Female police officer pointing gun outdoors.

Be confident, practise skills, stay healthy

Four RCMP instructors talk training

The RCMP's updated annual firearms qualification gives members more realistic, meaningful training such as teaching them to move and shoot, and fire at different distances. Credit: RCMP

Police training isn't stagnant — it's constantly changing to reflect both new ways of teaching and the varying demands faced by officers. Katherine Aldred asked four experienced RCMP instructors about the courses they teach, what's changed, and how their training prepares officers for the modern realities of police work.

Sgt. Steve Burke

Location: National Use of Force Unit, HQ, Ottawa, Ont.

Courses taught: I've been a full-time use-of-force instructor in both Ottawa (HQ) and British Columbia. I was also an instructor for the Canadian Air Carrier Protective Program for several years.

Why did you become an instructor?

Early on in my career, my Training NCO [non-commissioned officer] asked me if I would be interested in use-of-force training. He went out of his way to provide me with the necessary learning opportunities and eventually mentored me into the training world.

Who's your training intended for?

All operational RCMP officers.

What do students learn in your course?

All aspects of officer safety techniques, tactics and firearm skills.

What's the toughest part of your training?

Because a lot of these tactics, skills and training methodologies are new, some of our members lack the confidence to think "I can do this." The truth is they can, they've just never been given the chance to prove it to themselves. Getting them to feel confident enough in doing things that will take them beyond their comfort level might be the toughest part.

In your experience, what type of training works best?

Due of the nature of use-of-force training, hands-on practical training and scenario-based training have been most effective, in my experience. Any time we practise or learn a new skill, we need to physically perform it and repeat it as many times as possible to create that muscle memory so that under stress, we can perform at as high a rate as possible. Scenario-based training, when delivered properly, using FX [non-lethal training ammunition] and having role players move in real time, not slow motion, is about as close to real life as we can get. It's the best we can do to try and put our candidates under stress and see how they react in certain situations.

How has your field of training changed?

Over that last 12-18 months, we've adapted and modernized both our firearms training and some of our tactical training courses. We're now giving our members more realistic and meaningful training when they come for firearms or IARD [Immediate Action Rapid Deployment] sessions. Our members are learning new skills and becoming more confident and proficient with their firearms. It's no longer 'Groundhog Day' [shooting at a static target over and over] when they show up for their Annual Firearms Qualification [AFQ]. Every year there will be new skills to learn and build upon. The new tactics they learn on IARD training are also transferable to everyday policing and provide our members with some new skills, which will help to keep them safe out on the streets.

Has a student ever shared the usefulness of your training?

We're constantly receiving feedback from the field, both positive and areas in which we can improve, on all of our programs. The new programs that have been introduced, specifically Outdoor IARD and the changes that have been implemented on the AFQ, have been very well received. We heard from a member in the field who had just recently been involved in a lethal force encounter. The member credited the new skills learned and confidence gained on the AFQ session for their overall safety and ability to respond throughout this event.

What's your training advice?

Most members that I see at these sessions, both junior and senior in service, are very eager to learn and excited to practise new skills. If anything, I would tell them to be confident in whatever they're doing and don't be afraid to make mistakes. That's what training is for, just learn from it and be better when you leave than you were when you came into the training site.

Sgt. Blaine Landry

Location: Depot (RCMP training academy), Regina, Sask.

Courses taught: I'm in charge of the Simulator Training and Research Section at Depot. In conjunction with other Depot units, I teach use-of-force intervention, the police driving program, emergency vehicle operation (EVO) response and basic firearms training.

Why did you become an instructor?

I contemplated being a teacher prior to joining the RCMP. To teach for the RCMP is best of both worlds — teaching and policing — and a dream come true.

Who's your training intended for?

Primarily I teach the cadet population. I'm also responsible for developing our instructor cadre at Depot.

What do students learn?

Use-of-force and legal articulation of the incident management intervention model (IMIM), driving, situational and environmental awareness, and advanced EVO. Students learn the need to make good decisions, how to make these decisions under stress and why they did what they did. We do things in the simulator environment that can't be done elsewhere, pushing cadets to places they have not likely been before.

What's the toughest part of your training?

Most get it all, some get parts and others get different parts. Decision making and articulation can take the most time to get across.

How has your field of training changed?

Ten years ago there was no Simulator Training Unit so yes, a big change. Also, the demands of policing have changed immensely. What wasn't of concern before, now is: smartphones with cameras, people's attitude towards police, court standards and expectations.

What's your training advice?

Never stop learning and there's always time to practise skills. Policing is a marathon, not a sprint, so maintain your fitness and pace yourself. Stay healthy.

S/Sgt. Norm Leger

Location: Canadian Police College, Ottawa, Ont.

Courses taught: I'm currently the manager or the Investigative Techniques Training Unit. I've taught the Expert Witness course, and the Drug Investigative Techniques and Organized Crime courses.

Why did you become an instructor?

I was interested in giving back to areas and specialties that I've enjoyed working in. Also, it's an environment that provides lots of opportunities to be creative in your work.

Who's your training intended for?

All RCMP officers and other police services (domestic and abroad).

