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Departments : The Winning Edge

Make Your Training Real

If your defensive tactics training doesn't reproduce the conditions you will face on the street, then you are training to fail.

August 07, 2017  |  by Dave Young - Also by this author

Training wearing full gear in the water will help officers prepare to swim with extra weight should they need to do so in the field. Photo by Dave Young.
Training wearing full gear in the water will help officers prepare to swim with extra weight should they need to do so in the field. Photo by Dave Young.
The purpose of law enforcement defensive tactics training is to develop your response, enhance your skills, and reinforce tactics to prepare you for the real world encounters you will face on the job. I like to say, "Training is supposed to prepare you for what is about to occur, not for what you hope doesn't occur."

The purpose of training is not to create a paper trail that confirms you are going through the motions, allowing you to feel good about yourself. That only creates false confidence and promotes bad tactics, which can get you killed.

A few years ago, I met Sgt. Marcus Young (no relation besides being a fellow brother of the profession), a retired police officer from Ukiah, CA, and heard the heroic story of his fight for life. He suffered multiple wounds in a 2003 gunfight. He was shot in the cheek and the round exited the back of his head just missing his spine by inches, and he was shot in the strong arm and that exploded his bicep. Rounds were also stopped by his vest. Under this vicious attack he managed to stay conscious while continuing to fight using his weak arm to ultimately shoot and kill the subject. When I heard Young's story, my mind wandered to the first police academy I attended in 1985, and I quickly compared it to the training we currently conduct today throughout the world.

I wondered why training has regressed in many police academies and in-service programs to the point where some officers are allowed to take the easy approach to their survival training. These officers are choosing "fire talks" over "fire drills." as my mentor Gary Klugiewicz from Vistelar often says. They are not experiencing the emotionally challenging or physically demanding training needed to perform on the street.

On many agencies physical fitness is being measured by doing push-ups, sit-ups, and running a few miles in shorts and running shoes. That's fine for general physical conditioning, but it's not what these officers will face on the job. Out on the street they will be running to catch someone or running for their lives in complete duty gear. Make your training make sense and train the way you are going to have to fight.

To maintain proficiency you must regularly practice all skills, individually and as a team. Photo by Dave Young.
To maintain proficiency you must regularly practice all skills, individually and as a team. Photo by Dave Young.
Ask yourself this: If you went home tonight and there was an envelope on your pillow, with an invitation to a physical encounter with a suspect and it told you this person was bigger than you, well trained, and/or carries weapons, would you change your current training and lifestyle now? Of course, you would; we all would. So what are you waiting for? Those suspects are out there. And you have a job in which your life and the lives of your partners depend on our performance.

Society as a whole places certain expectations on us as professionals for their own safety, and we as professionals should demand nothing less for our own. Which means we have to stay fit. I have observed officers going through 30- to 60-second survival drills and some have had to be carried off the mat.

The quality of training offered to you and your responsibility to be proficient in it must be improved. There should be yearly mandatory qualifications for the words you use, your empty hands arrest-and-control tactics, your firearm and non-lethal weapons skills, and physical fitness.

Without a doubt, it is a horrific tragedy when an officer loses his or her life and we can always do a "lessons learned" mainly because we as a society need to point a finger and blame for the outcome. However, I have found that there are four different entities to take responsibility for this horrific outcome.

Who is at Fault

"Murphy's Law" — No matter how well you prepare, things can go wrong. Fortunately, I have found that Murphy's Law can be reduced in some situations when there is proper planning and preparation from the agency and the officer.

The Agency — Training officers they employ in the environments they assign them to work in is a responsibility some agencies take more seriously than others. I understand budget and manpower issues can place certain restraints on training. But the life of each officer is priceless.

Society — 25 years ago in our country we had a defined respect for police authority. We had support mechanisms at home, children were disciplined by their parents, the family unit as a whole was a more solid foundation than it is today, and religious and moral beliefs were much stronger. Today, the American people want police protection without supporting the tools and tactics that are necessary for their own safety and their own protection.

The Officer — Ultimately the responsibility for staying in survival shape belongs to you, the officer. After all, it is your life that is on the line. Setting aside a few hours per week to maintain the skill levels needed to stay alive should be of utmost importance to you. Please do not look at training as a waste of time or budgetary restraint, but as an insurance policy, for which your deductible is zero.

