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P1 First Person: Contextual training concepts

Editor’s Note: This week’s PoliceOne First Person essay is from PoliceOne Member Scott Barlow, who now serves as the Deputy Director or the Hampton Roads Criminal Justice Training Academy. In PoliceOne “First Person” essays, our Members and Columnists candidly share their own unique view of the world. This is a platform from which individual officers can share their own personal insights on issues confronting cops today, as well as opinions, observations, and advice on living life behind the thin blue line. If you want to share your own perspective with other P1 Members, simply send us an email with your story.

By Scott Barlow
Deputy Director
Hampton Roads Criminal Justice Training Academy

Use of force training for many years has been recognized as an essential component of police curriculums. There are very few topics that have become more politicized and controversial in modern day policing. During my many years as a trainer, and supervisor of trainers I have become concerned that the training community has not evolved to meet modern day needs. This concern is twofold.

Police training, in particular physical skills training, has spent vast amounts of time and resources on specific technique as opposed to “contextual training.” Training in “context”, explained in basic terms, just means that as we teach technique we provide explanation as to when such technique is applicable, and that we teach “reasonable technique” as opposed to “specific technique.”

The second concern is integration of training topics and techniques. As I monitor training I continue to see conflicts between topics. This is most common with physical techniques as we transition from empty-hand tactics, to Conductive Energy Devices (CED), baton, less lethal technology, and finally, to lethal force (firearm).

Contextual Training
Use of Force (UOF) trainers have a huge responsibility to their students, and their agency. The training that is provided must be relevant, user friendly, realistic, and defensible (reasonable). To provide “contextual training” the instructor must be willing to step away from “specific technique”, and be open to “reasonable technique.”

An example of this is a recent simulation training exercise for a basic recruit academy on an arrest scenario. The scenario’s outcome was to arrest a resisting subject. The student put the role player (suited up in appropriate protective gear) in a bear hug, forced him to the ground, and handcuffed him. The evaluator advised the student that he had failed the scenario, and needed to retest. The evaluator’s contention was that the student did not use a specific trained technique. The student, being a professional, nodded his head and took his place in the back of the line to retest.

During our after action (hot wash) I asked the evaluator the following two questions: If this student/officer had done this in a real life event, would it have been acceptable to him, and if a departmental review was completed would it have been an acceptable UOF? The evaluator responded in the affirmative on both issues.

The issue with this should be clear to the reader. The message sent to the recruit was don’t go with “what you know and are good at”; you must use specific technique as opposed to reasonable technique. My contention is this. When doing realistic scenario based training our evaluation of the student must be based on the same criteria that would be applied to a real life UOF incident.

UOF Review Criteria

I. Legitimacy of Contact — Police-Citizen Encounters
Consensual — Any Reason — No UOF permitted
Investigative Detention — Reasonable Suspicion — Reasonable — UOF Permitted.
Arrest — Probable Cause — Reasonable — UOF Permitted.

II. Use of Force — Reasonable Officer Standard (Graham v. Conner)
There are three main elements that govern police use of force. In any use of force review these components must be considered. They are as follows:

A: Force used must be in relation to a lawful arrest or detention.

B. Force used must be reasonable & necessary under the circumstances at hand. Force is judged by the “reasonable officer” standard established in Tennessee v. Garner and Graham v. Conner. Force is judged based on what the officer using the force knows at the time, not on facts that come to light after the fact.

C. Force used must fall within training guidelines as follows:

1. Trained technique (80/20 Rule)
2. Dynamic application of a trained technique
3. Untrained technique justified by the criticality of the situation

To continue to make this argument I now must make a case for what is a “reasonable technique.” I am in no way advocating anarchy in our training where we allow the student to utilize any technique in any situation. All UOF training must be accompanied by solid “Force Response Options (Force Continuum)” training.

To illustrate what a reasonable technique is I offer the 80/20 rule:

The 80/20 RULE

Scott Barlow, Police1 First Person, March 22, 2012

80 percent of techniques are acceptable based on the “reasonable officer standard”
10 percent of techniques are unacceptable based on lack of context (to extreme or unsafe)
10 percent of techniques are unacceptable based on complexity of technique (unrealistic anywhere but in a training environment)

As instructors, we should choose solid techniques to teach (80/20 rule) but not be married to specific techniques. If the student tests out using a technique that falls within the “Reasonable Officer” standard it should be acceptable to the instructor/evaluator.

In numerous UOF reviews, depositions, and testimony as an expert witness I have never been asked about “specific technique”….but I have been asked in each and every case about “reasonable technique!”

This concept seems obvious and simple but I seldom see it utilized. It is critical for trainers to recognize that whatever concepts and techniques are chosen (80/20 Rule) that the training is consistent and integrated. Some very basic concepts are:

When teaching UOF, Search and Seizure concepts must apply
Your agency’s arrest control, self defense techniques and philosophy must be consistent and integrated with your Conductive Energy Device (CED), baton, less lethal technology, lethal force (firearm), building clears, and tactical-entry training.
Do your agencies Instructors spend all their time on technique, or arguing technique or do your Instructors work together, compromise, speak with one voice, and provide integrated training in all areas?
UOF Training must be integrated with all skills and legal training!

This is far easier said then done. I have seen D.T. Instructors, F.A. Instructors, Baton Instructors, CED Instructors all teach different stances, movements, and philosophies to the same group of students during a basic academy or In-Service. I am sure that each Instructor is confident that their philosophy is the superior one, though in reality the student will retain little or none of the provided information based on the complexity of what is taught, and the contradictory information provided.

In closing, we as Instructors, and leaders in the professional training world must work hard to make “our world” the best it can be. The instructor who is training to impress the student, or to build an empire where only they and a select few can grasp, learn, and teach highly complicated techniques based on fine motor skills as opposed to gross motor skills is providing training that the practitioner will never use.

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