We all know the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Traditional defensive tactics training for cops is insane. Here are three reasons why:
#1: We’re Not Actually Training
Training can be defined as the skill, knowledge or experience acquired by one who trains. How long these things take to acquire depends on the complexity of the skill being trained. However, I’ve never met anyone who has gotten really good at something by practicing it for eight hours, once per year. Sadly, this is the exact amount of time many police departments dedicate to teaching their officers how to control uncooperative people and defend themselves. What’s worse is that these eight hours are usually packed with multiple topics, in an attempt to check all the proverbial boxes required by their state. This typically includes the use of their baton, Taser, pepper spray and spending a few minutes hitting some bags. It wouldn’t be defensive tactics training if we didn’t at least kick a bag three times! After completing all of this so-called training, administrators, the general public and media will wonder why an officer resorted to primal forms of aggression to gain compliance from someone who was being combative or actively resisting. They will also question why the officer didn’t use his or her “training” during the altercation. The simple answer in many cases is they don’t really have any. The result is often a situation like this, which could be ended by one officer in 20 seconds with a proper neck restraint.
#2: We’re Preparing for Fantasy vs. Reality
The idea of snatching a gun out of someone’s hand or effortlessly defending ourselves against a knife attack with our bare hands looks really cool. So cool, in fact, that departments will spend thousands of dollars to send instructors across the country to learn a few techniques and come home with a piece of paper that says they’re certified to teach others. This is not to put down knife or gun defense courses. There are a lot of great instructors and great courses out there. The larger point is; what should we be focusing the majority of our efforts on? In all my years as a cop, I’ve never had to use my bare hands to defend myself against a knife attack, or had someone randomly walk up and stick a gun in my face. Not to say it can’t happen, but compare these hypothetical scenarios with the number of times you’ve had to wrestle with an uncooperative suspect and get them controlled. Personally, I’ve lost count.
Knowing that grappling is far more common than any other defensive situation on the street, police departments continue investing time and money into things that look cool vs. things that actually work, and, ironically, continue paying out settlements from excessive force lawsuits and seeing their incidents posted all over the internet. We talk about the "Hollywood" effect in law enforcement and how it sways public perception of how our jobs actually work, but I think this has also influenced the way we've trained our cops over the years.
#3: We Buy Into the Idea of “Approved” Techniques
Police administrators are very conscious of potential lawsuits surrounding use of force. As a result, they typically buy into training programs that promise effective, easy-to-use techniques that ensure limited liability and safety for the officer and suspect. These programs usually consist of a few basic moves, which are then cemented into the department’s use of force policies and become the only “approved techniques” officers are allowed to use. The major issue here is that physical altercations can be very dynamic and people do unpredictable things. It’s not realistic or safe to teach cops a defined set of techniques and expect them to work in every situation. Often, a particular technique will need to be modified during the fight, or abandoned altogether because it’s not working. When this happens, the officer is susceptible to administrative discipline because they didn’t use one of the magical techniques purchased by their agency. As an instructor, I’ve been volun-told to do remedial training with several officers because they had to modify a technique during a fight and didn’t apply it exactly as it was shown in the comforts of our training room. This ideology is unfair, unsafe and most importantly, absolutely INSANE.
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