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Preventing Training Tragedies: Hard Knocks

As academy and in-service defensive tactics training has become more authentic, it’s also become more dangerous.

January 01, 2003  |  by - Also by this author

Kill the Teacher

Police training is a very physical thing and people do get hurt. The trick, according to trainers, is to prevent injury when possible.

Ironically, the most bruised and bumped participants in DT training are often the instructors themselves. Bragg conducted a poll at a recent conference of the American Society for Law Enforcement Training (ASLET) and discovered that out of 400 respondees, 30 percent had been injured in a training session.

There are two major reasons why instructors take such a pounding in their classes: they believe they're invulnerable, especially when wearing an impact resistant suit (IRS) like those made by RedMan or FIST and/or they are working with beginning DT students whose reactions can be unpredictable.

Bragg says the IRS systems are great, but instructors need to be aware that they do not turn you into Superman. "Even in the suits, it's pretty darn difficult to protect the head. I could put a motorcycle helmet on you and even if I hit you repeatedly in the head with a padded forearm, you're going to get a concussion because your brain is getting whacked around in your skull."

As for beginning students with little or no training in defensive arts, they are the nightmare of all DT trainers. "I've been hurt more by beginners than in competitive knock-down drag-out things," explains Bragg. "You think something has stopped and you look away to explain the technique to the class and they'll swing while you're talking."

Controlling the Room

Whether they happen to students or themselves, trainers say that injuries in a DT program are ultimately the burden of the lead instructor. "You can delegate authority, but you can't delegate responsibility," Nowicki explains.

San Diego-based police trainer and retired cop Larry Smith adds, "Accidents in training have a lot to do with the instructor. The instructor has to create a safe atmosphere for the exercise, lay down the safety rules, and make sure that the students adhere to them."

For the instructors, preventing injury all comes down to controlling the room. Accordingly, a key concern for many DT instructors is the instructor-to-student ratio. "A lot of training accidents occur because there's not enough instructors to watch everybody and make sure that they are doing the technique correctly," Smith says.

Like a lot of law enforcement trainers, Nowicki has discovered that one of the best tools for controlling the room is a coach's whistle. "If you blow that whistle hard, it'll catch their attention. I let them know that if they hear it, they stop everything. It's much more effective than yelling, 'Stop!'"

Fit for Training

Another major issue for instructors is assessing fitness and overall health of the students before the exercise begins. Many police instructors can tell you horror stories of in-service and even academy programs in which students have died of heart attacks. Less tragic but still a big problem for instructors are students who come to class with existing injuries and don't tell the instructor.

"That's why we stress warm-ups in our training program for instructors," says Bragg. "The warm-up is a warm-up, but it's also a gross injury and function assessment. We train our instructors to look at the students and do some visual evaluation as they go through their warm-up exercises. Then if they see someone who can't do part of the warm-up, they go over and do more of an individual assessment."

Proper equipment is also a concern. Officers are often hurt in training sessions when gear is pushed beyond its limits. And Bragg is quick to add that using improvised equipment to save money is flat-out courting tragedy. "I know budgets are tight, and some agencies can't afford the right gear, but don't try to do realistic training without the right equipment because that will lead to disaster and a sure cessation of training," he says. "You can buy a lot of equipment for the money that you will lay out on one hurt officer."

DT Training Precautions

  • No weapons allowed in the training area unless required for the scenario and checked thoroughly.
  • No jewelry.
  • No horseplay.
  • Keep gear off the floor.
  • Know and recognize the release command (pat out, etc.).
  • Practice techniques slowly at first, then build speed.
  • Advise your instructor of any condition that may limit your participation.
  • Notify instructor of any injury that occurs during the training.


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