Police Use of Force Part III: Training

Part 1 of this series dealt with legal framework for use of force and Part 2 dealt with Human Factors. This third and final part is about police training.

glendalecommunitycollegeTraining is vital to the performance of a police officer/peace officer. The starting point for this training is the police academy. The current Arizona State standard is a 585 hour basic academy (R13-4-110.A.1). Most officers will attend this training full time and complete it in about 18 weeks. These minimum requirements are set in Arizona State Law and can be found under Arizona Administrative Code Title 13, Chapter 4. Peace Officers are in the community enforcing laws, investigating crimes, clearing up accidents, and having to forcibly arrest combative individuals. The starting point for learning how to do this is the basic training provided at the police academy . There are reserve academies as well for those citizens who wish to volunteer to serve their communities by becoming a reserve police officer.  Glendale Community College has one of the premier reserve programs comprised of  a 700 hour program that is completed in about 10 months.

As a point of comparison with regard to training hours, how much training it takes to become a licensed Cosmetologist? Earning a license for Cosmetology in Arizona, a person is required to complete 1450 to 1600 hours of training at an approved school. Even if we factor in the additional 600 hours of field training that police officers are required to complete after finishing the academy , cosmetologists are required to have an additional 300 hours of training over and above the 1150 required for a police officer  before they are allowed to practice  on their own.  Most of us probably have a deeper level of respect for Cosmetologists knowing the training required to obtain a license for that profession.

Teachers are another vital aspect to our society. They are shaping the hearts and minds of the future of our nation. To be an Elementary Education teacher in Arizona requires a minimum of 45 semester hours. To convert semester hours into clock hours an acceptable conversion is 1 to 15. So the minimum time spent for a teacher is 675 hours of training. To renew a teacher’s license requires 12 semester hours every 6 years, or on average 2 semester hours a year (a minimum 30 hours of continual training a year). Most teachers exceed this training time and should be applauded and paid more for it.

In Arizona, officers are required to have 8 hours of continuing education every year and 8 hours of proficiency training every 3 years (an average of 2.66 hours a year). Continuing education are areas that involve knowledge such as criminal Law, Landlord Tenant Act, traffic law, rules of evidence, search and seizure, mental illness, crimes in progress, constitutional law, biased  policing /racial profiling, civil process, narcotics/dangerous drugs, DUI, hazardous materials, crime prevention, ethics/professionalism, laws of arrest, and patrol procedures. Proficiency training covers first aid, firearms, high risk vehicle stops, arrest and control tactics, vehicle operations, and pursuit procedures. So over a three year average, peace officers are required to have a combined average of 10.66 hours of training a year. They are also required to have a handgun qualification every year and  successfully complete a judgmental shoot every year. Thankfully, some agencies exceed this minimum requirement, but many do not.

Peace officers in the state of Arizona make critical life altering decisions with less required initial training than a Cosmetologist and less required ongoing training than a Teacher. We expect them to enforce laws, settle disagreements, investigate complex crimes, make critical decisions on using force,  engage in high speed pursuits, understand and deal with all forms of mental illness, collect and process evidence.

The law enforcement profession is unique in that it is one of the only career fields (other than a soldier deployed to a combat zone) where an officer begins their daily shift carrying a loaded deadly weapon with at least 40 rounds of ammunition.  A police officer, from the minute they leave the station, is always faced with the possibility of being thrust into a situation not of their own choosing and, in the blink of an eye, having to make a decision on whether or not to use deadly force that could ultimately result in the death of a human being.

So the question is: “Do we provide them enough of the type of training needed to do all of these skills well?”

Training should almost be viewed as an insurance policy. You may not like paying the premiums and you hope you don’t need it. When you do need it you know you should have bought the best. When events go wrong in Law Enforcement they can go really wrong.  Therefore, training is not an area where you want to go cheap. Investing in high quality and frequent training is the best way to keep the community safe.

 A small agency  can pay 50,000.00 to get all of  their officers some additional hands on training or they can pay the damages connected to a police misconduct case which averages $330,000.00 (“The Truth About Police Misconduct Litigation”, Feb 2, 2010 David Packman). Wrongful death and excessive force cases are typically much higher payouts.

There is a dirty secret in Law Enforcement training. Police administrations will send out a written document (hard copy or electronic) with a sign in attendance roster requiring the officer to sign/acknowledge the document and call it “training”. This is not training. The rank and file officers sometimes call this “check the box training”. If asked at a hearing, this type of “training” allows a police administrator to say they have provided training when looking at attendance records. This is not training and should not be viewed as such. Sending someone a 2 page document on how to play chess does not mean they have been trained on it. Training means an interaction, it means questions, and it means there is a check on learning. If an individual is provided  a written document that an organization is going to refer to as training how does one know if you actually read it, if it was understood or, if you can apply what has been learned.

