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Fighting complacency with peer training

We can help each other be better officers by offering advice or tips; the more we work together, the safer we are


AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

How many times have you gone to a training session and felt like you wasted a full day out of your life and got nothing back in return? As an instructor, I like to think I’ve never had a trainee leave my classroom with nothing useful.

As I sat in a classroom the other day during a break, the conversation turned to this exact topic between the participants and myself. It was generally agreed upon that most every training session should allow the participants to take away at least some new information. It’s difficult to take a 20-plus-year veteran and convince them that they will leave your classroom with a wealth of new knowledge. Instead, I ask them to open their minds and absorb any little bit of information that may help them be a better officer.

Don’t be a know-it-all

Unfortunately, in my 24 years of providing instruction, I have also found many newbies that fall into the same category. Some people just have an attitude that they already know everything they need to know about their job, regardless of the years of service. I once had a new employee tell me on his second day of training at a new job that at his age he pretty much has learned what he needed to know in life and us training him on this job was just a formality. Mind you he had worked as a firefighter and as a patrol officer, but had never set foot in a jail.

He lasted 14 months before getting his pink slip, and that explains why he worked as a firefighter and patrol officer before also failing as a correctional officer.

So how do we as coworkers, bosses, administrators and even educators get these people to open up and learn new things?

The value of peer evaluations

My answer is peer evaluations and training. This can be done on many levels, including in-service training, initial education, and “15 minute” briefing sessions, or even a coworker seeing another making errors. As I told my class the other day, if you see a coworker doing a horrible job on a pat down search or a cell search, speak up. You don’t have to be a jerk or be rude; just mention that you noticed something that could help them.

What’s the harm in saying “you know, I noticed you don’t search the waist band well and that is a great place to hide weapons”? Then show them what they need improvement on. The fact is, we all could do better at some part of our job. If you consider yourself perfect, it’s time to hang up your uniform and walk away before you get yourself or someone else hurt.

Whenever I conduct any training that has as hands-on component, not only do I add input, I also do peer evaluation for additional feedback. Peer evaluation in training can be as simple as a face-to-face, immediate feedback or add components to get even more mileage out of the time.

Give a scenario to prompt a pat down search. Place a training prop on the “prisoner” being searched. After the search the “officer” writes a report just like a real life case and the “prisoner” files a grievance. The grievance will include what we consider positive parts of the search and mention how the “officer” never even searched the areas that were missed.

So as an example:

Officer Smith was overly excessive when searching my groin and buttocks. I feel I was being harassed because if Officer Smith was really looking for contraband he would have also searched my armpits, head, arms, legs and feet. I have read the PREA pamphlet and believe Officer Smith is in violation of the standards and I demand action and a healthy check for pain and suffering.

In this format you get search training, report training and good feedback and make it fun all at the same time. The hard part is to get officers comfortable with the hands-on concept.

Peer pressure as encouragement

The fact is many line officers we send to training are not thrilled to go to any training they did not ask to go to. In my agency I have to fight with some people to send then to outside training. They will gladly get all their training in-house, but the thought of having to go spend day with officers from other agencies makes them think about early retirement.

Others will offer to go to every training session that comes up. For some it may be because they have a burning desire to learn or others because they want do anything they can to get out of actual work the job requires. Sometimes peer pressure can be a good thing. So let’s challenge co-workers to get their head out of their rear end and do a good job. After all the purpose of a correction officer is to maintain order with-in the facility. If we have co-workers doing half a job with searches and other parts of the job how safe are we?

Simple answer, not as much as we should be. So let’s hold our coworkers to the task at hand. After all, we are all there for the same reason and, generally speaking, we get paid the same. A great quote I once heard goes some like this: “rewarding none preforming is a great demoralizer.”

In other words, if you are doing your job and person next to you isn’t, they can have a contagious effect and bring others to their level of work performance. It’s time to make them work for their pay check by using peer pressure.

Sergeant Todd Gilchrist started his career in Public Safety as a part time firefighter in 1989 and became an Emergency Medical Technician in 1991. After graduating from the police academy, he started his career in law enforcement as a Corrections Deputy for the Muskegon County Sheriff’s Office in 1995. Todd was promoted to Sergeant in 2007 where he has supervised the correction, court services and transport divisions. He is also an instructor in Corrections and Emergency Medical Services and serves on the West Michigan Criminal Justice Corrections Training Consortium. Todd graduated from Northwestern University’s Center for Public Safety, School of Police Staff and Command in 2012 where he was awarded the Franklin M. Kreml leadership award.