How to train a tech-savvy security force

Don’t assume a tech training will be met with moans and groans. “Our officers always want more.”

By Jared Shelly

Security has long been a hotbed for the latest technology. In the 1990s, police cars were outfitted with mobile data terminals. After the September 11 attacks, police departments began using devices to detect explosives or radiation from possible terrorist attacks. Today, body cameras, mobile reporting, drones, and facial recognition are becoming integral solutions.

“The acceleration of tech in security and policing has gotten greater and greater. That means security and police officers need a great deal more training to get up to speed,” said Paul Grattan, policing fellow with the National Police Foundation and an active officer with a large metropolitan police force. But security forces are behind the curve, a lag Grattan said is leading to poor tech choices.

“Many agencies are guilty of implementing technologies they don’t necessarily need or are not ready for because it’s shiny, flashy and new,” said Grattan. “There are agencies buying the latest-and-greatest only because it’s the latest-and-greatest.”

What’s more, the money earmarked for acquisition isn’t always accompanied by funds to train officers on the new technology. “Officers can put a pair of handcuffs on a criminal or unholster a weapon in seconds because they do it so often,” said Jonathan Lewin, Chief of the Bureau of Technical Services for the Chicago Police Department. “But that muscle memory has to also be developed for technological usage too, like activating body-worn cameras.”

We asked Grattan and Lewin how public and private security forces could close the tech gap. They offered this five pieces of advice.

Train a core group, not everyone. Most of your staff should receive some kind of top-level awareness training—best practices, an overview of privacy rights, etc. But individuals who show promise should be trained on advanced technology.

“There are some basic skills the whole department needs to do their jobs every day,” said Lewin. “As you go up the complexity pyramid, you get more in depth, offering advanced skills and training to smaller and smaller groups.”

Learning takes time. Staying up-to-date on the latest technology requires a significant investment in time. Officers training for drone units, for example, have to learn how to fly, work within FAA rules, take photos and use detection capabilities. It’s hardly a quick course.

“You have to take security professionals and cops off the beat and put them into much more intensive and specialized training,” said Grattan. “That specialized experience requires our leaders giving them time to train and retrain on technology we didn’t have decades ago.”

Lewin agreed. His department is now ramping up to 40 hours per year — basically a week of annual in-service training. “You’ve got to invest in training — continuous, ongoing and whenever possible, in-person training,” he said.

Don’t buy the first solution you see. Agency and company leaders who want to be on the cutting edge sometimes spend hastily on what seems to be the latest-and-greatest technology. Instead, do your due diligence and you’ll make far more informed decisions.

“A lot of money being spent ends up being a waste,” said Grattan. “I’ve seen a lot of products shelved immediately over the years for a number of reasons — not the least of which is that it is not useful to begin with or something else worked better.”

Rely on the experts. Police and security agencies new to sophisticated tech solutions often buy solutions they don’t need from vendors with a great pitch. “If we just go to the vendor and buy a product because it excites us, we’re going to be in a very bad way,” Grattan said.

Instead, check in with organizations like the Department of Homeland Security’s System Assessment and Validation for Emergency Responders (SAVER) program which assesses and validates commercial equipment and systems to help agencies make better procurement decisions. The International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Department of Defense also evaluate solutions.

Your force is never done learning. Technology changes frequently so be sure that training is ongoing. If possible, review the tech portion of the Police Academy or security training annually. If not, interactive computer-based training tools can be a big help.

Also, don’t assume a tech training will be met with moans and groans. In Chicago, it’s quite the opposite: “No matter how much training we do,” said Lewin, “our officers always say they want more training and more advanced skills.”

 

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