Does your training reflect reality?

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

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

A few years ago, I gathered some thoughts on what I believed to be the personal protection skills needed to help police and civilians survive. It was simply listed into three categories: Awareness, Avoidance, and Defense. I believed then, and I still do to some degree, that if you were in that ‘orange’ condition, you could anticipate most dangers and avoid them. If not, there were some basic things that could be taught, bought, or supplied to help protect us. It never ceases to amaze me how crime and violence always manage to evolve, keeping us (good and protective) off balance. Just when you think carrying a gun with you offers a great measure of security, a fan intentionally drives a plane into a building. Just when you think your martial arts training dollars were a good investment, we find ourselves in 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 headed 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 imaginable scenario we could think of. Generally, we learned some lessons from the failures and successes of other agencies. We never really let ourselves down, because we were well trained, you see. If we could envision a mission, we would purchase the necessary equipment and seek training. We became 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 the threats. However, we are still waiting for an appropriate response to be prepared.

Realizing that 99% of our contacts do not involve the judicious use of deadly force, agencies began emphasizing so-called “less lethal” techniques and technology to save them from liability. We’re still waiting for Star Trek phasers to hit the market, but until then we’re bound to use what we have. Let’s start with a practical description of what the term “less lethal” means. These are tools and techniques that are developed to help us gain control of a violent person with a low probability of causing death or serious injury. Death can happen, but we can honestly say that we try to avoid it.

There are many unarmed defensive tactics programs that claim to provide the practitioner with the necessary skills to deal with violence with love. Sorry for my sarcasm, but that’s not reality. Pressure point tactics have always been suspect, but they gained favor when politicians saw them as humane and less likely to cause a lawsuit. It was dropped when we were able to convince bosses that violent people have the ability to ignore pain and didn’t really appreciate our honest efforts to gently persuade them to stop their antisocial behavior.

Batons, maces, pepper spray, TASERs, long-range impact weapons (bean 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 appropriate. However, they can only help us if we have them when we need them. They all require manual training and, more importantly, the right mindset to employ them when needed. So, in law enforcement jargon, we have a continuous use of force (or matrix) to choose the correct 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 of those options were awesome for the class and almost for a student, they preferred martial arts and firearms. I don’t mean the years of discipline, the ‘know yourself before you can defeat your enemy’ kind of martial arts. I’m talking about the Ultimate Fighting Championship stuff you see on TV. Empty-handed destruction, or shoot ’em! It is not a very large arsenal for personal or legal protection. Being so underprepared means that much of your game plan is down to 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 short survey to see if there was much emphasis on less-lethal training and equipment in the private sector. The results were predictable, but they also raised some concerns. These are some of the responses I received. (I’m still getting the answers)

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

2. What kind of defense training?

a) Defensive tactics without weapons-80%

b) Pressure point tactics-40%

c) Friction lock sticks-60%

d) Pepper spray-80%

e) TASER-0%

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

g) Kubotan/ Persuade-40%

h) Nunchucks – 10%

i) Other less lethal tools-60%

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

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

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

My non-scientific reading of these results would indicate a need for training in less lethal techniques and technology. Approximately one in five security professionals have little or no training in conflict management. This worries me because a large majority of them also feel the need to obtain their Concealed Weapons Permits.

This is a very unscientific survey and was used to generate debate; however, the majority of those who responded were former or current law enforcement officers. Although no concrete conclusions can be drawn from these answers, it does point to the need to add additional tools to our toolbox. The difference between a street fighter and a professional 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 keep the bottom line in mind; physical, psychological and legal.

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

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