How Gear Can Help Take Your Training To The Next Level

The following is a great article written by Ed Flosi. Ed’s a police sergeant in San Jose, California. He has been in law enforcement for over 25 years and is currently assigned as a supervisor in the Training Unit. Ed has a unique combination of academic background and practical real world experience including patrol, special operations and investigations. Ed is the current lead instructor for; (1) use-of-force training, and (2) defense and arrest tactics for the San Jose Police Department.

Using impact suit training effectively and safely
Impact suit training plays an important part in developing an officer’s abilities in and understanding of defensive tactics, known to many as close-quarters combat. Though DT/CQC training encompasses many aspects of potentially violent physical encounters, the time dedicated to impact weapon training can often be sterile and unrealistic. The ability to have a role player suit up in a protective suit and act out dynamic movements can break through the rote drills and deliver a multitude of benefits.

For example, the student’s response to stress can be gauged depending on how aggressive the role player becomes. Also, the targets presented by the role player are much more realistic than a hand held baton shield. Overall, the impact suit was designed to protect the role player from blunt trauma injuries so that the training can be more realistic while lessening the chance of injury to both the student and role player.

One benefit that many trainers agree on is the ability for the role player to hit the student. While this may seem cruel or malicious to the uninformed, there are many police recruits that have never experienced the physical/emotional force and violence of a school-yard fight, contact sports, or a general punch in the face. This is partly (at least) the consequence of a generational change in society.

During the course of a career in police work, there is a high likelihood of an officer being involved in a knock-down, drag-out fight while attempting to take a suspect into custody. During this type of altercation, taking a “punch on the nose” is not unrealistic. It is a good idea for the trainee to discover the physical and emotional response to being punched in the face while still in a training environment. It is important to allow the trainee to experience this sensation, but only to the point that it is instructional and controlled. There is a vast difference between delivering a controlled strike to the student in order to allow him/her to experience it and pummeling a student simply because the role player can.

Injury Mitigation
There is no way to absolutely guarantee that the student will not get injured in these activities but there are several things that can be done to lessen the risk. First and foremost is to remember the purpose of the impact suit. The impact suit was designed to protect the role player from blunt trauma injury. Though impact suits have hand protection similar to those worn in martial art competitions that will mitigate injury to both participants, it was not designed to protect the role-player instructor so that he/she could inflict damage upon the student. As with any training delivery, it is about the student learning and never about the instructor being able to defeat the student. The selection of the instructor to be inside of the impact suit is crucial and should be limited to certified defensive tactics instructors.

A person should not be selected if he/she:

1.) is more interested in impressing the students with their physical skills
2.) cannot control their own emotions and intensity during the scenario

Selecting the proper head gear for the student is critical if the role player is allowed to strike to the head of the student. The head gear should offer sufficient padding surrounding the head to lessen the risk of head injuries. Even the best head gear will not prevent head trauma from a strike that is delivered with full force. Again, it is important that the role player delivers only controlled strikes that will produce the desired effect. Equally important is some type of protection across the face that still allows the student to clearly see the role-player instructor. This will help prevent the nose breaks that will certainly come from using head gear with no face protection. There are several manufacturers that offer face shield solutions.

The safety of the role-player instructor is equally important. Having a second instructor on the mat acting as a safety officer will help accomplish this. The safety officer needs to monitor activities to make sure there are no reasonably preventable injuries to either the student or the role player. While the impact suit itself will protect the role player from blunt trauma injury, there are other ways the role player may become injured unless certain parameters are established for the engagement.

A student that becomes panicked, overwhelmed, or enraged and begins to use tactics that may easily injure the role player must be stopped by the safety officer immediately.

Staying Safe and Effective
Identify the training objective(s) and set the scenario to accomplish the objective(s) with the idea that the student will succeed if they follow the learning points of the lesson. The scenario elements should be as realistic as possible and the role-player instructor should act the part as if it were a real situation. Students should be instructed to take the training seriously and participate as if the situation was an actual field encounter.

I was privileged to have recently attended a course taught by members of the Salt Lake City Police Department regarding their response to several active shooter events (I highly recommend this course for all law enforcement). Among the many points they discussed, one that parallels our training objectives was the need to convince the students that the training scenario is real in their own minds. If the student believes the training scenario to be real, the brain will be “tricked” into thinking that the student has already “been theredone that” when the actual event happens.

Allowing the role-player instructor to improvise and/or deviate from the script for the sake of amusement or self-gratification should never be allowed. An example of this would be a scenario that is designed to test the impact weapon skills of the officer while under stress after cardiovascular exercise to increase the heart rate. The role-player instructor is ordered to continue the fight until instructed by the safety officer to stop. The role-player instructor is told to only offer resistance that would not cause the student to have to use deadly force. It would completely alter the scenario from the objective if the role player were to decide to change the parameters of the scenario to include:

1.) attempting to disarm the student (which may be a great scenario in another training session), or,
2.) pulling the student’s shirt over their head and pummeling the student with repeated hammer fist blows to the back of the head

Assessing Submission Recognition
One of the advantages to impact suit training is the capability to assess the student’s ability to “switch on” the force when it is objectively reasonable to do so. Officers that use too little force or hesitate to use force when appropriate increase their risk of injury and sometimes end up using a more intrusive level of force to solve a now more dangerous or out of control situation. Just as important to assess this “switch on” ability, it is equally important to assess the student’s ability to “switch off” the force when the suspect has submitted.

The ability to conduct successful impact weapon suit training is completely in the hands of the trainers. Keeping the training realistic, effective, safe and within the parameters of your learning objectives will allow this important training to continue in your agency.

