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Attention to detail: the value in foot drill class

Some of the most renowned nitpickers to frequent a police training venue would be the drill instructors, closely followed by equitation personnel.

January 14, 2019  By Insp. Ian T. Parsons

In fact, the police cadet of yore was victimized and scrutinized from dawn to dusk. Every aspect of a recruit’s existence was under the microscope, from five o’clock shadows to dusty boot soles, hair length, lint, buttons… the list seems endless.

The 140 hours of equitation disappeared from RCMP training in the late 1960s due to the expense of maintaining 60 horses and the premise that the hours would be better spent learning police-related subjects. A cost benefit analysis no doubt contributed to the demise of the horse in basic recruit training. Churchill’s observation, “the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man,” was not a strong enough endorsement. Now there is a feeling that foot drill has little or no place in a modern police curriculum.

What was the purpose of all the nitpicking? Why was it so necessary that every hair be in place, every button fastened? What relevance does it all have to actual police work? Is it possible that, through some process of osmosis, the recruit him/herself would be imbued with a similar ability to closely scrutinize settings to determine whether something is awry? It would seem that this kind of attention to detail would be a valued asset at a scene of crime. Can it be that a young police person accrues some talent of discovery as a result of his/her exposure to a certain amount of nitpicking?

There has always been an argument that foot drill tends to turn inductees into automatons, taking away their ability to think as individuals. The activity seems more appropriate for an army. It would be interesting to assess the investigative abilities of those who have experienced a curriculum containing foot drill versus those who have not. Clearance rates anyone?

Upon embarking on their careers, budding police persons are provided few tangible skills as a result of their indoctrination. Developing and improving the power to observe, and honing attention to detail would surely be a talent enhanced through nitpicking. Care should be taken so as not to eliminate the single remaining source of enabling greater expertise at the scene of a crime.

“Stand easy, look to your front!” says the commander. The troop complies but misses not a single event that is occurring around them. Perhaps there is more going on in foot drill class than we actually realize.

Insp. Ian T. Parsons (retired) is based in Courtenay, B.C.

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