This is the last of a three-part series on force-on-force scenario training. We're wrapping up with some final thoughts on how to run a safe and effective program based on my 20-plus years of experience, plus input from a lot of good folks, on this topic.
It's a make-or-break topic for your training: We've talked briefly about this before, but it requires more detail now. Having people replicate the behavior of criminals, as well as innocent civilians, is a definitive part of the realistic, force-on-force scenario process. Role players should be properly coached on their specific tasks. A member of the instructional staff should be responsible for this, staying close during the scenario to monitor the role player's well-being, as well as the overall progress. It's smart to give role players at least a verbal briefing (and get affirmation back) of expected behaviors. In some cases—larger exercises, for example—it's a good idea for each role player to have a script with a list of desired options. The latter is known as "branching." In one repetition of the basic scenario, the suspect role player follows a particular course of action. Then, in the next exercise with a new set of students, that "criminal" may react to the police presence in a different manner.
An example scenario would be a building search to hone officers' skills. One team of officers would be faced with a single suspect inside. A second team would face a suspect and an innocent civilian, and perhaps the scenario would evolve into a hostage situation.
A third "branching" has the suspect hidden in a difficult to find spot to test how thoroughly the location is searched. One training aspect here is the officers' reaction if they do find the suspect. You've probably seen it before: An officer searches without the proper caution and thoroughness and is startled upon finding a suspect. In such cases, officers have even wrongly fired their guns without any conscious thought driving the trigger press. I've seen this happen—only it wasn't during a training scenario.
A startled response like this is sometimes called the "Jack in the Box" effect for good reason. It's a reflection of poor preparation and mindset. A better mental approach is to expect to discover someone—suspect or civilian—and be surprised at the end of the search when no one is found. If the officers miss an individual during this search, then the instructor controlling the scenario could even signal the suspect to get in behind the officers. This may teach an important lesson, especially if the officer gets shot in the back. Some students may respond that this is an unfair tactic. I disagree. They're probably embarrassed by their mistake and can't own up to it. I hope you agree that it's better for officers to learn such a lesson during training rather than have it happen for real, with a police funeral as the end result.
Another good training option is to have the role players stay out of the training environment without the officer's knowledge. In other words, there won't be anyone to find. Often, the buildup to force-on-force training causes officers to anticipate they will be in a gunfight every time they go into a scenario. We know for sure this isn't true on duty, so variation in training can prepare officers for the uncertainty of reality.
There are some other issues when working with role players. Primarily, we're talking about those assigned the role of being a suspect. Their behavior should mimic that found on the streets. Language used is one example and there are many options. One of our go-to role players is a female reserve officer. Normally, she's very quiet and demure, respectful and professional. But let me tell you, as a suspect she morphs into a foul-mouthed, verbally abusive criminal persona. It's both scary and hilarious when she lays into an unsuspecting officer. I was present when she first did it, following the coordinator's instructions to "make it real." We were all taken aback initially and then fought to stifle our laughter until the scenario was over. We agreed that from then on, she was going to be a favorite role player.
Another topic for your "suspects" is their response to being hit by the officers' gunfire. One suggested behavior is that the scenario's bad guys not immediately fall down. While a role player shouldn't be allowed to go rogue and channel Schwarzenegger's indestructible Terminator character, it's a reality that one or more hits won't always cause immediate incapacitation, let alone be accurate. Consider the hit ratio of officers in real lethal force encounters. Look at the walls behind a suspect after the scenario goes cold, and it will provide some evidence about this ratio.
Platt & Matix
Real incident: The 1986 FBI shootout with two violent bank robbers, Michael Platt and William Matix, is part of our collective lessons learned. Approximately 145 total rounds were fired, with several agents dead and wounded. Although also critically wounded, both suspects didn't surrender or stay down. They were finally killed by the FBI after crawling into an agent's vehicle while trying to escape. On occasions, role players should behave in a worst case manner, mirroring such incidents to some degree. These events are guaranteed to happen again. So long as training is done safely, why not get officers ready?
No Shots Fired
Each confrontation with a suspect doesn't have to be a shootout. "No-shoots" are equally good for training. Having officers deal with this alternative is another legally defensible training model. Examples: Officers encounter a suspect with a gun in his waistband, on a table next to him or in a glove box. It's not in his hand yet, but it could be. How the cops respond to this potential use-of-force moment is again realistic. Transferring all this to the program at your shop, the key is to have the right balance of behaviors by "suspects" during the scenarios.
