making contact is based on a number of factors. For example, officers would have to consider the following questions:

  • Is it safe? Will my safety or that of other officers, or of inmates, be placed at undue risk if I do or do not make contact and try to control the situation?
  • Will facility security be somehow compromised or threatened?
  • Does the situation seem to be a set-up or ruse which could threaten security or safety?
  • Will larger problems occur as a result of my making contact, at least immediately?

From a liability risk management perspective, the importance of such decision-making is that officers may be questioned about their decisions to engage or disengage in a given situation. Proper police action is always a balance of safety and efficiency and is based on an officer's individual training and experience, agency policies and procedures, as well as past practices in similar situations. That is, these are factors that affect an officer's decision-making, and which he or she may have to justify and articulate down the road, which underscores the need for good training.

If consideration of the above issues leads to a decision to make contact, then officers must make other decisions: How do we deploy tactically (control of distance, relative positioning, use of team tactics)? What is our pre-planned tactical response? What threat assessment factors do we take into consideration in order to determine proper action? And then decisions have to be made as to appropriate intervention options—that is, what force tactics and techniques should be used in the situation?

Following a use-of-force incident, officers must continue to make decisions as to appropriate follow-through actions. How do we stabilize the subject(s) and scene? How do we monitor and debrief the subject and others, including conducting of initial medical assessment? What searching techniques should be employed? How and where do we escort and, if necessary, transport the subject(s)?

In short, there are many decisions that have to be made in order to properly implement, or carry out, the use-of-force policy.

Use of force is just one example of an area in which officers make critical and decisions. There are many others:  How to handle an apparent rules violation? How to respond to apparent medical or mental health care needs of inmates, including possible emergencies? How to assess that inmates may be at-risk from other inmates, and then determine what to do to try to ensure inmate safety? How to assess that an inmate may be a suicide risk, and then determine appropriate action to try to keep the inmate safe? And so on.

Corrections officers have to make decisions on many issues every day. Policies and procedures provide basic frameworks and guidelines for making decisions on such issues, but of course they cannot tell just what to do in every situation. That is a matter of making good decisions, and training is the mechanism for enabling officers to make such decisions.

Senario-based training

The best way to do so is through effective scenario-based training. In such training, officers are placed into scenarios of realistic common situations in a corrections environment and given directions as to what they are expected to do, within specified parameters. They are then debriefed and given feedback as to their use of psychomotor skills, decision-making, other actions, and—if appropriate—documentation of their actions. Scenarios are scripted in advance, and the expectations for performance of participants are set forth. Remedial training on skills or decision-making is provided in a timely manner, as necessary.

Scenario-based training takes time and effort to plan and implement, but it is the proven method for effectively preparing officers to do their jobs correctly, in accordance with policies and procedures and training. Scenarios can be done very effectively in manageable amounts of time, even during roll call training at shift changes. Gordon Graham, an international risk-management trainer, emphasizes the importance of doing continuous training, even on a daily basis, and notes that training can be done quite nicely in six-minute segments. That can add up to 24 or more hours of training over the course of a year.

To summarize, the three elements of training correctional staff members on aspects of agency policies include: (1) training on the cognitive aspects of policies; (2) training on psychomotor skills necessary to implement policies; and (3) training on good decision-making on application of policy requirements and guidelines. All three of these elements must be addressed in a comprehensive training program.

There must be thorough and accurate documentation of all the elements of training discussed above. Such documentation will be the focus of a subsequent article.

Read Part 3: Documentation

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