Reality-based training is a concept that provides simulations that approximate various situations that officers might encounter in the real world. RBT runs the gamut between guided use of the imagination all the way up through dynamic and complex simulations involving realistic sites, situations, and role players. When using role players, some simulations might necessitate the use of physical intervention skills or hard-contact offensive and defensive tactics to effectively handle the situation. Such simulations would be extremely dangerous without the use of protective equipment to lessen the likelihood of physical injury to both student and role player.
Although these protective suits effectively permit hard-contact DT, there are a number of limitations to using any of the big suits available. Of these limitations, two that pose the greatest issues are mobility and trainer comfort. Given the number of different suits available on the market, some provide greater mobility and some provide greater protection. The general rule is, the greater the mobility the less the protection and vice versa. I tend to refer to the suits with the greatest mobility as dynamic combative suits, and those with the greatest protection as “mobile heavy bags.”
The reduced protection of the suits with greater mobility often requires a dialing down of the level of force. Lack of mobility decreases realism and in some instances can actually pose a safety hazard to the trainer, while the comfort issues that can be associated with either style increase trainer fatigue. A third limitation of all of these suits is the visual realism, sometimes resulting in preconditioning a student with certain expectations during a scenario. In our scenario training program we have found several useful training techniques to address these issues.
The Stunt Double
Let’s first deal with the issue of realism and preconditioning. It is important to recognize that realism is not a factor if you are simply running drills — it is only really an issue during high-level scenarios that incorporate a story line and are designed to test an officer’s response to various situations.
Just like during K-9 training where the dog is preconditioned for a bite when someone shows up wearing a bite suit, many officers can be preconditioned during dynamic simulations to use hard DT techniques if they enter a scenario and observe two different role players: one wearing conventional safety gear and the other wearing the “Michelin Man” suit.
“Which one of these two am I going to have to fight?” In order to avoid this training issue, we have used a technique we call the “Stunt Double” approach. Having your student enter a training venue simulating a domestic disturbance problem, for instance, we would have the two role players dressed identically in basic protective gear: face, throat, hand, and groin protection with no exposed skin.
As the problem between the two begins to escalate it becomes obvious that one of the role players is the aggressor and one is the victim. Once the student officer creates a separation between the two and force options on the aggressor are being utilized (i.e. spray or TASER) we would have the aggressor role player simulate that the intermediate force options are ineffective. It becomes increasingly apparent that the student officer is going to have to go “hands on.” The problem is, of course, that neither of the role players is physically prepared with the appropriate equipment for hard-contact tactics.
This is the point where we press the “pause button.”
Pressing the pause button means physically touching the student and interrupting the scenario temporarily to ask the student what they are thinking at that point. This is an extremely effective intervention technique that we will expand on later in the article, and is particularly useful in this instance. Once the pause button is pressed and the student is interacting with the instructor, the student will usually state that at that point that they would go hands on with the belligerent role player.
The instructor would reply, “Good. Stand by.”
The inappropriately-dressed belligerent role player is removed and replaced by the guy wearing the big suit and the scenario is restarted. The student officer is now able to use hard-contact techniques with someone who is appropriately dressed for that level of contact.
This accomplishes three things. First, there is no preconditioning of the student officer as to the nature of force response that is ultimately necessary. Since the student should always be equipped with training versions of all of their duty equipment — inert chemical agent, training TASER, rubber baton, and firearm converted to marking cartridges — the officer is forced to think their way through the escalating danger and choose the appropriate option.
Second, there is reduced danger for the role player since pressing the pause button before hard contact is initiated will ensure that the officer can use the correct level of physical force and the role player (the stunt double) can provide a realistic level of resistance.
Third, this addresses the issue of trainer comfort. Wearing that suit all day long is hot and tiring, but by allowing them to relax during the evolution of the scenario until the point where they are actually required for the fight, there is much less wear and tear on the trainer in the big suit. This drastically reduces the fatigue factor.
It is important to note, however, that while subbing in the guy in the big suit solves a few of your problems, a new potential safety hazard is created. Handcuffing a role player in such a suit can be extremely dangerous for the role player. Imagine a guy the size of Gary Klugiewicz wearing a RedMan DT suit. As compliant as Gary tries to be, I’ll bet you green money that he would be hard pressed to put his hands close enough behind his back to be adequately handcuffed. As Gary tries his best to comply, his arms simply do not permit this and the bulk of the suit aggravates the situation. A student will read this as “resistance” and will attempt to overcome it with additional force. Now Gary’s shoulder is being hyperextended and he begins to move away from the pain which is read by the student as much more active resistance and the fight — the REAL fight — is on. Beware.
