How to conduct safe and effective force-on-force scenario training

Personnel who engage in scenario-based FoF training must always consider and address planning, safety and communication


This feature is part of our new PoliceOne Digital Edition, a quarterly supplement to PoliceOne.com that brings a sharpened focus to some of the most challenging topics facing police chiefs and police officers everywhere. To read all of the articles included in the Fall 2016 issue, click here.

By Mike Wood, PoliceOne Columnist

On Christmas Day in 1993, two California deputies used a little quiet time between radio calls to conduct impromptu vehicle stop training in the field. Using the patrol car as a stand-in for a suspect vehicle, one deputy played the role of the stopped driver, while the other made his practice approach.

As the investigating officer neared the driver’s door, the “suspect” suddenly and unexpectedly drew a small handgun from behind the sun visor, pointing it at him. The surprised deputy reacted by drawing his duty weapon and pulling the trigger. Sadly, the weapon had not been cleared before the exercise, and the deputy shot and killed his partner before he realized the error.

Successful FoF training begins with defining learning objectives that clearly state the focus and intent of training efforts and the desired outcome for the student. (Photo/iStock)
Successful FoF training begins with defining learning objectives that clearly state the focus and intent of training efforts and the desired outcome for the student. (Photo/iStock)

As a trainer, I understand the value and necessity of conducting realistic, scenario-based training, involving live role players. This kind of interactive training is particularly important for professions like ours, where high-stakes decisions must be made quickly and accurately in stressful conditions. There is no other method which can better simulate the speed, chaos, stress and unpredictability of these dangerous situations in training.

However, this kind of training, and particularly training which involves the use of force, must never be undertaken without comprehensive preparation. Personnel who engage in scenario-based, “Force-on-Force” (FoF) training must always consider and address the following three principles: planning, safety and communication.

Planning

Successful FoF training begins with defining learning objectives that clearly state the focus and intent of training efforts and the desired outcome for the student. It’s important for these learning objectives to be narrowly focused, because they will guide the construction and execution of the training scenario.

As an example, “make a vehicle stop” is not a good learning objective because it’s too broad and doesn’t identify specific areas of performance to test and evaluate. A better learning objective might be, “the student will demonstrate his or her ability to make an appropriate use-of-force decision and execute an appropriate response after the driver produces a gun during the initial approach on a traffic stop.”

A sharp focus like this will aid construction of scenarios that channel role players and students into the specific action that we want to test and evaluate. Absent this kind of precision, an FoF scenario is apt to spin wildly out of control, turning into an unscripted free-for-all that wastes time and fails to accomplish our objectives.

Scenarios should be based on these specific learning objectives and should usually test previously trained skills. It’s not normally beneficial to put students into a scenario for which their training hasn’t prepared them.

Objective performance standards should be established before training starts to help identify students that need additional training. Logistical details (training site, required equipment and personnel, etc.) need early attention as well.

Safety

The most critical attribute of successful FoF training is that it needs to be safe for all participants, instructors and bystanders.

This begins with selecting the training location. A good location should offer privacy so that uninvolved people won’t view or hear the training and mistakenly believe that the simulation is a real emergency. Similarly, it should be a secure location that restricts access to participants only.

The training site should be suitably lit, free of unnecessary hazards (such as low-traction surfaces that might encourage slips or falls, or obstacles that might cause injury) and should offer a relatively forgiving surface if a participant hits the ground.

A clearly marked observer should be assigned to monitor the exercise for safety issues and violations. Make sure this person is highly visible so that he or she is not overlooked by instructors who are more focused on scenario execution and student performance.

Only participants, instructors and safety observers should be allowed in the immediate training area. Non-participants should be kept at a distance where they won’t interfere and will be safe from accidental injury.

All participants, instructors and observers should be equipped with protective equipment that fits properly and is appropriate for the scenario, to include headgear, gloves, safety goggles, pads, hearing protection, “red man suits” and suitable clothing. Players and non-players should be clearly identifiable.

All duty weapons and ammunition should be inventoried and secured outside of the immediate training area to ensure that no participants, instructors or observers bring a live weapon into the scenario. Multi-layer inspections should be conducted, with personnel checking themselves first, then checking each other and finally having instructors or dedicated safety observers check for the presence of unauthorized weapons and ammunition.

The training area should be secured to prevent unauthorized entry by personnel carrying live weapons once training is underway.

Suitable training weapons should be issued to all participants — faux impact weapons, “blue” guns, non-lethal training ammunition firearms, etc. It’s critical to use dedicated training weapons that are inert or modified, rather than using unloaded duty weapons, to prevent the firing of live ammunition.

Suitable first aid equipment should be immediately available and personnel with advanced emergency medicine training identified. An emergency communications and transport plan should be briefed in detail.

Communication

All participants should be thoroughly briefed on safety protocols (including prohibited techniques or targets) and the commands that will be used by instructors and participants to terminate the scenario and suspend all action. Administrative issues like training area boundaries, designated entries and exits and “out of play” safe zones also deserve attention.

Supporting role players should clearly understand the intent of the exercise and how their roles will encourage the desired student response. Students should understand how radio communications, backup and other elements of the scenario will be handled by instructors and who the non-players will be.

No more “accidents”

If all this sounds like a lot of work, then you’re catching on. It’s critical for us to spend the time and effort up front to prepare safe and effective FoF training and resist the temptation to take shortcuts.

In the past few years, we’ve lost and injured far too many officers and cadets in preventable training “accidents” that were actually cases of negligence. Shockingly, some of the fallen were even shot by their own instructors — the people most responsible for ensuring their safety.

Every one of these incidents could have been prevented with proper planning, communication and a disciplined safety culture, so let’s pay attention to those things and avoid adding more names to the wall through negligence.


About the author
Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) Mike Wood is an NRA Law Enforcement Division-certified Firearms Instructor and the author of Newhall Shooting: A Tactical Analysis, available in paper and electronic formats throughAmazon.com , BarnesandNoble.com, Apple iTunes and gundigeststore.com . Please visit the official website for this book at www.newhallshooting.com for more information.

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