After use of force: 5 essential steps to include in training

Many defensive tactics training scenarios end once the subject has been restrained, which does not reflect what happens in real life


Patrol officers encounter volatile situations on a regular basis where they must be prepared to defend themselves physically or take control of a violent offender when necessary. The PoliceOne Academy features more than 35 hours of defensive tactics training video on topics such as applying holds and restraints, ground fighting and maximizing body mechanics when striking. Visit PoliceOne Academy to learn more and for an online demo. 

Training law enforcement officers in reasonable and tactically sound use-of-force options has always been critically important. But the type of quality and comprehensive training that police need involves much more than the actual act of using physical force, or operating a less-lethal tool or firearm.

Officers need to train how to recognize pre-attack cues, understand legal use of force and identify what to do in the immediate aftermath of a use-of-force incident. In this article, I focus on five concepts that should be included as part of training for after an officer uses force or takes a subject into custody.

1. Check for injuries

Use-of-force training should include checking for injuries, incident debriefing and report-writing best practices. (Photo/Police1)
Use-of-force training should include checking for injuries, incident debriefing and report-writing best practices. (Photo/Police1)

Officers should train to always check for injuries to subjects and themselves once the situation permits. Injury checks should be done even when an officer does not think an injury occurred. Victims of knife attacks have often been unaware they were stabbed, slashed, or cut until someone noticed the blood on their uniforms. Simply visually scanning themselves and other subjects and officers for injuries is a critical step.

Also, asking questions about injuries may lead to discovering an injury while establishing the cognition of those involved. The series of questions is also vital information to include in reports. By adding an injury check to the completion of all use- of-force incidents, officers ensure practice of safe and legally sound actions in every encounter.

2. Debrief the situation

Debrief every use of force, even if it went exceptionally well. Every experience can be learned from, even those that did not result in an injury, complaint, or lawsuit.

Debriefs do not have to be planned, large-scale events like those of significant incidents. A debrief can be as simple as a discussion during roll call or even a supervisor and a few officers discussing the pros and cons of the way a situation was handled.

Debriefs are an excellent time to consider alternative scenarios that could have occurred and how the response would have changed. By making it a practice to debrief every use-of-force scenario during training, officers will grow substantially from their experiences and perform better in real-world situations.

3. Review after-action protocols

Training scenarios should include reviewing an after-action protocol. Many defensive tactics training scenarios end once the subject has been restrained. In real-life encounters, the situation is not complete until the subject’s custody has been transferred to another officer or a detention facility.

While the subject is under their care and custody, an officer’s actions are equally important as the actions leading up to the arrest. Training scenarios can help the officer develop proper habits.

Dynamic training modules should include placing the subject in the recovery position, checking the fit of restraints and slowing down the adrenaline rush that can occur during dynamic situations.

4. Document the use of force

The documentation of all use of force clearly and accurately, regardless of how minor, is an essential practice for law enforcement officers. A properly written use-of-force report articulates pertinent information leading up to the incident, what specific actions were taken during the event, and what after-action measures were taken once the situation was under control or the subject was taken into custody. A well-written use of force report paints a clear picture of the event without sugar-coating or being overly vague.

5. Share lessons learned

It is incumbent upon senior officers to share lessons learned from previous use-of-force events. Through mentoring, training and guided mental rehearsal, senior officers can take ownership of their agency’s response to force incidents. Sharing experiences with newer officers can help less experienced officers make better decisions in rapidly evolving situations.

There is no doubt this is a difficult time in an already challenging profession. But through strong leadership, quality training for officers in all phases of a use-of-force encounter, and teamwork between new and experienced officers, the challenges of this profession can not only be met but exceeded.

Train hard and be safe!

NEXT: 7 easy steps to improving police use of force reports

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