To that end, if your scenario is designed to test not only the physical force options but also handcuffing, once the skirmish is over and the student has delivered appropriately effective physical force, the pause button can once again be pressed and the role player wearing the lower level of protective gear can be subbed back in for handcuffing and final custodial techniques.
It’s important to recognize that when running high level scenarios there will always be a tradeoff between safety and realism. Always err on the side of safety. It is also important to note that in order to effectively use the above techniques of the pause button and the stunt double, there are several essential preconditions.
First, your scenario must be very tightly controlled. You can’t simply dump students into a scenario to “see what happens.” This is much more difficult than you might think — the complexities are beyond the scope of this article.
Second, the trainer has to be very close to the student during the scenario in order to stop the student just prior to hard contact. Again, this is a technique that must be learned in the context of broader scenario development techniques.
Third, it is usually important to script your belligerent role player on how to use fighting words, furniture barriers, and scripted responses on how other intermediate options have failed, leading to the student officer’s decision process to use hard contact. It takes a special type of individual to be a good role player and an even more specialized individual to be a good stunt double whose attitude includes understanding that it is not their place to defeat the student, but rather challenge them at the appropriate level of resistance such that the student is giving it their all.
The Pause Button
Using the pause button as described above is an extremely useful intervention technique that we use for a number of purposes in our training programs. Keep two things in mind, however:
1. Judicious use in training can be very effective
2. Overuse can reduce training effectiveness
It is as much art form as it is science. In addition to using the technique for subbing in a stunt double, we use it to intervene in one of three instances — a Goofy Loop, an Unnatural Pause, or a Meltdown.
We have all seen Goofy Loops in action — “drop the gun, drop the gun, drop the gun, drop the gun, drop the gun, drop the gun, drop the gun, drop the gun.” The situation is going nowhere, the officer is stuck, and we need to bump the needle on the record.
An Unnatural Pause occurs when there is absolutely nothing going on or going forward — as they call it in the broadcast industry, you’re in “dead air.”
A Meltdown can occur physiologically, psychologically, or technologically. The first time someone gets hit with a marking cartridge and shuts down because it hurts or they roll their ankle and stop fighting even though they are truly physically capable of continuing but choose to stop are examples of a physical meltdown. Our first question is always “do you need medical attention?” If the answer is no, then we encourage them to finish the fight. This programs them for success in combat where they have been injured but can still continue. Of course we need to make a judgment call here since you will have some officers that would tell you that they don’t need medical attention when they actually do. It bears repeating: always err on the side of safety.
A technological meltdown can occur when a piece of training equipment fails. If protective gear falls off, we pause the scenario to replace it. If a training weapon goes down and the student has done all they can to solve the problem, we pause the scenario to interject the information that the weapon is irreparable and the student might have to think through other options.
One example of this would be a catastrophic malfunction of a weapon loaded with marking cartridges. On occasion these training weapons go down and a student is tapping and racking their way through fifty dollars worth of training munitions. Pressing the pause button and informing them that they will not be able to clear that weapon and must finish the scenario with a non-functional firearm is a very interesting situation. Where on the range do we ever allow a student to turn and run? It might be the one thing that saves their life some day, and I don’t believe in squandering an opportunity to give them that survival experience.
A psychological meltdown can occur when a student feels dejected and simply quits or starts slipping into Condition Black. Allowing them to simply quit is NOT OK in my book, and I do everything I can to get such a student to finish the fight. We then debrief what went wrong and run the exact scenario again — a “Do Over” — and give them experience of getting it right.
I’ve had to re-run scenarios up to a half dozen times for a student to finally get it right. It is never a giveaway. Students must win through superior tactics or endurance but I don’t let them leave with a failure on their ledger. This is, to my mind, one of the most important things we can do in scenario training: we are programming future behavior in combat and my obligation to the student is to ensure they are programmed with winning behaviors. Trainers who continue to “kill” their students in training need to either evolve or head to the tar pit. There is zero value in giving your students the experience of failure. No right minded K-9 trainer would ever do this. The things some trainers do to their human students would destroy a perfectly good dog.
Using the Pause Button during a scenario is part of the training philosophy that embodies an interruptive process that many trainers who have not experienced it find controversial. Those who have never experienced it before often feel that pressing the Pause Button breaks the “flow” of the scenario. This is insignificant since the part of the brain that is being programmed by the experiential learning really has no concept of time. It merely records experience for future playback. If the pause button is used elegantly and appropriately, the interruption is not the least bit counterproductive to the learning process.
As a quick note of wrap up, the techniques mentioned above have proven extremely successful in the past but are most effective within the confines of a tightly-controlled and well-orchestrated scenario training program. While described within the broader context of scenario based training, when used appropriately we have found that most of the limitations of the large DT suits can be minimized while maximizing their benefits.
Until next time, train hard and train safe!