Officers need to have a solid working knowledge of  many complex areas associated with police work. These areas are not only challenging to understand they also are often times constantly changing. There are multiple reasons for these changes: States change their laws, decisions coming out of Circuit courts, Federal District courts and the Supreme Court can and do change existing laws and create new standards, there can be changes in aspects of illicit drug use, and not to mention new and evolving technologies in law enforcement. Officers have to stay on top of these changes. This takes time and it needs to be taught by experts in the areas. If we expect officers to perform properly and to standards  we have to train them right.

Proper training is not reading a policy on use of force. Reading does not always equate to understanding, and understanding does not mean you can apply it. Proper training is not just watching a video or listening to a lecture. Watching a task or skill is not the same as performing a task or skill. Watching someone play piano does not mean you can do it. Proper use of force training means you have to put officers under realistic stress and force them to make decisions. There are multiple ways of conducting this training. Some of the methods provide different stages of the “crawl, walk, run” training concept.  just as  it sounds, we take people through appropriate learning stages that  go from the simple and relatively low stress and progress to scenarios that are infinitely more complex, fast paced and stressful.  The “crawling” stage involves the mechanical performance of a task like shooting a firearm or a Taser deployment on stationary target. “Walking” could be a scenario through a video simulator. The final stage of “running” is best conducted with “force on force” scenario based training.

Earlier it was mentioned that officers have to qualify with their firearm once a year and conduct a judgement shoot once a year. This judgement shoot has been conducted by most agencies using a video simulator. These simulators are made by companies that include IES, Virtra, Ti Training, and FATS. These systems run from $20,000 to $180,000. They allow for instructors to expose officers to prerecorded events and evaluate the outcome. These systems are not cheap and like most computers there are ongoing costs to maintain them to include hardware and software updates. Video simulators  use a 2 dimensional projected image that requires the officer to perform in a limited area or space and roleplay  with the images being projected on a movie screen. These systems can be a good stage in the learning and testing process when it comes to evaluating an officer’s judgement regarding whether or not to shoot on a simulated use of force scenario.

The ultimate use of force training for officers is “force on force” training. “Force on force” is a scenario based training concept that incorporates the use of human actors/role players to take on the role of the adversary.  During these scenarios you have officers and role-players engaged in live events that exposes the officer to personal jeopardy and gives them the opportunity to make a variety of tactical and use of force decisions while operating under stress. This includes role-players presenting various levels of resistance to the officer, threatening the officer, actually attacking the officer, or complying with the officer. Role-players in protective suits can hit the officer, tackle the officer, and shoot the officer with a modified firearm. The officer is also carrying a modified firearm and control devices. This modified weapon fires a small projectile with a marking compound in it. The marking compound allows accountability for different officers with different colors in their weapon. The fired projectile goes fast enough to leave a bruise and cause the officer pain, but not penetrate the skin. The projectile is designed to create pain but not injury. This pain is what creates jeopardy, the fear of being hurt creates the stress. Marking cartridges combined with the pain of being hit ensures accountability (no more arguments over hits and misses). In real life, tactical mistakes, unnecessary risks, and errors in judgement all carry penalties.  The same penalties apply in force on force training.  These “penalties” allow police trainers to give officers in training the most realistic experience possible short of causing death. Training of this type does not come without its risk’s. Officers can and do get injured from time to time in this type of dynamic training. Special protective gear has to be used to protect the eyes, throat and groin. The best thing about good force on force training is that it is not just about a firearm. Less lethal force options such as training batons, inert pepper spray, or a Taser with a Live Simulation training cartridge in it can all be used as part of this training.

Force on force training has been in use in the law enforcement community since the 1980’s. The original and still the industry leader in this technology is Simunitions which came up with the first marking cartridge system along with specialized technology that allowed them to be fired out of existing weapon platforms. They have  continued to improve the technology and the methodology of this vital type of training.

Recently, there has been a push from certain groups here in the US to include the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF)  comparing how the United Kingdom (UK) handles similar police related use of force and tactics.  Among arguments raised are those that advocate giving our officers shields that they can hold on their arm when dealing with subjects with knives. Apparently some folks in the UK believe it  is acceptable for officers to get cut, injured or worse by requiring officers armed only with shields to get up close and personal with a knife wielding suspect. Having participated in edged weapon training for the last 15 years I can tell you this is completely unacceptable. Police in America are trained to have a healthy respect for edged weapons. An average person armed with a knife and, with minimal skill, is easily capable of inflicting serious injury or killing another person. Under Arizona law, a person threatening or attacking with an edged weapon is considered to be a lethal threat and, under those conditions, a lethal response is often appropriate and lawful.  Seeing people cut and stabbed will give anyone a great deal of respect for the dangerousness of an edged weapon.

