Does Your Training Reflect Reality?

I was looking at my rather impressive bookcase recently when I realized that my literary tastes are kind of …dark. I wish that I was talking about dark, as in vampires or medieval times or even your basic murder mystery. No, I mean I have books on ancient martial arts, terrorism, firearms, police officer survival, edge weapons, stalking and rape prevention, etc. Then, of course, I have the odd doomsday thrillers. If my home were ever searched, I’m sure I would end up on the Department of Homeland Security watchlist. I can pull down a few volumes on how to make improvised explosives, how to launder money and even how to pick an armored vehicle for family protection in a violent world. You might think I’m a little paranoid at first glance, but not exactly…

Since the early eighties, I have been a police instructor tasked with training officers how to survive a dangerous job using dangerous tools. Officer survival has become an obsession with me and I decided early on that the best way for me to pass on this knowledge, was to actually have the knowledge. All police officers have seen their share of violence and danger. We have all witnessed horrible crime scenes and have long since stopped shaking our heads in amazement that people could treat others with such bizarre and creative forms of chaos. I enrolled in numerous armed and unarmed response classes and became in instructor in too many programs to list here.

A few years back, I put together a few thoughts on what I believed were personal protection skills necessary to help both police and civilians survive. It was simply listed under three categories: Awareness, Avoidance and, Defense. I believed then, and still do to a degree, that if you were in that condition ‘orange’, you could anticipate most danger and avoid it. Failing in that, there were some basic things that could be taught, bought or supplied that would help protect us. It never fails to amaze me how crime and violence always manages to evolve, keeping us (good guys and protectors) off balance. Just when you think carrying a pistol with you offers a great measure of security, some fanatic intentionally drives a plane into a building. Just when you think that your martial arts training dollars were a good investment, we find a world of mutants who don’t respond to pain the way they’re supposed to. I won’t even get into the suicide bombers at this point in my comments. So, where are we headed with our survival training today?

At one time in my police career, I was a member of our SWAT team. We trained for every imaginable scenario we could come up with. Usually we gleaned some lessons from other agencies failures and successes. We never really failed ourselves, because we were well trained, you see. If we could visualize a mission, we would buy the needed equipment, and seek training. We evolved into paramilitary team that could solve most problems with firepower, trained negotiators or just plain patience. Today, there are not enough hours in the day or days in the week to cover all of the threats. However, we still are expected to have an appropriate response prepared.
Realizing that 99% of our contacts do not involve the judicious use of deadly force, agencies began to emphasize so called “less lethal” techniques and technology to save them from liability. We’re still waiting for the Star Trek phasers to hit the market, but until then we’re forced to use what we have. Let’s begin with a working description of what is meant by the term “less lethal.” These are tools and techniques that are developed to help us gain control of a violent person with a low probability of causing death or serious injury. Death can occur, but we can honestly say that we tried to avoid it.

There are many weaponless defensive tactics programs that claim to provide the practitioner the skills necessary to meet violence with love. Pardon my sarcasm, but that’s not reality. Pressure point tactics have always been suspect, but gained favor when politicians saw it as humane and less likely to cause a lawsuit. It was abandoned when we were able to convince the bosses that the violent folks out there had the ability to ignore pain and really didn’t appreciate our honest efforts to gently persuade them to stop their antisocial behavior.

Batons, Mace, pepper spray, TASERs, long range impact weapons ( bean bags, SAGE guns, etc.), Kubotans and tools were tested, issued and remain as options. All of these tools, along with Verbal Judo skills of communication, remain in our arsenal and can be accessed when appropriate. However, they can only help us if we have them when we need them. All require manual training and even more importantly, the right mind set to employ them when necessary. So in the parlance of law enforcement, we have a Use of Force Continuum (or Matrix) to choose the right level of force to use against a specific level of threat.

During a recent training session I conducted with private security personnel, I realized that all of those choices were mind boggling to the class and almost to a student, they preferred martial arts and firearms. I’m not referring to the years of discipline, ‘know yourself before you can defeat your enemy’ type of martial arts either. I’m talking about the Ultimate Fighting Championship stuff they watch on television. Empty hand destruction, or shoot ’em! Not a very large arsenal for personal or legal protection. Being so under prepared means that much of their game plan relies on luck. I’d rather play the lottery.

With the help of some colleagues in the executive protection field and some uniformed security officers and private investigators, I floated a short survey to see if there was a great deal of emphasis on less lethal training and equipment in the private sector. The results were predictable, but raised some concerns as well. Here are some of the responses I received. (I’m still receiving the responses)

1. Have you received less lethal training? 80% yes

2. What type of defense training?

a) Unarmed defensive tactics-80%

b) Pressure point tactics-40%

c) Friction lock batons-60%

d) Pepper spray-80%

e) TASER-0%

f) Long range impact weapons (Sage guns, bean bags, etc.)-0%

g) Kubotan/ Persuader-40%

h) Nunchakus- 10%

i) Other less lethal tools-60%

3. Was training documented and retained in your records? 40% yes, 60% no

4. Ever used techniques or tactics that were taught? 40% yes, 60% no

5. Ever use deadly force? 10% yes, 90% no

My unscientific reading of these results would indicate a need for training in less lethal techniques and technology. There are about one in five security professionals that have little or no training in conflict management. This concerns me because a great majority of those also feel the need to get their Concealed Weapons Permits.
This is a very unscientific survey and was used to generate discussion; however, most who responded were prior or current law enforcement officers. Although no concrete conclusions can be made by these responses, it does point to a need for additional tools to be added to our tool box. The difference between a street fighter and a professional is the amount of time we spend weighing the consequences of our actions. Whether it is protecting a client or a family member, we must be ever mindful of end results; physical, psychological and legal.
Does our training reflect reality? Or does it merely reflect wishful thinking?