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Training recruits the ‘tactical M&Ms’

FTOs play an important role in the development of young officers, such as in the instruction of maximizing advantage, minimizing exposure, and maintaining the ability to maneuver

In 2005, the San Jose (Calif.) Police Department transitioned from a complex Aikido-based Arrest and Control program to a simple Defense and Arrest Tactics system grounded in functional tactics, concepts, and principles. The old method failed to teach self-defense or combative skills other than with the baton, while the new system borrowed extensively from other contemporary police DT systems, and incorporated the science of motor-skill learning to the instructional process. Local academies in the South Bay area soon followed suit and adopted the new program.

As the developer and lead instructor of the new system, I was often asked by Field Training Officers (FTO) how they could evaluate a recruit schooled in a program different from that in which they were trained. Some used their “lack of knowledge” of the new system as an excuse to avoid rating the recruit in this competency. Some had an allegiance to the old system and therefore declined to attend any training offered by me and my co-instructors on the new program. Most, however welcomed the change and solicited suggestions as to how they could evaluate a recruit in the field when he or she employed, for instance a handcuffing process different from what they were taught.

The first and most obvious answer to the problem of technique unfamiliarity is for the FTO to get together with the department’s DT instructor and learn the new system. While this may sound burdensome, FTOs are (or should be) experienced officers with skills of their own, and if the new system is based upon simple skills the FTO should have little difficulty picking up on the different techniques. Remember, a wrist-lock is a wrist-lock, an interview stance is an interview stance, and as far as a baton strike goes... well, there are only so many ways to swing a stick.

Evaluating What You Don’t Know
For those FTOs who, like many departments these days are seeing more lateral officers who have been trained in a system taught by another agency, the problem may be more pronounced. However, before you throw up your hands, talk to your agency’s DT instructor. It is very likely that he or she has stayed on top of the trends in subject control and may be familiar with the skills taught by the other system. If this is not the case, do not despair.

First, take time to get on the mat with your new trainee and learn what he has in his repertoire. I strongly suggest that the FTO approach this with an open mind and a willingness to learn rather than adopting the attitude of, “Let me show you what I know because this is what we do here.” You may actually learn something new that you like more- and in which you wish to take the time to become proficient. And, this trainee is likely set in his pattern of action — trying to get him to unlearn something in which he is already proficient can lead to performance errors at critical times.

Next, do your job as an FTO and pay close attention to field performance. Especially attend to those aspects of subject contact and control that lead to officer injury and death. Specific technique rarely impacts the degree of risk that an officer faces during an arrest situation. More often, officers are attacked and injured because they failed to pick up on the cues presented by the suspect, or they placed themselves in a vulnerable position without adequate time to react.

Instead of criticizing and getting into a “my kung fu is better than your kung fu” conflict over how a trainee applied handcuffs to a subject, evaluate his avenue of approach and his position of advantage (although those of you who know me know that I don’t believe there is such a thing as a “position of advantage” — there is only a position of “less disadvantage” to you and “less advantage” for the suspect, but that is a topic for another time). Does the trainee make appropriate use of “cover” in all its applications (noun- using barriers that protects against threats; verb- reasonably pointing a weapon at identified threats; adjective- efficiently and effectively acting as backup for fellow officers)? Does he control his distance from the threat and successfully position a subject and his cohorts as the environment dictates?

Teaching the “Tactical M&Ms”
Is the trainee following the “tactical M&Ms,” — Maximizing advantage, minimizing exposure, and maintaining the ability to maneuver — while initiating field contacts and responding to calls for service? Is he aware of noise and light discipline while making covert approaches or conducting building searches. Some may ask what these tactics have to do with subject control training. Remember, everything you do (perceive-sense-respond), has everything to do (human factors: reaction time, stress, decision making, memory, etc.), with all that you do (tasks that we perform). It is all about training the mind how to recognize common patterns (schemas) and developing consistent solutions to the problems presented across distinct scenarios.

Does your trainee maintain emotional control and demonstrate “command presence” so that he presents himself as a formidable opponent to the suspect who is evaluating whether or not to “give it a go?” Remember, FBI research has identified and interviewed felons who killed one law enforcement officer only after having passed on an attempt with another officer because that officer presented a “tough target” demeanor. When going “hands on” with an individual, does the trainee first scan for threats (hands, waistband, pockets, head-to-toe, surrounding areas) when time allows? Does he make an effort to control both of the subject’s hands? Does he handcuff early when it is reasonable to do so? And, does he conduct a complete and thorough search?

Do you insist on an answer to the following questions?

Do you search first or handcuff first?
Do the hands go behind the head or behind the back?
Do you cuff the controlled hand or the uncontrolled hand first or do you do a “dual-hand grip” handcuff application?

For those of you who do insist on an answer to those questions, my answer is an emphatic “yes.” I am not trying to be flippant. I am simply acknowledging that many times the situation will dictate your tactics. I never say “never,” and I never say “always.”

If, however you find yourself in the rare situation where the tactics and techniques that you observe your trainee employ are such an obvious violation of sound common sense practices, then you are probably honor-bound to take corrective action and provide re-training before someone gets injured. Before you do however, notify your chain of command and get “buy-in.” If you are not personally a certified DT instructor, then it is probably best to solicit the assistance from someone who is. This is not to say that you cannot teach physical skills, it is simply best left to those who have documented lesson plans for this topic.

FTO sergeants play an important role in the development and evaluation of the department’s new trainees. First, he has usually been around the block a few more times than the FTO and therefore knows that no one can “control a gorilla on PCP with a wrist lock,” and thus may be less dogmatic about specific techniques. Second, he knows the strengths and weaknesses of various FTOs and can match the trainee up with the best trainer based on the needs of the recruit. Finally, if retraining becomes necessary the sergeant should have the ability to expedite the needed training with a quick phone call due to previously established relationships with department trainers.

Steve “Pappy” Papenfuhs is the CEO of Battalion Defense which distributes premier armor, armor carriers, ballistic helmets and shields, and other tactical kit. Pappy retired as a sergeant after serving 29 years with the San Jose, California Police Department. During his career he worked Patrol, Field Training (FTO), Street Crimes, SWAT, Auto Theft, Sexual Assaults, Narcotics, Family Violence, and supervised the department’s in-service Training Division. He holds a Force Analysis certification from the Force Science Research Center, and is a certified instructor with the California Commission on Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) in several disciplines including: Firearms, Defensive Tactics, Baton, Force Options, and Emergency Vehicle Operations (EVOC). In addition to running Battalion Defense and teaching both academy recruits and in-service officers, Pappy provides expert witness consultation in police practices, use of force, and training issues.

Contact Steve Papenfuhs.