We all have times when we get into such a hurry that we have no idea what is going on around us. It gets worse when we fail to ask questions when we have them. I helped train one rookie police officer who refused to ask me any questions because he was older than I was. He had previously served as an Army officer, whereas I had been an enlisted Infantryman. While Bill was a nice person, I don’t know how the guy survived his rookie year.
Bill was 40 years old and starting his second career after retiring from the Army as a personnel captain. The problems started when he was assigned to our shift for field training. I was 10 years his junior. It is an unfortunate truth that those who served in Army personnel assignments were often harassed by combat soldiers. It can be hard to shuffle paperwork in a military branch focused on combat training and missions. It was obvious that Bill did not want my help and even made the point that he would be a more successful officer than I was.
The second week that Bill was on the midnight shift he spotted a drunk driver and pulled him over. I was shadowing him in another patrol car so I arrived to back him up in just moments. Bill insisted he was ready to handle the stop on his own and that he did not want or need my help. I told him to go right ahead; I would watch from the patrol car. He had the man out of the car, through his field sobriety tests, and arrested without much of a snag.
He put the man in the back of his patrol car and decided that he would also complete the inventory of the vehicle for the tow truck by himself.
I asked him if he had inventoried and searched a Cadillac before, but he just scoffed at me. After Bill inventoried the contents of the trunk, he tried to close it, but as I mentioned, this was a Cadillac. Once the trunk lid is within a few inches of closing a small electric motor takes over, slowly completing the process. I knew this as an experienced officer who had searched plenty of cars, but Bill did not.
When the trunk lid failed to close all the way, Bill grabbed it in an attempt to open it back up and slam it harder. I yelled “Leave it alone. Get your fingers out of there!” He turned and gave me one more look of disgust as he tried to pull it open again. The entire neighborhood could hear the blood-curdling scream that came from Bill as eight of his fingers were crushed under the force of the closing trunk lid. He dropped to his knees in pain while screaming “Help me!” He finally found something that I was worthy of helping him with.
I ran to the passenger side of the car, opened the glove compartment and pushed the trunk release button, but nothing happened. The car was off and the button did not function without power from the ignition. I ran back to Bill, who was now a new shade of white, and his eyes appeared to be rolling back into his head. I asked “I need the keys. Where are the keys?” He was barely able to reply, “They’re in my pants pocket.”
Of all the places, why did they have to be in his pants pocket? Now I was digging around in another man’s pants pocket and hoping no one else noticed. Of course, the first pocket I stuck my hand in was empty. After sticking my hand in his other pocket, I found the keys and headed back to the driver’s seat. I turned the ignition on and hit the trunk release button. I watched through the rearview mirror as the pressure was released off of Bill’s fingers and he passed out onto the roadway.
His black out was only momentary but his swollen fingers and bruised ego would last a while longer. Once I knew he was going to be okay, I started laughing. Bill looked at me and said “It’s not funny, Rich.” I apologized and then we heard laughter coming from behind us. When we turned to look, Bill’s patrol car was rocking from the DUI suspect in the back seat – who was now cracking up. He was the happiest person I have ever delivered to jail. He laughed all the way there, into the sally port, and during his intake as he shared the experience with the deputies who booked him in that night.
Encourage Questions from Academy Cadets and Veterans
We should encourage our cops and cadets to ask questions when they don’t understand a particular topic, and remove any barriers that may keep them from inquiring in the first place. Some students (especially new cadets) will have the same barrier as Bill did – ego.
They are so concerned with how they appear to the others that they neglect their own safety and effectiveness as a law enforcement officer. Work to remove the barriers that may be holding your students back from asking questions.
Start with this simple statement: “No one knows everything about law enforcement – no one! This includes you, me, police chiefs, prosecutors, criminal justice professors, and the Attorney General of the United States. You should have questions and you should not be afraid to ask them. After all, it is said that knowledge is power, and who here doesn’t want the power to be a safe and effective guardian of justice?”
There are several good methods in the Police Instructor Handbook to encourage questions and reduce the barriers that interfere with your audience’s participation. Here are a couple of techniques from the book that you may find helpful for your next class.
Leave a Note
Provide your students with index cards to record any questions they might have. Tell them, if a question comes to mind but it is off topic, write it down. If the question is about a subject that was covered 20 minutes ago, write it down. If they feel embarrassed to ask the question in front of the others, have them write it down.
Have your students leave the questions on the lectern at break time, and then answer them when they return or at the end of the day. The questions get answered for everyone and the student who wants to remain anonymous does. To my surprise, I have found that the anonymous questions are commonly the most insightful.
Have a designated question board in the classroom. Advise your audience to write their questions on the white board (or chalk board if you’re old-school) during the break. If other students have the same question, instruct them to place a checkmark next to it.
The technique serves as a quick method to see if any of your students are struggling with a particular topic. Once they realize they share the same questions and interests, students will discuss the information during the break with one another.
Questions Encourage Participation and
I am amazed how professional cops, who spend their days asking questions of others, shy away from asking questions during their training. Lack of knowledge and understanding in our profession inhibits officer safety, but that can be remedied by encouraging our audience to ask questions without hesitation. The duties faced by law enforcers are dangerous enough without adding the hurdles caused by cops and cadets who resist asking for help. Questions should become commonplace in the police academy, increase with intensity during field training, and then continue to help us grow throughout our career as law enforcement officers.
Every law enforcement topic has real-world implications if the instructor puts forth the effort to make it real. There is always important information you can add and plenty of questions that need to be answered in the minds of your students. Your knowledge and experience is the most valuable teaching resource you have. Those nuggets of wisdom are what your students need the most, and what they look forward to. Do everything you can to make sure they get those nuggets.
Richard Neil is LET’s Police Training Contributor. He is the author of “Police Instructor: Deliver Dynamic Presentations, Create Engaging
Slides, & Increase Active Learning.” He is a retired city cop, and instructs for several of Ohio’s criminal justice training academies. He can be contacted through his website that is dedicated to law enforcement training