Why patrol must train to SWAT-level threat recognition

Cops face the threat of anti-cop factions who not only encourage hate and bias against police, but encourage violent attacks against officers — recognizing which is which is critical in today’s age


The ability to recognize a threat and quickly react — as well as the ability to recognize what is not a threat — may be the single most critical skill an individual officer can possess in policing today.

Police trainers need to prepare their patrol officers for threats by providing the same type of threat recognition training that SWAT cops have been getting for decades.

Three Levels of Threat-Recognition Training
SWAT cops and counter-snipers spend a lot of time training and improving their situational awareness so that they can recognize threats and react appropriately. Squared-away tactical teams incorporate this training on the gun range, in shoot houses, on the sniper range and through other scenarios just about every time they train. Just as SWAT officers incorporate this training everywhere they can, threat recognition training for patrol officers should be introduced into traffic stops, arrest procedures, domestic situations, active shooter incidents and everything in between.

There are three things that the training officers should focus on during this training. The first should be quick recognition of life-threatening situations and criminal activity — with emphasis on the importance of quick recognition and quicker reaction to any present threats. Another element of this first focus is evaluating the lawfulness of force used in response to the training scenario.

The second phase of threat recognition training is to focus on non-life threatening scenarios that may appear to be life-threatening or can be quickly deescalated. This is the area in which many officers find themselves a victim of their own ignorance to the laws, their egos or their fears — all of which can land you in court with a defense attorney on your side instead of a prosecutor.

The third — and arguably most important— factor in threat-recognition training is the ability of the trainer to provide a critique to the trainee. When police trainers fail to provide feedback to an officer after they complete a training scenario, they are ultimately reinforcing the officer’s bad habits. Training officers must clearly articulate the shortcomings of the officer’s response after each scenario so that he or she can avoid making the same mistake on the street.

After a scenario, ask the officer what he or she may have done wrong before offering any feedback. This trains the officer to recognize mistakes and to avoid those mistakes to begin with.

A 'When/Then' Scenario for Trainers
What do you do with an officer who fails to respond to training? It is important for police trainers to council the officer in any tactical deficiencies and document the problems. If it becomes necessary to take further action down the road — ranging from reassignment to dismissal —you have the necessary documentation to support your recommendations.

The safety of all officers is the most important and basic function of the first line supervisor. On occasion, the patrol sergeant might refer an officer for additional training when he or she notices that the officer isn’t correctly recognizing threats. This referral may help the officer improve or it may provide grounds for future actions against the officer from the agency. Either way, you are keeping him or her — as well as other officers — safer by recommending additional training or removal from duties.

The next generation of cops will face different challenges but one thing will always remain the same — threat recognition with quick, effective, and lawful response is the key to every officer’s survival.

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