Training to 'never give up' can be a deadly mistake

By Ralph Mroz

It has become standard in police training to teach officers to "never give up" when they are in a fight, either with a gun or empty-handed. We drill into them that when the chips are down, they must reach deep into themselves and muster the will to keep fighting as hard as they can. 

We teach them that if they are injured or shot, they must keep going. We instill in them that so long as they can are conscious, they have the ability to keep on fighting.

So far, so good. That advice is sound, and has certainly saved lives. It behooves us to continue to give it, and to train it home even more than most agencies or academies presently do.

But the devil is in the details, and the details in this case are in the context of that training. That is, when we present this training and put our people through it, if we do so without presenting the big picture — without providing the context of how we got into the fight to begin with and why — we can easily do our people a grave dis-service, and I believe that some good officers have been lost as a result.

The problem stems from the fact that we never let our students lose in this kind of training. When they are in a state of exhaustion fighting an instructor in a FIST suit, or continuing to shoot their way to victory in a Simunitions exercise after taking rounds, they invariably win these simulated fights. 

Well, the result is obvious: in addition to training them to "keep fighting," we are teaching them that they will always win! 

"Well," you might say, "That's the point. We want to make them believe that they can win. They need a positive attitude in a fight, not a defeatist one." 

All true. But, there can be an unintended consequence of instilling this "inevitable victor" attitude in them: that they will enter into situations that are unsafe believing that they can survive them if they turn bad. 

Thus we see officers not waiting for back-up when they should, responding with inappropriately low levels of force, not taking the shotgun (or rifle) with them when the situation calls for it, not retreating when prudent, and generally getting themselves into situations that they should not have been in to begin with. 

Don't get me wrong: teaching a "never give up" attitude in fight training is entirely appropriate; in fact, I believe that we don't push our officers hard enough or often enough in this kind of training. 

But if we don't also spend an equal amount of time on situation analysis and decision making, we are giving them only one of two tools they need to survive in bad situations. If we don't spend a great deal of time on scenarios that require waiting for back-up, that require the right level of force applied early-on, that require accessing (and using) a long gun, and that require tactical dis-engagement, then we are by default allowing our people to enter into unsafe situations and giving them a false confidence that they can survive them, with the latter exacerbating the former.

Survival training has to teach techniques, skills and attitudes. But, it must also go beyond these tactical elements to include situation analysis and strategic decision making in short time frames. 

Sometimes teaching these latter skills don't appeal to macho shooting and defensive tactics instructors, because they aren't physical skills. But they are just as important. Without them, and bolstered by the false "can't lose" results of "never give up" training, our officers may enter into situations that endanger their lives, and sometimes take them.

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