Pushing Your Limits

The more realistic your training scenarios are, the better. Just be sure to wear the right training gear. Photo by Dave Young.
The more realistic your training scenarios are, the better. Just be sure to wear the right training gear. Photo by Dave Young.
How do you prepare yourself to go up against an unknown opponent, at an unknown time and place? We all know the answer but many of us are not willing to do what it takes. The answer is we have to push past our own limits. If we never push ourselves past our own limits, our skills and/or endurance will not improve. Another reason we have to be able to push past our limits in training and leave it all on the mat is that some suspects in a confrontation will fight as their own lives depend on it and expend all their energy and strength. That's why our training should require us to work hard, not just coast. If we are not working hard in our training, then we really cannot say that we are prepared to survive a real-life threatening encounter.

Here are a few examples of how to turn your training up to street level intensity.

Use the Right Training Gear — The purpose of protective equipment like RedMan Training Gear and similar products is to allow you to train with real knockdown power without anyone getting hurt. If you are using gear that does not allow you to hit with real stopping power then you are doing one of three things:

  1. Instilling poor response habits
  2. Reinforcing unrealistic response habits
  3. Instilling a false confidence for survival

Striking Shields — The correct use of a striking shield lets you use real knockdown power without officers getting hurt. If you are using striking shields incorrectly or not using ones that allow you to conduct training at a level where you are unleashing real stopping power, then you are doing one of three things:

  1. Instilling poor response habits
  2. Reinforcing unrealistic response habits
  3. Instilling false confidence for survival

Training Projectiles — The purpose of training projectiles is to allow you to respond correctly in force-on-force scenarios without hurting anyone (when proper protective gear is used correctly and no live weapons are allowed in the training area). If you are not using training projectiles or only using non-firing plastic or metal replicas to conduct force-on-force training, then you could be doing more harm than good by:

  1. Instilling poor response habits
  2. Reinforcing unrealistic response habits
  3. Instilling false confidence for survival

Training Batons — The purpose of using training batons is to allow you to safely practice using a baton for blocking, striking, restraining, and performing weapon transitions. If you are not using training batons and only using real duty batons to hit a striking shield to conduct your force-on-force training, then you could be:

  1. Instilling poor response habits
  2. Reinforcing unrealistic response habits
  3. Instilling false confidence for survival

Train in Duty Gear — The purpose for wearing your assigned duty gear in training, including ballistic vest, shirt, and pants that simulate the type of clothing you will be wearing on the job, and functional training firearm (such as Simunition or airsoft) during training is to allow you to experience what it will be like to fight against a suspect in real life.

It's especially important that agencies be aware of this. If you are not having your officers wear their complete assigned duty gear during training, then you are doing one or all of these things:

  1. Instilling poor response habits
  2. Reinforcing unrealistic response habits
  3. Instilling false confidence for survival

If you work in the snow, you need to train in the snow...and all other types of weather you might encounter while on the job. Photo by Dave Young.
If you work in the snow, you need to train in the snow...and all other types of weather you might encounter while on the job. Photo by Dave Young.
These five examples of poor training practices are drawn from what I have seen in so-called "realistic training" over the last 20 years of teaching both in the United States and internationally. When you hear the words "realistic training," you get the picture in your mind that it will simulate real life encounters. So it's critical that the training live up to that billing and match the circumstances officers will face on the job.

Training is an investment in time and financial resources. So it's important that there be a return on those investments. Yes, there is a cost to doing realistic training, but training wrong can cost you your life.

Dave Young is the founder and director of Arma Training, responsible yearly for training thousands of police, corrections, and military instructors around the world on surviving force-on-force attacks. He is also the co-founder of Vistelar. Young graduated from his first law enforcement academy in 1985, has over 30 years of combined civilian and military law enforcement experience and training. He is a long-serving member of the POLICE Advisory Board.


Comments (1)

Displaying 1 - 1 of 1

Mark Aronoff @ 8/18/2017 8:30 PM

If my memory is working, Officer Marcus Young had (young, Police Explorer?)ridealong who radioed the situation and switchef weapon into Young's functioning left hand mid-shootout,

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