Analyze Your Training Curriculum

Trainers who are not adjusting their programs to meet the actual needs of their officers are making a big mistake that could lead to bad outcomes.

Defensive tactics curriculum should be based on job description, performance tasks, real use-of-force incidents, identified trends, and the time available. Photo: KEVIN DILLONDefensive tactics curriculum should be based on job description, performance tasks, real use-of-force incidents, identified trends, and the time available. Photo: KEVIN DILLON

I have been traveling throughout the United States for the past 10 years teaching law enforcement use of force, defensive tactics (DT), and communications. One issue that I have discovered that is problematic yet consistent amongst numerous agencies is that there is no continuity pertaining to curriculum selection when it comes to defensive tactics training.

Officers from one department in California recently told me their agency had to drop a self-defense system that it was using. "Why? Too much face punching?" I asked. A look of surprise came over their faces. "How did you know?" We discussed the weaknesses in their DT curriculum selection. The system was primarily focused on "officer survival" training, which is not the same as arrest-and-control training.

After conducting multiple interviews and curriculum reviews at law enforcement agencies, I have found the following commonalities in defensive tactics programs that I believe need action.

• Most DT instructors I interviewed teach what they think should be taught without collecting or analyzing any data pertaining to street use-of-force deployments. How can you train for what is needed if you don't study what your officers are doing out in the real world and determine if it is
• Many instructors teach one system or another because they believe it's what should be taught, but again, they take no steps to measure what the officers actually use and or do on the street. If you go to one agency and they're all learning jiu-jitsu, it's because the head instructor is a jiu-jitsu practitioner; at another they are learning wrestling moves because the head DT instructor is a wrestler. You see the problem.

Historian Daniel Boorstin wrote: "The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge." When it comes to law enforcement training, this means not making assumptions based on what works in the class, but putting it in the context of how it is used for police work. The face punching problems the agency referenced earlier in this article experienced were a result of how its officers were training. Making assumptions that techniques suitable for competition fighting and martial arts dojos are appropriate for law enforcement officers on the street can lead to bad outcomes for officers, subjects, and agencies. For example, I know of a recent incident where an officer employed a wrestling maneuver designed for sport in a street situation and shattered the subject's face on the cement for a minor offense. That technique was designed for use on a mat in a competition, not by an officer on the street.

Arrest and Control
If you analyze use of force by officers you will likely learn that 90% to 95% of force usage occurs during arrest-and-control situations. In contrast, a review of many law enforcement training programs reveals that 90% to 95% of the physical training provided to these officers is officer survival or countermeasure based, which does not match. 

DT curriculum should be based on job description, performance tasks, real use-of-force incidents, identified trends, and the time available. It's great if an agency has the luxury of lots of training time that can be used to teach officers how to respond to uncommon situations. However, most officers receive less than eight hours of DT training per year, so it's important to dedicate that valuable time to the situations officers are most likely to face on the job.

There are three basic categories of defensive tactics that should be the focus of officer training.

1. Arrest-and-Control Techniques. These include taking a standing or grounded resisting subject into a control position and getting him or her into handcuffs. Officers should receive training in arrest and control techniques that can be used both solo and with teams.
2. Countermeasures. A countermeasure is a response to an attack by an
3. Officer Survival Techniques. These are responses to an attack, ranging in intensity up to deadly force. Techniques include ground maneuvers, face punching, integrated firearms combat, and the use of weapons of opportunity.

Take a look at your current program. Does it have this content? How much time is dedicated to these elements? Does the amount of time you dedicate to these elements meet the real needs of your officers on the street? If it doesn't, then you may be training your officers to use the wrong techniques given the situations they face.

