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4 ways to better train our officers to be ready for the fight

We must create the proper environment in order for officers to visualize the true threat that is ever present and be prepared physically and mentally to prevail

Why do we train with our personal weapons (those not found on our belts)?

Defensive tactics training, subject control training, empty-hand techniques, or any other title we use to describe training to go hands-on with resistive and/or combative subjects — why do we do it?

Is it to protect ourselves from injury? Is it to protect our agencies from liability? Is it to minimize the damage we inflict on those that wish to harm us? Perhaps it is for all of these reasons.

But are we really getting our officers ready for the fight? We need to refocus officer training on four key areas in order to really accomplish the objective that officers are ready for the fight.

1. Physical fitness

When most of us enrolled in the academy we were either in our late teens or early twenties. We were probably in the best physical condition of our lives and what we didn’t bring to the table, the academy helped to shape with its physical fitness program (or should have).

Depending on where you work once you graduated the academy there may be no physical fitness standards that are mandated.

Our line of work doesn’t necessarily promote healthy lifestyles. We have shift changes, lack of sleep, alcohol, dietary issues, stress, and the list goes on. After several years, these “duty hazards” start to take their toll and we are no longer the physical specimens we once were.

Unfortunately, our opponents never seem to get any older, weaker or slower.

If we do not have a solid foundation from which to launch the techniques that are being taught, what good is teaching the techniques at all?

What are we accomplishing by teaching a straight arm-bar takedown if the officer does not possess the strength, endurance, and agility to perform the task during a dynamic encounter?

We need to reemphasize strength training and cardio conditioning.

2. Frequency of subject-control techniques training

How often does your agency train your officers in subject-control techniques, if at all? Is the frequency often enough for officers to retain the material and perform the tasks correctly and under the right circumstances? Are officers able to correlate the tactics taught within the policy guidelines?

Many agencies only train their officers once a year in empty-hand techniques. This is insufficient for officers to become proficient enough to perform these tasks under stressful conditions. This can cause officers to resort to what they gravitate to instinctively: grappling, punching, kicking, and scratching — any of which may be unreasonable or ineffective for the circumstances.

The frequency of training needs to increase.

3. Intensity

There is a fine line which must be drawn when conducting force-on-force grappling skills with officers. On the one side, you want to make the training as realistic as possible in order to mimic what the officers will encounter out on the streets and to ensure the effectiveness of the techniques under dynamic circumstances. On the other side, you have to be concerned with on-duty injuries occurring while conducting the training, which will draw the attention and ire of administrators (as well as the human resources department).

For one reason or another, we often conduct this type of training in a static setting, going through the motions at slow speeds in an unrealistic fashion so that the officers can perform the techniques correctly and avoid being injured. The drills are often choreographed between the offender’s actions and the officer’s responses as predetermined scripts.

We need to find the right measure of intensity and realism in order to make the training beneficial and the officers competent, without causing an unnecessary risk of injury to our fellow officers.

4. Fighting for your life is a mindset

Our instructors need to create the right environment to facilitate the proper mindset when conducting officer survival skills and fighting for your life is certainly a survival skill. We must instill in our officers that the day is coming when they will be tested, not if, but when. We have to tell them that when they leave the training and go back to their assignment, they will find themselves in an encounter which will put them in the fight of their life.

Then we have to ask, “Are you prepared?”

Many would probably indicate that they were not. We then have to ask, “What are you waiting for?”

There is a time and a place for levity, but when it pervades our training we have accomplished nothing. When we punch or kick a bag we must do it as if we were trying to stop someone who is trying to harm us and strike as hard as we can. This may be the only practice we get before it’s for keeps.

Many of our officers have never experienced being in a physical confrontation and are unprepared for not only the physical affronts to our person, but also the psychological. They are caught off guard and unprepared to respond when the attack is suddenly enveloping them and they can’t understand why someone would try to harm them.

We not only have to teach our officers the physical skills, but also the will to persevere and overcome any and all resistance we encounter through visualization and mental rehearsal drills.


We have made great strides over the years to improve our skills, but there are still hurdles that lie before us. We must address these and other issues related to what skills we are going to teach our officers, how the training will be conducted in order to be both safe, yet effective, and the frequency in which the skills are taught in order to be conceptualized and retained by our officers.

Lastly, we must create the proper environment in order for officers to visualize the true threat that is ever present in our profession and be prepared physically and mentally to prevail.

This article, originally published on 05/27/2014, has been updated.

Dan Danaher is a retired sergeant with 28 years of law enforcement experience. He has been retained by his former agency as the range master to oversee the firearms and TASER programs. Dan is also the co-founder of Tactical Encounters Inc., a law enforcement training company based out of Michigan.
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