The UK does many things that we do not or should not do. An example is pursuit/emergency driving. In the UK this driving training takes about 7-10 weeks to accomplish, in Arizona, the instructor school is 2 weeks. In the UK, it also takes place on public roadways, in unmarked vehicles with no lights or siren. These vehicles will break speed limits and other traffic laws routinely as part of this training when everyone else around them is going on their daily business. Seven to ten weeks of training is far more than what officers in Arizona get. How would you feel about young officers in training speeding and blowing through red lights with no lights or siren in unmarked cars on the same streets as your loved ones as they are going to work or school?

Intentionally, it has been mentioned two other times in this article that officers are required to qualify at least once a year with their duty handgun. Technically it is to be “on demand”,  meaning that, at any moment, they must be able to shoot a standard AZPOST qualification course while performing at the  minimum acceptable level. The minimum acceptable level means that an officer can shoot a score equal to or greater than 210 out of a possible 250. This is conducted on a stationary target while shooting at distances ranging from 3-25 yards. Does that strike you as odd? Wouldn’t one think that a tool that may have to be used to save a life by running the risk of taking a life needs to be trained and tested more frequently?

According to the U.S. Department of Justice “Census of State and Local Law Enforcement Training Academies, 2002” the average of firearms training time in an academy training environment  is 60 hours. Recruits with previous firearms experience and those with absolutely no experience must go through this training. These hours are a vital part of their training. They learn about loading/unloading, disassembly, cleaning, fixing malfunctions, fundamentals of marksmanship, and the 4 cardinal firearms safety rules.

This academy training is about how to shoot, it is not training that focuses on when or when not to shoot. This training is about getting guns out of holsters and triggers pulled as quickly and accurately as possible. It does not focus on preventing gunfights by establishing positions of strength that set officers up for success. These training hours are predominately conducted in a sterile training environment on a square range with the entire class standing shoulder to shoulder and firing at a stationary target. It is vital to understand one important concept that, as humans, in high stress, deadly force encounters,  we do not always “rise to the occasion”. In fact, we will typically default to our lowest level of training. Does standing on a range firing in one direction at a stationary target not moving behind something that stops bullets, not moving at all, or not using the environment build the skills we want? The case law on this has stated that Officer’s firearms training should include moving targets, Officer movement, low light/diminished light, residential area concerns, and must include stress.  (Tuttle vs. Oklahoma, 728 F. 2d 456 (10TH CIR 1984), Popow vs. City of Margate, 476 F SUPP. 1237 (D.N.J.  1979), City of Canton Ohio vs. Harris, 489 U.S.  378, 109 S. CT. 1197 (1989))

Proper training is absolutely necessary for officers to succeed. By succeeding I mean they perform to the highest of their ability and act in the best interest of the community, and officers are part of that community. The best interest of the community is in the best interest of the Officer. Using force only when it is reasonable to do so, protecting the health and the lives of all we come in contact with when we can. The question that has to be asked is: Are we as a community giving our law enforcement officers the correct type, amount and frequency of training needed to succeed with the expectations we have of them?

The answer is most cases is an overwhelming …NO.  Those that work in education will tell you that when money is tight, the first programs to get cut are art, PE, and music. These are deemed to be acceptable programs to cut because many view them as ‘fluff’ or non-essential programs since they don’t deal with reading, writing,  arithmetic or other hard subjects such as languages, sciences or literature etc.

There are similar corollaries in law enforcement. When money gets tight on a police department, the training budget is usually one of the first if not the first of the sacrificial lambs. This is not to say a police department will cease to train.  What usually happens is that a department, in order to save money, will begin to do the bare bones minimal training that will allow them to squeak by under state law.  Just one of the ways this is accomplished is by slashing ammo budgets which eliminates the ability to conduct much needed firearms training. Departments will also curtail training in other areas in the interest of saving time and training budgets.  There is a saying for this called being “penny wise and pound foolish”.  Any cop that has been on for a few years or more can tell you that you either pay on the front end or you can pay big time on the back end in the form of costly litigation and financial settlements.

It is extremely dangerous when this condition happens because it then incurs increased risk and liability for individual officers, police departments, municipalities and the citizens we serve.

Cities and the citizens that live in them need to secure the funds needed to conduct proper training at proper intervals.  This ensures that we have officers with the requisite training to maintain proper levels of professionalism and competency.  The problem in today’s day and age is everyone wants cops that are competent, smart, well-trained and proficient in a variety of law enforcement disciplines but few know what it really takes and want to pay the money required.