Safety in LE training is an attitude, not an action

The following is an article by Sgt. Steve Papenfuhs as it appeared in PoliceOne. It’s a must read for any involved in training…at any level.

“In my three decades (plus) as a trainer first in the martial arts then in law enforcement I’ve come across a number of instructors who seem to have something to prove. Some have needed to prove how smart they are, and as usual by doing so they look stupid. Some have had to prove that they were the Swami of SWAT by listing all the tactical courses they’ve attended (including some that don’t exist!). These are the “high-speed, low-drag, all-thrust no-vector, paint it black and call it tactical, call every tool a system,” guys.

Some have to prove that they’re “in charge” and must be “respected” so they’re prone to telling police recruits that they must do exactly as they say or they will willingly fail them out of the academy. They may say stuff like:

“You let your hand spin on that prone handcuffing position yes the suspect’s shoulder is still pinned, yes the elbow is still locked in an arm-bar, yes the wrist is still in a flexed wrist-lock, yes the suspect is in the perfect prone position I taught you, but you allowed your controlling hand to spin 180 degrees and your fingers are now pointed in rather than out, so I need to fail you out of the academy.”

Some have to prove how tough they are by punching the crap out of recruits while they themselves are protected in an impact suit. As you can probably tell, I have no time for these individuals.

Recruit Officer John Kohn
Now, don’t jump to conclusions as I reference the recent death of Recruit Officer John Kohn, who died after suffering a head injury during training at the Norfolk Police Academy. I am not implying that any of the instructors who were present when he was injured meet the descriptions above. This incident simply serves as a reminder and a wake-up call to all police trainers. I am sure that the trainers present during the event had the best interests of the recruits in mind. PoliceOne has posted a couple of news items on the incident. You can see them here and here.

Please keep in mind that, as always, these videos cannot tell the entire story.

According to news reports, Kohn was punched in the face by a police trainer on December 7th of last year. Kohn explained to classmates and his wife that he “got his bell rung” and that he had a headache. It is not clear if he reported this to his supervisors. Two days later during a ground-fighting session he first collided with another student and then was punched several times by an instructor. Kohn was admitted to the hospital and died from head injuries on December 18th. Doctors determined that he had suffered two brain injuries.

Training-related Deaths are Anomalies
Although extremely rare, the death of a law enforcement recruit during combatives training is not unheard of. In May 2005, a recruit at the Texas Department of Public Safety academy died after having participated in a full-contact sparring match with another trainee. It was reported that even though two trainers advised against it, those trainers were overruled by the lieutenant and the recruit was matched against a physically superior classmate. That death led to an investigation of the training conducted at the Texas DPS academy.

The investigation disclosed that between 1996 and 2005, there were 392 injuries sustained by recruits during “Active Countermeasures” training. Fifty-seven of those injuries were classified as compensable head injuries (covered by worker’s compensation.) This included 36 concussions, 18 contusions, two lacerations, and one sprain. At least eight of these concussions were diagnosed as serious head injuries. These 57 head injuries did not include eye, ear or other non-concussion facial injuries. As a result of the death and subsequent investigation, the Active Countermeasures program was discontinued.

Thankfully, these are rare events. Considering the number of police recruits going through reality-based-training, these deaths are anomalies. We want recruits to gain an experience of combat in a controlled environment. We need to prepare them for the interpersonal violence that each of them will face someday on the mean streets. It is rare that an officer will use deadly force during his or her career. But, no matter how eloquent and persuasive a law enforcement professional is with his verbal skills, at some point a subject is going to become physically resistant. And, the officer must use his physical skills to convince the individual that “resistance is futile.”

Policies, Procedures, and Protocols
So, what can we do to fulfill the need of realistic training while minimizing injuries? First, make the training realistic. In other words, stop trying to teach the perpetual yellow-belt/black-belt tactics. Your average recruit will be expected to control an aggressive maniac with far fewer hours of training than your high school freshman wrestler gets before his first match. Don’t get me wrong. I love training in wrestling, BJJ, judo, muay thai, Krav, and MMA. But, much of that is not what we should be emphasizing to our recruits.

Next, remember why you, as a trainer, are there. You’re there for the recruit, not to prove how tough you are or to practice your skills on a human punching bag. Being there for the recruit means caring about his welfare. If you are in an impact suit and the recruit accidentally strikes you in the head with a soft baton that can’t possibly do any damage to you, why get angry and “punish” him? Trying to convince him that he needs to be better with his targeting by punching him repeatedly in the face is not productive.

Recruits need to know that they must acknowledge and report injuries. There is no room for “walking it off” in our environment. If they are injured, they need to know that they can report the injury without attaching any stigma. Train your instructors how to punch a recruit without injuring him. I can honestly say that I cannot remember ever injuring any of the thousands of recruits that I have trained. Oh, I’ve tagged them, but because I have never been trying to hurt them, pay them back, or see how good I am, none has sustained any significant injury.

Make sure that you have policies, procedures, and protocols in place for any high-level training. This will include the use of personal safety equipment such as head gear, padded gloves, and mouthguards. Know what your instructor to student ratio should be to enhance safety. Never allow a trainer to overwhelm a recruit. They should be progressively pushed to higher levels of performance, but going too far too fast is a recipe for disaster. Have water, a first aid kit, and ice packs close at hand in case of injuries. Most importantly, we can reduce injuries to recruits by remembering why we are there.

We are there for them. We are there to make them better. We are not there to practice our own skills or to prove how tough we are.”