Covid-19 in relation to Training: a burden or a virtue?

By Jan Leenslag 

From "The CoESPU MAGAZINE" no. 1 - 2021

Section: "Covid-19: Impact on Training and Peace Operations", page 14

DOI Code: 10.32048/Coespumagazine1.21.3

Same as everyone else reading this, in the Netherlands we had and have to deal with all limitations Covid-19 throws at us, both in private situations and in a Professional environment.

As we all have to deal with the same problems and limitations I would like to guide you along the steps we took in order to convert “making the best of the (training) situation” into “new insights on effective training and mindset guidance”.

From the beginning of the Worldwide outbreak of Covid-19 (we speak march 2020) DNP was limited only to keeping police officers “certified” in order to keep them operational. The required test-series consists of an annual self-defence and arrest technique practical test, an annual legal and law content (written) test, an annual fit-test and two bi-annual firearm tests, on every (self-) defence system the officer works with.

The contents and score levels of these annual test series is set in National Laws on police work.

This certification tests the minimum required skill-set. Failing this test results in at least some extra training and after assessment by the trainers involved, a re-test. After failing tests an officer is only allowed doing desk-duty.

There is a clear difference between Regular police, Riot control, Royal and Diplomatic security, SWAT and Anti-Terrorist Teams. All in all we talk about around 10 different weapon systems.

The reflection of Covid-19 on Peace Missions however is minimal, only the maximum age for going on a mission is decreased to 57. Pre-deployment training is given in somewhat smaller groups, without physical contact, using the required preventions, mouth- and nose caps, a controlled hand sanitation regime and keeping 1,5m (6ft) distance from others. The situation in different receiving countries vary, but on average fairly alike.

The health precautions mentioned above are also valid for regular (National) Police trainings and form the starting point of the new training approach we currently work with. Regardless of the limiting health precautions.

As I wrote in my intro, I am co-responsible for the contents of the "strategic training plan" of the DNP, where we were searching for new, preferably more effective training and teaching strategies in the operational police environment.

We decided that both initial and advanced training should benefit from it. The next requirement was to let go of older, potentially more traditional ways of training, where this involves the “instructional” way, learning techniques and more or less set procedures. Mind you they are not banned from training, but approached differently.

As a member of the Ad.Com. I want to share some findings that brought us to reconsider the current effectivity of police training, which goes for both initial and advanced courses.

The outcomes became interesting because we concluded that decision making by police officers, using traditional techniques and procedures appeared limited to choosing between skill sets instead of the best approach for the situation.

We took and take for granted that some training, where the distance between trainees is less than 1,5 meters, the trainees have to wear protective (medical grade) masks and latex gloves in order to decrease the possibility of a Covid-19 intoxication to an acceptable minimum. (We apply these as so called “Risk Limiting Precautions”)

The use of latex gloves however, as we see in the picture shown above, is not always convenient. Arrest procedures are physical and latex gloves tend to tear easily. Face protection obviously affects clear communication between officers among themselves and also towards the suspect, potentially leading to misunderstandings and unnecessary increase in use of force.

A positive side effect of these Risk Limiting Precautions is that officers get acquainted with these limitations and act accordingly. The face protections (as worn by the long haired trainee on the right) are company issue and mandatory during training and operations.)

Training Triangle and different trainer roles/levels:

In order to further structure the different levels in training and skills required by trainers we developed a model which is shown below and asks for some clarification. Important to know that it also involves some degrees of seniority for skill-level and job experience required by trainers involved. The left half of the model can be handled by “junior trainers” while the right side of the model requires a higher level trainer with more experience on the job.

Using this model gives opportunities to assess the skill level of trainees, shows what level of trainer is needed for what kind of training and gives the opportunity to make a very well organised training ladder oriented plan.

It is applicable to both initial and advanced trainings, as it is only a tool to help trainers in assessing and planning the progress of students. It needs no explanation that this is also a useful tool whenever you need to write a course overview or even a series of trainings. Group-trainings or individual trainings alike.

Every student, in every job and setting starts on the left-hand side of this model. It also turns out to be a useful tool in assessing potential candidates for a job and gives a good indication of level of advance and trainability.

Being a trainee every participant has to get a basic theoretic knowledge level, master a required skillset and ability to participate successful in job-related procedures. That is all acquired in the left “instructional” column.

Once that level is reached, trainees start to apply these basics by getting coached while doing roleplay. As seen in the model these levels overlap and interconnect, creating the possibility to descend or even ascend the training ladder.

Once these “application skills” starts to build, a step towards more complex scenarios can be taken, challenging the trainees to freely switch between skills and procedures when brought into more complex situations, that are reality based and should be directed by trainer/coaches with operational skills, in order to stay challenging, stretching the comfort zone, however without getting the trainees to freeze in decision making.

Once the pre-set or, as you wish, required level of skills and knowledge is reached, the training can be closed off by a graduation or promotion. After that, the next level will be Coaching “on the job”. It needs no explanation that the right side of the model can be built up in the same way as the left three (brownish coloured) steps.

It is commonly used as the National Police Training Model and is common understanding and integral part in the process of trainers development and train the trainers models.

Thereby it can be a useful and valuable model to apply in creating curricula in Missions in conflict affected states.

The Model for lesson and course content, used for creating training curricula is shown below:

This model shows the organisation of all training requirements. It is all based upon Operational relevance, these set the boundaries in which all trainings take place. It sets a current situation, which leads to a pre-set training goal. The trainer’s skills are key to the required level of outcome, measured by a thorough evaluation, while calculated task and training risks analysis (training is never ever completely without risk) surround the actual build-up of training, consisting of context, methodical build-up, training-ladder and educational organisation.

These methods and models can be very useful to structure all training and training development. By no means is this a new invention, it merely structures practice-proven ways of organising trainings and courses. It is first and foremost meant to create a common way of understanding and a methodical build up for cooperating curriculum builders and training writers.

Next to this all Dutch police academies, from basic to management level, specialist training institutes and post-initial training institutes use the same successful model.

Coming to the opening statement of the item, the relation to COVID-19, we shifted all trainings more to the right side of the training model. Here we can focus more on mind set and situational awareness.

Students find this way more challenging and rewarding. Next to that we learned that the students are more motivated from the inside to develop their skills and their willingness to attend trainings.

Surveys learned that this leads to a greater profit in delivering training, increasing pleasure in both attending and providing training, an underestimated collateral benefit!