Balancing REALISM to SAFETY

     Concepts of what sound a tree makes falling with no one around and the idea of a single hand clapping all inspire paradoxes with no clear response. Adding to this list of hypothetical questions is, "How many shots are fired on officers in the street who are standing still without cover?" Combine this with: "How can realism in firearms training be effective yet keep the necessary levels of safety?" That's the trouble with hypothetical questions: there is no answer. To compensate for these hypotheticals, firearms trainers take great caution when employing realistic elements into instruction to ensure realism isn't weighted more heavily than safety.

     The most utilized tactic to inject realism into firearms training — and the term on the tip of most trigger fingers — is "force-on-force" training. With this, stress inoculation rides "shotgun" in officers' firearm-handling education.

     A number of organizations offer firearm training to law enforcement nationwide, including, but are not limited to, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC), ArmorGroup International Training Inc. (ITI) and Spartan Tactical Training Group.

     The NRA also offers such training through its Law Enforcement Training Department. Mark Peters, its staff instructor, explains that stress inoculation prepares officers for the chaotic situations they may face. By putting them into those situations in a safe training environment through scenarios and force-on-force training. "If [officers] have dealt with the problem ... repeatedly in their training, they are more likely to respond in that manner," he adds.

     John Krupa, master firearms instructor, president of the Spartan Tactical Training Group and director of training operations for the DS Arms Law Enforcement Training Division, incorporates stress-enhanced shooting drills that acclimate officers to stress inoculation and familiarizes them with the physiological reactions of the body under stress.

     Each organization creates its own firearm training curriculum, which commonly begins with a study of fundamentals, then moves to applying what students learned. Training eventually transitions to an interactive-type program that combines fundamentals and movement with high-stress environments to simulate real life.

     Benjamin Kurata, senior staff instructor of ArmorGroup ITI - Texas, explains ArmorGroup's methodology. He notes that during static training, the officer or trainee is shooting at a known distance in optimal lighting conditions. Dynamic training involves an officer facing multiple threats and non-threats that respond to his reactions with rapidly changing distances and adaptive lighting. "This simulates 'full speed, full power' while maintaining safety for the trainee," he says.

     Under the assumption that students have never seen or fired a handgun before, the FLETC administers its fundamental education with officers in a static position. "The reason for that is we can then instill on them our best safety practices for range training," says Don Savage, FLETC firearms division senior instructor.

     While static down-range training remains the foundation of all firearm handling, Peters points out the inherent drawback: "A lot of times when you do live fire, everybody is very comfortable and standing. You have to do live fire from awkward positions and around cover because that's real world. In real life, you're not going to stand there; you're going to have to move and use available cover, and that's not always the most comfortable shooting position."

     The FLETC answers this dilemma with its dynamic stage of training. The FLETC's final phase involves interaction with an instructor or with role players trained to interact in a particular way based on the scenario. This is intended to reinforce and verify safety principles, reinforce skills and tie in other appropriate training received.

     "There's a correct way to use cover, and we teach them to do it … once we correct any issues then we start shooting while moving with cover in live fire," adds Rod Burnett, FLETC senior firearm instructor.

Nothing new on the range

     Though incorporating realism into firearms training isn't a new concept, Krupa adds that incorporating research on how the human body reacts physiologically under stress during a deadly force confrontation is. As the world evolves, so should an officer's training. "We need to prepare our officers mentally, not physically, on how to handle deadly force confrontations," he says. He adds that they need to understand what happens when the body starts to experience stress-induced symptoms such as vasoconstriction, tachypsychia, an adrenaline dump and auditory exclusion.

     A large portion of ArmorGroup ITI's students are armed forces or government agency personnel. The group stages its scenarios based on the situations students might realistically encounter. Kurata understands that the same principles apply to law enforcement. Similarly, an officer will experience a traditional active shooter situation versus a possible takeover of a school by an organized group. The company also teaches officers how to look for key behaviors that indicate an impending violent attack, such as voice patterns or body positioning. "Realism is the key to our training, as it helps ensure the future safety of our students," he says.

     Interactive education may seem like force-on-force training, but Peters points out that the NRA prefers live firearm instruction. This can expose weaknesses in training. Peters advises that "If the trainees don't react as expected, or react as trained, then you have to take a look at how the training is structured and change the training in order to retrieve the response intended." He adds that though "the NRA recognizes that [force-on-force is] an invaluable training, [the organization] sticks with live firearms."

Train the trainer

     Patrol officers and firearm instructors can both benefit from realistic firearm training

     "In live fire, high-speed pneumatic-turning targets allow large groups of trainees to learn how to react in the time frame of an actual fight," he notes, "But few agencies are allowed to use realistic photo targets. So subconsciously we are training our officers to draw and fire within realistic time frames but at unrealistic targets."

     The FLETC hosts a number of train-the-trainer-type programs. The "Instructor Program" classes include firearms, reactive shooting, rifle, subgun, non-lethal and more.

