Most agencies have a time and money issue when it comes to training. But there are certain core tasks and skills necessary for line personnel to have, and those skills require repetition of training and experience to maintain the level of skill needed. But sometimes, experience doesn’t come as often, and therefore training must be conducted regularly, to re-introduce concepts, to correct poor or weak habits, and to address changes and new theories. When it comes to evidence handling, it’s a skill set that can be just as important as properly managing a difficult person. True, the difficult person can present an immediate danger, that we must solve for quickly. But mishandled evidence can cost us the case, the result of dealing with that difficult person. How can we incorporate a well-addressed training plan for the line that respects their time and ours, while accomplishing the mission? Let’s look at some options.
A very common way to deploy needed training to line personnel is to stage it with their normal shift hours. Some agencies conduct this training in hours prior to the personnel’s shift, others conduct it during their shift, other’s stagger each person’s shift so that there is adequate coverage of assignments while remaining personnel complete training. In terms of manpower decisions, that’s up to our administration.
But, what we do need to do formalize who will be present (our audience) what amount of time we have, and what the expectations are. In-Service training must be topic specific, since we’re dealing with personnel who are actively on the clock. Even with their attention, they may have to leave immediately if a bad situation evolves outside our agency doors. With In-Service training, a good way to develop your plan, is based on the schedule given. For example, In-Service training may be a weekly occurrence for each shift, but the topic of evidence may come up only once a quarter.
Rather than picking a random topic, and review of the previous quarter’s data in your evidence management system should reveal where there may be weakness, be it with packaging, storage, dispositions, etc. This way, you can address the specific issues, get corrections to policy and workflow addressed at the same time, and ensure that line personnel are getting information they need, not information they are already excelling with.
Annual Agency Training (Re-fresher)
Sometimes this type of training format is lumped in with in-service, but it shouldn’t be. Annual training formats are situations where an agency has dedicated an entire day, or days, to the interest of training, and usually this means that line personnel are taken out of their regular assigned shift, and are on a 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. schedule for the duration. To make this system work, it requires even more planning than our first option. Let’s say an agency chooses this model, and it runs for one, five-day period. With hour-long lunches, it means the personnel attending are receiving 35 hours of training. Each of those 35 hours must be accounted for, and in some ways, evidence training is competing directly with hours covering arrest tactics, use of force, investigations, traffic stops, domestic violence, and so on. It may be that as evidence personnel, you only get four hours of the 35 available. And a four-hour block conveniently fits into any of the training hours following lunch. And that’s not always the best time to instruct any topic.
Be that as it may, in accepting that four-hour block, evidence personnel needs to make decisions about what is going to be instructed in that period. In this format, packaging must be a component. Whether it’s revisiting our big four, or it’s covering a previously uncommon item that has made regular appearances as of late, to discuss bad packaging versus good packaging – with examples – you should aim to instruct on field level packaging in this instruction block. It’s also a good time to visit some quick statistics, like items received, items disposed of, and so forth. But in doing such a review, make it relevant to line personnel, show them they are making a difference. This can be key immediately, in that you can use this to engage your audience immediately, and capture their interest. But it can also set the tone long term for your relationship with your line personnel. The contact you have with line personnel can be limited due to your specific duties, and when you do have contact it tends to be in an administrative capacity, because you’re essentially grading their job. Did they fill out entries in the evidence management system correctly, did they package all items within standard, did they make proper notifications of sensitive items, and down the checklist we go. Your capacity is given, but how you earn respect is not. Using this format effectively not only means quality instruction on necessary topics, but also engaging your audience so that they want to take ownership of topic.
Yet another option employed by agencies is a monthly instruction day. One day a month, each shift has one or two topics of training during their rotation. If you’re splitting time, this isn’t all that different from the annual training model, other than the fact that not everyone will have necessarily been through “Death by PowerPoint” for the four days leading up to your training. With this format, the best approach is to meet somewhere between to two options we discussed, in terms of developing curriculum. Rather than focusing on weak points from a quarter, it may be better to focus on the past three quarters, with refresher approach to packaging and documentation. The most effective training finds a way to incorporate all training together, so that personnel has that “ah-ha!” moment when weighing the weak areas discussed, coupled with revisit topics. It won’t solve issues overnight, but it will slowly resolve them. Improvement always should be methodical.
Training can be a box checked off, or it can be an opportunity for personnel to invest in your system, and a way for you to engage them beyond the regular duties of evidence. If you build effective training plans for your agency, you can build an internal reputation with the line, administrators, and support personnel, and that turns into currency in the long run, when you need it the most.
Be safe out there!