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Tactical Training on a Limited Budget

In today’s economy, tactical team leaders often face the challenge of offering quality and meaningful training to their team members with limited funds, or even no funds, available to do so. Money needed for supplies, travel expenses and training site reservations is hard to come by, especially when most departments are struggling to keep operating costs down.

In some jurisdictions, even once well-funded teams are now feeling the effects of budgetary restraints and are finding it difficult to offer quality training. It used to be that tactical team leaders didn’t have to worry about deciding which piece of equipment needed replacing first because they knew the money had been budgeted to replace consumable items, such as ammunition and gas mask filters.

But today that luxury is long gone. Today, tactical leaders may find themselves prioritizing replacement requests or even forgoing certain training so as not to use up whatever items had been allotted for a particular time frame.

Some tactical teams have had to cut back on their training days, scaling down from twice a month to one day in an effort to ease the burden on their department’s budget. Similarly, some teams have had scheduled training canceled or shortened in an effort to save on manpower hours.

In some agencies, overtime has been suspended or furlough days implemented, causing the priorities of the agency to shift from all-encompassing police services to basic police protection. Unfortunately, when agencies focus on bare bones, one of the first areas to go on the chopping block is training expenditures.

When agencies are struggling with high fuel costs and they have to introduce restrictions on vehicle usage, such as idling times and off-duty restrictions, your tactical team’s travel opportunities will be in jeopardy. Traveling for training opportunities or competitions is being cancelled or cut back, not just because of the registration, lodging and meal fees, but because of the fuel costs.

Vehicle fuel costs eat a large chunk of a department’s budget, and in these frugal times, anything other than “routine” costs sends a red flag to the bean counters. If you’re dealing with a larger agency with air support assets such as helicopters, you’re dealing with a whole new arena of rocketing fuel costs and, hence, limitations. And the first cut, of course, will be to tactical training with the air support.

A more widespread fuel issue is the question of take-home car privileges for members of part-time tactical teams. When departments try to cut back on the use of their vehicles, they try to limit the number of on-call vehicles. And yes, while tactical teams are essentially on-call all the time, unless your policy and paystubs reflect that distinction, it is very easy for administration to consider revoking the take-home car privilege.

While many team leaders have been successful in justifying the take-home car necessity for their members, others have not and have found themselves with an arms room full of gear and an increased response time.

So what’s a team leader to do? Pick your battles. And training is a battle worth fighting for. As any high-liability instructor will tell you, documenting regular, quality training is the key to liability and lawsuit reduction. Even the scalpel-wielding budget cutter will see how training reductions can be problematic.

And if they don’t, you may have to provide information to your administration on how dangerous it would be for the department to have an insufficiently trained tactical team. There are several lawsuits, both pending and settled, that involve such a scenario.

Once you’ve secured your training time, you have to be creative with the money. To cover the expenses of training, you may have to choose the training that will give you the bigger bang for your buck. Consider attending training sponsored by your state’s tactical officers’ association—diverse training in an in-state, and maybe even regional, location.

Another alternative is to bring specialized instructors to you; their fees and travel costs might be cheaper than having your team go to them. And remember, specialized instructors are feeling the same economic pinch that you are, so don’t be afraid to haggle, barter, trade and cut the best deal you can.

To save on fuel costs, suggest carpooling to limit the number of vehicles driven to a training venue. This may include taking a multi-passenger van that will carry all of the team members going to the venue and their gear. Not many will enjoy the inconvenience of a cramped ride, but it is a small price to pay for the opportunity of a quality training session.

As we all know, current military conflicts around the world have made it increasingly difficult to maintain sufficient ammunition supplies. Many agencies are experiencing delays in receiving their ammunition orders. Thus, every bullet fired during a training session should have a purpose. The days of “dumping rounds” are gone. Explain to your team members that the quality of the shot is more important than the quantity of bullets fired.

With limited funds and training time available, tactical team leaders should ensure that every minute of every training session is meaningful. The training should stay within the scope of the missions that a team is trained and equipped to handle. Tactical team leaders should keep this in mind when completing training itineraries. You can justify close-quarter shooting drills, and you can justify door-breaching drills. But you cannot justify a training session that focuses on tasks which your team will most likely never be asked to perform.

Another cost-saving measure is networking. Networking with other team leaders can be very helpful; it can provide the opportunity for your team to use training sites to which you may not otherwise have access. By maintaining a good working relationship with the other team leaders in your area, you open up training venues and opportunities for your team. Don’t be afraid to do a favor for another tactical team leader, because they will usually return the favor.

Networking with other team leaders may also allow you to provide your team members with specialized training, such as advanced sniper training by an expert instructor from a neighboring agency. They would usually be happy to provide the training to your team members if the schedules can be worked out. This also opens the door for some of your own experts to offer their skills and expertise to other agencies. It will allow them to teach and make their own connections, which can also benefit the team.

And don’t forget non-law enforcement agencies. If available in your area, develop a good relationship with private companies that specialize in advanced military/law enforcement training. Though these are for-profit businesses, they have been known to help out local tactical teams when they can.

Networking with these people may also provide opportunities for your tactical team to use training sites, such as live-fire shoot houses, urban mount sites and extended sniper ranges, which may not be available at your training facility. Sometimes these facilities can be used free of cost if your team is willing to train at off-peak times, like weekends or evenings. And when off-peak equals free, you can make that work.

Networking can also include contacting your state’s tactical officers’ association. In addition to providing training opportunities at an annual conference, they may also travel to your area for training events. Many tactical officers’ associations conduct monthly or quarterly training sessions for their members at no cost or reduced cost, so joining can only be a positive thing.

Also, do not forget about networking with other non-law enforcement officials or civilians who understand your need for specialized training sites and can provide them to you. This may lead to the use of abandoned buildings and apartment complexes for you to conduct training in. Scour the Planning and Zoning reports to find which buildings are on the list to be demolished and contact the owners. Often a simple “thank you” note or e-mail is all that is required to maintain a good relationship with them.

Similarly, other businesses may be willing to help your team by donating equipment. For example, the local cosmetology school usually has mannequin heads that have seen better days and can be sacrificed to the snipers. Or the local grocery store can supply a few cases of water for a training event.

The challenge of providing meaningful training in hard economic times is just that—a challenge. And challenges can be overcome. With a little creativity, some local resources and some networking, your team can continue to train and thus be prepared for when the callout comes.

Lieutenant Mark Cotton is a 20-year SWAT officer and the assistant commander of the Macon, GA SWAT Team. He can be reached at

Published in Tactical Response, Mar/Apr 2010

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