Following the post ‘Enough’ I received an e-mail from a dedicated trainer who described an element of training in their academy and wanted to know my thoughts. What he describes is pretty common in a number of academies in North America. I thought I would share the description of the ‘stress drill’ and my response.
“The culmination of the Subject Control program is to put the recruits through “Stress Drill” training scenarios. I’m certain you are familiar with the format: Cadets are “padded” up for protective purposes, ordered to run a while to produce exercise induced stress to the body and then have them enter the training area where they are subjected to loud music, strobe lights, and their heads are then covered by a black hood. They are then spun around a couple times to induce an unbalanced equilibrium. The hood is taken off and they are then subjected to an immediate scenario where they must react to survive and win the scenario as well as stipulate what they did was reasonable given the totality of the circumstances.”
“The recruits usually experience four to five stress drill scenarios and in between each scenario they are ordered to perform push-ups and jumping jacks to maintain or increase their heart rate to simulate real life physiological and psychological stressors. The recruits are then evaluated and documentation is completed.”
Here is my response:
Thank you for your e-mail. I appreciate you seeking my thoughts and ideas.
The first thing I would do is change the name of the drill. The name of the drill implies that the objective is to create stress in the officers. I suspect the objective of the drill is to allow officers to be successful in defeating a variety of threats. In reality the hood drill is an exercise in defeating spontaneous attacks.
A number of academies use the hood drill or some variation of it. I do not have an issue with the hood drill itself. The purpose of the hood should be to instil confidence in officers in defeating spontaneous threats, which should translate into confidence in defeating non spontaneous threats. The purpose of the drill should not be to create stress. The spontaneous nature of the attacks allows the officers to respond from a subconscious level. The hood takes away their ability to see what the threat will be and so they simply have to respond to whatever they are confronted with. I believe this type of training should be incorporated throughout the academy to build confidence in their ability to respond quickly and effectively with limited information. The trainers must understand however, that the response will not always replicate the techniques the officers were taught. If the real goal is to let them win, then technique is not an issue. These drills should be followed by ones where the officer is able to perceive the threat cues as the situation escalates and respond to these threat cues to win the situation.
I would remove the padding from the officers. I am not a fan of padding officer, only the subjects. The officers do not have the benefit of padding in the filed and can become reliant on it. They can wear they duty belts and armor like they would in the field.
It is interesting to have the recruits articulate the reasonableness of their actions based on the totality of circumstances when the hood drill removes most of the totality of circumstances. The problem I see is if the articulation starts with the moment they are presented with the threat. That is not totality of circumstances. That is a snapshot of information. This can translate into a problem with officers articulation in the field as they want to start their articulation at the moment of the attack rather than describe nature of the call, intelligence, observations, subject behaviours, environmental factors, etc that make up the totality of circumstances.
The physical exertion prior to the scenarios and between the scenarios realistically replicates the physiological response to physical exertion. Stress from a threat will result in increases in heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration rate. Auditory exclusion, visual narrowing and other ‘perceptual distortions’ only come with stress resulting from an actual threat. I think it is good to have them do some physical activity to replicate a foot chase prior to a fight on one of the scenarios. Spinning them to disorient can simulate they have been struck already and this can be good. My question is why is the level of physical exertion sustained between all the scenarios? This often results in exhaustion and the potential for decreased performance which may effect confidence.
What are they evaluated on? Is it their ability to defeat spontaneous attacks? I keep stressing that this is a spontaneous attack drill as the officer is not presented with a scenario involving escalating behavior on the part of the subject.
I believe officers need to be in a series of escalating violent encounters through out training. They need to have success in defeating threats and a variety of attack scenarios at each level. These need to start early so the officer can fight early and fight often. As often as possible they need to be involved in contextual based training.