Enough of a Good Thing

For several years, law enforcement training has propagated a familiar mantra regarding “another tool in your toolbox.” That somewhat worn-out phrase has been used to justify a lot of equipment, and, many times, rightfully so. However, when is the proverbial toolbox too full? When is an officer overburdened by equipment to the point of being physically challenged to carry so much gear? More importantly, what about the need to make force option decisions during rapidly unfolding dynamic incidents?

In the end, each officer must be able to defend their decision not only to use force, but also why they chose the particular tool they did. The officer’s agency must be able to produce records of training and qualification that demonstrate the officer’s certification on specific force option tools. Let’s have a closer look.

Too Much Stuff?
Gone are the days of a uniformed officer hitting the streets with only a sidearm, spare ammo, set of handcuffs, radio and a baton on their Sam Browne. It’s almost a certainty that oleoresin capsicum (OC) and a Taser will also be taking up space and adding weight to an already crowded and heavy gun belt. Add a small flashlight, knife/multi-tool and the must-have cell phone—there’s virtually no room left on most patrol officer’s belts.

That’s just the personally-carried gear. An inspection of most patrol cars reveals the ubiquitous 12-gauge shotgun (in lethal configuration), an AR-15 or similar .223 carbine and, in many cases, a dedicated 12-gauge less-lethal platform or PepperBall launcher.
At our most recent quarterly defensive tactics training, I overheard a few officers discussing their choice of impact weapons. During the discussion, there was also talk about “all the gear we are required to carry.” A debate ensued about the pros and cons of batons vs. OC vs. Taser. The officers each had their own likes and dislikes, along with specific reasons for them. Bottom line: There exists a desire to carry less gear and be more proficient with the gear that works best. It reminded me of the old adage: “Beware the man who owns but one gun, for he surely knows how to use it.”

Just like the tools in a carpenter’s toolbox, the tools carried by law enforcement each have a specific purpose. Each carries with it capabilities and limitations. It’s the responsibility of the person carrying the tools to know their equipment—its capabilities, limitations and the allowances and limitations prescribed by law on the use this equipment. It’s the responsibility of the agency to ensure the training that supports the equipment is contemporary and within “industry standard.”

What to Do?
Consider the following scenario: A suspect who’s obviously under the influence of drugs and has committed a misdemeanor battery against a stranger refuses to comply with your lawful orders to turn around and place his hands behind his back. You tell him he’s under arrest and repeat your lawful order. Instead of complying, the suspect removes his shirt and assumes a fighting stance, yelling at you, “I’m gonna kick your ass!” as he rapidly aggresses toward you.

One officer might consider applying OC spray and another might consider drawing their Taser and giving a Taser warning prior to deployment. Which officer is right? Is either one wrong? The answer lies in the ability of the officer, based upon their level of training and experience, as well as their ability to articulate why they chose the particular force option.

Graham v. Conner (the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision and a defining use-of-force case) recognizes that the force chosen doesn’t have to be the “best” choice, but it must be “objectively reasonable.” In California, 835(a) of the Penal Code authorizes LEOs to use force to overcome resistance, prevent escape and/or affect arrest. Important: All officers must be thoroughly knowledgeable regarding their authority to apply force. Just as important is the ability to justify in writing (arrest report) and verbally (testimony in a criminal or civil suit) how and why they used the type of force they used.

Cost & the Real World

In a perfect world, cost would never be a consideration in equipping and training LE professionals. However, cost is always a consideration and, sadly, sometimes it’s the deciding factor. There are costs involved in the initial acquisition of equipment as well as training. Then there are the ongoing costs of maintaining equipment and refresher training. These costs aren’t insignificant in the best of economic times.

Because of this, proper selection of equipment and personnel to which the training and equipment is provided is critically important. (Note: In most agencies, not everyone is trained or certified on all less-lethal options. Options such as PepperBall or extended-range kinetic energy impact munitions are force options provided to a smaller, select group.)

Train for It
Scenario-based training is one of the best training techniques available to law enforcement. Properly administered, this type of training will test mindset, decision-making under stress and physical proficiency within the entire use of force spectrum.

Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman (U.S. Army, retired) has written and spoken volumes about mental as well as physical conditioning. His technique of “stress inoculation” holds an important place in the arena of less-lethal, as well as lethal force, application. By exposing officers to artificial stress during realistic scenarios utilizing disciplined role players, officers can become better prepared for the mental and physical aspects of armed encounters and/or physical resistance by suspects requiring an appropriate aggressive response.

Picking up early on pre-assaultive clues (behavior such as rolling up long sleeves, removing hat/glasses/shirt, clenching fists, verbally challenging an officer, failing to comply with commands, etc.) and taking immediate appropriate action (moving to a position of advantage, drawing OC, Taser, baton, etc.) are important tactics that should be regularly practiced in training and real-world encounters.

In a training environment, at the conclusion of each scenario the instructors should have the students explain the following.

  • What did the officer see/hear (observations of suspect’s actions and what the suspect said)?
  • What did the officer do in response to the suspect’s actions (verbal challenge by officer, exhibiting and/or using force options)?
  • Why did the officer take whatever action they took?
  • What was the officer’s authority to take the action they took (law, department policy)?
  • If time permits, occasionally having the officer write a report of the incident at the end of training is also beneficial.

In Sum
Such training programs involve time and money, not something in abundance in today’s economic situation. Each agency must decide what level of investment in time and resources they’re willing to commit to make their officers safer and more effective.

Consider: The best equipment in the world isn’t worth much if it isn’t properly supported by equal or better training. Practice doesn’t make perfect—perfect practice makes perfect. Always train as if each scenario is real. Stay mentally alert and aware of your surroundings. Remain proficient with the use of all of your equipment. Lastly, never surrender: not to a suspect or to yourself. Don’t give in to complacency by allowing yourself to get out of good physical condition or by losing proficiency with your tools or tactics.

Finally: If you become aware that others have “lost their edge,” you have an absolute obligation to them, their family, our profession and the citizens we serve to bring to their attention your observations in a professional manner.


Why Simulators Work in Less-Lethal Training
Officer Timothy Loso, Training Division, Kalamazoo (Mich.) Department of Public Safety

Frequency: We do IES Milo training twice per year. We have OC and Taser options. We give officer’s scenarios where a person is looking to fight or to harm themselves.

Post-Drill Evaluation: After every training we have them articulate why they used that force. How does it fit into the Michigan State force continuum? This is how it works in court. I think officers make decisions knowing whole-heartedly why they did what they did, but they can’t articulate why. That’s the thing in court: You need to be able to explain it.

We’ll give the suspect a non-traditional lethal weapon, say a rock, and then the officer has to decide. Now the person is armed with a deadly force weapon and if they go for the Taser they might reconsider it in the moment, and then switch to lethal force. We can discuss the implications of the decision.

Dynamic Environments: We can really control the environment. There’s video playback so that officers can watch what they did and hear what they said. With red gun or Simunitions you really have to develop the scenario. With a simulator you can change the virtual environment instantly.

Cost: It’s very cost effective. You’re not paying for Simunition rounds, just batteries. There’s less of a safety issue as opposed to a Redman suit. So you don’t need a bunch of safety gear and several safety officers and all that.


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