     By bringing the education home, the firearms instructor can make training more effective by tweaking it to be more relative to the individual jurisdiction. "Look at past incidents and trends," recommends Peters, "then structure the training according to that to enhance the probability of officers winning the gunfight."

     Savage agrees that adapting broad training based on an agency's officer's strengths and weaknesses is useful. Instructors should "Show the ... trends that occur in training [and] present the information in such a way that those new practices are proven to show success by the student."

     Combining that strategy with studies to explain how the body reacts under stress, allowed firearms instructors to understand the "how" and "why."

     One area of firearms training that has evolved for the better is the integration of defensive tactics and firearms, says Kurata. Defensive tactics instructors used to be taught separate techniques from firearms instructors. "The two areas are coming together as the reality of the fight may be that it starts out a pushing contest but could quickly become a gun grab or a contact weapon situation," he says. Responding to this, the ArmorGroup ITI uses role playing or force-on-force scenarios in the majority of its advanced courses. They also incorporate vehicles, demonstrating how to fight from inside and around the vehicle with a firearm.

Safety

     While accidents can happen at any time — on the street, highway or in a deserted building — the law enforcement training accident burns its own candle in the hearts of officers. Safety measures are in place to protect not only the individual trainee, but the other students and instructors as well. "Any time you are moving a student or group into a new skill set there is the potential for a safety habit or technique [to fall] off the cart," says Kurata. He advises working on team tactics first: moving, communicating and elevating muzzle awareness as a team.

     Consider prevention the first defense against training accidents. He offers key points for trainers to aid in safety before starting a drill:

  • Have a clear understanding of the skill(s) taught.
  • Know how to communicate and demonstrate these skills to students.
  • Know how to give corrective feedback.
  • Keep in mind that the average student or officer does not have the same level of skill as the instructor.
  • Have the students use inert blue or red guns until a satisfactory skill level is reached.
  • Slow down the pace or keep the pace at half speed if safety issues arise, or if students push too hard or too fast.

     Taking safety one step further, the FLETC requires firearm instructors to pass automated external defibrillator training annually and trauma management every three years.

     The NRA's position is to not use any firearm capable of firing live ammunition in force-on-force training. Instead, the organization chooses an airsoft- or paintball-type firearm. This is because the airsoft or paintball gun would not be able to fire live 9mm or .40-caliber rounds. "As soon as you start taking shortcuts or becoming lackadaisical, that's when accidents could occur, and then there is a failure somewhere in the safety procedures," says Peters.

     The NRA suggests a strict triple redundant safety check procedure for force-on-force training using a firearm, modified or not. The organization adds that if anyone enters or leaves the training area, this check procedure should be conducted again.

     Realism in firearm training plays a vital aspect in law enforcement training. Having trainees understand lessons before the test can closely acclimate to a gunfight without compromising safety, thus enhancing training's effectiveness and affecting the officer's reality on the street.

     Editor's note: Training classes and instructor programs provided by FLETC and NRA can be found at www.fletc.gov and at www.nrahq.org/law, respectively. Further information on the Team Spartan Tactical Training Group and ArmorGroup ITI can be found at www.teamspartan.com and at www.itiwsi.com, respectively.

Equipment available for firearm training

     "The officer should train with every force option at their disposal," notes Benjamin Kurata, senior staff instructor of the ArmorGroup ITI — Texas.

     To aid in safety, Federal Law Enforcement Training Center's (FLETC) training begins by wanding each student with a magnetometer and then sealing off the area. According to Don Savage, FLETC - Firearms Division senior instructor, anyone that comes into the area during training is wanded and checked for live ammunition before they can return.

     "Simunition" can often be heard in reference to force-on-force ammunition. This term, however, can commonly refer to dye-marking cartridges. A manufacturer may produce live rounds as well as the desired dye-marking round, which could create a dangerous situation in force-on-force training if safety procedures are not kept.

     Additional equipment to aid in the safety of realistic firearm training can include:

  • Helmets, face shields
  • Chest protectors
  • Dye-marking cartridges such as the FX marking round from Simunition
  • The UTM round from Ultimate Training Munitions
  • Paint pellets
  • Airsoft weapons
  • Foam batons
  • Training cartridges for conducted-energy devices
  • OC sprays
  • Inner/outer ear and eye protection
  • Throat guard
  • Gloves
  • Jacket
  • Groin protector
  • CPR and AED training
Noteworthy books on training

     Literature has always played its role in any level of education; law enforcement training should be no different.

     A few books based on realism, firearms and training have stood apart from others on the shelves. These are:

  • "On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society" from Back Bay Books by Dave Grossman
  • "On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace" from PPCT Research Publications by Dave Grossman
  • "Sharpening the Warriors Edge: The Psychology & Science of Training" from PPCT Research Publications by Bruce Siddle
  • "Training at the Speed of Life, Vol. 1: The Definitive Textbook for Police and Military Reality Based Training" from Armiger Publications by Ken Murray

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