Product Review: Top training programs
Effective programs start with strong, consistent philosophies
I don't want to paint a bleak picture, but agencies from coast to coast do not have their emphasis on training. Their emphasis is trying to maintain staffing levels in a shaky economy.
The good news is the fact that the "five percenters", officers who recognize that training continues, regardless of the economy, still seek training opportunities and capitalize on them.
I learned the term five percenter at a Caliber Press Street Survival Seminar. I was a police officer with about five years under my belt, which meant I knew everything I needed to know before I attended the seminar. Yeah, right.
Since money is tight, the rule for selecting a training product is simple. Those that keep an officer in service are worth paying for. Don't waste time and money on others.
Training schools must have a consistent philosophy integrated into a system. Individual techniques must agree with other techniques in the system and allow for smooth transition in a dynamic environment. For example, if the defensive system has a particular technique for contact distance, the presentation and engagement must somehow overlap if the engagement distance changes.
If my educated guess about 2010 is correct, the average of officer assaults is on the rise again.
The FBI UCR information has at least a year lag time on statistics so we only have solid numbers on LE assaults to 2008. Law Enforcement assaults were slightly lower from 2006-08.
We do have statistics from many facilities. Assaults against Correctional Officers have increased. In some states, the increase has been dramatic. Statistics are not as important as the harsh reality. Every assault on our brother is against society as a whole.
The picture I am trying to paint here is simple: Budgets are down, training needs are up.
The other part of the trend draws its information from anecdotal data. Many agencies have reduced the frequency that they send officers to schools. Some are barely complying with the Peace Officers Standards in their state.
When I contacted several training facilities, they reported the other end of the trend. Rob Pincus of I.C.E. told me that agencies have requested more onsite training, where his team goes to the host agency to deliver the training. This practice is a good idea for an agency that wishes to cut back on travel and on-site costs.
I have listed several training schools of which I am familiar. This is only a sampling of the dozens of reputable schools available:
The Calibre Press Street Survival Seminar should be a mandatory course for anyone who can qualify to attend it (Attendance requires law enforcement credentials). The standard course is 16 hours. Experts share their experience and train attendees in critical thinking skills, mindset, and succesful habits. If you were to ask me what the most valuable material I walked away with from this seminar, it would be hard for me to prioritize the answer. Now that I am retired, I can at least say this: several of the skills I learned in this seminar kept me alive during my career.
The Street Survival Seminar evolves regularly because of case law and technology updates. I recommend annual refreshers.
I.C.E. Training and Combat Focus Shooting
I.C.E. Training of Virginia Beach, Va., stands for "integrity, consistency, and efficiency". It is the premiere school for gun handlers. Any armed professional who hasn't heard of Rob Pincus, the owner and lead instructor of I.C.E., probably should get to know him.
Pincus designed Combat Focus Shooting as a complete system which combines gun handling skills with other essential abilities. When I attended a demonstration of Combat Focus Shooting, I was thoroughly impressed. The methods are realistic and time-tested.
What is most the most popular class in most training facilities? Most training organizations report that officers like basic defensive handgun courses. The best value for an officer in service is a handgun course, even as a refresher.
Pincus reports that officers prefer the Combat Focus Shooting course, which is an integrated skill building approach. Not surprisingly, many agencies have requested the Combat Focused Shooting Instructor Development
Pincus worked with members of agencies that had less than 5 officers and worked with members of the NYPD and Chicago PD.
Pincus told me that agencies who use I.C.E. as their training provider have an advantage over an agency relying on their internal training. One advantage is that by having the influence of the private sector, it can evolve faster to accommodate specific training needs as well as provide more relevant training solutions.
For Special Operations Personnel, I recommend the Extreme Close Quarters Counter Ambush program (3-5 days) which combines intuitive shooting with close quarters unarmed skills. Training is done force-on-force at speed.
