MISSING ELEMENTS IN TRAINING
During my professional development course for instructors Excellence in Training I often show a video clip from the Calibre Press movie ‘The Ultimate Survivors’. The clip I use is a re-creation of an event that took place in 1976 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana where two officers are confronted by a subject in the bedroom of a home. At the end of the ten minute violent confrontation one of the officers and the subject are dead. In discussions that follow the viewing of the video the majority of officers in the room are critical of what they perceive as a lack of action on the part of one officer (the officer who was killed). After much discussion, it becomes clear that what the viewers believe that officer, the cover officer, should have done was to close the distance and make a contact shot to the subject’s head while the subject was fighting with the contact officer over his gun. While this may be a sound tactic, and may have ended the fight the reality is that almost no agencies are now training, or have ever trained their officers to do this. In my informal surveys conducted with the hundreds of officers who have taken part in these discussions I have only had a couple that indicated their agency conducted this type of training for their officers as part of recruit training in the 1970’s. Only a handful indicate that their agency trained this in the 1980’s and 1990’s and few agencies include this as part of their recruit training in this decade. If we are not training officers how and when to use this tactic, it is unreasonable to expect that in the heat of battle, in a close and violent fight for their lives that they will miraculously come up with this plan on their own. Some may, many will not. It is therefore a training gap that needs to be addressed.
Another area that needs to be examined is that of an up close, violent encounters where the officer confronts an attacker who is committed to killing him or her. These encounters take many forms including edged weapons confrontations, officer hostage situations, and gunfights that occur in the confines of narrow hallways, small rooms and other close quarter environments. What’s Important Now for the officer who finds him or herself in this situation is to use overwhelming violence to defeat the attacker and win the confrontation.
This may mean:
- Violently attacking the subject’s eyes to permanently or temporarily take away the ability to see and therefore the subject’s willingness and ability to fight;
- Attacking the subject’s throat with a forearm, elbow or fisted strike to effect his or her ability to breathe – again influencing the willingness and ability to continue the attack;
- Striking the attacker in the head or neck with a baton, flashlight or radio;
- Accessing a folding knife which the officer carries as a general purpose utility or rescue tool and stabbing or cutting the attacker to end the confrontation;
- Placing the officer’s handgun within inches of the subject’s head, or torso and firing until the threat is stopped.
If we can accept that ferocity of action and overwhelming violence are What’s Important Now for the officer to win the confrontation and go home to his or her family, then we must ask ourselves are we preparing our officers mentally and physically to accomplish that. Too often the honest answer is NO. There are still too many programs where this critical element of training is missing from both in-service and academy use of force training. In many agencies the closest an officer ever gets to a target that he or she will shoot with a handgun is 7 feet, and head shots are only used on command or if it is a pre-determined course of fire (i.e. when the target turns you will fire two rounds to the body and one to the head.). In some agencies officers never practice striking a violent attacker in the throat or attacking their eyes. They are never told that it is OK to use weapons of opportunity such as a pen, knife, brick, radio, or a flashlight in these situations to strike a subject in the head, throat or spine. They are told never to hit a subject in the head, neck, or spine with a baton, rather than being told when they can hit a subject there. Because it is not part of training too many officers have never imagined being in a close and violent fight for their life. Therefore, there are no programs or files in the subconscious mind that the officer can fall back on in these situations and in too many cases the outcome for the officer is less desirable. This is a training gap and must be addressed.
Time and safety are common excuses that trainers come up with for not conducting this training. Both of these excuses are unacceptable. A drill can easily and safely be built into existing training time in control tactics, weapon retention, defeating edged weapons attacks, weapon disarming (officer hostage), and/or building clearing.
Safety in training must always be of paramount consideration. This issue however, is simple to address. Start slow and build on the principles and concepts during the training program. When training officers to make close in head or body shots the officers can safely train with peers acting as the subject by utilizing plastic training guns (make sure they go through the motions of pulling the trigger). The officers can then progress to using training dummies or photo realistic targets using weapons configured for non-lethal training ammunition (NLTA). From there the officers can proceed to carefully controlled and scripted live fire exercises where they engage targets at close distances. Striking dummies can also be used to teach attacks to the throat and eyes and create the opportunity for officers to strike these areas with power. By cutting out the eyes on the training dummies and replacing them with fake eyes the officers can get the feel of actually driving fingers into the eye sockets. If training with other officers they can train themselves to make light contact to the eyes and imagine driving the fingers into the eye sockets. Swim goggles can also be purchased to help protect people’s eyes during this training.
The key for instructors is to stop making excuses and start doing the training. Excuses get people hurt and killed, realistic training saves lives.
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