What do LEOs, their families and our communities deserve from use-of-force training?
Our use-of-force training needs to be considerate of each of these groups if we want to re-establish police and community relationships
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By Jerrod Hardy, P1 Contributor
Most police use-of-force training delivered today centers primarily on the deadliest encounters that officers can expect to face.
While it is absolutely necessary to train our responses to those situations, they should not be the most frequently trained option because the majority of calls officers handle are solved with lesser levels of force.
How do we provide balanced use-of-force training that officers have confidence in? How do we provide skills that give our families peace of mind that their loved ones are prepared for the unpredictable? How do we balance all of that with meeting the needs of our communities?
What our police officers deserve from use-of-force training
We need to provide officers with the tactics, skills and training they require to be safe and successful while on the streets.
1. Legitimate skills
Too many academies, in-service training programs, or use-of-force vendors teach skills that appease to the liability concerns within an agency, but not practical application in the field.
Stop by a local police academy and you will often hear an instructor telling the class, “Do this skill to pass the academy, but you’ll never do it on the street!” If a skill is not going to be effective on the street, we should not be teaching it. This is especially true in an academy setting where the recruits do not have an experience base to draw from to determine if a new skill may or may not work for them.
Preface any of our skills with that kind of statement and we cast doubt on the entire program. This is counterproductive and undermines officer confidence.
Training should begin in a controlled and deliberate manner to ensure officers master the fundamentals and receive enough repetitions to create muscle memory. Once we are confident the basics are mastered, we need to introduce the appropriate physiological response that would accompany the technique. You can use simple calisthenics or short sprints to induce an elevated heart rate, rapid breathing and physical stress.
Instructors need to make sure the physical exertion matches the skill they are evaluating. For example, if you are doing a low-risk search or pat down, the officer should not have just sprinted 400 meters. The physical exertion required of the officer in a 400 meter sprint would not be appropriate for a low level pat down. If the officer had to sprint that far, then the level of resistance being offered in that scenario would demand the officer choose a higher level of control.
Utilizing this kind of scenario training is critical for police trainers to see how officers control their breathing and emotions when physically tired or exhausted and, most important, de-escalate after the physical exertion. If we never see them under this level of stress in a controlled environment, how can we know what they will do on the streets?
Officers need plenty of repetitions in all levels of force options available to them. They need to practice transitioning from one level of force to another in case one tool malfunctions or is ineffective. We cannot train them that every time they use a tool that it will always work. Officers should do repetitions transitioning up and down the levels of control options each agency has. We must practice escalating and de-escalating police use-of-force in training.
Officers deserve to have the opportunity to be successful in a controlled environment. We should provide them scenarios to apply skills in controlled and increasingly complex situations as their training and experience progresses. For example, if we train physical searches or pat downs but never have students find any weapons, what have we trained? This can be accomplished by something as simple as having someone hide a pocket knife in different places before the search. If we want officers to search for weapons on the street, we must make sure they find them in training.
Equally important is that if we use the pocket knife scenario and an officer misses it on several attempts, we have now identified that deficiency in a safe and controlled environment. We can examine their technique, provide remedial training and fix the problem before it becomes a potentially deadly mistake on the street.
What our communities deserve from use-of-force training
Our communities deserve to have highly trained officers who are capable of handling the highest priority calls, but are equally as adept at providing the service components of our profession. How do we achieve this?
First, we identify who makes up our community. Are you working in a college or university town, an inner city, or a rural small town? Are you responding to calls in a densely populated area of high rise buildings or are you working a small farm town where everyone knows each other? Do you work in a community that has a tradition of patrolling with two officers in a car or single officers? Use-of-force training will be no less important, but the tactics, skill selection and deployment strategies should be drastically different.
Before we bring on the newest technique, equipment, or tactic, we must be mindful to ask ourselves is it appropriate for our community and is it acceptable. If we miss this important step we will only know it is out of balance with our community’s expectations after it has been deployed.
All of us work in places where civilian employees or politicians get to decide our pay, retirement contributions, sick time, vacation time and a host of other things important to all of us. If they are trusted to have input on those matters, maybe we can trust them to be educated on what we teach, how we teach and why we teach our use-of-force programs. Imagine if your city manager, the mayor or council member had actually been “arrested” in a training setting by one of your instructors and they were not injured in the act. How would that impact the next complaint they received? It is 2017 and cameras are everywhere. Our policies will and are being held accountable by the communities we serve. If we do not share what we do with our communities, they will form their own opinions based on what they see on the evening news or social media feeds and that may or may not be accurate.
What our families deserve from use-of-force training
What do the families of our officers deserve? Simply put, they deserve peace of mind! They deserve to go to bed at night knowing the loved one they have trusted us with is properly prepared and equipped to return back to them.
Truthfully, I was unaware of this until one night during my tenth year on the job. I had recently moved to a training officer position, which was the first time in my career I had not been working a night shift assignment on patrol. It had been years since my wife and I slept the same hours and, as we made the adjustment to a “normal” sleeping schedule, I noticed she got up every night. One morning I asked her about this and she confided that on all of my night shifts, every time she heard a siren or saw flashing lights she would get up and look out the window fearful of what it meant to our children, and our way of life. That conversation has been a focus of every class I have taught since as I know there are more wives, husbands, sons, daughters, moms and dads at home every night with the same worries.
Our use-of-force training, philosophies and programs need to be considerate of each of these groups if we want to re-establish police and community relationships. We must be mindful of the impact our tactics, skills and training have on each audience to give our officers the best opportunities to be successful, meet the needs of our community and maintain the trust of officer’s families.