5 safety reminders for force-on-force training

During a “shoot/don’t shoot” training session in Florida, a live round somehow made it into the training area — a cardinal sin for trainers and safety officers


During a “shoot/don’t shoot” training session for a citizens’ police academy in Punta Gorda, Florida, a woman was fatally shot by an officer. Mary Knowlton was “mistakenly struck with a live round” and taken to a nearby hospital, where she was pronounced dead. The officer involved in the tragic accident has been placed on administrative leave.

Naturally, we all send our thoughts and prayers to the woman’s family, the other academy participants, and the officer involved in this terrible tragedy. Even as we offer condolences, it’s important to take this opportunity to review the safety procedures your agency follows during similar training exercises. While we don’t know the specific circumstances surrounding this incident, what we do know is a live round somehow made it into the training area — a cardinal sin for trainers and safety officers.

Having participated in countless force-on-force scenario-based training exercises, here are some best practices I’ve observed over the years. 

1.    Employ a clearly marked — and vigorously defended — sterilized training area. Before the training begins, have that area searched thoroughly by two different two-person teams. Those officers are looking for any environmental hazards as well as any objects that could potentially be used as a weapon. Those searches should happen one at a time. Remember, two is one and one is none — redundancy saves lives. 

2.    Speaking of redundancy, mandate a minimum of two head-to-toe safety searches — conducted outside of the training area by two different safety officers — before anyone enters the abovementioned sterile area. Prohibited items include all live weapons (firearms, ammunition, knives, batons, OC, etc.). These searches should be conducted with the same thoroughness as when taking a subject into custody. 

3.    Utilize purpose-built training weapons. I have long advocated for the incredible training value presented by Blue Guns, SIRT Pistols, and Airsoft guns, and Simunitions. Using Sims and a conversion kit for your duty weapon has obvious upside in terms of bringing reality to the training, but it also necessitates even higher vigilance against allowing a live round into the training area. Check, double check, and check again!

4.    Whenever civilians are involved in the training — and I have repeatedly advocated for citizen participation in police training so they can be better educated about police procedures and the challenges cops face — the training should never involve Simuntions, Airsoft, or any other launched projectile. It is sufficient to use a Blue Gun and yell “bang!” to get the point across. 

5.    Whenever possible, utilize computer-based simulators for “shoot/don’t shoot” training. The decision-making element of these machines is so advanced in modern police simulators that it actually exceeds the “realism” of using human role players in most cases. 

We must remain forever vigilant about safety in training. This incident is a painful reminder of the consequences of letting our guard down for even one moment. What are your best practices to ensure safety during training sessions like this? Add your thoughts in the comments section

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