The Western Australia Police Force covers one of the largest geographic police "beats" in the world. Its terrain varies from tropical rain forest and virtually inaccessible gorges to the Gibber plains, to the hottest and largest deserts in the world; from veldt like landscapes, to beautiful stately forests. The population is unevenly scattered. The bulk of the population clings to the capital city. Only one town of any reasonable size lies in the interior, the rest are relatively few in number and found along the coast. In between are many small townships of varying populations, all demanding policing (Figure 1).
Accordingly, the WA Police Force faces considerable problems in communication, the impact of which is particularly felt in the area of training. The problems that have arisen are geographic and financial and involve the high consumption of physical and human resources. Coupled with the operational imperative underpinning the functions of the Western Australia Police Force , together with a desire to provide the highest possible service to the community, training must be coordinated rather than competing with the operational demands.
Traditionally the model followed by the Force has been the centre periphery model of dissemination. (Figure 2). This is based upon the centre feeding along a number of spokes to all stations which exist on the periphery. Not surprisingly training has followed the same model. This involves a high cost in both physical and human resources and accordingly several of the training programmes have relied heavily upon the standardised correspondence lesson format.
Although it has been reasonably successful, it is resource consuming. Recently attempts have been made with outreach training involving transportation of instructors to outlying regions. Basically the model has not altered.
Figure l: WA Police country regions
Figure 2: Centre periphery training model
Constables in Charge
Sergeants First Class
Human resources are constrained in the context that the traditional model is human resource intensive and staff for curriculum research, development and course construction are not available to maintain the traditional roles.
Although recruit training is likely to be run on a centralised basis, it is probable that a number of changes will be introduced including
Weapons training is conducted at the centralised venue of the small arms range at the Police Academy and on open firing ranges throughout the country. Country members have an opportunity to receive refresher training twice each year as the weapons training staff circuit the state by visiting each country region twice annually. Access to practice facilities and portability of equipment ensures that skills training can be conducted on both centralised and decentralised bases and reach maximum numbers of members to enable cost benefit (Figure 3).
Conversely, skills training in life support (first aid) has been split between the metropolitan area and country. Academy staff will continue to conduct Life support refresher training in the city under the accreditation of the Red Cross Society. However, police officers in country locations will in future be trained by the St John's Ambulance Association on a contractual basis.
Of major importance in developing new strategies is the area of inservice training and maintenance training. Inservice training and development should ensure that the police both operationally and administratively are able to handle any contingency. Two major training streams which contribute directly to the achievement of the necessary state of readiness are training for the job in hand and training for the job in the future. However, before either of these streams are described and envisaged it is necessary to dwell on several important considerations.
Figure 3: Weapons training section country trips
Because of the importance of job performance, job satisfaction and productivity, particularly in the highly sensitive arena in which police are placed, training must be maintained realistically.
Maintenance training ensures that skills levels and knowledge are at an acceptable level all the time. The areas which make up this training are often of critical importance to the individual officer and the Force. For example, weapons handling and resuscitation are two skills and knowledge areas where skills attrition is notoriously rapid. Because of the nature of policing, the Force has an obligation to ensure that in these areas in particular, the potential for acceptable performances is always realisable. The public expect, realistically or not, that a police officer will respond with skill. The social and judicial costs of poor performance which could be attributed to training neglect is too high to contemplate. There are no options here. Maintenance training must be offered regularly and be available at regional and central training stations.
It is this single fact which underpins the philosophy and strategies for future training of police officers.
Training courses will be of great development value if they are designed to enable students to proceed from dependence on instructors to independence. In this case students will stand figuratively upon their own two feet accepting responsibility for their own development.
By implication they will have the research, analytical and writing skills enabling them to produce reasoned argument. It follows that the Academy has a significant role to play in staff development through specially designed developmental courses. As the underpinning principles of open systems pervade the planning process, information about individual development or needs must flow from the Academy to supervisors and managers so that performance appraisal may be properly utilised. In turn, greater information is fed back through curriculum development for the purposes of redesigning programmes.
