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How a 3-step training methodology prepares law enforcement officers for today’s challenges

The crawl-walk-run approach steps trainees through foundational skills and ramps up the challenges as they progress so that responding appropriately is second nature when crisis hits.

Sponsored by Meggitt Training Systems

Today’s law enforcement officers operate in a very different atmosphere than their predecessors did decades ago. Along with marksmanship, officers must be trained in use of force, use of less lethal weapons, de-escalation tactics and communication, among other skills and techniques.

Judgment training is no longer as simple as shoot/don’t shoot, and scenarios are more complex than good guy/bad guy. In addition to being prepared to respond to critical incidents like a mass shooting or police ambush, today’s officer also needs to understand how to safely interact with persons experiencing mental illness or substance abuse, as well as those with language barriers or communication disorders like autism.

Live-fire training has evolved to use props like motorcycles to offer a more realistic training experience. (image/Meggitt Training Systems)
Live-fire training has evolved to use props like motorcycles to offer a more realistic training experience. (image/Meggitt Training Systems)

To say there is much to learn in a short time is an understatement.

It is impossible to create the exact conditions of a certain potentially lethal scenario ­without risking bodily injury. However, there are ways to safely train for such scenarios that closely mimic what officers might encounter in real life, while getting their skills and judgment up to speed quickly.

Advances in training technologies like virtual simulation and incorporation of props like vehicles into the live-fire range now allow law enforcement officers to train with a much greater degree of realism than in previous generations. Realism is important, because the more LEOs train under conditions that resemble an actual event – along with unexpected challenges manufactured to heighten stress – the more likely they are to react appropriately and in accordance with their training when confronted with a similar situation in real life.

Increasingly, law enforcement agencies are borrowing methodologies used to train military troops for combat. One such methodology is the crawl-walk-run approach. It starts with learning and practicing basic skills and progressively introduces new challenges and complexities. By the time the trainee gets through the continuum of training, they have not only gained tactical skills but also the judgment and focus needed to perform appropriately when confronted with a real crisis.

Here’s how the crawl-walk-run approach can apply to law enforcement training:

Crawl: Building the foundation

For law enforcement training, the first step is often getting the officer familiar with handling a firearm.

“You may have someone who’s had no experience whatsoever manipulating or handling a firearm or making vital decisions under stress,” said Nathan Friddle, a 21-year law enforcement veteran, firearms trainer and account representative at Meggitt Training Systems. “That can be very overwhelming.”

Virtual training enables them to learn basic firearms fundamentals like site alignment, trigger press, holster drills and reloading in a controlled, safe environment.

So that trainees can gain experience handling a firearm with the fit, form and function of firearms used by their department, Meggitt Training Systems offers a range of BlueFire simulated weapons for virtual training. The firearm can either be tethered to an air source to provide trainees with a realistic level of recoil or a wireless weapon with partial recoil, either de-milled for use as a dedicated training weapon.

The training weapons are connected via Bluetooth to a computer so the trainer can induce stressors like simulated malfunctions or impose time limits or scores so that trainee must learn to adapt to changing situations.

“With virtual simulators, you're able to bring trainees along at the speed that they're able to learn it and immerse them in more examples of situations and scenarios,” said Friddle. “In the debriefs after training, we can show them ‘Here's what you did well. Here are the points we're going to try to work on,’ and then we can tailor the training to be more specific to those areas that they may be lacking in or that we want to fortify again.”

Once the officer has gained proficiency in a virtual environment, the next step is to head to the live-fire range.

Walk: Stepping up to greater challenges

Training at the live-fire range starts with the basics of firing at a static target from a fixed firing line, but simply discharging a weapon with live ammunition for the first time brings a whole new dimension to training, says Brian Gokey, account representative at Meggitt. With live rounds, trainees are not only worrying about accuracy or how they are manipulating the weapon, he says. They are also concerned about where is this round going and what is it going to hit. That brings the level of stress up quite a bit.

But a real-life scenario is unlikely to be so straightforward. An officer in the field confronting an armed or potentially armed suspect might be moving to look for cover. Therefore, training on the live-fire range advances to more closely match the situation an officer is most likely to encounter.

Once the trainee progresses from firing with a live weapon at a static target from a fixed position, the next challenge is to introduce greater difficulty and decision-making exercises into the training, such as a target that moves at different speeds or rotate to portray a friend rather than foe.

The tactical training experience can also be enhanced by adding props like vehicles so trainees can drive into the range, get out of the vehicle, take cover and fire into a bullet trap. Siren blaring, lights flashing and even music or darkness can ramp up the intensity of the training scenario to better prepare trainees for what they may encounter in the field.

Run: Honing skills to a fine point

While no training experience can fully replicate the danger of a real event, the shoot house comes close.

A shoot house is a three-dimensional, modular and reconfigurable structure built to resemble a house or other structure, complete with doors, mock windows and adjustable lighting, as well as safety features like steel, rubber-covered walls designed to absorb ammunition and prevent ricochet.

A key benefit is that a shoot house gives trainees the opportunity to navigate the structure and engage with others also moving through it. Trainees learn tactical skills like how to breach, enter and secure a location dynamically or covertly and how to navigate a room, hallway or stairway and work as a team, even when that team may comprise officers from different agencies.

Training scenarios can range from live-fire situations to branching, video-based scenarios using one or more FATS virtual systems or both. The room configuration is changeable depending on the training goals, which may include de-escalation as opposed to engagement. For safety, trainers observe the action either from a catwalk or via cameras placed around the location and give trainees feedback in an after-action review.

Shoot house training builds upon virtual and live-fire training and should be viewed as another step in the continuum that prepares rookie and veteran officers to meet the challenges that face law enforcement today.

For a comprehensive look at how virtual simulation, live-fire and shoot house training prepares law enforcement officers for today’s challenges, download the eBook: Why police should approach training as a continuum of learning.

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