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LE classes at SHOT Show outline why every cop needs advanced tactical training

SHOT Show’s Law Enforcement Education Program (LEEP) provides a roadmap for police officer tactical training


Jeff Finn, a Fairfax County master police officer, demonstrates automatic weapon firing during a terrorism preparedness training led by the Fairfax County, Va. Police Department in Fairfax, Va., Friday, Aug. 20, 2010.

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

As we said in this earlier article, Police1 columnists and staff planned to attend the LEEP sessions during SHOT Show 2018 – and indeed we did.

On the first day, I attended “Top Tactical Concepts for Law Enforcement Operations,” and sitting behind me were three Police1 readers from Knoxville, Tennessee: Deputy Chief Gary Holliday, range master and armorer Sgt. Shane Watson and training coordinator Sgt. Tom Walker.

Some LEEP sessions are led by vendors to show off their new wares and how to put them to use, while others are taught by the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA). One of the main points of every NTOA session was that all law enforcement professionals need tactical training – even the newbie patrol officer.

Everyone in law enforcement knows that SWAT ends with the word tactics, so many may assume that only SWAT teams need to be tactically trained. Nothing could be further from the truth, especially in today’s turbulent world when the first officer on scene might be required to take immediate action to free hostages or protect civilians.

How Long is Your Police Academy?

A 2013 NTOA survey showed that the 664 state and local law enforcement academies offer training sessions that last from one to six months, with a median of 21 weeks. This excludes field training, which has a median of eight weeks which, according to NTOA Director of Training and Education Don Kester, not all agencies even offer.

Some police academies train to tests and rarely deliver the advanced training a police officer needs to survive on the streets today. The NPFA publishes a single set of national fire training standards and certifies all fire equipment. Except for bomb disposal technicians, who need to be certified, body armor standards from the NIJ, and FBI ballistic test protocol, there are no overall training or equipment standards for law enforcement.

Contrast this with other countries that not only have national standards, but spend the time needed to train their officers to survive on the streets:

  • Australia – 21 weeks
  • Canada – 6 months
  • Scotland – 2 years
  • Sweden – 2 years

With that in mind, it is critical that police train as often as is possible, both on and off-duty. Here are four approaches outlined during the LEEP sessions that cops can use to integrate more tactical approaches into their training:

1. Top tactical concepts

Fort Collins Police Services Lieutenant and NTOA Less Lethal Section Chair David Pearson shared 20 concepts that are important for every officer, team member, team leader and team commander.

These include:

  • The balance between the warrior and the guardian, “The Way of the Jedi.”
  • Development of your soft skills for dealing with civilians, your brothers and sisters and, yes, even suspects;
  • The training to stay calm under pressure;
  • How to use the OODA loop;
  • Knowing when and, more importantly, how to use less lethal options.

No matter what actions you take or don’t take, you will be judged in the courts of public opinion and the law. And thus begins the first lesson. Lt. Pearson impressed upon SHOT Show attendees the importance of tactical decision-making for all police officers.

For example, showing up in court with the statements, “We did the best that we could,” “We’ve always done it this way,” or “We were under pressure to act” are not acceptable. You have to ensure that every member of your agency – including individual officers, support staff and command staff – can answer yes when asked if they:

  1. Were trained to the best of their abilities;
  2. Knew their capabilities and limitations;
  3. Knew what was happening at the incident;
  4. Knew their safety priorities;
  5. Considered all facts and intelligence available;
  6. Evaluated the terrain and environment;
  7. Used the correct tools and tactics.

Statement #3 is especially important. How many times have you seen or read about an “officer pileup” where dozens of officers from multiple jurisdictions all show up, block each other’s vehicles and deploy their weapons, yet don’t actually have a good picture of what is going on, what the objectives are or even who the incident commander is?

2. Make use of good time and bad time

When an incident is stable, that can be good time or bad time, depending on how you use it. According to Colorado Springs Police Department Commander and NTOA Executive Director Thor Eells, good time is time that you should be using to place your people to properly respond. Good time also can mean time when an incident isn’t occurring – what some might call a normal workday. Instead of sitting back munching donuts at your desk, what about getting a few folks together in a conference room to run over some “what if’s?”

Maybe you can use your “downtime” to read up on what you can do to protect your officers from ambush.

Bad time is not only time when a suspect is on the move, it also is time when you are standing around during “downtime” letting the suspect make moves to increase his or her advantage. During an incident, there is no such thing as downtime. There is only time when you should be thinking about your next moves in the chess game playing out in front of you. What can you do to run your OODA loop and interrupt the suspect’s OODA loop? How can you take advantage? If you make Move A, what will the suspect do? Will move B make things better or worse?

