During the practical part of the Frontline Skills Enhancement Course, officers are hooked up to heart rate monitors and followed by cameras as they are put through their paces in a week-long, high-intensity course designed to expose them to as much practical learning as possible.
“It’s no good spending three, five, 10 minutes doing a scenario, then 30 minutes talking about it. That’s just wasting time,” says Senior Sergeant Mark Wirihana, the course manager. “We do a quick debrief after each session, and then we’ll reset and do it again, and we’ll do it again, and again.”
It’s this emphasis on the practice and repetition rather than theory that has made the course a standout experience for the 900 staff who have already completed it.
It was feedback from staff following the death of Constable Matthew Hunt in June 2020 that led to the course being set up as part of the Frontline Safety Improvement Programme. In hundreds of emails from members, a recurring theme was that they needed more tactical training.
Police responded, boosting that training from 3.5 to 7.5 days for PST (public safety teams) and road policing staff and making it a key part of its Tactical Response Model announced in September.
The pilot course was developed by Senior Sergeant Allana Hastings, a training and development coordinator at PNHQ, with the assistance of Senior Sergeant Derek Sarney, Sergeant Jason Te Huia and members of
the Central District STG team.
Up to 2000 frontline staff are expected to have completed the course by July 2022.
The main focus for each group of 30 staff is practical training for tactical responses, complemented by 20-minute theory sessions.
The training scenarios cover:
- Clearance and rescue tactics
- Active armed offender night sessions
- High-risk vehicle stops
- 1X (mental health/suicide) and 5F (family harm) events
- Officer down
“The aim is to enhance their frontline tactical capability, with a view to keeping them safe,” Mark says.
“We’re not about being perfect in everything we do. Mistakes are learning opportunities. They won’t get any judgment from the coaches or colleagues because their colleagues know what it's like to make mistakes.”
The trainers come from all over the country with backgrounds in AOS and STG. New instructors rotate in monthly.
Mark also has an extensive AOS and STG background, but he says the training isn’t all about guns, Tasers and pepper spray. Instead, he says, the focus is on greater risk assessment, command and control.
“The gold nuggets are to get frontline staff to be confident about making risk assessments for the high-risk jobs, the critical incidents that they go to, and then putting that into a command-and-control space if they need to lead a team through whatever situation they find themselves in.”
Feedback from staff has been overwhelmingly positive. For some, it was the first block of skills training they had done since graduating.
Napier Sergeant Shane Greville, who completed the course earlier this year, says it was the most operationally relevant training he has done since joining Police 20 years ago and he had no idea what to expect.
“Once I got to the classroom and saw all the AOS and STG members, it was almost like I was expecting the bomb to go off. When are they going to start yelling orders at us? But that didn't happen. It was a real learning environment.”
Shane says that what stood out for him over the week was the extra emphasis on evaluating the necessity of the situation.
Additionally, it had given him a sense of pride in being a PST officer, reinforced by receiving the Challenge Coin given to all those who finish the course.
On the final day, the participants are put through their paces one last time in scenario training at the Britton Housemovers’ site in Porirua where buildings awaiting relocation provide the perfect backdrop for set-piece training.
By that stage, Mark says, the improvement in the confidence and awareness of everyone is obvious.
“It's all about developing and getting 1 per cent better. That might not sound like a high bar, but if you’re doing that every time you're going to a training opportunity, or a real job, over the space of a week or a month, those 1 per cents add up.”
One scenario suggested at the end of the week was what to do when suddenly faced with a firearm during what you had thought would be a routine traffic stop.
What Mark hopes is that this course has taught staff to start their risk assessment as soon as you have decided to pull someone over.
- Get them to start thinking about what options they could take if something goes wrong.
- It could be something as simple as driving away or using your vehicle to protect yourself.
- Where do I go if I need to leave? Is there space for me to go or not?
- If I’ve got a partner in the car, which one of us is better suited to go out and make inquiries? Is it the driver or the passenger?
- If I’m working alone, make sure comms know that I have stopped.
- Take your time.
The Tactical Response Model trial began last month in Northland, Counties Manukau, Waikato and Central Police Districts.