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9 ways to improve subject control training

Agencies must do everything possible to enhance current subject control training programs; they owe it to their officers and their communities

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Even professional fighters don’t train in eight-hour increments. How can we expect law enforcement officers to train with focus and the proper intensity for eight hours?


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Whether you call it use of force, subject control or defensive tactics, there is always room for improvement in police training on these critical skills.

Officer preparation in matters of subject control could literally mean the difference between life and death, yet the majority of law enforcement agencies only allow for four to sixteen hours of subject control training per year. This is not enough for a perishable skill typically used under stressful conditions.

In addition, as subject control incidents are recorded and shared on social media and critiqued by large audiences, agencies are increasingly held accountable for the type and amount of subject control training provided to officers.

This article offers strategies to immediately improve any agency’s subject control program. Some of the following suggestions can be implemented today, while others require some planning.

1. Develop skilled use-of-force trainers and PAY for them to train outside of work.

Use-of-force trainers must continuously train and become subject matter experts to truly be effective. Allow trainers to attend multiple schools; don’t just go with one “system.” Have instructors attend development schools. There are no bad students, only bad teachers. Make sure your instructors are the best.

2. Mandate subject control training for command level officers.

Command staff who judge the appropriateness of force used by line staff would benefit greatly from participating in subject control training on an ongoing basis.

3. Conduct weekly scenario and report writing-based roll call discussions on subject control.

Almost every agency can use roll call time more effectively. Pick one day a week to review an area related to use of force. It could be the specific body mechanics of a handcuffing technique, debriefing of a recent incident or deployment of less lethal tools. If you use roll call time efficiently, you can explore a broad range of subject control topics.

4. Stop training in eight-hour blocks.

Most cops have experienced the “eight-hour DT training day.” I find that two- and four-hour blocks of instruction enhance retention, as well as allow officers to exert the appropriate amount of physical activity without going overboard. Even professional fighters don’t train in eight-hour increments. How can we expect law enforcement officers to train with focus and the proper intensity for eight hours?

5. Use video review as a training tool.

More police activity is being documented through video. Body cams, dash cams and detention center videos can be excellent training tools. Use discretion as to which videos are appropriate for review and training. Officers can also learn from evaluating and assessing their own performances, so consider recording training sessions that involve range drills and dynamic subject control incidents.

6. Provide on-going supplemental training.

Agencies will make excuses as to why they cannot do this. They are all excuses. The reality is that today’s modern law enforcement agency can’t afford not to do it. Law enforcement officers and the citizens they are sworn to protect deserve better than excuses.

7. Incorporate communication skills and report writing into your subject control training.

Subject control or defensive tactics are usually taught as a separate entity from communication skills. Furthermore, report writing is taught as a separate topic from both of those. These three topics are interwoven and should be taught together. For example, a review of defensive tactics techniques should be followed by scenario training that incorporates effective verbal communication with physical techniques, and concluded by mock report writing of the scenario.

A well trained officer is a confident officer. A confident officer tends to exhibit superior communication skills. A confident, well-trained officer with great verbal skills tends to write a concise and articulate report. Those skills all interconnect to form a complete and well-rounded officer.

8. Replace the concept of “minimal force” with “reasonable force.”

Subject control is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Too many law enforcement officers, even those in command positions, think officers are required to use the “minimal amount of force.” This is simply not true. It is an impossible standard to meet because what is minimal for one officer may not be the same for another. Furthermore, with the benefit of hindsight, you can virtually always speculate a less intrusive way to theoretically handle a specific incident. The appropriate way to approach subject control incidents is to take each incident for what it is, and determine if the officer’s actions were reasonable based on what he or she knew at the time.

9. Incorporate Jiu Jitsu into your defensive tactics program.

Jiu Jitsu should be incorporated into every defensive tactics program, as it offers many benefits for law enforcement:

  • Jiu Jitsu is proven effective for smaller people to defend against larger opponents. This is critical to law enforcement because there are no weight classes in calls for service.
  • By its nature, Jiu Jitsu neutralizes a threat without causing unnecessary harm to the opponent.
  • Close quarter control and ground neutralization is paramount in law enforcement, and Jiu Jitsu has consistently reigned supreme in this realm.

law enforcement is dynamic

Police officers need to adapt to trends in attacks. What bad guys were doing in the 1990s is not necessarily what bad guys are doing in 2018. What’s happening in 2018 won’t be what happens in 2030. Tactics must evolve.

Agencies must do everything possible to enhance the delivery of current subject control training. It is unacceptable to wait until a training deficiency is brought to light due to a high-profile lawsuit or, worse, an officer injury or death. Implementing these strategies will create more confident officers and a better served public.

Tyson Kilbey has more than 25 years of experience in law enforcement, consisting of three years as a hotel security supervisor and 22 years as a deputy sheriff for the Johnson County (Kansas) Sheriff’s Office. He has worked in the detention, patrol and training divisions, SWAT and accident investigation units. He is currently a captain of the Training Unit for the Sheriff’s Office.

Tyson authored “Personal Defense Mastery,” a follow-up to his first book “Fundamental Handgun Mastery.” Tyson is a Jiu-Jitsu black belt under UFC Pioneer Royce Gracie. He has numerous defensive tactics and firearms certifications and has received multiple awards in competitive shooting and grappling. He is the Match Director for the Brandon Collins Memorial Shootout, a shooting competition named in honor of a deputy who died in the line of duty. Proceeds from the match go to charitable causes.
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