What TDCAA’s Training Team has been up to

By Brian Klas
TDCAA Training Director in Austin

Setbacks produce opportunity. If you look hard enough, there is always a way to do a job or finish a project, even in the midst of difficulty. Delivering quality training in the age of social distancing has been a challenge for us at TDCAA. To answer the challenge, we launched the first in what will be a library of online courses.

Live conferences cancelled

Somewhere on the list of pandemic consequences lies the cancelled bulk of TDCAA’s 2020 schedule of live training. To date, we’ve lost the Crimes Against Children Conference, Civil Law Conference, Organized Crime Conference, two regionals on mental health, multiple DWI regional courses, the Advanced Trial Advocacy Course, July’s Prosecutor Trial Skills Course, and September’s Annual Conference. That’s a whole lot of training. Each of those courses was planned, packaged, and ready to go, too.

            Fortunately, we will be able to salvage and reissue a good portion of the cancelled material once the opportunity arises—it’s good stuff. Still, it is enormously frustrating that we cannot deliver these live courses to our members. I know the prosecutors, investigators, and key personnel scheduled to speak at those events spent hours in preparation. TDCAA has a pool of talented professionals to pull from, and I know that when the time comes, they will all answer the training bell again. It is a cowbell.

Going online

As someone with the title of Training Director, I am especially alarmed at the loss of so much training. So what training have I been directing these past three months? I’ll tell you. Alongside the Sisyphean task of planning and then canceling so many live courses, I and the rest of the TDCAA Training Team have been developing online videos. Really, we’ve been working on it for a while. Our directive since TDCAA’s last long-range planning meeting has been to create online courses that do not take away from the existing (live) conference schedule. The networking opportunities, camaraderie, and getting out of your office and county cannot be replicated with a recorded video you watch on a monitor or phone. It’s just not the same as sitting in a room full of your colleagues from across the state. That means that recording our live conferences and then releasing those recordings on our website has never been our goal for web-based training. We want our online offerings to be standalone products—early and successful efforts include the Brady video built by our Executive Director Rob Kepple and W. Clay Abbott’s videos on intoxication-related topics (all of those are on our website, tdcaa.com). Unfortunately, the cost in time and cash to replicate those efforts for additional topics has made routine online courses an impossibility—until now.

            In stepped the Texas District and County Attorney Foundation (TDCAF) with some funding, which we used to build TDCAA’s recording studio. The training team has dedicated themselves to video creation. Hour upon hour of test footage has been created and edited. Lights have been moved hundreds of times, sometimes only a fraction of an inch. Camera angles, camera types, settings, microphones, adapters, and tripods have been swapped in and out to find combinations that work. Finally, we can produce recorded training in weeks instead of months, and we can do it ourselves. We may not possess the skills of a seasoned professional, but it looks pretty good. (Just ask my mom.)

Two new formats

We will be offering training in two formats initially. First is Multiple Presenter Training, or MPT. For MPT videos, several TDCAA presenters are tasked with creating their own videos that are then discussed by hosts at TDCAA headquarters. This relatively unscripted format allows us to tap into the strength of our membership to quickly develop training videos. Unlike live conferences, this format is not intended to cover every aspect of a given topic. Instead, we want to get the personal insights of experienced prosecutors on discrete issues. You can see our first foray into online training in this format in a discussion of General Advocacy on our website (tdcaa.litmos.com/online-courses). Additional MPT presentations are forthcoming.

            Our second online format will be similar to the MPT in that clips of a presenter will be intermixed with a discussion. Here, though, a single presenter will record multiple videos on a single topic, allowing for a more in-depth look at the subject that is still presented in a distinct manner from our live conferences. This type of recording is reserved for topics that require presenters from outside our membership and that don’t fit into our live presentation mold. Two talks that discuss mental health issues in criminal justice are currently in development.

            Phase one of our online training, to be produced this summer, will include:
            •          MPT: General Advocacy (already on our website)
            •          MPT: Caseload Management (already on our website)
            •          MPT: Domestic Violence
            •          Mental Health 101: Understanding Mental Illness
            •          Using the Sequential Intercept Model
            •          Effective Courtroom Testimony in DWI Cases (TCOLE only)
            Please note that all titles are subject to change.

            Of the prosecutors I have asked to participate in our online training, everyone has said yes. Texas prosecutors’ desire to share information, improve our profession, and increase justice is unquestionable. It would be remiss of me to not mention the first six presenters to volunteer for our online training. Being first is chancy, and each of these prosecutors dove in without hesitation. A huge thank-you to our General Advocacy presenters: Allenna Bangs, Sarah Moore, Lauren Sepulveda, Nicole Washington, Zack Wavrusa, and Bill Wirskye. Erik Nielsen helped some too.

            For the moment, we are sticking to our longstanding plan that our online training does not merely replicate our live courses, but that may change. Should travel and gathering restrictions persist, it may become necessary to look at a quasi-live recorded format to release through our website. That isn’t ideal, but it is important that we deliver training to our membership. And if we do produce online courses by recording live presentations, we will do so in an informative and entertaining way with rock-solid presenters.

            So if you’ve been wondering what the good training folks at TDCAA have been up to, that is it. If you have questions about this training or any other training, please shoot me an email or check the website, which we are updating regularly. I know that as I write about finding ways to deliver training to our membership, many of you are similarly finding new ways to do the work of Texas prosecutors. I appreciate the work you are doing.

            Please don’t hesitate to tell us how the TDCAA Training Team can better serve you.