Much law enforcement "training" is merely classroom presentation or it is given in the form of a handout or (ironically) a videotape. Even training that is intended to be practical tends to be static instead of dynamic. For example, standing on the line on the pistol range and shooting at the target, reloading, then shooting more is mainly static training.
Dynamic training puts the participants into fast-breaking situations, featuring fire-and-movement and cover-and-concealment concepts that force participants to act out shoot/don't-shoot simulation scenarios and experience emergency decision making and psychological pressures likely to be encountered on the street. The advent of protective gear and marking round, laser, and paintball technology facilitates dynamic training that simulates realistic deadly force encounters. Apart from firearms training, dynamic body-contact training requires participants to resist, grapple, and fight each other in a manner that attempts to minimize injuries to provide experience and build individual confidence in more realistic ways than static training allows.
A study by Charles Remsberg revealed that the results of an agency providing dynamic training can be dramatic. One major East Coast police department switched from static to dynamic firearms training and experienced a 45 percent reduction in armed confrontations, a 56 percent decrease in officers wounded or killed, and a 51 percent decrease in offenders wounded or killed.
Training is not the only tool we must have in order to prevent or quickly win violent confrontations. We must have use-of-force policies that prevent officers from acting with unreasonable force but remain flexible enough that officers can react quickly to attacks.
For example, in some cities, flashlights have been banned as impact weapons. My agency, the Los Angeles Police Department, is currently going through the process of changing flashlight policy and equipment in the wake of a recent videotaped arrest incident. Back in 1991, my own research showed that flashlights are not often used as impact devices but when they are, the injuries tend to be more severe than with other tools, except firearms.
Still, that doesn't necessarily mean that an officer should never be allowed to defend himself or herself with a flashlight. There are numerous cases of flashlights being used as legitimate self-defense tools in fast-breaking situations where officers were under attack.
These are not easy issues to address, but address them we must. "Policy" is more than what comes out of some thick book. Policy includes choices of tactics, equipment, application, and training. Choices can be based on whim or fancy, or they can be based on objective research and findings.
All weapons and tactics have their limitations. Many police use-of-force situations are sudden close-contact situations that require immediate, instinctive response. Other situations begin as "stand-off" situations, with time for planning and maneuvering, but change to immediate-response situations if the suspect increases resistance, if officers approach the suspect without a plan, or if officers do not take appropriate, aggressive actions to control the suspect before the standoff situation deteriorates. Our mindsets must take all these possibilities into consideration.
Good choices of policy, training, equipment, tactics, supervision, and review processes usually won't make the videotape of a use-of-force incident look appealing to the public eye. But because they make for good public policy, they will make you and your agency more defendable when push comes to shove.
Your sergeant's advice to "always assume you are being videotaped" is good advice, these days more than ever. It's not just bystander video cameras that capture use-of-force incidents, it's also our "in-car" video cameras and nearby security video cameras. The chances that an incident will be captured on video are greater than ever.
You and your agency need to be ready for the aftermath of all use-of-force incidents. Your training and your agency's policy must show that you were acting reasonably and according to policy. This is your only defense. And still, you may end up being crucified in the media and the courts. Such is the nature of society and the dirty job we have chosen to do.
Greg Meyer is a member of the Police Advisory Board. He is a captain with the Los Angeles Police Department and an expert witness and consultant for police use-of-force issues. His views are his own.