During a 2006 training course in Calgary, a student effects a vehicle stop. Photos Ken Murray
Pressing the “pause button”
The instructor presses the “pause button” on the student in order to fine-tune officer performance at a critical juncture. Photos Ken Murray
FEATURED IN TRAINING
At a recent 5 Day Reality Based Training Instructor school I ran in north Florida, one of the training groups was setting up a scenario in which a resistant motorist would refuse to exit the vehicle after learning there was a warrant for his arrest. Prior to starting the scenario, the group leader came over to the equipment issuance point and asked if any defensive tactics suits were available. Due to limited space, I don t travel with them anymore, and I told the group they would have to make adjustments in their scenario to ensure there was no hard physical contact. The little voice in my head whispered something to me, but I was busy managing the equipment needs of several groups, and it was drowned out in the noise.
During the first run of the scenario, it was evident the student was very keyed up once he discovered he had a resistant suspect with a felony warrant. The resistance was passive (or active disobedience, as some would call it), and the officer moved in and put hands on the suspect through the vehicle window.
This is that part of the scenario where if you re not paying very close attention, people get hurt. It s also the primary reason I m a huge advocate of my exercise controller staying very close to my student. In this instance, the exercise controller used a technique I term pressing the pause button, a tactical timeout. That is, at a critical moment when things can become very dangerous for an insufficiently padded role player, the exercise controller places their hand on the student s shoulder. This, from previous briefings, cues the student to pause. At this point, the exercise controller asks the student what they are thinking.
When the exercise controller paused the student confronted with the felony-warrant role player and asked him what he was thinking, the student responded that he was going to drag the suspect out of the car by his arm. Exactly what we had feared. At this point, we performed an administrative extraction, opening the car door and placing the suspect face down on the ground. The scenario continued from this point.
Protect the Participants
Part of the training in my instructor school includes teaching training staff how to interact with their students and role players. Physical confrontations can be very dangerous if the role players are not properly protected or the wrong person is placed in a physical encounter (e.g., someone in poor physical condition, someone with no training in martial arts, an egomaniac, etc.). Putting the wrong person in as a physically resistant role player is a recipe for disaster. It will generally lead to injury of the role player, and it has often led to actual fights between students and role players after a role player has been brutalized in a scenario and decided to fight back.
Often, if a role player wears a protective suit of some sort, the suit will reduce their flexibility, particularly in the arms and legs. Students often read reduced flexibility as resistance, which they then meet with more force, bending the limb at an extreme angle, and the pain begins. Humans move away from pain. The student reads this movement as resistance, and the cycle of doom continues. Even role players who have attempted to comply have, on occasion, been hurt by students who interpreted the inflexibility of a DT suit as physical resistance. Once this toxic combination reaches critical mass, the fight is on, and I haven t seen a whistle yet that will stop it.
Training staff must stay right on top of things. Using a pause button at the correct moment and an administrative repositioning can make the difference between great training and a trip to the hospital and chafed egos.
Some will argue that using this approach breaks a scenario s flow. To that I say, it s absolutely essential to know, through carefully structured scenarios, exactly what you are attempting to measure in student behavior with a given scenario. If you are measuring their ability to recognize a potential threat and act in accordance with neutralizing the threat, it s possible you won t need to see their latest Dim Mak Death Touch Move or Magilla Gorilla Vehicle Extraction Technique. If, however, you are testing the correct application of either of these techniques, that s OK, too you just have to make sure your role player is wearing the proper protective equipment and has the flexibility/resilience of the offspring of a Cirque du Soleil acrobat who mated with a rodeo clown. There are some individuals who can put a suit on and fight students all day long. I love those guys. We need those guys. But if you don t have one of those guys, or the protective gear they need, there are just some scenarios you can t do.
Bring in the Stunt Man
Another option: using what I call the stunt double approach. Students will grow conditioned to a possible sequence of events by the level of protective gear they see a role player wearing. Seeing somebody in a big suit will get them thinking it s going to be a physical fight, and in most of the simulation training I ve seen, that s the case. However, gearing a role player up in conventional protective gear and using the pause button combined with a stunt double works exceptionally well.
If you re planning on using a stunt double, make sure the role player exhibits aggressive behavior with extreme animation, fighting words and gestures, and make sure it s from a distance or behind a physical barrier to give you a reactionary gap. When you see the student s wheels spinning or perceive movement by the student in the direction of the role player, press the pause button and ask the magic question: What are you thinking? When you get a response consistent with the student planning to treat the role player like he s a complex carbohydrate, have the student stand by while you swap out the role player with the stunt double, the guy in the other room wearing the big suit. Then restart the scenario.
This gives you the best of both worlds and a number of advantages, including increased safety for all concerned. Also, the heavily padded role player can conserve energy and remain as cool as possible until it s game time.
For those concerned with the stopping and starting, remember, high-level scenarios with a story line and role players are designed to test student behaviors that should have already been learned elsewhere. The part of the brain that benefits from the programming of these experiences for future playback has no concept of time just actions. The judgmental part of the brain must make the correct force decision, and the action part of the brain must put that decision into action.
In the next issue, I ll talk about the various types of protective suits available on the market and where they fit in the training continuum.
Until then, train hard and train safe!