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Training to Win

Written by Jeff Dorfsman

The face of defensive tactics training is changing due to budget deficits affecting law enforcement agencies. Many of these agencies have been forced to reduce training time and make cuts to necessary defensive tactics training programs at the cost of officer safety.

Agencies are redefining the goals of training to focus on meeting state minimum requirements rather than training for officer proficiency. In arguably one of the most threatening times in law enforcement history, officers must remain committed to defensive tactics training and work to develop cost-effective solutions to increase training opportunities.

In addition to decreased training time, the recent surge in popularity of mixed martial arts (MMA) has officers questioning the effectiveness of police defensive tactics currently being taught. It is important to understand that many of the defensive tactics programs taught to law enforcement officers are abbreviated versions of numerous martial arts styles such as Karate, Jujitsu and MMA.

These often utilize large muscle group techniques which create temporary physiological dysfunction or pain through strikes, joint locks, restraints and pressure points. These techniques are easy to apply and effective on the street. However, the distinct difference between martial artists and police officers who train in defensive tactics is not in the techniques used but the time spent training.

Together, police administrators, defensive tactics instructors and officers alike must work to improve our defensive tactics by increasing training time and changing how we teach and participate in training. Police administrators should consider researching what techniques officers on the street are using and determine what works best and where officers need guidance.

Defensive tactics instructors should avoid continually introducing new tactics and instead focus on teaching techniques proven to be effective. With limited training time available, it is important that instructors try not to squeeze too many techniques into a short period. For officers who struggle, try pairing them with former defensive tactics instructors or more skilled officers to improve the quality of their training.

Effective training does not have to take hours out of your week. However, it does require you to take the time you do train seriously. You should focus on learning to perform training techniques correctly before considering training at a higher intensity. Break down more complex techniques, such as neck restraints or throws, into three or four steps, and practice them until you’ve mastered them. Remember, the most skilled fighter isn’t the one who knows one-thousand techniques, but the one who has trained with the same technique one-thousand times.

Place emphasis on repetition and be creative when finding time to train. It’s important that police administrators support additional alternatives to in-service training. Police supervisors should consider taking 10 minutes out of roll call once a month to review proper handcuffing tactics or weapon retention. As an officer, take some time out of your next shift to work with a police recruit and review proper searching tactics or nonverbal signs of attack—even if just for a few minutes.

Once every couple of months, consider teaming up with a few partners after your shift, and have a defensive tactics instructor run through some ground fighting exercises and escapes. Scenario-based training focusing on use-of-force decision making can also be implemented during the patrol shift as time permits.

Scenario-based training builds confidence in police tactics and allows officers to debrief potential real-life situations. Training efforts such as these will improve your tactics and mental preparedness.

The responsibility of advancing our defensive tactics begins with how we choose to participate in training. This burden is not so much a police administration issue but an individual commitment to self-improvement. Training is the only way to ensure our safety and the safety of our partners. At your next defensive tactics training, focus on improvement, and train to win.

Jeff Dorfsman is an eight-year veteran with the Plymouth, Minn., Police Department. He is a certified defensive tactics instructor and tactical officer. Jeff can be reached at jdorfsman@plymouthmn.gov.

Published in Tactical Response, May/Jun 2011

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