When you think about it, force training is like a giant brick wall—each brick representing a different discipline. Firearms training is one brick; baton training is another. Defensive tactics is yet another. Add handcuffing, taser and chemical agents and we have a whole load of bricks that make this “force” wall.
Every now and then, we add another brick to our wall, like ground fighting, edged-weapon defense and weapon-retention skills. Most officers assume as the wall gets bigger, it also gets
stronger. For our wall to be strong and secure and able to protect us, it has to be built with solid bricks, leveled and secured with the right kind of mortar.
But, in reality, it isn’t. Most of the time, we forget to place mortar between the bricks. In our haste to get this wall built quickly, we forget to make sure that each brick fits snugly in its place and securely with all the other bricks.
Example: During an OC in-service class, your chemical agent instructor tells you to spray your OC with your dominant hand and to continue spraying (in half-second bursts) even when the subject closes in on you, because “it’s going to take time to work.” Then during an edged-weapon defense class, you’re told “you better get your handgun out and ready” when the suspect starts to close that 21-foot gap.
Later, your weapon-retention instructor (who may not be an OC instructor or an edged-weapon trainer) tells you that if a subject gets within four feet (or less) of you, your dominant hand should be on your firearm protecting it because a committed suspect can cover four to five feet in about a quarter second. When you start to think about what you’ve been taught, you realize it’s going to take longer than a quarter second to let go of your OC spray and get your hand on your gun, let alone secure it in your holster properly.
Another example: During a DT class you’re taught to be careful in delivering fisted punches with your dominant hand to the face, chin or jaw of a suspect because you might injure your “gun” hand. Then later, during a pressure-point-control training class, you’re taught the infra-orbital or mandibular angle pressure points, where it’s reinforced to “always control the chin, place your hand over the eyes and cover the nose.” You may even be taught to use a fisted punch to the jaw as a distraction technique.
Now, we can go on and on with examples of contradictions. They’re not just confined to tactical considerations, but legal ones too. “Handcuff before searching” is an officer survival constant. But during a search-and-seizure update, the legal beagles (who are usually not even cops, let alone force trainers) remind you about false arrest and unlawful imprisonment, and admonish those present that “the best policy is to not handcuff a subject until he or she is under arrest.”
Integrating Training Disciplines
The point here is that just adding more specialized disciplines (the bricks) to police force training (the wall) isn’t necessarily the answer. In order for the bricks to fit properly, we must modify and mold these specific disciplines into a comprehensive and cohesive use-of-force “system.” This system has to be tailored to suit each department’s needs and individual force tools.
For example, a knife defense system that depends heavily on grabbing the assailant’s arm might not be suitable in Barrow, Alaska, where both the officers and the bad guys wear heavy jackets and thick gloves for a good portion of the year. Likewise, a generic side-
handle baton program might not be practical for metro-transit officers who work in buses or subways where poles, seats and other obstacles (such as an occasional wino) are an everyday occurrence. Transit cops are lucky to have a four-to-six-inch reactionary gap at the beginning of a confrontation.
A ground-fighting system that emphasizes neck restraint holds may not be suitable in a jurisdiction where the lateral vascular neck restraint (LVNR) technique isn’t allowed, or reserved strictly for deadly force situations. Until recently, the biggest gap in force training was between firearms instructors and defensive tactics trainers. However, over the last few years, this gap is starting to close as more collaboration is occurring between veteran firearms trainers and experienced defensive tactics instructors.
Who’s going to bear the burden of merging and coordinating all these specific skills and disciplines (firearms, defensive tactics, baton, electronic control, chemical agents, edged weapons, etc.) into a cohesive, practical, effective and court defensible force system? You, that’s who. Tomorrow’s police force trainer is going to have to be the proverbial “jack of all force trades.” And it can start today with the right planning.
First, the resource pool for your initial core group of use-of-force instructors is going to be your in-place training staff. Your firearms trainers and DT instructors should be state-certified police instructors. That way, they’re already well versed in Instructor Development Skills. There shouldn’t be a need to immediately break-in brand new people.
Next, you may have instructor-trainers in specific disciplines within your own department who can certify this anticipated use-of-force cadre in a specific skill. For example, you may have a DT instructor-trainer who can take a core group of firearms trainers and gradually (and without a lot of paid overtime) complete a 40-hour DT instructor’s class. The same goes for your baton, weapon retention, OC and taser instructors.
