This year I had the opportunity to attend my first International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA) Conference in Chicago, Illinois. I have been a law enforcement instructor since 2010 and have been an ILEETA member for the past couple of years. However this was my first conference experience.
I am not ashamed to say I was a little intimidated at the thought of being around all of these full-time trainers and instructors. Many have been teaching courses and giving presentations longer than I’ve been a cop and some are legendary in the profession. A couple have given TEDTalks for crying out loud! I’m just a patrol guy who teaches a few diversity courses here and there so to say I was a little nervous was an understatement.
I have to say after spending a week among those I consider to be the elite in this profession, if you have never been to the ILEETA Conference, then you must go. Over 760 law enforcement instructors were in attendance and the lack of ego was astounding. I can honestly say I’ve never been around a more helpful bunch of strangers in my thirteen years of doing this job.
We all know our initial interactions with each other can be strained at best when we don’t know exactly who we are dealing with (region, agency, etc.), but this was different. This was true camaraderie. Any initial apprehension I had quickly dissipated when I was met in the hallway before my first course by an older gentleman wearing an ILEETA polo and 5-11 pants. I noticed everyone kept referring to him as “Coach”. I had no idea who this “Coach” was or what he coached but he didn’t seem to care. He walked right up to me, hugged me and called me his brother. That was my introduction to “Coach” Bob Lindsey (more on him later), and in a way was also my introduction to ILEETA.
There were over 150 different courses offered in the six days allotted for presentations and I wish I could have gone to more than I did. There just wasn’t enough time. I have highlighted a few below. Hopefully if you haven’t attended any courses presented by these folks you will soon. These instructors generously gave up many hours of preparation and travel to be able to share their knowledge and skills.
-Police and Minority Relations; ’A Realistic Approach to Addressing the Problem’: Byron Boston, Dallas Police Department.
First let me begin by saying how comforting it was to see a local face in my first course! The objective of the course was to help training coordinators equip their officers to identify and understand the problem, thereby promoting better communication between officers and minority community members. Byron highlighted several issues including the Media, Communication, and Cultural Misunderstandings. He touched on the need for agencies to make Tactical De-escalation Strategies more of a focus in our training. He even discussed the disproportionate number (or lack thereof) of minority officers in law enforcement as compared to Caucasian counterparts. Although I’ve argued this point until I was blue in the face but this was the first time I’d heard someone else say it. One of my biggest take-a-ways from this course was this statement: “Law Enforcement is indeed part of the problem AND the solution”. We often cannot control the actions of others, but in many cases can control our responses. It was a very straight-forward course. Lots of open and honest feedback and dialogue.
-Having Hard Conversations: Adam Duncan, Law Enforcement Training Institute (University of Missouri Extension).
In this course we discussed the toxic environments that can often lead to negative outcomes. The course touched briefly on forensic interviewing but focused mainly on how we as police officers are trained to be professional observers of those we come in contact with throughout our tours of duty. However we often overlook the verbal and non-verbal clues our own co-workers give us daily. I thought Adam did a great job of addressing professional pride and how poor a job we do of not only asking for help, but of looking for the warning signs in others. The goal of the course was for officers to gain information that would help us to never have to say “I had no idea” someday.
-Re-energizing Our Honorable Profession: Sgt. Mark St Hilaire, Natick Police Department & Col. Robert K. Lindsey (aka “Coach”), Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office (ret)
This course spoke to the mentoring aspect of the job as well as to the perceived deterioration of camaraderie. Mark reminded us that it is indeed up to trainers and first-line supervisors to be the example, to set the standard per say. Coach Lindsey spoke to us about cohesion. And for someone who worked in the south from the 60’s through the 90’s, Coach knows a lot about cohesion. At seventy-three years old, Coach could fill an entire day with just some of the critical incidents he’s been a part of. He is still very passionate about this profession and when he speaks, you listen. Coach talked about cohesion and specifically how the lack of it breeds mistrust amongst the ranks. Both presenters stressed that this is indeed still an honorable profession. But it’s only honorable because of honorable people. We must maintain our professionalism, in and out of the limelight. As trainers it is our responsibility to train officers to be honorable and to ensure they will be productive components of our respective communities. I can tell you everyone in the class left there energized and with a seemingly renewed desire to impact their respective agencies in new and innovative ways.
-Growing Courage for Trainers: Roy Bethge, Deputy Chief, Buffalo Grove Police Department/Co-Founder, and Lead Instructor of, The Virtus Group, Inc.
I told Roy Bethge immediately following this presentation that it was exactly what I needed at this particular stage of my career. Roy challenged us (lot of that going on in this conference) to think differently as it pertained to training. We discussed peer accountability and how we as a profession cannot afford to stand idly by and watch others not live up to the high standards we should all be holding ourselves to. That starts with making sure our actions mirror our words. In a conversation about our legacies in this profession, Roy reminded us that “What we leave behind, starts today”. We were asked to come up with our own personal set of core values and then instructed to describe our individual identities. From there we took a look at how close to our core values do our identities match up? It was interesting and I would even go so far as to suggest we all do the same regarding our respective agencies. How close to our agency core values is the identity of our training programs? Thought provoking stuff, and very well done.
-Presenting and Training from the Heart: Brian Hill, Federal Reserve Police Department/Mental Ammo
This was one of the more engaging courses I attended. It felt more like a workshop than a presentation. I thought Brian did an excellent job of getting the attendees involved in the discussion, which is no small feat if you’ve ever taught a room full of cops! We had a really good discussion on why it is we all decided to become trainers in the first place. We were reminded once again of the great responsibility we have as trainers, but also that we have a responsibility to ourselves to make sure we stay knowledgeable of our topics and don’t get complacent. This course was the first one I attended where I heard an instructor say it’s okay to admit when you don’t know something. It’s important to know your audience and to be cognizant of when someone else may be a subject matter expert. Often times we let ego get in the way of an educational opportunity. We all reflected on two things we do well as instructors and two things we need improvement on. Honest reflection is always helpful. At least for me it is. After all, who doesn’t need a good gut-check every once in a while right?
As I said before, as a simple patrol officer who teaches mainly on an adjunct basis, it was truly an eye-opening experience to spend the week around those who train full-time. I’ll forever be appreciative of how welcoming everyone was and willing to give tips and examples to me. I didn’t love every course I attended. In fact there were a couple I knew would be problematic for me, but went anyway. My older (and now retired LEO) brother told me when I was a rookie “All training is good training”. I try to remember that, some thirteen years later (see Mark I was listening).
The 2016 ILEETA Conference and Expo was a great experience. I am even in the process of trying to create a course to submit to present at next year’s conference. I’d like to thank Brian Willis, Deputy Executive Director of ILEETA, and Owner of Winning Mind Training, Inc. /Excellence in Training Academy; for making my attendance possible. If you are a trainer and have an opportunity to go, make it happen and bring someone from your agency. You won’t regret it!