This column will be a tad different than previous ones. I will get back to introducing skills and tactics next time. I do feel that this is an important topic to discuss, especially from a DT Instructor’s standpoint.
I work with various LE agencies and officers in many different assignments, from patrol, to investigations, to tactical team members. Each agency, and more so, each officer requires different approach to training. Training must be relevant to the duties and comply with policies.
However, regardless of the assignment, jurisdiction, or the individual officer’s abilities, as a DT Instructor it is my duty to make sure all officers I train can survive a violent encounter. At the end of the day, my goal is to provide the officer with the best possible tools.
I have my way of doing things. My skills and my drills. Regardless of what you teach/train there has to be a component to the training that to some extent replicates the scenario or possible circumstances in which the skills will be utilized. After all, a fight on the street will not take place in a climate-regulated room, with matted flooring and protective gear. If we do not introduce these variables into the training we are setting the officer for failure.
Note that I didn’t even begin discussing stress inoculation, where the goal is to simulate as closely as possible the stress an officer will experience when the fight is on, and this time the suspect’s goal is to kill the officer and there is no instructor around to call an end to the fight when things get out of hand.
I use a variety of drills in my training. I try to simulate the loss of fine motor skills by getting officers physically fatigue. I simulate hyper ventilation and tunnel vision by having the officer don an old fashion gas mask with a narrow field of view and restricted air-flow. I increase auditory confusion by playing loud sounds. And I try to do it all in scenarios which are a realistic situation the officer may find him/herself in.
Recently I had various discussions with several administrations of several police departments and police academies. I found it interesting to see the great variance in the approach to stress drills. Some were completely for it, realizing the necessity of providing officers with the “shock value” of a true encounter. Others shy away from it stating that injuries are too likely to happen and liability is a concern.
I am not here to judge or criticize any particular administration. I must admit, that even though I am a proponent of drills (and the harder the better), I do see their point. One only has to recall the events that took place at the Virginia Beach academy where a recruit lost his life due to strikes sustained during ground fighting drills, to realize the risk is there, it’s real, and administration must remain vigilant in assuring that no in juries occur.
At the end of the day, an injured recruit/student who can not participate is not only a liability, but of no use to the department when on light-duty.
In all my years training police officers, I was able to maintain a high level of realistic drills while maintaining zero injuries. It can be done. It should be done. And a few steps must be taken to implement a good training program:
- The instructor should, whenever possible, not be the one striking at a student. Role players (preferably other sworn officers, and certified instructors when available) should be utilized. The instructor’s role is to monitor and act as a safety officer. If the instructor is involved in he fight or scenario he/she cannot effectively control a safe training environment.
- The instructor should be at the very least certified as a first aid provider, CPR/AED certified, but more importantly poses the keen ability to recognize the signs of distress and act upon those.
- The market is saturated with training aids that can assist in maintaining a realistic and safe training environment. From protective suits to training guns with marking pellets, and knives with electric edge. These tools allow for a the pain-response associated with an inadequate defense, and immediate feedback as to what should be corrected. One must remember that pain does not equal injury, but rather a physical stimulus that elicits a response. A response we want our students to learn.
As the title of this post suggests, there is a fine line between realistic training and the liability associated with potential injuries. However, as instructors we must recognize that fearing injuries and liability may result in sub-par training practices that will eventually result in officers who are ill-prepared to truly defend themselves getting injured on the job. There is a name for that: Liability due to Failure to Train!
As an instructor, it is my responsibility to keep my students safe. On the same token, it is also my responsibility to provide them with the best training practices possible to assure they go home at the end of every shift.