When possible, officers should be supplied with equipment comparable to that used on duty. The advancements the various manufacturers have given us for force-on-force weapons and ammo help us stay realistic. Building on this, there are inert pepper spray devices, "blue gun" tasers and even simunitions adapters for less lethal launchers, such as a 12-gauge shotgun. Another element is using real radios. It's suggested that the scenario be run with these in play. At some point, the training focus should include getting the word out on what's happened.
Can You Hear Me?
Having real radios on their belts builds officers' "muscle memory" for using that important communications tool under extreme stress. Lt. Col. Grossman's advice regarding combat breathing is applicable here. Teaching officers to use the radio properly—at the right point in the confrontation—is a training objective in its own right. During my rookie cop youth, a good dispatcher had to tell me to calm down before I tried to broadcast again after sounding like a pre-pubescent, screaming banshee during my first attempt. As part of the scenario, someone should act as that voice at the other end of the bandwidth. It would be a bonus if a department dispatcher could work the scenarios. This would make the program a double-down training opportunity. Not only the officers learn, but the dispatchers who help out experience the event as well.
On the Radio
If radios are used, it's wise to make sure they're on a frequency other than the normal patrol one. I know this is a "no brainer," but it's happened. An alternate frequency should be on the scenario prep checklist if radios are in the students' hands. It makes sense as well to let everyone know what's going on with that frequency so that uninvolved personnel don't go all knobs-to-the-right when a cop broadcasts a shots-fired message during the training. And if you have other agencies who routinely monitor your frequencies, don't forget to tell them also.
Under some circumstances, officers will get hit by fire from the scenario's suspects. As the instructors monitor this, they should also consider telling a "wounded" officer they've been hit. Clearly, it's a mindset training opportunity to prepare them for that possibility.
One example from history: President Ronald Reagan was shot in the chest on March 30, 1981. The bullet stopped one inch from his heart. When the Secret Service got him to the hospital, he insisted on exiting "the Beast" on his own power. Knowing there were bigger issues hinging on his behavior as the world held its collective breath, he stood up, straightened his suit and walked through the doors and as far into the emergency department as he could before collapsing. He was 70 years old at the time! There's a lesson to pass on from that man's behavior about what an injured officer can do under similar circumstances.
Under direction from an instructor, the wounded officer and partners should act out what they would do. For the record, my first priorities would be to deal with the threat as appropriate and take care of my fellow officer. Tough call which comes first, but it will depend upon the circumstances, whether it's realistic training or real.
There are some options that flow from this dilemma. One is for the officers to hold his ground at the flashpoint. Depending on the condition of the wounded officer, withdrawal is also on the table. Critical to this is the question of whether the wounded officer can self-evacuate or needs assistance. If the latter is the case, instructors should be cautious if an officer starts to physically pick up a wounded partner. It's possible a trainee could blow out their back or knees. Although the officer should be complimented on the rescue, there's no need to carry it—literally—to the point of a potentially career-
ending training moment. Pro tip: Although not always practical, a field-expedient alternative, if appropriate, is to grab a chair with casters and use it to move an officer or injured civilian.
Students should also use emergency, combat-oriented first aid. If the officers are equipped with blood stoppers or tourniquets, instructors should make someone use them. Similarly, at some point it may be necessary for officers to render aid to a suspect. Clearly, this should come only after the threat is stopped and the suspect is in custody. The message: As professionals, officers transition to a lifesaving mode once the danger is removed. Even if a suspect just tried to harm someone, it's our expected standard of behavior to aid him.
That's it. I've tried to share how to run good, safe force-on-force scenarios. Wrapping it up, it's a good idea to have some form of force-on-force instructor certification. Both Simunitions and Armiger Publications put on good courses that are worth the investment. Training at the Speed of Life by Kenneth R. Murray is required instructor reading. Use these training opportunities to benefit the officers who look to you for realistic lessons learned that will be with them for those critical moments.
Train safe. God bless America.
R.K. Miller retired from the Huntington Beach (Calif.) Police Department as a lieutenant after 30 years of service in a variety of assignments, including FTO, trauma support, beach detail, detective, SWAT and field supervisor. He serves on the staff at the Golden West College Police Academy as an instructor and SWAT Academy coordinator, and as an instructor for the NRA Law Enforcement Activities Division and his own company, National Training Concepts Inc. (www.ntc-swat.org). Miller holds a bachelor's degree and is a Marine Corps Vietnam veteran. Contact him at [email protected]