War Stories as a Training Tool

By Nowicki, Ed | Law & Order, December 2006 | Go to article overview

War Stories as a Training Tool


Nowicki, Ed, Law & Order


Just about every top law enforcement trainer is a great storyteller. A properly delivered story can be an extremely powerful training tool. Stories create visual images in the mind when told by a gifted storyteller.

A prime example of a great story was told by the special agent in charge (SAC) of the Chicago Office of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) at the 2006 ILEETA Conference in April. As the opening conference speaker to more than 500 trainers, SAC Sanders told of how he was in Washington, DC on Sept. 11, 2001, working near the Pentagon when American Airline Flight #77 slammed into the southwest side of the Pentagon just after 9:30am.

He told how law enforcement officers and agencies rapidly responded and worked together, united without egos or turf wars. Sanders gave a heartfelt description of how "all badges melted together into one" that day for the purpose of doing what needed to be done. He knew how to tell a great, captivating story that everyone could relate to and fully understand.

It's true, that telling a story is important, but the story needs to connect with the listeners. If a law enforcement trainer does not understand the listeners, the officers will scratch their heads, wondering, "What was that all about?" You must not only be a great storyteller, but you must also be a relevant storyteller.

Stories must entertain, ring true, make sense and be relevant. If a story didn't happen to you, don't say it did, even if to you, it really doesn't matter. Never fudge on the truth. The story must make a clear point with vivid images and not be too long or complex. The story must be out of the ordinary to grab the listeners' attention, yet plausible.

The story should end on a positive note. We know that happy endings and law enforcement usually aren't on the same level. Even if you tell the story of how an officer was killed, you should also bring out the good of what was learned and how more officer lives will be saved. You can also stress the officer's heroic efforts.

The story should have one person or one incident as a focal point, so officers can see through the eyes of that person. The story should be fresh and as recent as possible. No one cares that you had to walk 10 miles barefooted each way, and uphill both ways, to attend the police academy, way back when ships were wood.

Generally, the story should not use vulgar or sexually suggestive language, although there may be limited third part examples. Use "gallows humor" with great discretion. Absolutely no disparaging remarks should be made toward race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual-preference, handicapped people or occupations. (Lawyers, however, remain fair game!) Use "politically correct" stories.

Effective storytelling uses many methods to engage, involve and inspire officers, using language that is more authentic (everyday language as opposed to "legalese" or "police speak") and a form that the officers find interesting, gripping, or fun. Think about it, storytelling has been around for many thousands of years as a means of generating understanding within a culture. There is, without any doubt, a "police culture" that can be an effective storytelling audience. As any good trainer or speaker knows, you need to know your audience well.

One way to introduce a new security holster is to tell the troops that its use by a large police agency reduced handgun disarming or inadvertent loss of the handgun by 42%. …

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