It's important to dedicate officers' limited time for DT training to the situations officers are most likely to face on the job. Photo: KEVIN DILLONIt's important to dedicate officers' limited time for DT training to the situations officers are most likely to face on the job. Photo: KEVIN DILLON

Reasonable Usage
Legally, the determination of whether a use of force is justified or excessive is based on what a reasonable officer would do given the same totality of circumstances. Different levels of force application by an officer are reasonable based on the totality of circumstances. Since the reasonableness for a countermeasure is different than the reasonableness for an officer to use the same technique arresting and controlling a subject, officers need to know how to execute arrest-and-control techniques and defensive tactics techniques based on need. Using "officer survival" moves such as punching, kneeing, and elbow techniques against a subject when in an arrest-and-control encounter could be considered extreme or excessive but the same response when facing a deadly force threat could be reasonable.

Many DT instructors are using the majority of their officers' training time to teach countermeasures and officer survival when 95% of the use-of-force situations faced by these officers involve arrest and control. I understand that we can't fully train for the 95%, but to focus your training on 95% of what you don't do is incongruent.

In court today, your officers won't just be asked "What were you trained to do?" They will be asked "What did you learn to do out on the streets?" One of my L.O.C.K.U.P. takedowns was actually demonstrated in court in front of the jury to show what the officer learned and if they were effectively doing it. It's not just about training officers in combat skills, it's how defensible are the maneuvers that you are teaching. A 2014 federal investigation in officer use of force at Rikers Island in New York City found an extremely high amount of face punching. Don't you think the agency should have discovered that before the federal investigation? Adjustments in training and office behavior can be made by discovering them through use-of-force review and analysis by a trained team.

One problem I have identified in many agencies is that use-of-force reports are not being directed back to the training department so that instructors can measure the outcomes of the training they are providing. Not knowing the effectiveness of your training and how it is being used in the real world can lead to some uncomfortable moments between you and plaintiff attorneys. Can you imagine this exchange between yourself and an attorney during a deposition?

Attorney: Officer, according to our files you have been teaching this material for the past five years. Could you tell us the average rate of success of the deployment of the technique in question?
Officer: We don't collect that data. The use-of-force reports are not sent to the training unit.
Attorney: OK, officer, could you tell me what the survey said when you surveyed the officers you have trained to determine the effectiveness of the training?
Officer: Oh, we don't do that either.
Attorney: So what you're telling us is that you have been teaching this for five years to your officers and have not taken one step to analyze any proficiency in your training, and that's what you call professional and transparent.

Analyze and Adjust
The key to success is breaking down and analyzing your training and measuring the training in post training events in the real world by use-of-force analysis. Instructors at one agency I interviewed said they have been teaching the same "countermeasure" system for more than five years and have not one documented deployment of the technique. That should have told them they were teaching the wrong techniques. But they repeated the training over and over again. That's what happens when you don't collect data on what your officers are using on the street or if you collect it and don't analyze it.

I believe we should develop training curriculum to fit the needs of the officer. For example, a program could include 25% officer survival/countermeasure and 75% of what they are actually doing. If you learn through analysis that 48% of the incidents in your jurisdiction involved multiple officers, don't you think it should be addressed in training?

If officers are more proficient in arrest and control, it reduces the need for countermeasures and officer survival. How many use-of-force incidents have you observed and/or analyzed that became a deadly force encounter because the officer had no skills in effective arrest and control? I have seen hundreds of them.

Analyze your agency's use-of-force data and develop measures of effectiveness to determine if what you are teaching works. If your agency doesn't have enough use-of-force reports for effective analysis, then expand your research to surrounding agencies. Break down the categories so officers understand what techniques to use and when and why they use particular techniques. Be sure to follow up training with review of the materials learned.

Kevin Dillon is a law enforcement speaker and trainer who has trained officers and consulted in law enforcement use-of-force issues and/or programs throughout North America and Europe. He is a 25-year law enforcement veteran who served in multiple capacities. Lieutenant Dillon is also founder and principal of KFD Training & Consultation LLC ( and developed and teaches the trademarked L.O.C.K.U.P. arrest-and-control system.

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