What do students learn?

Investigative skills for drugs, organized crime, financial crime, human trafficking as well as investigative support training for incident commanders, crisis negotiations and intelligence analysts. They also learn about the preparation of court-approved curriculum vitae and opinion evidence reports, good communications skills and effective court testimony.

What's the toughest part of your training?

Breaking old habits — the that's-how-we've-always-done-it mentality, and implementing new training techniques.

How has your field of training changed?

The implementation of technology. For some of our courses at the Canadian Police College, we're implementing simulation training, which is similar to an adult version of a video game, to supplement practical scenario-based exercises. It provides the instructor with the ability to monitor a student's understanding of a concept, provides instant unbiased feedback to a student, and minimizes the need for extensive human resources over an extended period of time during practical exercises and assessments.

Since the inception of simulation training, advancements have been happening very quickly. We can now add vital-signs monitoring equipment on our systems to keep track of a candidate's heart rate during stressful situations. We can use Oculus Vision Technology, and the list goes on. It seems like every week we hear of new add-on.

This can be a double-edged sword. They can be very effective and, in some situations, crucial to have, but the cost to obtain and the ability to keep current with these advancements can be challenging.

Has a student ever shared the usefulness of your training?

I had a candidate who had taken the Drug Investigative Techniques Course and, more particularly, a session on the characteristics of an armed suspect. Upon returning to work, he stopped a vehicle and a passenger got out and started running away. Based on the training, he was quick to formulate his belief that the suspect was armed and immediately told another officer close by. As a result, the suspect was safely apprehended and, during the search, they found a loaded hand gun concealed on the suspect's body.

What's your training advice?

Share your thoughts and experiences regardless of how much time you have on the job. I often hear participants say they learn from others' shared experiences, and especially when they can reflect on how they would do it different after they've had time to analyze their actions. I've learned lots of really innovative techniques and ideas from younger members. Be more than just a sponge, absorbing information: speak out!

Second, keep an open mind when it comes to new ways of doing things especially when technology is being implemented. It's the way of the future.

Cpl. Kelly Godard

Location: National Use of Force Unit, HQ, Ottawa, Ont.

Courses taught: The patrol carbine [a semi-automatic rifle] is my main focus but I also teach Mountain Bike Instructor Trainer, Public and Police Safety Instructor, Conducted Energy Weapon Instructor, Basic Firearms Instructor and Carbine Instructor Trainer within the RCMP.

Why did you become an instructor?

My passion for instructing started well before joining the RCMP. Prior to becoming a Mountie, I was a ski instructor in Whistler, B.C.. I've also coached water-skiing, mountain biking, rugby and timbits hockey. So to have the opportunity to carry that passion within the RCMP has been a very a natural course of action.

Who's your training intended for?

The patrol carbine course is intended for regular members [operational RCMP police officers]. I do instruct many other courses but my focus these days is creating, maintaining, improving and delivering the National Patrol Carbine Operator training package.

What do students learn in your course?

They learn everything from firearm nomenclature, best safety practices, tactics and shooting fundamentals with the carbine. Although all candidates are competent regular members already, there's obviously much to learn with this weapon platform. They learn how to deliver accurate rounds from the carbine in a variety of different positions or situations in which they may find themselves operationally. We're training the candidates by evolving our once-static world of shooting firearms into a more dynamic, tactical world.

What's the toughest part of your training?

This course is five intensive days so it's mentally and physically demanding for the candidates. For most, it's the first time they've even held this type of firearm, never mind shooting and becoming proficient in its use. The fundamentals of shooting the carbine is new to them and the concept of moving and shooting with sound tactics needs to be learned quickly. This aspect of the training has a steep learning curve.

What type of training works best?

It's important to get a basic understanding of what you're about to learn so this is where classroom/online training has value. Then there's the obvious need to physically handle the firearm to begin to learn and understand how to apply the fundamentals of tactics and shooting. Finally the candidates must prove that the culmination of their new skills sets meets a competent standard in the scenario-based training. Scenario-based training is arguably the most important factor as it sets the candidates up for success operationally. Ultimately we want everyone to be safe and there's no greater tool to provide that feedback on their progress.

How has your field of training changed?

The patrol carbine is a relatively new firearm within the RCMP. The first course for regular members was piloted in 2013. Since that time, the training material has been continuously modified with new and improved tactics and best practices. It's been an ever-evolving process improving the end product for our members. We continue to strive to stay current with new trends and want to have the training material reflect this.

Has a student ever shared the usefulness of your training?

Absolutely. We had a member who received the course and the very next week was involved in an incident with the carbine. Had this member not had the carbine, it could have turned out very poorly. The member was able to draw on experience and training directly relating to material taught on the course, resulting in a positive outcome for that member.

What's your training advice?

It's important to stay current. Whether it's shooting the carbine or handcuffing, these are all perishable skills that could save your life or someone else's life one day. We leave our houses every day with the expectation of returning so it's imperative we stay as prepared as possible. That said, my advice to everyone is be humble, be accepting, be prepared and take any and all training opportunities seriously. By doing all of this, it will make the members' and the general public's lives safer.

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