Does your training reflect reality?

I was looking through my rather impressive bookshelf recently when I realized that my literary tastes are a little…obscure. I wish I was talking about dark, as in vampires or medieval times or even your basic murder mystery. No, I mean I have books on ancient martial arts, terrorism, firearms, police survival, edged weapons, stalking and rape prevention, etc. Then of course I have the odd doomsday thriller. If my house was ever searched, I’m sure I’d end up on the Department of Homeland Security’s watch list. I can write several volumes about how to make improvised explosives, how to launder money and even how to choose an armored vehicle to protect the family in a violent world. You might think I’m a little paranoid at first glance, but not exactly…

Since the early 1980s, I have been a police instructor responsible for training officers on how to survive a dangerous job using dangerous tools. Officer survival has become an obsession of mine and I decided early on that the best way to impart this knowledge was to actually have it. All police officers have seen their share of violence and danger. We’ve all witnessed horrific crime scenes and long ago stopped shaking our heads in amazement that people could treat others to such strange and creative forms of mayhem. I enrolled in numerous armed and unarmed response classes and became an instructor in too many programs to list here.

A few years ago, I put together some thoughts on what I believed to be the personal protective skills needed to help both police and civilians survive. It was simply listed in three categories: Awareness, Avoidance, and Defense. I believed then, and still do to some extent, that if you were in that “orange” condition, you could foresee most of the danger and avoid it. Short of that, there were some basic things that could be taught, bought, or supplied that would help protect us. It never ceases to amaze me how crime and violence always manage to evolve, keeping us (the good and protective) off balance. Just when you think carrying a gun with you offers a great measure of safety, a fanatic intentionally drives a plane into a building. Just when you think your martial arts training money was a good investment, we find a world of mutants who don’t respond to pain the way they’re supposed to. I won’t even get into suicide bombers at this point in my comments. So where are we going with our survival training today?

At one point in my law enforcement career, I was a member of our SWAT team. We trained for every conceivable scenario we could think of. We usually learned some lessons from the failures and successes of other agencies. We never failed, because we were well trained, you see. If we could visualize a mission, we would buy the necessary equipment and seek training. We’ve become a paramilitary team that could solve most problems with firepower, trained negotiators, or just patience. Today, there are not enough hours in the day or days in the week to cover all threats. However, we are still expected to have a suitable response ready.

Realizing that 99% of our contacts do not involve the prudent use of lethal force, agencies began to emphasize so-called “less lethal” techniques and technology to save them from liability. We’re still waiting for the Star Trek phasers to hit the market, but until then we’re forced to use what we’ve got. Let’s start with a working description of what is meant by the term “less lethal.” They are tools and techniques that are developed to help us control a violent person who is unlikely to cause death or serious injury. Death can happen, but we can honestly say we tried to avoid it.

There are many gunless defensive tactics programs that claim to provide the practitioner with the skills necessary to deal with violence with love. Pardon my sarcasm, but that’s not the truth. Pressure point tactics have always been suspect, but they gained favor when politicians saw it as humane and less likely to lead to a lawsuit. He was abandoned when we were able to convince the bosses that the violent people there had the ability to ignore pain and he really didn’t appreciate our honest efforts to gently persuade them to stop their anti-social behavior.

Batons, mace, pepper spray, TASER, long-range impact weapons (bags, SAGE guns, etc.), Kubotans, and tools were all tested, issued, and remain options. All of these tools, along with verbal judo communication skills, remain in our arsenal and can be accessed when needed. However, they can only help us if we have them when we need them. All require manual training and, more importantly, the right mind to use them when needed. So in law enforcement parlance, we have a use-of-force continuum (or matrix) for choosing the appropriate level of force to use against a specific level of threat.

During a recent training session I did with private security personnel, I realized that all those options were mind boggling for the class and almost as a student, I preferred martial arts and firearms. I don’t mean the years of discipline, “know yourself before you can defeat your enemy” type of martial arts either. I’m talking about the Ultimate Fighting Championship stuff they see on TV. Empty handed destruction or shoot them! It’s not a very large arsenal of personal or legal protection. Being so unprepared means a lot of their game plan depends on luck. I prefer to play the lottery.

With the help of some colleagues in the executive protection field and some uniformed security officers and private investigators, I conducted a brief survey to see if there was much emphasis on less lethal training and equipment in the private sector . The results were predictable, but also raised some concerns. These are some of the responses I have received. (I’m still getting the answers)

  1. Have you received less lethal training? 80% yes

  2. What kind of defense training?

a) Unarmed defensive tactics-80%

b) Pressure point tactics-40%

c) Friction locking rods-60%

d) Pepper spray-80%

e) TASER-0%

f) Long-range impact weapons (sage guns, bean bags, etc.) -0%

g) Kubotan/Persuader-40%

h) Nunchakus- 10%

i) Other less lethal tools-60%

  1. Was the training documented and kept in your records? 40% yes, 60% no

  2. Have you ever used techniques or tactics that were taught? 40% yes, 60% no

  3. Have you ever used deadly force? 10% yes, 90% no

My unscientific reading of these results would indicate the need for training in less lethal techniques and technology. About one in five security professionals have little or no training in conflict management. This worries me because a large majority of these also feel the need to get their concealed weapons permits.

This is a very unscientific survey and was used to generate discussion; however, the majority of respondents were former or current law enforcement officers. While no concrete conclusions can be drawn from these responses, they do point to the need to add additional tools to our toolbox. The difference between a street fighter and a pro is the amount of time we spend weighing the consequences of our actions. Whether it’s protecting a client or a family member, we must always be aware of the bottom line; physical, psychological and legal.

Does our training reflect reality? Or does it just reflect an illusion?

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