By JESSICA CRAWFORD
• Daily Leader
Police officers are only as good as the training they receive. With that in mind, the Liberal Police Department is in the process of implementing a new training program. The 15-week process will follow 14 weeks of academy training, and the LPD is expecting the program to create a very well-rounded officer.
Police Training Officer Lieutenant John Antrim said the new program trains the officer to solve problems rather than just react to problems.
“We have adopted a new training program, it is called the Police Training Officer Program,” he said. “It was developed by the Community Oriented Policing and Problem Solving Committee. Our training previous to this was incident based. The officers learned by each individual incident, now we are going to switch it to more of a Problem Based Learning (PBL) process. The PBL process was started in the early 1960s at McMaster University in Canada.”
Five steps are used in PBL, Antrim said. They are:
o Ideas – possible solutions to the problem;
o Known facts – what is known about the situation;
o Learning issues – resources available to solve the problem;
o Action plans – how the problem will be solved; and
o Evaluation – recruits will be evaluated on using PBL steps.
“They are usually given a very ill-structured, difficult, but solvable question,” Antrim said. “Then as a group or individual setting they will sit down and use this five step process.”
With the new training, Antrim said good officers can learn to be great officers.
“A good officer, and we have a lot of good officers, can respond to a call, solve a crime and be done with it,” he said. “But a great officer can go to that call and go beyond solving that crime by identifying the problem, the reason why we have that crime, and solve that problem by keeping it from happening again.”
Although the program is for new recruits, some seasoned officers within the department have taken the course. Antrim expects the training to produce a better officer.
“We are hoping to get a better, more rounded officer,” he said. “One that is able to make good sound decisions without relying on supervisors as much – to continue with our goal of reducing crime here in Liberal.
The training used in the past, Antrim said, was not as productive due to the fact that officers were taught how to respond to specific incidents.
“Our old training program was basically incident driven,” he said. “They were taught to respond to a particular incident and deal with that incident then move on. A lot of times it might be just an arrest, but that is just a temporary fix – it doesn’t really solve the problem.
“If we have a particular area with a lot of graffiti or a lot of burglaries and things of that nature, yes, we can solve that crime,” he continued. “But why is that particular neighborhood being hit so bad? Is the lighting poor? Is it just the geographical location? Is there something we can do as a police department to make that better?”
Following an integration week that allows recruits to become familiar with their surroundings, senior officers and the PBL process, four phases of training begin, Antrim said.
Those four phases are:
o Phase A – non-emergency incident responses;
o Phase B – emergency responses;
o Phase C – patrolling activities; and
o Phase D – criminal investigations.
Between Phase B and C, Antrim said, a mid-term evaluation is given to determine if the recruit needs more training in Phases A and B or he or she is ready to move on to Phase C.
“With the mid-term evaluation, we take them away from the Police Training Officer (PTO) they have been with and stick them with another PTO,” he said. “That PTO evaluates all the topics that are covered in Phase A and Phase B and determines if that recruit is ready to move on to Phase C or if he or she needs more remedial training back in A or B. Once that evaluation is complete, they actually meet in front of a board of evaluators and that board will recommend whether they continue on with their training or if they go back for remedial training.”
A final evaluation is given following the recruit’s completion of Phase D.
“At the conclusion of Phase D, they then move into a final evaluation period where again, we pull them from the PTO they were with and stick them with another PTO, preferably a senior PTO with quite a bit of experience – then they evaluate the whole thing,” Antrim said.
There are several projects that will go on throughout the entire training process that again teach the recruits to use the PBL process.
“During the training process, they have a couple of exercises,” Antrim said. “At the beginning of the process they are given a neighborhood portfolio exercise. They are told to identify a problem within our city and come up with an action plan to solve that problem. That starts the first day of actual Phase A training and is due by the end of it.
“During the course of their training, they are also given other PBL exercises,” he explained. “It can be something as simple as a traffic stop with a disgruntled driver or it could be a major incident. But, they are expected to use the five steps of PBL to solve the problem and they have to turn that in as part of their training.”
In October, the LPD will be sending its first two recruits through the new Police Training Officer Program. Within a year, Antrim said, supervisors within the department will be able to determine how productive the new training process is.
“We have two that are in the academy right now, they are going to be our first to officers that get to experience our new training program,” he said. “They graduate in October, we hope to have it implemented 100 percent by then. It will probably take us about a year to really evaluate the program. We will need to talk to the supervisors to see if they can tell a difference in the officers.
“A lot of departments who have went through this program are really praising it and are comparing their officers who are walking out of training to officers with two years experience,” he concluded. “We have high hopes for this.”