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Force-on-Force or Video Simulation?

Training or no training? I’ll take training over no training any day; however, some training is better than others. Take simulators for example. No doubt many officers have trained in them. Simulators have become a staple in many department training curriculums, particularly when budget crunches make live fire training prohibitive.  Some agencies and departments have even created policy that allows their personnel to complete at least one qualification using the firearm simulator.

However, in the case of judgment training, where the officer stands in front of the screen and attempts to interact with the bad guy, can this training ever be realistic enough? Can we sufficiently prepare our officers to face real-life situations on the street simply by putting them through a couple of judgmental videos? Again, it’s the question of some training versus none at all.

Video simulation has its limitations. Not all scenarios are practical for individual departments. Uniforms, buildings, cars, etc., may not look familiar to your personnel, thus a hesitancy for the officers to fully engage and accept the screen as reality. The lack of consequence for inaction, or for making the wrong decision, may cause some participants simply to go through the motions. Shootback capabilities, have to some extent, ameliorated this shortcoming, but not completely.

Force-on-force is training that will best prepare officers for threats they’ll likely face on the job. One disadvantage of force-on-force versus simulation is time, manpower and logistics. Whereas the simulator allows an officer to come off his post for a 30-minute training session, the force-on-force training involves dedicating a half or an entire day to train. Additionally, an appropriate training venue is needed and simunition weapons and safety equipment made available to all participants.  Add role players, the briefing and after action critique into the mix, and you’re looking at a huge block of time and personnel.

So the question becomes this: Is force-on-force training worth the time and cost? Yes. Teaching basic marksmanship skills to officers and punching holes in paper targets does not translate well to the harsh reality of the street. When you add real people into the mix, have them move, use cover, and shoot back, is when you create the best possible preparation for success.

Can you create stress in a simulator? Some, but nothing like the anxiety, anticipation and stress that manifests itself in a force-on-force training situation. The other advantage in using force-on-force is the ability to practice tactics and communication. While a simulator may film the participant as he navigates stairways, hallways, etc., there’s nothing like the real thing. The ability to employ clearing techniques, e.g., mirroring, slicing the pie, quick peeks, etc., is priceless.

Firing at a moving subject or one utilizing cover, is a beneficial experience that needs to be repeated as often as possible. Repetition means familiarity which is stored in short term memory. Learning the mechanics of a weapon and the basics of marksmanship cannot adequately prepare anyone to engage another person in a gunfight. There is an intangible quality, a self-test of sorts, that each of us must undergo that allows us to gain confidence in our ability to win. That cannot be accomplished simply by firing at a video screen.

More officers are being tested than ever before. People with guns are no longer the exception, they are now the rule. Bad guys are bolder and more violent than in the past. Hollywood movies and games such as Grand Theft Auto, which topped the $1 billion sales mark, teach kids and adults alike that human life has no value and desensitize them to injury and death. Factor in the high rate of unemployment, and those who have a total lack of respect for authority, and you have the likelihood of violent encounters for cops on the street. To win these encounters means we must train using the same tools and skills we utilize on the job. To expect to win without adequate training is a fool’s game.

Stay safe, Brothers and Sisters!