With a little creative scheduling, you can accomplish most of the cross-training over a relatively short period, three or four instructor/officers per session. By adding a day or two to your quarterly in-service training, when you already have your staff instructors in place, you can assign a firearms instructor-trainer to take a group of baton, DT, taser or OC instructors through an advanced firearms class. They can cover target analysis, flash-sight picture, shotgun spread pattern and night-fire techniques.
Then, a few weeks later, during your baton and impact weapon refresher, hold your firearms instructors over for a half-day and run them through a course of instruction in power development; green, yellow and red striking zones; and dominant and non-dominant side draws. The same concept will apply during your DT re-certification, where you take a few hours during your periodic in-service to cross-train your existing staff in the other specialized areas such as OC instructor training. Likewise, do the same with your taser and edged-weapons instructors.
Integrating Use-of-Force Training
1. Recruit your training staff for the initial group of use-of-force instructors.
2. Have instructors cross-train each other on their areas of expertise.
3. The cross-trained instructors can take an integrated approach to training officers so that conflicting techniques and tactics don’t arise.
Most mid-size departments (50–100 officers) should be able to complete this transitional-training within one calendar year. If you don’t have any instructor-trainers in your department, then you might have to do some research and find out if there are any within a reasonable distance to your agency.
Again, it may take some creative scheduling to get these staff instructors in place, but by extending your in-service two or three days at a time, you’d be surprised how quickly you can complete an 8-, 16-, 24- or even a 40-hour class.
Is it Really Necessary?
From what we see in the legal arena, yes. The legal risks from even a minor use-of-force incident nowadays are high. Remember: There are more than 1 million attorneys across the U.S. who are scrambling for a piece of the settlement pie. Police force instructors who are versed in all the particular aspects of force applications will be better able to guide and train officers in the most important aspect of force training: survival writing. Also, a properly prepared, comprehensive Use-of-Force or Subject Management Report filed by a properly trained officer can make or break a use-of-force complaint.
As a personal aside, I spend a fair amount of time testifying as an expert witness in use-of-force matters. I’ve seen quite a few of the pseudo “force experts” out there who try hard to muddy the waters when they’re called to testify for the plaintiff’s side. Legitimate force credentials that cover the entire spectrum of force (physical force, chemicals, edged weapons, restraint systems, electronics, impact weapons as well as firearms and weapon-retention skills) can—and often do—go a long way in persuading a jury (civil or criminal) that the involved officer wasn’t only properly trained, but applied the “tool” appropriately, reasonably, properly and justifiably.
Not only is it a legal benefit, but from a uniformity-in-training standpoint, having certified use-of-force instructors might serve to eliminate or prevent the problem of conflicting tactics or technique applications being taught for different force-type situations.
By cross-training all your training staff in the different force disciplines, weapon-retention concepts won’t conflict with recommended OC applications since all instructors will now have a working knowledge of the proper reactionary gap. Ground-fighting techniques won’t conflict with “roll-over prone” firearms tactics because all instructors will be working from the same sheet of music.
Dynamic use-of-force situations aren’t an exact science. With the exception of “shooting to stop” vs. “shooting to kill,” use-of-force applications shouldn’t be absolute. By properly cross-training police instructors so that all of them are teaching from the same lesson plan, you won’t have the “never fire your OC from the dominant side” or “always aim for the chin (nose or jaw) with your first distraction punch.” By creating and training use-of-force instructors who are certified and educated in each of the department’s authorized specific force disciplines or tools within that agency’s policy manual, force training will become much more uniform. Just as importantly, answers to questions won’t be conflicting, and officers will be better equipped to defend themselves on the street and in the courtroom.
Simulators Deliver Safe, Effective & Realistic Training
Increasingly, simulators are playing a key role in training. As technology has advanced, the ability to introduce multiple factors into the decision process has greatly improved. If your agency uses a simulator or if you’re considering a simulator, give a great deal of consideration to the role that the simulator can play in providing the “mortar” that holds the use-of-force bricks together. Make your expectations clear to prospective vendors in order to ensure you get what you need. Simulators can be both cost-effective and time-effective options that permit enhancing the overall training capability of organizations.
IES Interactive Training
Meggitt Training Systems
Cubic Simulations Systems