Having conducted a variety of reality-based training, I’ve noticed some common problems that need to be addressed. I figure that if our 140-officer departmental training generates these concerns, they are likely to occur in other agencies as well. First of all, we must practice the procedures employed by our departments, because the same hurdles we encounter in a training event will be encountered on the street. We must be ready for them in the manner in which we handle our department requires.
During active shooter scenarios, I’ve witnessed officers hesitating to shoot at the subject beyond a distance of 25 yards. Since we use a variety of Simunition® products, our officers are familiar with the capabilities of the FX marking cartridge. When I asked students why they did not engage shooters at greater distances, the reply was the the FX round would not be effective or accurate at those distances. Maybe not, but their real ammunition would. We must encourage them to take the shot, even if the training rounds will not cover the distance – we are doing it for practice. Similarly, officers I the scenario were not shooting through barriers such as glass partitions, again, giving the same reason – that the FX won’t go through glass. Make sure your officers are taking these shots; they cannot afford to hesitate when the time comes. We must make sure we are training “as if it were real.” If we hesitate in training, we will hesitate in real life. Stress reverts the mind to an experience to resolve a crisis. Training is the only experience they will have in a critical incident.
Even though we must be read with our firearms, statistics reveal that law enforcement officers re able to resolve 97% of the incidents they encounter with verbal skills and professional presence. All scenarios don’t end in gun battles. Less lethal options and verbal skills must be practiced as well, and emphasized in training scenarios. Remember to practice scenarios that your officers are likely to encounter. Is your jurisdiction experiencing a rash of armed robberies, a series of drive-by shootings, or mainly teenagers “out and about” vandalizing the neighborhood? Each of these requires vastly different enforcement responses.
Training scenarios should always be run through to completion, including handcuffing the subject. Aside from our radios, handcuffs are the most used tool on our duty belt. It would only make sense to have training which reflects potential problems involving the use of this equipment. For example: How do you remove an unresponsive subject’s hands from under his body so that you can apply handcuffs? A slow approach by two officers (particularly with an armed suspect) and subsequent slow removal and cuffing of the pinned arms works well. Or, instead of straining to get one set of cuffs on a large individual, practice a two-handcuff technique. It’s often faster and less likely to injure shoulders or wrists. If problems are worked through in training, there is a less-likely chance of them occurring in a real-time incident.
Make sure your officers are conducting proper searches. You can accomplish this by running the training scenarios all the way through, ending with the search and cuffing the subject. During the search process, have the subject intentionally hide a weapon on his body and see if the officer finds it. Stress the importance of thoroughly searching the subject, instead of just patting them down surface-wise. A quick pat-down is ineffective because people deliberately hide weapons on their person. If the officer skips along the subject’s body, missing two- or three-inch sections of clothing at a time, he is putting himself at risk of a line-of-duty death. Make it mandatory that they do a thorough search, and if they are not sure, have them search again. For the sake of good training, have them load the subject into the patrol car and transport him to a mock station. Brief the person who is playing the subject. Let him know that he should try something at any time the officer seems to be getting lax.
Let’s really test our fellow officers, let’s train “as if it were for real.” As trainers, it is vital that we encourage serious participation to develop proper mindset. Scenario-based training is an effective training tool for law enforcement. When taken seriously and prepared intelligently, it builds mental preparation and gives officers solid experience from which to draw in real life events. It polishes the skills necessary in critical incidents and helps officers to avoid “freezing up” in deadly force encounters.
About the Author
Pete Assenmacher has been an officer of the Lower Merion Police, PA, since 1990. He currently serves as a department trainer with certifications in firearms, ASP baton, handcuffing, OC, and TASER. He is a member and lead-instructor for the department’s ERT and holds an MS in Public Safety Administration. Pete may be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org