A safety officer physically searches a training participant prior to a training exercise. Photo Ken Murray
FEATURED IN TRAINING
Every month or so I sit down at the computer and try and come up with some new stuff to tell you guys. I guess I'm so familiar with the material I teach it seems repetitive or boring to rehash some of the same old stuff. I further guess that from my bully pulpit it's easy to forget that even the simplest of concepts remain difficult for those who don't immerse themselves in reality-based training (RBT) on a daily basis, or that in the rotational world of law enforcement the chances of getting a new commander every couple of years who doesn't get it remains more the rule than the exception.
I was recently humbled when I decided to get back into the cockpit of a small aircraft as pilot-in-command. Sitting with my instructor at my right and despite being armed with 15 years of piloting experience (albeit fitful), I was amazed at how much I had forgotten after not flying in the left seat for a couple of years. Simple things, such as formula phrases to air traffic control, were a chore I would have to relearn over and over again. Reading (and thinking I was following) a checklist resulted in my missing critical items on the list time and again. I would read the item out loud, yet still fail to actually complete the item. (This despite the fact I hammer my students to use no, really use a checklist during my classes.) I had trouble remembering what the ground symbols meant so I could taxi to the correct runway, and the myriad other details that could get me into trouble with the aviation authorities or get me killed by transgressing the law of gravity.
So, I guess when I read e-mails like the one I received recently, I shouldn t be dumfounded we re still having discussions about RBT safety basics. After all, RBT remains relatively new in military and law enforcement training, and as relatively new methodology, we have not yet hit the hundredth monkey or a tipping point where the most basic of safety issues are simply accepted as the way things must be.
By way of background, there are a few simple and basic truths that constitute the foundation of RBT safety. This article deals with one of the absolute inviolable tenets physical searching of participants. According to Emanuel Kapelsohn in the IALEFI Guidelines for Simulation Safety, you need two things in order for accidental shootings to occur: live ammunition and the means to discharge that ammunition (i.e., a conventional, unmodified firearm.) Therefore, it was decided a long time ago that we must physically search people coming into the training area.
Forget political correctness. Forget the discomfort of the searcher and the searchee. Forget the idea that men should not physically search women and vice versa. Forget the hey, we re not prisoners, why do we need to be searched? mentality. If you place people into training situations where weapons will be pointed at other people, every single person and their possessions entering that training area must be physically searched in order to ensure no live weapons or ammunition are coming in with them. Period. Nobody is immune. Not staff. Not command. Not visiting dignitaries. Not the president of the United States.
A couple of weeks back, I received the following e-mail from an officer who had read my book and was tasked with establishing safety guidelines for an RBT program. He had received a copy of the NTOA guidelines for simulation safety and yet, after tabling the basic rules for searching participants, was overruled by his supervisor and his supervisor s supervisor over physical searching.
I work for the City of (name removed) approximately 60 miles northeast of the (name removed) area. I am a member of the department s tactical team, and we are in the process of writing policies and SOPs for the tactical team. One policy I was tasked with writing was a reality or scenario-based training policy. I copied a reality or scenario-based training syllabus from the NTOA.
While reviewing the policy, our team commander and operations lieutenant had a problem with the procedural safeguard, the student s person will be physically searched to ensure no ammo, magazines, knives, etc., are present. He had an issue with the physical searching of another officer. He brought up a concern of sexual harassment or unwanted contact complaints, and lawsuits. The team commander also asked what we would do if an officer involved in training did not want to be searched. The team leader/patrol sergeant asked, I m not a prisoner, why do I need to be searched?
This should be prefaced with the fact that a few years ago we were conducting RBT training with marking cartridges and a training injury occurred, causing the victim-officer to lose a percentage of vision in one of his eyes due to a lack of safety equipment.
Due to the number of training-related accidents and deaths, have there been any court cases that would address the searching issue for the team commander to show it s an important and necessary function of RBT?
After I responded with my typical spiel on training safety, and indicating physical searches were one of the non-negotiable areas of RBT and that failing to do them, to my mind, constituted gross negligence, I got the following response:
One of my fellow officers recently sent you an e-mail regarding our TAC team s implementation of an RBT policy. It was obviously not well received. When my team leader made the comment, What s the first thing they re going to think that we are prisoners! it was classic. Straight from your book! I stood my ground however, along with my colleague. The lieutenant stood his ground as well. So, I m not sure where this is gonna go. I will send your reply to all of the TAC members. I guarantee feathers will be ruffled, but screw them! Not professional, I know, but we are talking about lives here.
I have your book and am asking for permission to copy the topic and content on searches to disseminate it to the team. Hopefully this will shed some light on their blind eyes.
This battle will continue and I will not lie down on this one.
I applaud these guys. They are going to fight for what s right, despite the dicta of command staff who obviously remain oblivious to the consequences of what they are attempting to force their officers to do (or in this case, not do). Courageous action is often unpopular action. Standing up against your team commander when he s flat out wrong takes courage in a law enforcement organization, but what s the alternative?
In the back of my book are the names and faces of nearly 40 dead officers who were killed as a result of this very mindset. What would they say? What would their families do if they discovered a team commander had prohibited training staff from searching the participants in a manner that would have ultimately discovered the weapon or ammunition that killed their loved one? Every single one of the incidents in the back of my book was preventable.
Remember, in each and every instance where somebody has been inadvertently shot during simulation training, you could have simply asked the participants if they had any weapons or ammunition with them instead of searching them (indeed, many have). The answer would be, and has been, no. Yet during nearly every class I teach, I find something after asking this question a gun, knife, ammo, gas canister, etc. And this happens in a teaching setting in which the students are keyed up and doing their best to please me by demonstrating their diligence. It s much worse once complacency sets in.
Two people are killed each year during RBT exercises, many of them shot dead by another participant or a member of the training staff. When asked if they had any weapons or ammunition, they said no, and they weren t lying. They simply didn t know, and only through physical searching will you discover the absolute truth. These are not bad people hell-bent on causing death or destruction. These are good people who never would have pulled the trigger if they knew they had a conventional weapon loaded with conventional ammunition.
A simple search in combination with other basic control procedures would have saved most, if not all, of those inadvertently killed. And, for the but we re not prisoners ilk, the searches need not be taken to the extreme that we do with prisoners. Remember, in the law enforcement training world, participants typically aren t trying to sneak something through a safety inspection. For the most part, the dangerous items are hiding in plain sight in pockets, in a holster, in duty gear the trainee will wear during the exercise or in a gear bag. Thorough yet respectful searches, while somewhat time consuming, are not only possible but also essential in order to ensure a safe training environment for all involved.
When it comes to RBT safety, there is a right way and a wrong way. One of my instructors, Larry Tully from the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, quotes another of his colleagues, Bubba: There is no right way to do something wrong.
Physical searches by people trained in the skill of searching other people are a basic and non-negotiable cornerstone of RBT safety. Anything less is unacceptable. Those who do not yet grasp this simple truth either require more education in this area or must defer safety policy development and implementation to those who get it. If you think otherwise, I have the phone numbers of grieving relatives who will certainly convince you that you are simply, utterly wrong.
Until next time, train hard and train safe.