10 recommendations for minimizing injuries in police training
“Police training is done to prevent injuries, not cause them.”
Nothing has a more negative impact on the amount of hands-on training offered to officers like injuries in training. Here are 10 recommendations for police trainers and officers to follow to avoid injuries while still getting the most out of physical defensive tactics training.
1. Trainers must commit to providing the safest training possible.
It is critical that a trainer construct and conduct training with a minds-eye always on student/officer safety.
2. Develop and brief students on safety guidelines before the class begins.
Brief everyone involved in the training so they know what is coming, what is expected of them and what the training will accomplish. Detail your safety guidelines (commandments actually) in writing for every class, making it a major part of the briefing.
3. Everyone is responsible for successful and safe training.
Even though the trainer is ultimately responsible for the trainees receiving quality training safely, it is each student’s responsibility to get the most out of that training by being committed to training safety.
Empower your students so that if they see an unsafe condition or circumstance, they will inform the trainer immediately.
Once training starts all trainees should have the authority to shout the word “Red!” or even just “Stop!” to stop the action and prevent an impending injury.
The trainee needs to be cautioned not to become the unsafe circumstance in training. To avoid this, they should listen carefully and follow the directions of the trainer. Injuries often occur when students exceed recommended speed and intensity, go off script, or get ahead of the instructor.
4. Encourage a disciplined approach both during training and during breaks in training.
The possibility of injury only multiplies when students decide to “entertrain” themselves by engaging in “horseplay.”
Trainers must emphasize discipline with all techniques, activities, weapons and vehicles regardless of a trainee’s rank. One way to accomplish this is simply by using the word “Discipline!”
For example, when students have been issued a molded training gun, inevitably someone will draw the gun and begin spinning it like a cowboy. Immediately draw attention to this act by loudly directing the words toward the safety infraction saying “Firearms discipline!”
Follow the first infraction by turning the incident into a training-safety moment by pointing out that all training weapons shall be treated at all times as if they are the actual weapon. That includes firearms, batons, TASERs, pepper spray, etc.
By demanding safety in the handling of the training weapons, you will re-enforce the emphasis on safety in training as well as emphasize the need to safely handle real weapons.
5. Teach your students to walk before you make them run.
In skills training, it is imperative that officers be trained in a building block format. Throwing someone into a scenario before you teach them how and when to properly use techniques will lead not only to poor decisions and sloppy application of techniques, but also unnecessary injuries.
- By the numbers.
- Slow for form.
- Smooth is fast.
- Partner application as a team.
- Isolation exercises.
- Application during controlled scenarios.
- Successful street application.
- Repetition, repetition, repetition.
Practicing defensive tactics should be done without resistance for many repetitions until the physical skill becomes second nature. Light resistance can be added gradually and increased as a part of the learning process while teaching students how to either overcome resistance or smoothly transition to another technique, which the suspect’s resistance will enable.
Isolation exercises are a great way to prepare a response for students for a variety of specific circumstances that officers will encounter on the street.
6. Properly use available training safety equipment.
Trainers should be experts in the proper application and use of training protective equipment and training weapons.
For example, when trainers pad up, they are in a great position to guide the student toward the gradual increase of intensity while improving a student’s focus and technique under stress. The goal of the instructor should always be to improve the student’s performance in the gym so they can effectively perform these skills on the street.
In contrast, if an instructor uses protective equipment (as some do) just to sustain many blows until the instructor can defeat the student, this will not only contribute to more injuries, it will cause most students to lose faith in their skills and hate training.
This happens in police training all too often.
7. Internalize and follow the 13 steps for safe force-on-force training.
Force-on-force training should only be orchestrated by trainers who have been trained to do such training. Trainers should follow the 13 steps for conducting this training, which can be gleaned from “Training at the Speed of Light" by Ken Murray, the "father of simunition."
Meticulously abiding by these steps will allow you to get the most out of your force-on-force training while avoiding training tragedies.
8. Recognize and, when possible, accommodate your student’s physical limitations.
Trainers must identify existing physical limitations in individual students that might require awareness, or even accommodation, during the training.
For example, one officer had years earlier broken both wrists and his wrists were inflexible. On the one hand, this inflexibility aided him in becoming a championship shooter. On the other hand, accommodations had to be made during defensive tactics training. He could still practice the control holds, but his training partners had to be cautioned about practicing certain holds on him.
In another case, an officer had been shot through the arm on the street and returned to duty after many surgeries and months of recovery and rehab. The trainer was able to make adjustments in techniques to accommodate the student/officer’s post-shooting strength and flexibility. These accommodations, along with the wounded officer’s determination, made the officer even more skilled in the performance of these techniques on the street than he was before he had been shot, allowing him to complete the career he loved.
The pre-existing condition may be that an officer is so out of shape that it might be life-threatening for them to partake in some type of physical training. Trainers need to be willing to have difficult discussions with officers in situations like this.
9. Remember, the street is the street.
Injuries often occur when trainers attempt to make their training exactly like the street. Bless them when they do this because it is for the officer’s well-being. However, nothing is like the street, but the street!
The street is too unforgiving, dangerous and damaging to be duplicated in training. The great trainer takes care to find a safe middle ground, which makes training as realistic as possible while providing all the protections needed to prevent injuries to student/officers, role players, and trainers.
Great trainers create training that:
- Prepares officers to be able to prevail on the street, defensibly.
- Prevents injuries, during the training experience.
10. Do pre-training walk-throughs.
When constructing a new training drill, course, or scenario do a walk-through with fellow instructors to evaluate the effectiveness and safety of the exercise and accept input and critique. Don’t let the first class of officers/students be test subjects for your new training experience.
There will be times when injuries occur in police training. That is a fact. However, there will be fewer injuries that are better accepted as an acceptable risk, when great care has been taken to prevent injuries.
Post-script: My philosophy on police training injuries was a gift from Lt. Fred Asp
My journey as a police trainer began quite unintentionally in 1977, three and a half years into my career, after my department training director, “Lt. Fred Asp,” noticed I was using what he considered effective physical control techniques to control resistive suspects on the street.
Asp asked me, “Can you teach officers to do whatever it is that you do?”
I told him, “I think so.”
With that, Asp scheduled classes he called “Mechanics of Arrest.”
The “L-T” called me in before my first class and shared this insight: “The last trainer I brought in to teach ‘Mechanics of Arrest’ broke our officers. He will not train here again. So please remember it is the goal of police training to prevent injuries not cause them.”
Those words, as Sun Tzu would say, struck me like “thunderbolts from the nine-layered heavens.” Their echo followed me throughout my 40-plus years as a police trainer. Thanks to this sacred mission of “Make them, don’t break them!” very few officers were injured in my trainings. Yet that carefully constructed training helped my officers prevail on the street while avoiding lawsuits.
In the words of Lt. Fred Asp: “Police training is done to prevent injuries, not cause them.”
NEXT: Creating a culture of safety in your grappling program