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Women's Tactical Association: Encouraging Female Officers to Train Hard
Picture yourself at the scene where there’s an active shooter, surrounded by many of your peers, even supervisors, none of whom know what the best course of action is—including yourself. There is no semblance of a plan whatsoever. Obviously, as an officer, this is not where you want to be. Without tactical training, this is how you may find yourself in such a situation.
Given that being a police officer is a career, whether we like it or not, we owe a certain amount of time and money back to our chosen profession. Unfortunately, bureaucracy and budgets don’t allow for all of the necessary training, so it’s something we must seek on our own. For some, this is where the Women’s Tactical Association (WTA) comes in.
The WTA was formed in mid-2009 for many reasons. The first was to balance out the gaping disparity in the number of women that attend law enforcement tactical training. Even more importantly, the WTA was created to provide critical life-saving training specifically to female officers. That said, the WTA has welcomed many male members, because the training being offered is among the best in the country, and is often free or highly discounted.
The primary mission of the WTA is to promote and encourage training and education among female law enforcement in an effort to enhance and refine skills in the areas of firearms, combat mindset, tactics and fitness. The WTA also provides a forum for members to share their experiences and skills and cull best practices. The WTA Web site is a web 2.0 platform which is extremely interactive and allows for excellent networking and communication on a nation-wide level.
The organization was founded by Karen Bartuch, a Chicago police officer. As a result, many of the first members were from Chicago or the surrounding suburbs. WTA members have been hitting the conference circuit hard to spread the word about the organization and its mission at conferences like the Illinois Tactical Officer’s Association, National Tactical Officer’s Association, Indiana SWAT Officer’s Association, Association of SWAT Personnel conferences, SWAT Roundup International, as well as the SHOT Show. Future plans include attending the Texas Tactical Police Officer’s Association, Ohio Tactical Officer’s Association and New York Tactical Officer’s Association conferences.
Typically, WTA members attend the conference training tracks but also have a vendor booth with a lot of information available about the organization, along with kitschy merchandise for sale. Having a booth at such shows has netted new members from almost every state, but a large concentration of members is still from the Midwest. Members range from those assigned to patrol, K-9, detective duty, SWAT, bike patrol, field training and even many command staff members.
Much like the many state tactical officers’ associations that exist, the WTA has submitted its application to become a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. The WTA wants to give back to its members by offering discounted training and products, so any money earned is put right back into the organization.
Training courses are offered year round on a regular basis primarily in the areas of firearms, fitness, tactics and combat mindset. Most of the courses are held in and around the Chicago area. About two hours west of Chicago there is an excellent training facility, North American Weapons and Tactical Training (formerly Blackwater), that the group frequents. The site has numerous long and short ranges, a live-fire shoot house, rappel tower and obstacle courses.
The WTA has trained with some of the best individuals and SWAT teams in the tactical community such as Paul Howe, Steve Claggett, Phil Strader, Danny Halligan, Pete Milionis, South Suburban Emergency Response Team (SSERT), and of course the Chicago Police Department SWAT, to name a few. Topics such as tactical pistol and rifle, high risk tactical operations, active shooter, close quarter battle, SWAT school, high angle rope operations, hand to hand combatives and dignitary protection have been covered thus far.
Some exciting courses are scheduled for 2011 such as Ballistic Shield Use with live fire, Technical Entry Concepts (Lock-Picking), EMT-B with tactical focus (for state certification), Advanced Tactics with Steve Claggett, instructor development for hand to hand combatives, and many more. In addition, WTA member and Will County Sheriff’s Deputy Kim Heath will be teaching several carbine courses during the summer.
One of the WTA goals for 2011 is to certify more members as instructors. After an informal poll, the WTA realized that women want to be trained by other women, particularly in firearms. The WTA Web site is updated daily with industry related blog posts and new training opportunities; the point is to offer something for everyone, and for all levels of law enforcement. The WTA is committed to getting its members on the same page as far as skill level and to be “speaking the language,” so to speak.
