Online Training (sidebar)

(from Maine Townsman, May 2005)
By Douglas Rooks, Freelance Writer

Most certification programs are based on classroom training, evaluation, and periodic meetings. But in a rural state like Maine, certification can consume considerable time and money, which is one reason Justice Planning and Management Associates of Farmingdale now offers on-line certification and training for law enforcement professionals.

Paul Plaisted of JPM said that his firm first became involved in training by preparing material for the Maine Chiefs of Police website. Rather than the standard text and “token graphics,” JPM made the site colorful and interactive, and got an enthusiastic response, which led to a more concerted effort.

For police officers, in particular, certification and continuing education can be difficult to keep up with. After receiving basic training at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, most officers are out on the street on regular shifts. “If you’re doing training, it usually involves overtime and all the costs that go with that,” Plaisted said.

The federal government now requires that all first responders – including police, firefighters and emergency medical technicians – receive training “and at least show a basic awareness” of both hazardous materials and weapons of mass destruction threats. “In Maine, that’s at least 20,000 people.”

Trying to do this through conventional classroom instruction would prove exceedingly costly. “Having just a four-hour, half-day course, the minimum, would mean 80,000 hours of instruction,” he said. “And achieving that goal has been elusive.” An on-line strategy, which JPM is now working on, would probably be the most effective way to do it and meet the federal requirement.

JPM has already provided the Police Chiefs Association with a number of on-line courses that help meet education and certification requirements. Of Maine’s 3,000 police officers, 1,000 are already using the material, “and by the end of the year we hope 65 percent will be,” he said. The trick to making websites attractive is to make them interactive. There are lots of charts and graphics, and every five pages or so is an exercise that requires a response from the user. “Not having experienced the Maine version, most officers find these on-line sites quite boring,” he said, but the new system is attracting wide interest.

Only Texas and Missouri have anything like Maine’s program, and JPM could expand into other areas, including OSHA training for fire and police departments. “Our goal is to have the most technically advanced on-line training system in the nation,” Plaisted said.

In time, he expects that many routine training and certification exercises will be done on-line. It can fill in down time at the station without giving up a whole shift. While classroom work will undoubtedly still play a role, on-line programs can take care of basic lessons and free up time for more advanced courses.

“It’s a way to make training budgets go farther and produce better-trained officers,” and the public should benefit in both respects, he said.