Figure 4: Central lighthouse periphery model
For some years the Police Force has operated an internal extension studies programme utilising the traditional correspondence lesson format. Effectively this has provided the foundation of inservice and maintenance training, even though most of the effort was accredited towards promotional qualifications.
Although the Police Union has resisted the practice of members undertaking police related studies in their own time, experience has shown that where completion of studies and assessments are linked to promotions, members will pursue these qualifications. Furthermore, it is has been the experience of the Academy and Staff Development Unit that on completion of the new extension studies programmes, many members are anxious to undertake additional studies, having developed study patterns and a desire for increased knowledge and professionalism. This form of training needs to be enhanced by the use of technical methods and open learning.
Video, computer managed learning, satellite conferencing and teleconferencing will be the primary delivery systems in the foreseeable future. The rapidity of its use will be hastened as the cost of hardware and software is reduced. As soon as the Communications Technology Training staff, who recently inaugurated the unit, become more versed with their particular roles, it will be an essential phase in the new training strategies for all staff at the Academy to receive the necessary skills and knowledge in the effective use of the hardware and software systems. Without a training background and constant refresher courses themselves, the trainers will not achieve the desired levels of knowledge and performance in the persons under instruction.
At the present time the Police Force computer mainframe has an excellent and widely used electronic mail system available to members both for private mail box and station mail box purposes. The use of the personal mail box system ensures that members receive messages irrespective of their shifts or allocated duties on the day. Trainers now utilise the electronic mail bulletin board system quite extensively for the purposes of
The wide dispersal of the members of the Western Australia Police Force indicates that distance learning is an appropriate technique to use in new training systems. This can be done on a progressive basis commencing with the use of video production, developing computer managed learning packages and following up, subject to the availability of funds, with satellite broadcasting.
Intertwined with all the technology media, is the need to introduce a regionally based training network as a focal point for distance learning as well as to provide for maintenance training on a localised basis. As distance learning will require properly trained staff to support its operations, the Curriculum Development Unit is being upgraded and arrangements are being made to train police trainers to appropriate levels of skills for the strategies of the future.
Figure 5: Statewide broadcast video model
Figure 6: Broadcast video and training rooms
The Australian Bureau of Statistics has indicated that the population of Western Australia will continue to grow and is in fact expected to double in the next twelve to fifteen years. Recruiting intakes, therefore, are not likely to vary greatly in number to those currently being processed on the basis that police strength is a ratio of State population.
Further, the continued introduction of merit based promotions through the ranks of police officers will cause a shift in members' attitudes to training. It should entail a shift from a position where training is perceived as a hindrance to operational functions, to that of a demand for qualifications in individuals' progression along their career paths. It is also acknowledged that technology will not replace people in the policing business. Rather it will be an aid to the policing function for greater efficiency in the handling of tasks. Continual training in technology utilisation will be essential to maintain the highest level of efficiency.
In the longer term, education, training and development is seen as being directed more and more to individual officers, so that their individual potential can be developed to the fullest. Training will need to match individual requirements. Training can be of a generic nature in the early stages of members' careers, but as they progress through the various ranks of NCO to commissioned officer status, the training will need to complement the functions they are required to perform as set down in their position descriptions. Training and specific related functions will be conducted through the Police Academy or at branch level. Broader based training and education, especially in the social sciences, is readily available from external organisations.
Learning at a distance will not be the sole technique for training. It must be supplemented from time to time with traditional face to face instructional methods, to ensure networking amongst members, notwithstanding the costs.
|Author: Malcolm J Evans is a Superintendent in the WA Police and Principal of the Police Academy at 2 Swanbank Road, Maylands WA 6051.
Please cite as: Evans, M. J. (1990). The tyranny of distance: New strategies for police training in WA. In R. Atkinson and C. McBeath (Eds.), Open Learning and New Technology: Conference proceedings, 121-132. Perth: Australian Society for Educational Technology WA Chapter. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/olnt90/evans.html