Huddling-Up To Acheive Successful Law Enforcement Outcomes


Richard Neil author of the Police Instructors Handbook has an interesting piece “The Huddle Brings Clarity and Strength – Even in Policing” which focus on training, experiential learning and the importance of the after action review or decision making critique he calls the Huddle. The after action review is the catalyst to continued improvement and learning in the law enforcement profession but all too many of us cops are fearful of them, often because mistakes being talked about often lead to some form of negative discipline. However discipline has a positive side to it as well, in that it helps develop our abilities to become better decision makers on the streets who are able to interact and shape and reshape circumstances to those of our terms. A positive form of discipline is the after action review as it focuses on learning, unlearning and relearning and developing adaptability in cops, a necessary attribute to successful execution and continued improvement. In training is where we develop this keystone habit of critiquing ourselves in a positive way. Important because practice makes permanent and if training is to be meaningful on the street we must put the words “train as you will fight” into action.

“Whether we are talking about football or Cops, Robbers, & Judges, the huddle is a key element. Clarity comes from the huddle – not during the play. It will be after the scenario that the students huddle up and talk about what worked and what needs improved upon. When they are able to see the mistakes made by others, discuss them as a group, and then do it all again from a different perspective, they are performing at a much higher level of learning. While it is advantageous for you to be in the huddle, it is best to be a silent member unless it becomes necessary for you to speak. The more problems the students are able to solve for themselves the better. They are far more likely to understand and remember the information, and that shows them the value of working as a team. It is through the huddle that the team provides clarity, solves problems, creates a new vision, and develops unity.” ~Richard Neil

The key to the after action review or huddle as Richard Neil has called it helps us look at what we are doing and identify our strengths and weaknesses, and points, to focus our efforts on in a real effort to create and nurture the skills and attributes necessary identified, so we execute on the street effectively. The most important piece to the after action review is that participants…PARTICIPATE! The feedback from the huddle must be candid and honest and open, not antagonistic with a focus on what we did and why we did it. What types of decisions were made and were they made timely and in accord with the law, rules, policy and procedures? Were the action we took and adapted, based on sound tactical principles and sound doctrine? The huddle will develop strength of character and flexible thinking and acting cops on the street. All too often training revolves around stimulus response training and rote memorization or repetition with no real connection of the cognitive and physical skills needed in real world encounters or critiques of how we actually are performing during this training. The sole goal is to pass and, humans, cops or, otherwise, trains to the tests. Not good enough!

As an instructor it’s very important that you facilitate the learning in a way that develops cops who know how to think and act and solve tactical dilemmas versus telling them what to think and how to act. You the instructor will not be there with those you train on the street so in training we must use our time wisely.

Richard Neil gives some advice on how to train, begin by providing the class with a basic understanding of your topic through a lecture or demonstration of the proper tactics for the situation. After your initial training, have the students practice the skills as a team and continually work to develop new skills.

I suggest trying the reverse of this as well, give your cops a scenario and let them solve the tactical problem with no theory based instruction initially. Let the students work through the scenario and then critique it themselves in a blue team (good guys)/ red team (bad guys) format. Let them make the adjustments as they deem appropriate, offering instructor insight only as it is needed. Let them replay until they solve the dilemma effectively. Then cover the theory.

This practical, hands on approach to teaching often inspires anxiety in the minds of those who have grown comfortable with traditional methods of instruction. The most common complaint is “the basics should be taught first!” After all, the critics argue, how can we teach any student how to plan a tactical operation before we teach them the organization and technical aspects of their respective organization? What these critics fail to understand is that students learn much more effectively by experimenting and making mistakes than by having the “answers” spoon-fed to them beforehand. With this method, students learn through immersion in a scenario. The immersion in the scenario keeps students mentally engaged in the class, and invariably results in higher levels of confidence, enthusiasm for the training and better results when applied in real life scenarios. This is known as experiential or outcome based training and education now prevalent in the United States Military.

One of the essential principles of outcomes based training is the requirement to treat the trainee like an adult. This encourages them to take ownership of their development and training. Not surprisingly, students at all levels from entry level to senior executives respond accordingly. If the expectation is that they cannot be trusted to do anything without micro-management, then students will fail without extensive guidance. However, if from the very beginning the expectation is that they must think on their own and take responsibility for their own training, they will almost always conduct themselves responsibly.

I have applied this principle in my workshop over the years, which inspired a surge in enthusiasm from students. What they seem to enjoy most is the fact that they are actually allowed to make decisions and figure things out on their own. Rather than being asked to regurgitate lists of information, they are required to think creatively under pressure.
Putting experiential learning, outcomes based training and education into practice in our law enforcement disciplines will take a large amount of time and work on the part of many instructors. It will be a collective effort executed within the overarching framework of an outcomes-based training environment, which includes doing-critiquing-adapting and doing again-then discuss theory.

As Richard Neil says, as the coach, you must sit back and let the team run the plays. Your teaching and training will wait until half-time and after the game.

“Regardless of what happens, a team controls its attitude, approach, and response.” ~Tony Dungy

“Let your students know that law enforcement is a profession filled with people that make decisions and solve problems for a living, and they will need those skills during this exercise – regardless of what happens.” ~Richard Neil

Read Richard Neil’s entire article at Law Enforcement Today:

Stay Oriented!