Commander Eells says that in some jurisdictions, advanced planning and tactics training is still considered secret and cannot be divulged to patrol officers. Yeah, that same officer who might be first on scene and needs to take immediate action.

Seriously? That’s as bad as jurisdictions that prohibit their officers from firing from or into moving vehicles. I’m sure that anyone planning to use a vehicle as a weapon stands behind that policy.

3. Review less lethal deployment strategies

In many jurisdictions, officers are required to use less lethal options if possible. And indeed, there are basic tactics that must be learned and mastered before they are used to ensure hostage, civilian, officer and suspect safety – in that order.

NTOA showed two actual incidents. In the first, a suspect was brandishing a knife at a distance of around 20 yards from the first responding officer. The officer had a handgun trained on the suspect while issuing commands to drop the knife.

After another officer pulled up, the first officer decided to switch to his TASER and was in the process of holstering his firearm. In those split seconds, the suspect lunged at the officer and had to be shot four times by a female officer that had just arrived. The lesson? Even though the first officer moved to less lethal, the second officer still maintained the possibility of using deadly force, and indeed had to, with excellent accuracy.

The second scenario showed a suspect brandishing a crowbar. Multiple officers were present and the suspect was ordered to drop the crowbar. This went on for a while until an officer sent a SAGE round downrange at the suspect, who immediately dropped to the ground after being hit with 153 foot-pounds of energy.

It took several more minutes before the officers could get the suspect to roll away from the crowbar and put his hands above his head on the ground. After he was clear, officers split up to both cover and take the suspect into custody.

Learning point: Are your officers trained to work in tandem with one covering to take suspects into custody? Have you been trained in tactical aim points for every weapon available for use?

4. Embrace livesaving training

One of the more important topics covered was to encourage training and issuing supplies to your officers that can save lives. Whether civilian, law enforcement or even a suspect, life is sacred and watching someone bleed out because you can’t help is heartbreaking.

But there are actions you can take:

Use good time to sit down and talk with your fellow first responders about hot, warm and cold zones and what each team is expected to do during an incident. Some EMS and fire personnel wear vests (like paramedic Dani Kamenar who was saved by her vest) and they may be willing and able to help in a warm zone. But without multiple live fire exercises under everyone’s belts, it’s not something that you want to try.

How to get community buy-in for police tactical training

Activists, progressive politicians and the media are all over the militarization of law enforcement. If Andy was so friendly and Barney carried a single bullet in his pocket, why do we need all of those scary tactical-looking things? We’re not just talking those big, bad MRAPs, but even shields, goggles, gloves, helmets, ballistic vests and pants with more than four pockets are being demonized.

I mean tactical is tacticool, but there really is a reason for every piece of gear you wear. Do you wear an external ballistic carrier because it is tacticool, or because it is cooler in hot weather? Is your public-demanded body cam mounted on it? You may have a gunshot wound kit and tourniquet on it too. Educate the public as to why you are using these carriers.

If you do allow external carriers, have you invested the time and training needed to teach an officer how to prevent or escape being grabbed by it and used as a punching bag?

Armored vehicles were used on live TV to protect officers and stop the threat in San Bernardino after the mass shooting. They can be used to protect civilian and officer lives in a terror attack. Maybe not as big a concern in some of America’s heartland, but certainly in many big blue cities, like New York, Chicago, or San Francisco.

How can you demystify your protective gear? Don’t make it secret, trot it out. In my home county, the Sheriff’s MRAP, local SWAT vehicles, well-secured patrol rifles with lasers and optics, and fully-loaded vests come out to play at many community events all year round. How cool is it for a kid to put on a ballistic vest, sit in an MRAP, and have mom or dad take a photo to post on Facebook. While painting it eggshell blue might be out of the question, what if the lettering said, “Emergency Services” and “Rescue” instead of “Police” and “SWAT?”

There was much more valuable advice than I can give you in a short article. You owe it to yourself to join NTOA and take as much training as you can. Not only can it save lives, it can make you a better person, a better officer, a better commander and a more valuable member of your community.

Stay safe and watch for more reports on our 2018 SHOT show special coverage page.

Ron LaPedis is an NRA-certified Chief Range Safety Officer, NRA, USCCA and California DOJ-certified instructor, is a uniformed first responder, and frequently writes and speaks on law enforcement, business continuity, cybersecurity, physical security and public/private partnerships.