Ask any officer who has been in a life-or-death situation to tell the story of their survival. At some point during the telling of the gunfight, street fight, or pursuit, most will make the statement, “...and then my training kicked in.” Some of these survivors have been so moved by their experience they in turn become survival trainers themselves.
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These trainers are driven with a passion to prepare officers to win as they had been prepared by their trainers. They soon discover that training costs money and in today’s world, departments can neither afford to give as much survival training as some officers want, nor as much as all officers need. How can survival training be accomplished in an environment where officers are being laid off?
Police unions traditionally protect officers financially and in other ways. During these hard times, those unions can consider adopting the mindset of survival bargaining to get as much life saving survival training as possible.
Defining Survival Training
First let’s define survival training. If one goes to the Officer Down Memorial Page http://www.odmp.org/, you will see that the largest number of officers killed every year, fall into one of three categories. Officers are killed by gunfire, automobile accidents and heart attacks. Each year many of the gunfire deaths occur after physical struggles are lost and officers are killed with their own weapons.
Here are two years, 35 years apart, to compare what has been a trend. Gunfire deaths have trended downward considerably since 1975, at the same time traffic accident deaths have ranged back and forth between 20 and 40, with 2010 being an especially terrible year for officers on the road. Sadly in 2010, gunfire deaths, which had been falling, spiked upward again.
The decrease in the gunfire deaths since 1973 can be attributed to the fact that more officers are wearing of body armor than ever before. There have been significant improvements made in emergency trauma care. Police officers are also better equipped, better trained in tactics that enable officers to win gun fights. Law Enforcement changed the status quo and changed their destiny. The status quo bears changing again, by adopting the mindset of survival bargaining.
Keeping this information in mind, the survival training that should be targeted for survival bargaining are Firearms, Defensive Tactics, and Emergency Vehicle Operations.
Defining Survival Bargaining
In most places, training is something that takes place over and above duty time and becomes very expensive. If it takes eight hours to train an officer, some contracts require that he or she be paid at time and one half, or twelve hours pay for eight hours worked. With current budgets being what they are this translates from little survival training in flush years, to in some cases no survival training, during lean years.
Survival Bargaining would be a perception shift — taking survival training out of the category of wages and placing it in the category of benefits. Union members who can make this shift in thinking will insure an increase in, by making it more affordable to their departments.
A union representative deciding to bargain for survival training as a benefit would need to have the approval of their membership before proceeding. The questions to ask the group would be:
1.) Do you feel firearms training, defensive tactics training and emergency vehicle operations training are a benefit?
2.) If not all, which ones are not?
3.) Are you willing to allow representative to arrange changes in the contract to make these more available by making them more affordable?
4.) Looking at the current contract, what changes do you suggest?
5.) If the group is willing to make changes to facilitate affordable survival training, should it be placed in the contract permanently, or with a sunset clause (this sets an end date so the budget situation can be reevaluated at that time).
If survival bargaining is proposed, anticipate a lively discussion on the topic. Some will look at any such effort as a cut in pay, but that point can be countered by explaining, “No. If we manage to get more survival training to our officers it is not a cut in pay, but an increase in benefits.” The fact of the matter is though, this is not about money. It is about giving “America’s Finest” the best possible survival training so that when they meet “America’s Worst” our officers will, as my fellow PoliceOne Columnist, Richard Fairburn, would say, “Prevail!”
On one hand there are those in law enforcement, who would disagree and look at training as something they must endure — therefore, they must be properly reimbursed for their suffering. Some would gladly go the rest of their career without smelling their partner’s sweat, a mat, gun-smoke, or burning rubber in the training environment ever again.
On the other hand, there are other officers whose training allowed them on one or more occasions to make it home from one or more memorable shifts. These officers would most likely agree that survival training is a benefit.
Win, Win, Win
Agencies are handcuffed right now by budget cuts. This is an area where union bargainers can assist their agencies in saving money, while ensuring their officers will get quality survival training. Unions can help in this effort by looking to their contracts to see ways they can get the benefit of more survival training for their officers at a lower cost to the agencies.
There is a lot of talk these days about health insurance benefits. Well, survival training is a health insurance benefit police officers can ill afford doing without.
One more way to envision survival bargaining is to say, “Some of something for less pay is better than none of something for more pay.”