Recently, during one of my 5 Day Reality-Based Training Instructor schools, I completed teaching the classroom portion and directed the students to write some scenarios we would subsequently run during the training's practical phase. One of the more enthusiastic members of the group approached me before his group compiled their list of equipment they would need for their scenario. He asked, "Do you have an MP5 and a couple of grenades?" I stared at him, incredulous, wondering what part of "When it comes to constructing scenarios, keep it simple" he was fuzzy on.
I can almost hear the whirring sound out there in Readerville among those rushing to defend this fellow: "We live in a world where people have this sort of stuff. What's wrong with a scenario with a bad guy who has grenades and a machine gun?" Simple answer: absolutely nothing if you have a squared-away role player and even a semblance of a tactical policy to deal with a bad guy like this. If so, the scenario should end very quickly. Example:
"Dispatch, I have a male subject armed with grenades and automatic weapons. Request backup, a supervisor and SWAT."
If this is not how it goes, training staff should ask responding officers why they are attempting to take on a guy like this alone. If training staff allows the shoot-'em-up that often follows such a setup, you have usually left the realm of training and entered the recreational paintball arena.
Reality-based training often becomes an arcade-like experience for many reasons, typically uneducated training staff or bored training staff. Complicated situations and worst-case scenarios are the lazy man's way through a simulation training program. Something will happen, it will be spectacular and training staff can sit back and watch the fun prior to orating on just how poorly the outgunned officer responded. Big deal. In the rock-paper-scissors world of weaponry, the scissors of military weapons in the hands of bad guys cuts the paper of police weapons, up to the point the rock of SWAT arrives.
Start Simple. Repeat.
If you want all your scenarios to wind up as officer annihilations or SWAT callouts, give in to the urge to make them spectacular. Problem is, in the real world, officers aren't getting creamed by the spectacular they're getting creamed by the unspectacular. A simple domestic that turns into a shooting. A benign vehicle stop that goes bad. An EDP that deteriorates from humorously bizarre behavior to murderous rage.
The difficulty for most trainers tasked with a simulation program is to make things simple. But I guarantee that for the first three years or so of a simulation program you can create outrageously simple scenarios and still observe officers doing the most tactically unsound things imaginable.
Try this: Start with a basic domestic disturbance call. Instruct one of the role players (husband, wife, brother, lover, friend, whatever) to comply completely, to the point they provide a bit of background information to the responding officer and subsequently depart the scene. Then instruct the non-compliant party to simply tell the officer they refuse to cooperate and pull a knife. Not quickly. Not stealthily. Just slowly pull out a knife and move toward the officer. If yours is like most agencies across the country, running 10 officers through this scenario will generate at least a half-dozen different responses, most of them tactically unsound or outside departmental policy.
At the scenario's conclusion, debrief thoroughly. Many of the officers won't remember exactly what they did; many will be unable to justify simply and clearly why they did it.
This is ground zero. Ladies and gentlemen, we are failing at the basics.
Advanced Comes Later
Years ago when I was teaching at a national tactical training conference, at the conclusion we gathered up and read the student reviews/evaluations. Sixty percent of the evaluations stated the participants wanted more advanced shooting techniques. Sixty percent can't be wrong, we thought, so the following year the shooting was much more high-speed. Guess what. Eighty percent couldn't hit the targets under stress, at close range. Hmmm.
Advanced skills, for the most part, are nothing more than the basics performed more smoothly or put together in elegant, coordinated combinations. If you don't perform the basics, you can't do advanced stuff. When it comes to shooting quickly and accurately, most people are either fast or they are accurate, but not both (unless you've done a lot of work).
Someone once told me that in a speed/accuracy shooting competition you can't miss fast enough to catch up. So it goes with failures at any level of tactical ability. If participants don't possess the skill set to solve the problem, complicating the problem to make training more interesting won't improve the participants' tactical abilities. On the contrary, it will ingrain the experience of failure under stressful conditions and, similar to creating a phobia, may program a person for future failure.
Build on Success
I've seen too many simulation programs take the lazy way out and substitute action for substance, often culminating in officer failure. While this might entertain training staff, the ultimate goal of training is not to entertain but develop a skill set in students and a survival psychology that will ensure they win dangerous encounters. It kills me to quote a French guy, but as novelist Alexandre Dumas once said, nothing succeeds like success. A building-block approach of success-oriented training gives students experience more effectively than any other training program known at this time.
To accomplish this noble goal, the training staff must do the heavy lifting. Learn the basic concepts of an effective simulation program before you start one. Start a basic simulation program that incorporates basic skill development within a simulation environment. Drill the basics. Practice success. Then add complexities. Then add transitions. Then add more complex story lines. In short, build on success.
You must teach officers how to win. When it comes to developing an effective simulation training program, let's get back to basics.
Until next time, train hard and train safe.