First, do no harm. What is implicit in this simple precept of medicine? An awesome power. The power to do harm. Who gives you this power? The patient. The patient will come to you at his moment of greatest dread, hand you a knife and say doctor, cut me open. Why? Because he trusts you. He trusts you the way a child trusts. He trusts you to do no harm. Sad fact is, human beings are not worthy of trust. It is human nature to lie, take short cuts, to lose your nerve, get tired, to make mistakes. No rational patient would put his trust in a human being, and we re not gonna let him. It is our mission here to rigorously and ruthlessly train the humanity out of you and make you into something better. We re gonna make doctors out of you.
The dean of medicine uttered the above words on Patch Adams first day in medical school. It takes between seven and eight years to become a doctor, and then you have to intern and build a practice. The last time I went to a doctor, I was in and out in about 5 minutes. If there was something wrong, I was sent somewhere else for tests. My doctor didn t analyze the results of the test; he simply reported them to me. Some other specialist analyzed the results and interpreted them.
If the doctor prescribed any medicine, it wasn t so much his idea as it was the idea of the pharmaceutical rep, who had visited my doctor and told him, If someone comes in with these test results, give him some of those pills. So, after 8 years of medical training, my doctor was no more than a filter for the testing companies and the pharmaceutical companies.
How many years does it take to become a reality-based trainer? Uhhhh, six, plus four, minus the ten, carry the one none. Most people pick up the phone, call up some company that will sell them some marking cartridges and voila, you is one. Your students come to you prior to their moment of greatest dread, hand you a pistol and say trainer, point this at me and pull the trigger. Why? Because they trust you. They trust you the way a child trusts. They trust you to do no harm.
Are you starting to get the picture? It takes eight years before society grants you the privilege of adding MD to your name versus zero years to add Reality Based Trainer to your resume .
Much of what is going on inside the training community today is well intentioned but has some dire consequences. And I m not just discussing the heinous acts of actually shooting people in training with real bullets. (By the way, that happened on at least eight occasions last year). I m talking about conditioning people for failure during critical encounters when the intention was to prepare them for success.
Handicapped by the Past
Law enforcement has a broken training model. Much of the training is based on outdated training methods. Look at any firearms trophy in your vanity cabinet and look at the guy standing on top of the trophy. He s a guy with a wide stance, crouched down, holding a revolver with one hand, while the other hand is either behind his back or on his back hip.
For those of you unfamiliar with firearms history, this isn t actually a stance. It s a sitting position on top of a horse. One hand is behind his back because it would be holding the reins to stabilize the horse while the other hand discharged the firearm. As a result of the Applegate-Fairbairn studies, the crouch was adopted as the ostensible position people would assume during a spontaneous life-threatening encounter. It s the same stance the FBI used to teach 50 years ago to those on the firing line, and many agencies still use it.
Agencies are often handicapped by the past. Rather than adopting the most advanced philosophies when it comes to training for dangerous and dynamic encounters, the firearms instructor in the agency got trained by a guy who got trained by a guy who got trained by a guy and so on. The ancient wisdom is passed along as tradition unhampered by progress.
Add to this the fact that the training position is often a rotation rather than a career. Trainers are just figuring out which button they have to press on the remote to make the PowerPoint machine put up the right slide, and whoosh, off to the bike unit as part of their career advancement.
There s very little time or incentive to learn all the latest and proven training methodologies or science behind certain myths. Even if an instructor does manage to learn some of the latest information, they aren t usually around the training division long enough to change the system.
An organization will resist any new idea. That s the nature of organizations. In order for real change to occur, the agent for change must be around long enough to outlive the resistance. What we re seeing today in the street is the result of training systems that aren t keeping up with the advances bad guys are making in their training.
The recent publication by the FBI on officers killed in the line of duty suggests that criminals who have engaged in gunfights with the police have trained significantly more often with firearms than the officers close to 10 times more often. That s just one example of where we re falling behind.
The majority of training that officers do receive is structured towards winning physical encounters. Very little (if any) training is focused on the other survivals I spoke of in my recent article The Seven Survivals (December 2007, pg. 48). As such, officers might win the battle, but ultimately lose the war.
Reality based training (RBT) is a science and an art form you could study and refine for a lifetime, let alone a career. The downstream effects of trainers who don t take the time to study the necessary methods for the most effective training possible place people in harm s way, often unnecessarily. Society doesn t receive the best protection possible, and officers don t receive the necessary training to provide that optimal protection. It s a lose-lose situation.
Agencies must start looking toward revamping the training function to a career instead of a rotation, and trainers must start taking the long view and study the up-to-date science of RBT if they plan to employ it. Picking up the phone and ordering RBT hardware is woefully inadequate if you aren t picking up the books and the classes in order to install the correct RBT software and operating systems.
Officer safety, and the safety of the society you re sworn to protect and serve, doesn t come in a box. It s hard-won over time and through experience. But in the end, nothing less will do.
Until next time, train hard and train safe.