Why stress inoculation is critical for police recruits
If cadets can’t execute in a controlled environment, what are the chances they will execute in the unpredictable environments on the street?
By Amir Khillah, P1 Contributor
Many of today’s police recruits have never been punched in the face or held a gun, and the closest thing to a fight is when they wrestled their little brother for the television remote.
However, instructors are expected in just 16 weeks to magically transform these guys and gals into new police officers. These recruits will be stationed in high-crime zones where they will be expected to hold their own.
If they had good firearms and subject control instructors, they are in luck. And if they had good instructors, they most probably hated them due to the amount of stress, yelling and pressure they placed them under.
How we transform civilians into cops in the police academy
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of stress inoculation in transforming a civilian to police officer. I am a subject control instructor at my local police academy. During scenario-based training days – affectionately known as “Redman” – cadets face role players who are both law enforcement officers and/or MMA fighters. We push cadets beyond their physical and mental limits. It is not an enjoyable day. The cadets are taken down, mounted, and their airway and breathing interrupted.
Cadets initially panic, quit, cry or “freak out.” We put them through these scenarios for three reasons:
- To teach the cadets that their techniques must be ingrained in their muscle memory in order for them to be able to execute under the stress of a dynamic scenario.
- To teach cadets restraint and how to avoid excessive use of force due to the panic of being in a compromising position, as well as teach them that they have various options prior to reaching deadly force during a fight.
- In case deadly force is required, to show cadets how to articulate in court that they have been in such a compromising position before and knew they were in a deadly force assault scenario.
Once armed with the basic techniques, it’s important to “stress test” these techniques in condition black. We want to find out if these techniques will work for the cadets’ body type when auditory exclusion, tunnel vision and hyperventilation set in.
I stress to the cadets that I’m not testing them, but I’m testing the content (the tools) I have armed them with. If cadets can’t execute in a controlled environment, what are the chances they will execute in the unpredictable environments on the street? As we all know, we don’t rise to the occasion, we fall back to the level of our training.
Be the voice in a police cadet’s head
Academy instructors are responsible for inoculating cadets to stress and teaching them the most appropriate response to their situation. We walk a fine line balancing injury prevention while inducing stress. But these young women and men count on their instructors to prepare them for situations they most likely have never experienced in their lives. The training and your “voice in their head” may save a new recruit’s life during their first demanding use-of-force encounter.
Administration of stress inoculation in the police academy
There are a number of ways to introduce stress into the cadets’ training. Here are three methods we use during each academy to hardwire a stimulus response into the mind of each new police officer.
1. Pepper spray exposure
I would be lying if I told you cadets look forward to this training module.
Cadets run a quarter mile to increase their heart rate prior to a full-face (1-2 second) exposure of pepper spray. The cadet is then escorted to a matted area (100 feet away, allowing the spray to take full affect) where she/he faces an actively aggressing suspect (a role player).
Cadets must respond to the aggressive actions of the role player, take control of the suspect, apply handcuffs, and maintain situational awareness and weapon retention.
Once the cuffs are double-locked and checked for tightness, the contaminated cadet removes the cuffs and is escorted to the decontamination site.
Cadets experience a high pain stimulus from the pepper spray exposure, and are guided through the proper response of apprehending a suspect. The first time the future officer is contaminated while deploying pepper spray on an actual suspect, she/he already knows the pain they are able to fight through, how their eyes will slam shut, how to control a resisting/assaultive suspect and how to execute completion of an arrest.
Additionally, they gain confidence with the force option, and have the compassion to decontaminate an exposed suspect without sacrificing officer safety.
2. Incorporating securiBlanks (loud) in dedicated training weapons
We recently introduced securiBlanks (loud) into our Redman days. The sound of the firearm going off, the feel of the weapon cycling a round and the realistic visual reaction of the role player during the struggle is so extreme that initially most cadets stop fighting. It takes a few loud persuasive statements by the drill sergeants to encourage the cadet to continue the good fight.
The auditory stimulus of the discharge of a firearm captures the cadets’ attention so powerfully that it can reduce their ability to accomplish a dominant position in the fight.
This effect is most noticeable on the first day a cadet experiences this auditory and tactile stimuli. A significant desensitization to the loud auditory stimuli occurs on subsequent training rotations.
Additionally, we discovered a very interesting training failure by incorporating live training weapons and securiBlanks into Redman reality-based training.
Most red or blue training guns (molded rubber) do not have a cycling slide. While carrying plastic training guns, malfunction drills were simulated. Cadets executed the basic tap, rack and re-assess drill on a gun with no moving parts. That all changed when we introduced sim guns.
During a struggle with a suspect over their firearms, cadets are instructed that their firearm has malfunctioned and is unable to fire. Cadets were being programed to smack the magazine to make sure it was seated properly, then simulate cycling the slide. The problem is that red and blue plastic training guns do not have a slide that cycles. Cadets were issued “sim guns” loaded with securiBlanks (loud or quiet) and cadets experienced weapons going out of battery due to the suspects grabbing onto their guns.
Under the stress of a “real fight” during Redman, cadets did what they have done hundreds of times prior – smacked the magazine into place, and waved a hand over a slide. They did not charge or pull back the slide but literally waved their hands over the slide like they did with the red guns. Needless to say, they were not able to get their guns back into the fight in time. By not utilizing real handguns dedicated to securiBlank training rounds (incapable of firing live ammunition and marked as training weapons), we create a dangerous muscle memory for cadets.
3. Shock knives make everyone scream
Some cadets became very proficient at edged-weapon disarming. We taught them the basic and most efficient way of disarming when creating distance and using your own firearm was not an option.
Cadets were shielding, intercepting, redirecting and disarming like champs. Eventually, cadets must have done what we all do and started searching YouTube for fancy action movie disarms.
We attempted to explain the importance of efficiency of movement and energy conservation, and the importance of gross muscle techniques. Yet the live action movie disarms continued.
Getting “cut” with a red or blue plastic training knife did not deter this. So what did we do? We introduced painful stimuli using a Shocknife with the voltage adjusted all the way up and watched as confidence, performance and flashiness all hit rock bottom.
The pain stimulus of being “cut” by the Shocknife was enough to make some cadets simply drop into the fetal position during the first round. We may or may not have had cadets simply run. Needless to say, flash was gone and we were back to basics and basics win fights.
A drastic and observable desensitization to the electric shock was noted on subsequent training rotations. Don’t get me wrong, cadets certainly did not want to get “cut,” but when they did, they were able to stay in the fight and accomplish the mission. Again, another example of stress inoculation used during reality-based-training.
There are many ways to introduce stress into the training program. Please remember that stress needs to be introduced after competency of the desired technique is achieved. If you have any questions about these training rotations or others we utilize, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Remember future police officers are counting on you to prepare them for the job.
About the author
Amir Khillah is a police officer, founder of Centurion and a police academy subject control instructor.