Mission Critical - Training - LawOfficer.com

Mission Critical

Train commanders how to handle critical incidents



R.K. Miller | From the January 2011 Issue Wednesday, January 12, 2011

In the November, 2010, Train the Trainer column, I shared some brief comments from Sid Heal on critical incident training at supervisory and management levels. In case you didn’t have a chance to read that article, one of the most relevant points was that law enforcement spends a lot of money on training officers for crises on the streets. We teach our personnel how to evaluate and assess, drive and shoot properly, arrest and control within the law, and so on. But the training provided to supervisors and managers on how to handle a critical incident is sometimes lacking or even nonexistent. This is the topic of the month. Some of the ideas we’ll discuss come from my humble career, but I also have to recognize the influence of others—most notably Sid Heal—for helping me understand this subject more completely. 

Large departments, such as the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, take this so seriously that they put lieutenants and above through comprehensive training programs to prepare them. The farsighted goal of this training is to have a command team structure available 24/7. Your agency may not have personnel and resources comparable to LASD, but it’s a given that critical incidents of one nature or another have most likely happened in your jurisdiction and will probably take place again. Recognizing this, I’m asking you to accept a new challenge. If someone isn’t already doing something to fill this verifiable training need, then I suggest you step up.

To get started, your relationship as a trainer with potential incident commanders is important. For an instructor tasked with training those above him, this can be a challenge. There are a number of dynamics involved. Obviously, the instructor has to take a professional approach. There has to be a certain amount of respect for the higher ranks. Both tact and appropriate humor are good assets, as well.

Another aspect that should be present is a topic that we’ve discussed before. Call it what you like, but for me it’s summed up with the phrase “truth to power,” which means that, when necessary, good instructors will tell their superiors what they need to hear and not necessarily what they want to hear. Respect, tact and professionalism are incorporated into this concept. Supervisors and managers must be afforded honest training and feedback on how capable they are and how well they grasp important concepts to improve their ability to handle a given high-risk street event effectively.

At the other end of the spectrum is a presumption that those you train have an equally healthy approach to developing their skills. This begins with a perspective devoid of ego. I’ve worked with some good folks who were of higher rank but not higher ego. These are true professionals who recognize that they need help in developing their ability to manage critical incidents. Unfortunately for our profession and regardless of rank, this isn’t an across-the-board truth.

 I suspect that, like me, you’ve also had-to-work-with managers who have an attitude that doesn’t allow them to learn from the advice of their subordinates. Self-importance is often the first page in their playbook. This is a difficult proposition for a trainer trying to do the right thing. It may be complicated even more by past personal interactions between the sergeant or lieutenant and the trainer. It could even lead to the temptation to avoid training a superior on this topic. This isn’t a healthy approach. In reality, failing to help develop—or at least honestly trying to do so—could lead to negative consequences. The personnel involved, the agency itself and the community they serve could suffer damaging effects from a poorly trained and ill-prepared incident commander.

What Is It?
A critical incident is an event that has a negative impact on the community and requires courses of action by those capable of mitigating the immediate and long-term effects. Although a critical incident is often thought of in the context of a criminal act (e.g., barricaded suspect, hostage rescue, active shooter), it can also be natural or mechanical in origin. We call them disasters for good reason. Those rooted in nature include wildfires, earthquakes and floods. Mechanical examples involve crashes of airplanes and trains.

Although training for a crisis may seem like a no-brainer, consider this fact: When the proverbial fan is hit with a brown, semi-solid sutbstance, someone’s going to have to lead your agency’s response. It’s a given that good leadership is a major factor in dealing with a crisis. This shouldn’t be overlooked— nor should it be taken for granted. Just because someone is given the stripes or bars doesn’t make them a leader. Similarly, egos should be in check. The worth of a good critical incident commander is found from the neck up. Good leadership skills will help save this person in charge from disintegrating into a cranial/anal inversion.


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R.K. MillerR.K. Miller, Law Officer's Train the Trainer columnist, retired from the Huntington Beach (Calif.) Police Department as a lieutenant after 30 years of service and is currently a reserve officer with the Orange (Calif.) Police Department.


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