Tactics is an ever-evolving and dynamic world and it is important to have everyone up to speed with the latest techniques and information available. More importantly it is crucial to encourage the members to make this part of something they do on their own on a regular basis and then hopefully come back and share with the association.
Although the membership is mixed with both male and female members, the WTA was created with women in mind—as at that time no organization existed that focused on women and tactics. While there are some “gender neutral” courses, some are customized for women.
Good examples of customized courses are the carbine courses mentioned above that WTA member Kim Heath will be teaching during the summer. The carbine, while a great tool, is heavy for some and can be cumbersome to manipulate by women that typically don’t have a lot of upper body strength. The courses will focus on the basics, but also address those types of issues.
From its inception, the WTA has trained with Danny Halligan of Halligans’s Combat Training Systems as its only hand-to-hand combatives system. Halligan teaches a form of Wang Chung Kung Fu where size and strength are not the determining factors in the effectiveness of the system. Whereas much of the defensive tactics taught in the academy rely on one’s strength, Halligan’s system has proven effective for even the smallest of officers. This alone has proven to provide WTA members with confidence and skill when going hands on.
In addition, the WTA Web site allows members to have their own blogs. Members post about products they like such as apparel, boots, flashlights or even supplements, as well as tactics they have learned and training tips in firearms, fitness, etc., many of which are female-specific. Up until the creation of the WTA, there was no such a forum.
According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics study, the number of women in law enforcement is on a steady incline: today 1 in 8 officers is female, compared to 1 in 13 in 1987. That being said, the number of women in the tactical community or involved in tactical training is very small. Women have been in law enforcement for decades but breaking into this “old boys club” is another ballgame entirely.
Common misconceptions exist regarding female police officers. In fact, women officers want to train. This was evident from the inception of the WTA. At very first meeting held, for an organization that had a revolutionary new concept, there were five times the number of anticipated attendees. In fact, the room was overcrowded. Also, our instructors very often point out that there is a lot less ego in the room when it is filled with women. This goes back to the fact that there is a true desire by attendees to train, as well as a willingness to learn new things.
Training courses and classes do not need to be “female only” to draw women. The WTA held a Basic SWAT school at the U.S. Training Center last summer and the class attendance was half male. That balance alone created an entirely different dynamic and a better, more comfortable and more engaged training environment. Instead of creating “female only” classes and segregating female officers and offering the appearance that women need special treatment or different standards, a better solution is to recruit more women instructors, especially in areas such as firearms, tactics and hand-to-hand combatives.
Tactical courses are not just for those with SWAT aspirations. Many women become discouraged and disregard tactical training entirely as it is an uncommon occurrence to have a female on a SWAT team. Certainly the WTA is helping to create a paradigm shift in that more women are starting to consider and participate in tactical training. Whether one has SWAT aspirations or not, classes on tactical pistol and rifle use, high risk tactical operations, ballistic shield use, room entry, close quarter battle and active shooter are not just for those with SWAT aspirations. The old academy days of standing still in a booth shooting at a static paper target are just not sufficient preparation for any level of law enforcement.
Training needs to be consistently offered and available. A good example of this is firearms qualification. It comes around once a year for most police departments. Shouldn’t qualification be more about a “pass” or “fail”? Qualification should be about obtaining the life-saving skills to land bullets on target when your life or another officer’s life is threatened.
Shooting is a perishable skill that needs to be maintained through consistent practice. That consistent practice will build confidence and will ultimately lead to fewer qualification failures. Simply put, the more training officers attend, the more confident they become and the more training they will want to attend. Undoubtedly, that confidence is even more crucial while working the street.
The WTA has spent its first year and a half focused on training, the next logical step is product development geared towards women. There is no question that men and women are built differently, so why is the gear and apparel the same? That is the direction the WTA is moving in now. The company 5.11 Tactical, for example, has welcomed our input. More on this will be covered in a future article.
Karen Bartuch is the president of the Women's Tactical Association. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
Published in Tactical Response, Jul/Aug 2011
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