The agency being discussed in this paper is a Municipal Police Service employing approximately 1800 police officers, serving a diverse and rapidly growing community of over one million people. Its mission is to strive to protect life and property under the law, with full respect for human dignity, and according to the highest standards of professional skill, integrity and accountability. For the purposes of this paper, the Service will not be identified to protect the privacy of it’s’ employees.
The Service is trying to improve its technology in the areas of communications, crime reduction, and crime prevention. One area where technology could serve the organization better is its applications in educating the Service’s employees. A recent development, which is being heavily criticized, is the use of online learning for certain officers taking Suspect Apprehension Pursuit (SAP) training.
The purpose of this paper is to apply the theories of Neil Postman in providing a commentary in support of the application of online SAP training for members of the Service.
Training police officers in relation to high speed pursuits is vital. If not managed properly, high speed pursuits can and have resulted in the injury and death of citizens and police officers. The basic dilemma associated with police pursuit of fleeing suspects is deciding whether the benefits of potential apprehension outweigh the risks of endangering police officers, the public, and suspects in the chase. From a liability perspective, there is also the possibility of civil litigation and Workplace Safety Insurance Board claims and subsequent financial implications to the organization.
Training in this area is mandated by the Provincial Government, with good reason. The impact of an officer’s decisions and actions on the community when faced with a high speed pursuit scenario is extreme. To a large degree, the training is based on decisions, such as when and where it is appropriate to engage in a pursuit; under what circumstances a pursuit should be terminated; and what information should officers be communicating to their dispatcher and other affected officers.
In an effort to streamline the training, the Service developed an online training program to be delivered to officers not on the front line. This includes plain clothes officers and specialty units. Front line personnel must complete this training in a face to face format, as a driving test is also included. The chief criticism is based on the belief that all officers should qualify on the driving test, as driving is a fundamental skill for SAP training.
As Postman asserts, there are winners and losers in every technology. Postman states that “it is not always clear, at least in the early stages of a technology’s intrusion into a culture, who will gain most by it and who will lose most by it.” (Postman, pp. 12)
The Service wins with online SAP training in the sense that they satisfy the Provincially mandated training. Furthermore, the training bureau can train more officers using an asynchronous system, in less time and with far less manpower. The training is traceable, fair and objective, and the data is manageable. There is also the potential to interface a virtual reality driving simulator into the training program.
So, who loses? The critics would suggest that the public does by virtue of less thorough training throughout the ranks. Officers are often transferred or promoted to and from front line positions, and as the training is only required every two years – a pursuit scenario may confront an officer who has returned to a front line function prior to the expiration of their training.
It would appear that the benefits of using online training outweigh the costs – however, the debate continues – with great fervour. This supports Postman’s assertion that “new technologies compete with old ones – for time, for attention, for money, for prestige, but mostly for dominance of their world-view.” (Postman, pp. 16) In this regard, the “traditional” technique for SAP training can be viewed as the old technology. This technology utilized the police cruiser, roof lights and siren, radio communications, spike belts, etc. to provide practical training for suspect apprehension. The new technology utilizes instructional videos with pursuit ending techniques and several “decision-based” scenarios, coupled with an interactive online examination. The shift from one form of training to the other contains ideological biases. Proponents for both argue that their technology is better than the other, causing a collision in viewpoints.
Postman further states “what we need to consider about the computer has nothing to do with its efficiency as a teaching tool. We need to know in what ways it is altering our conception of learning, and how, in conjunction with television, it undermines the old idea of school.” (Postman, pp. 19) The unfortunate bottom line here is that police officers can stubbornly resist change. Online SAP training represents a changing educational paradigm for the police service and a shift away from traditional (or old school) teaching techniques. The critics, or “one-eyed prophets” need to look at the benefits of online SAP training objectively and weigh out the costs against the benefits. For, as Postman posits, “every culture must negotiate with technology” and the police culture must accept that “a bargain is struck in which technology giveth and technology taketh away.” (Postman pp. 5)
In conclusion, online SAP training has permitted flexibility in the delivery of mandated training to a large and continually evolving Police Service. Although all sworn police officers require this training – the way that they are trained should reflect the nature of their duties. Not all officers truly benefit from the practical component of the training. Online training technologies have allowed the Service to redeploy training personnel, who would otherwise be occupied delivering SAP training in the traditional way – to other courses and programs which benefit the organization. As Postman states, “once a technology is admitted, it plays out its hand; it does what it is designed to do. Our task is to understand what that design is – that is to say, when we admit that a new technology to the culture, we must do so with our eyes wide open.” (Postman, pp.7)
That says it all, doesn’t it?
Postman, N. (1992). Technopoly: The surrender of culture to technology. New York, NY: New York