Pincus is the personality behind the product. He has an impressive flair, handpicks his staff, and delivers exactly what the officer came for: a system which works, not just a handful of shooting drills. I recommend using his training videos and book for refresher material.
Jane Anne Shimizu of Gunsite reports that there has not been a decrease in private sector classes, but military and agency requests are not as prolific.
Gunsite in Paulden, Ariz. is probably the most well known of all firearms schools.
In many agencies, there is an annual pilgrimage to Gunsite by a few interested officers and hundreds of others just wishing to brush up on shooting skills. This is evidenced by the fact that many of the well known shooting instructors in business today are Gunsite alumni.
Founded in 1976 by Col. Jeff Cooper, Gunsite lives up to its legendary name. It is appropriately named. The ranges are impressive and they are backed with the right resumes. The most recommended class is the 250 Defensive Pistol class, offered about once a month.
Weapons Training School
I mentioned Correctional Officers, and I know many of them, having worked in custody prior to driving a black-and-white. My recommendation for custody officers and patrol officers alike is the Weapons Training School in Soulsbyville, Ca.
I met John Popke, the founder of WTS, an accomplished instructor and 24 year SWAT member, at a training seminar. John and his wife Tami, also an accomplished instructor, were running the students through some move and shoot drills using a robotic target. Breathless attendees were walking off the firing line and lining up for more. I was giving a (yawn) lecture on the psychological perspective of shooting.
Besides being one of the best bargains in firearms training, students get to digest one of the most comprehensive skill building classes offered in northern Calif.
WTS approaches handgun proficiency in four Tactical Handgun Phases. The total cost for all four classes is less than what many schools charge for a single class.
Martial Blade Concepts
Martial Blade Concepts is an edged weapon training program designed for the armed professional and very appropriate for the law enforcement officer. Michael Janich is MBC and he teaches a martial system of defensive concepts, rather than a restrictive repertoire of moves. I know, "knife to a gun fight" jokes. These concepts are empty hand appropriate, which will help the officer be more competent in defensive tactics.
Michael Janich has a very unique resume. Besides his extensive knowledge of martial arts, he is also an authority on close quarters shooting. He cowrote a book on the topic with the Col. Rex Applegate.
Janich's experience with close quarters knife and gun is exactly why an officer should be interested in training with him. I recommend his Street Skills seminars, which are inexpensive crash courses.
Sig Sauer Academy
East coast Officers go to Epping, N.H., for their skill-building fix. The Sig Sauer Academy has Law Enforcement friendly and Law Enforcement specific offerings at a modern facility.
I have not had the pleasure to visit this facility, but two of my coworkers were the types who attended training several times annually kept returning to this training site.
Valley Defense Consulting, Central Calif.
I have known Vince Bizzini, founder of Valley Defense Consulting for more than 20 years. He was the firearms instructor in over half of my in service training sessions when I was in uniform.
Valley Defense Consulting offers many of the products one expects from a firearms school and students will benefit from Bizzini's problem-solving approach.
The best benefit one will get from Valley Defense Consulting is graduating to the Mastery Course. After an initial prerequisite, one can attend an "all shooting, no lecture" class.
Blade Tech Training Barrel
Finally, there's also one training product I should mention that is worth taking a look at. This low budget training product needs very little maintenance and is low tech. It is Blade Tech's Training Barrel.
The Blade Tech Training Barrel is something I use almost daily and something agencies should issue to every officer. It consists of a simple precision molded barrel which replaces the real thing for training. The user can dry fire, manipulate the slide, holster and practice magazine changes without concern for negligent discharge. It is perfect for pre-shift training during briefing.
While on austerity, police agencies can practice deployment skills using a Training Barrel. These can include pulling a trio of officers into the local high school on a Saturday morning while school is not in session. Get on a training frequency and work on small unit and ad hoc movement techniques for active shooter response.
Using innovative training to augment the budget shortfall is the way to go. Encouraging officers and paving the way to time off to attend schools is a wise strategy. Above all, keep training.