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Media > Newsletters > On the Job: Criminal Justice Update > Winter 2018 > Q&A: James Burke, director of advanced training, Attorney General’s Ohio Peace Officer Training Acad

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Criminal Justice Update

Q&A: James Burke, director of advanced training, Attorney General’s Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy (OPOTA)

OPOTA’s Advanced Training Section provides specialized instruction for peace officers in areas such as community relations, de-escalation, report writing, subject control, driving, and firearms-related courses. In addition to these topics, the advanced training staff also conducts instructor-level courses and scenario-based, simulation, and e-learning courses using various platforms and methods.
What strides has OPOTA made to improve advanced training?

The Ohio Attorney General’s Advisory Group on Law Enforcement Training’s report came out in 2015 and prompted an increase in Continuing Professional Training hours from four to 11 to 20, and through that growth, we started implementing different types of courses and different learning platforms for students.

What technology-based courses were added?

We created several eOPOTA courses, which are free and available 24/7, and we also introduced the webcast system in 2016. That system allows us to live broadcast lecture-based training courses and reach up to 3,000 individual users at a time online. Webcasts, which are also free, give agencies the ability to have a step up from computer-led training and not have to incur the cost of travel or the inconvenience of having officers away from work. Multiple officers can watch from one computer and have interaction with the instructor. If there is a question, the student can type it in and receive an answer immediately.

The eOPOTA courses are always popular, right?

The number of classes that students are taking online is dramatically increasing. Last year we had more than 120,000 course completions on eOPOTA. In 2017, that number increased to more than 216,000. We are always trying to update as many courses as we can and put new options on there for officers. On eOPOTA, we have 109 different classes ranging from legal topics to Blue Courage. Statutorily mandated courses are also available online.

What about scenario-based training?

In October, the Attorney General announced the addition of the Scenario Training Equipment Program (STEP). This is going to allow agencies to do the higher level scenario-based training without having to cover the cost of equipment. Agencies must send one officer through the Scenario Based Training Instructor course to borrow the equipment.

Another benefit of the program is a growing library of scenarios. As instructors submit scenarios in preparation for the training, we are able to collect them to share with others. If a department wants to do training to deal with a certain subject, such as traffic stops or domestic violence, we will have scenarios that we will be able to share.

How has the response been to STEP?

The response has been great. The Scenario Based Training Instructor courses are filling up. Our pilot course had the maximum number of students, 16, for this course. After instructors finish the course, they are ready to go out and train their departments.

Who is taking the Scenario Based Training Instructor course?

A quick scan of my list shows officers from Akron, Reynoldsburg, the U.S. Marshals Service, Canton, Dayton, Boardman Township, Tuscarawas County, North Ridgeville, a hospital police department, Kent, Summit County, Clark County, the Ohio Casino Control Commission, and elsewhere.

What’s new at the law enforcement training village?

The 180 simulator and “shoothouse,” which were unveiled in May, have given us a unique way to blend the scenario-based training. We have the ability to implement real-world objects, such as a cruiser and cover. Training can be conducted in one building or span several. 

In the past, if you were training on a simulator, you knew the threat was coming from the screen, so you focused on that screen. This training can break that tunnel vision. We converted a building into a “shoothouse” simulator with four screens in three separate rooms. One of those rooms has mats from floor to ceiling. When you go in the shoothouse, not only do you have the screen that you have to deal with, but, you could have live actors that are threats, as well. You see their facial expressions; you hear the tone of their voices.

During this training, officers are armed with laser firearms, but they can also choose to use their hands, pepper spray, stun guns, and flashlights. With the mats and protective gear, officers are able to safely take a role player all the way down to the ground and then transition into a cuffing situation, which gives them practice for what they are going to do on the street.

Who gets to use the village?

Several hundred officers have trained in the village since it opened. We are using it in many courses and developing some village-specific, one-day classes for 2018 covering topics such as de-escalation, transitioning drills, and report-writing classes for supervisors.

With the report-writing class, we are going to put them through scenarios with a video camera, which will provide bodycam footage. Then, they will write the report. The footage and the report will be given to another student for review.

We are also using the village for courses you might not even think of, like police photography or crime-scene evidence. In the rooms with the simulators, we are able to set up “nighttime” crime scenes and teach them how to document those scenes under challenging circumstances. We can also put scenarios up on the screens while students are processing the evidence to see how they deal with, for example, citizens who might come up to the crime scene tape and say, “Hey, what’s going on?” And if they deal with the person in a professional way and use the right terminology, the citizen might just go away. If not, the situation could escalate.

We are incorporating the area in other ways, too. OPOTA offered a Mobile Active Threat Response class and had 20 to 30 officers in the village. We had multiple teams engaging different threats throughout the campus and used improvised flash bangs to add to the scenario. The next Mobile Active Threat response class is Aug. 14-16 in London.

Who comes up with ideas for new courses?

The law enforcement training officers come up with the ideas and submit them to OPOTA’s training committee. If an idea is approved for development, the training officers develop the course and the lesson plan, which are submitted to the committee for approval. Once approved, the course can be scheduled. We offer about 800 classes, which are frequently updated. We add about 15 new ones a year.

Could you talk about one of your most popular courses?

One class that always fills up is Evidence Technician. We’ve made great strides in gearing all of our evidence courses to prepare officers to get their International Association for Identification — Certified Crime Scene Investigator certification. This course is designed to teach the student basic and advanced principles of crime scene processing and evidence collection. Each student receives a fingerprint processing kit, a portable alternate light source, a casting kit, a crime scene sketching template, and a copy of Practical Crime Scene Processing and Investigation as part of their tuition.
Our goal is to have in Ohio the most internationally accredited crime scene investigators in the nation. In 2018, we are running six of these two-week courses.
What about OPOTA’s Mobile Academy?

Mobile training, which is free to agencies, continues to be in demand. Two of our seven driving simulators have been upgraded with moveable seats and a change in the tilt of the screen to reduce nausea. OPOTA also has portable structures for advanced building clearing. In 2017, we ran dozens of courses in spaces we secured regionally. OPOTA also has portable MILO Range Pro simulators for judgmental firearms and use-of-force training.

What is on the horizon at OPOTA?

With the passage of Senate Bill 37, the Ohio Peace Officer Training Commission must develop and conduct a training course for newly appointed village, city, and township chiefs of police. The lesson plans are complete and OPOTA will be offering a weeklong, 40-hour course two times a year.

At OPOTA, our goal is to put out the best training and the most timely training in the most accessible way possible.

The Burke File

Previous jobs:  Corrections officer, emergency dispatcher, training officer, Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office; law enforcement training officer, OPOTA; deputy director of education and policy, OPOTC

Education: Associate degree in Criminal Justice, bachelor’s in Criminal Justice Administration, master’s in Business Administration, Columbia Southern University; pursuing a doctorate in Leadership in Organizational Change, Walden University  

Family:  Wife, Debbie; five children, Lily, 14, Caleb, 13, Addy, 8, Jase, 5, and Archer, 8 months

Hobbies: Spending time with family; coaching football and basketball

Favorite quote: “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” — Albert Einstein

Contact information: 740- 845–2700;