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A Classroom Foundation for Use of Force Training

Spending as much hands-on training time as possible with firearms, batons, OC, Taser, handcuffs and other use of force options is clearly obvious. Or, is it? Most law enforcement agencies do all they can to devote as much hands-on training as possible, but what about learning the use of force in the classroom? How important is that?

There are a number of nationally known and respected training programs that are developed for a specific product. One of the most popular programs is the Taser training program.

Agencies typically send an officer to a 16-hour “train the trainer” Taser program where the officer becomes a certified Taser instructor. The certified instructor then goes back to the agency and certifies the agency’s officers to use the Taser in the field. The Taser training program has become finely honed by taking into account legal and medical research, in addition to feedback from the field in their specific product.

Other widely respected training programs exist that focus their training on the company’s specific product, such as the PepperBall™ Launcher and the Monadnock PR-24 Police Baton and others. The longer these programs are in place, the longer the more a proven track record can be established.

Both advantages and disadvantages exist to a training program that focuses on a company’s specific product. As good as these training programs are, a company program is more open to criticism that objectivity is lost, since the company’s product is the focus.

Other training programs focus on training in a general type of product, rather that a specific product, such as the OCAT® (Oleoresin Capsicum Aerosol Training) Program administered by Personal Protection Consultants, Inc.

The OCAT® Program trains instructors and officers in using aerosol pepper spray as a personal use of force option, no matter what brand of spray or what type of aerosol spray pattern (cone, stream, fogger, foam, gel). PPCI also offers a generic handcuffing training program that trains officer to use both hinged and chain-link handcuffs made by the top handcuff manufacturers.

There are also a number of national use of force training programs that do not focus on any product at all, such as defensive tactics, neck restraints, ground fighting, pressure points, control holds and others. Many of these programs have been accepted by various police departments and are listed by name in the agency’s use of force policy.

Some of these programs are accepted by a state’s POST (Peace Officer Standards and Training) Council as valid law enforcement training programs, which may allow the program to get the tuition funded by the POST Council. Approved funding by a POST Council adds an extra layer of credibility to any training program.

Whether any training program is accepted or funded by a state’s POST Council is not as important as the specific analysis of that program by a law enforcement agency. It is important for any officer to learn the nomenclature of any piece of equipment used. Comprehensive law enforcement use of force training needs to go beyond the how to names the parts of a piece of equipment or even how to uses a specific technique.

All training programs must first be analyzed to see if the program is consistent with agency policies. If there are inconsistencies, these must first be addressed before officers are trained. Not to do so could cause confusion, unnecessary injuries, formal complaints and litigation.

Use-of-force expert Larry Smith, a retired San Diego Police Lieutenant, states, “Classroom use of force training should include use of force theory. With theory and examples of proper use of force it makes use of force decision making easier. Officers need a strong foundation of the fundamentals before any hands-on training takes place. Then, officers can build their physical skills upon that strong foundation of the how things should work.”

Steve Ashley, a former police sergeant and current risk management and training consultant with the New Hampshire based Police Policy Studies Council, states, “Although hands-on use of force training is absolutely critical for officer safety, it’s just as important to ‘feed the mind’ with up to date, accurate information regarding when to use force and how much force is appropriate and defensible. Topics must include fundamental legal principles and standards, both constitutional and statute based, as well as a thorough discussion of the relationship of methods of control to types of resistance encountered.”

Officers need training that goes beyond how to use specific use of force techniques or specific equipment. Officers may not be flawless in the performance of techniques, but they must understand the “when” and “how much” force should be used. The foundations of “when” and “how” are established in the classroom, and carefully applied during hands-on skill development.

Instructors need to read the stories about various police use of force incidents, and then discuss how the incident could have been handled. A later court trial will also provide opportunities for further discussion and understanding. Real live situations are one the best ways officers can learn, since it moves the theoretical into reality.

Other classroom use of force related information should be emphasized, like the importance of report writing and other documentation following the use of force transaction. I like the acronym “CATCH” for report writing.

Ed Nowicki is part-time police officer for the Twin Lakes (WI) Police Department and the executive director of ILEETA.

Published in Law and Order, Feb 2005

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