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How to ensure your arrest and control training is effective

How can we legitimize any specific training if we cannot support its effectiveness with evidence of success


What are the different circumstances for which we should be well trained?

Article updated August 11, 2017.

How do you know that your arrest and control physical tactics are effective?

While making presentations on police use of force – either physical combative training or in lecture format – I’ve observed that many officers believe they are being trained ineffectively or trained in tactics they feel are not effective in their real world engagements.

Meanwhile, a small minority of officers feel they are receiving effective training, a perception for which they may or may not have the experience to make an accurate assessment.

I’ve witnessed a lack of continuity of training across law enforcement agencies. Further, I haven’t encountered any person or agency that can produce quantifiable evidence about the level of effectiveness of their arrest and control tactics training in the field.

In fact, more than 90 percent of agencies that I have trained – or polled – do not take steps to analyze or evaluate the effectiveness of their empty hand arrest and control training. That doesn’t mean that the training is ineffective. It means that there is no established measure of its effectiveness.

How can we legitimize any specific training if we cannot support its effectiveness with evidence of success (or lack of success) once implemented?

Stop Training Based on Trainers’ Perceptions

The implementation of sound training measures should be preceded by careful consideration of how we develop the correct curriculum for our personnel.

Do we base our training on what we know the officer needs or on that which we think – or which the officers think – they need? Once the needs are determined, how do we choose the material to be included in the instruction of officers?

Each agency has skilled individuals whose backgrounds vary. Some have extensive training in martial arts, wrestling, boxing or specific police-oriented tactics. This can present both advantages and disadvantages, and individuals will tend to teach a discipline specific to their own knowledge base and skills. The training may then necessarily become rooted in their own perception of what works best.

All of the aforementioned training styles may coalesce in effective and efficient training. However, without a standard of measure of effectiveness in the field, it is difficult, at best, to know if we are serving the real needs of law enforcement officers. Further, if we cannot know if we are best serving those needs, we may be handcuffed in our efforts to develop – or redevelop – truly effective training protocols.

We cannot manage that which we do not measure.

Quantifiable evidence can reveal if what we’re teaching is actually used by officers in the field. Hard data can help us create a concrete plan to ensure that our training is what it really needs to be. Continuing to rely on perception of what we think the officer needs in terms of training is just no longer good enough.

Gather Accurate Data from Real-World Encounters

We’ve all heard statements like “most fights go to the ground” followed by “so we should teach ground fighting.” But in order to develop effective ground training, we need to accurately document how fights go the ground in the first place. Causes may include:

  • A tackle
  • A slip
  • A takedown
  • A slick surface
  • A knockdown

Supervisors should ask themselves and their officers:

  • Was going to the ground initiated by the officer or suspect?
  • Were multiple officers involved or a single officer?
  • Was it due to tremendous size differential or the skill of the suspect?

What are the different circumstances for which we should be well trained? Often we teach officers what we believe they should know without any evidence to show why we are instructing the material. If we can quantify the circumstances we can teach them what we know they need and, importantly, measure the effectiveness of the outcomes.

We’ve also heard trainers say, “With the rise of MMA in this country, officers need to learn MMA techniques.”

Have you really fought numerous MMA suspects on the street? To validate the assertion that officers should learn MMA techniques it should first be determined through use of force analysis and assessments that officers are being faced with MMA-type assaults. Otherwise it is only a perception of the instructor.

What do sport MMA skills have to do with arrest and control? Was there research conducted that underlies the belief that we need to teach an officer MMA skills?

The two prior examples – which are not uncommon – show us what can happen when we fail to track, measure and evaluate the training we implement. Our training time is crucial to success and time spent in training is time not spent in the field.

Relying on Data Beyond Your Own Agency

The practice of perception-based training is unacceptable and negligent for both the agency and the officers. To continue down any path that wastes time and money is bad business, not to mention that it puts the officers and agencies in harm’s way.

Tracking and trending is not only designed to measure the success of your training but to measure the inadequacies. Doing a better job of documenting results of our training will help us improve our training. We can better understand if use-of-force incidents are justifiable and reasonable. We can track whether our officers are relying on ‘not-trained’ maneuverers.

Bear in mind too that you don’t have to design your system based solely on your own agency’s use of force evidence – you may not have enough data. Start there because it develops a solid understanding, but look to data gathered elsewhere as well.

Remember, we’ve changed the way we conduct our firearms training because the research and analysis of nationwide data on shootings revealed how the majority of shooting occur and how we should modify our training.

Gathering and analyzing quantifiable evidence will support your training. It will ultimately improve your officers’ performance. Quantifying your use of force also validates – or doesn’t validate – your training programs. This will help determine if the training you are providing your officers is flawed or on track.

Lieutenant Kevin Dillon (Ret) is a twenty-five year veteran law enforcement officer. Dillon retired from the Wethersfield (Conn.) Police Department — a suburb of the state’s capitol of Hartford — after serving as the Detective Bureau Commander. Lieutenant Dillon also has commanded the department’s patrol division and served as training supervisor. As a SWAT team member since 1993, he served as an Operator, Team Leader and Commander of the regional thirty-five member SWAT team (Capitol Region Emergency Services Team.) and remains a consultant with the team. Lieutenant Dillon is a National Academy graduate of the F.B.I. session 223. He has also received certification from Force Science Institute in Analysis in Use of Force incidents. Dillon developed and teaches the L.O.C.K.U.P. Police Combat System, a comprehensive fighting approach based on gross motor skill concepts that reduce injuries to citizens and police officers. L.O.C.K.U.P. teaches empty-hand maneuvers (Defensive Tactics) that can be deployed effectively during violent physical encounters and adapts the fighting maneuvers to the officer’s physical and physiological changes to maximize effectiveness.