Training day: How to combine virtual and physical training
Combining virtual with physical training will enhance the learning process and improve officer safety
Before you put a Top Gun pilot behind the controls of a $70 million aircraft, you want to ensure they know how to take off, fly and land it safely. Pilot candidates are carefully selected, classroom- and simulator-trained and, only after they pass a set of tests, are they allowed in the air behind a senior pilot in a training aircraft before being allowed to pilot an aircraft.
While law enforcement officers aren’t responsible for millions of dollars of equipment, they are responsible for the lives of their fellow officers and the citizens they are sworn to protect. So, doesn’t it make sense that your officers should be trained in a consistent, proven manner?
Traditional officer training consists of book learning and physical and firearms training in the academy, followed by riding with a field training officer for a couple of weeks with the officer heading out on their own detail afterward. With today's complex laws and "always-on" media, this is no longer sufficient, especially in big cities.
While officers still need to learn the basics of how to capture and subdue a non-confrontational suspect, there is now the risk of trying to do the same with an armed or unarmed confrontational suspect. Perhaps you are called to a shots fired, hostage or domestic situation. Do your officers know what to do so that responders and victims can all go home to their families?
Physical training is the first step
Officers need to train with dummies and live opponents to learn how to safely approach, subdue and cuff a suspect.
The use of cover and concealment, and tools such as batons, TASERs, firearms, pepper spray and restraints, carefully need to be practiced until the officer can safely take a suspect into custody without injury to themselves or other parties. It is important to develop muscle memory and the "Spidey Sense" to know if more suspects are waiting in the shadows, or if you are about to lose control of the situation, or even worse, have your firearm taken by a suspect.
Physical training needs to be done under good and bad conditions, such as in the dark, when the officer is fatigued after a chase and when it is raining. As much as we all like, all arrests aren’t going to happen on sunny days with blue skies.
Simulators add realism
Once an officer is comfortable with the physical aspects of a takedown, the next step is to put them into realistic and repeatable situations so that they can learn to defuse situations by practicing de-escalation tactics. Not only is de-escalation good for an officer’s safety, it helps with good community relations.
The importance of using a good simulator cannot be stressed enough. While a 270-degree wrap-around simulator is nice to have, 3-screen or even single-screen simulators will work as long as they offer realistic, repeatable scenarios with sufficient branching to allow the scenario to change based on an officer's response.
At a minimum, ensure that whichever simulator you choose can support the use of whatever sidearm your officers carry, or you will build bad muscle memory. A unit that can simulate firearm jams and TASER use is an added plus.
Marrying together physical and virtual training
For the most realistic training, you should co-locate your simulator with your range and an area with mats that will allow you to combine simulator and physical training. Why is this important? You want officers to build the muscle memory needed to create a single response chain that will let them transition from a pursuit to an encounter, de-escalation, gaining cooperation and handcuffing, or if necessary, to move rapidly from left of bang to right of bang if a situation goes south.
Here are some scenarios you can run that combine physical and virtual training. For added realism, you can stack one or more of these scenarios into “super scenarios”:
- Have trainees run 200+ yards with their virtual gear on to simulate a chase before stepping into the simulator.
- After a suspect moves into cuffing position, exit the simulator to secure and search a suspect on the ground. What happens if the suspect suddenly decides he doesn't want to be taken into custody?
- After a suspect is TASED, exit the simulator to secure and search a suspect on the ground.
- If a suspect has overdosed, practice administering Naloxone.
- If a simulated suspect lunges at you, exit the simulator to practice takedowns with a partner.
- K9 officers can practice takedowns using their fur missile. For this, you probably want to step outside the building and have the perpetrator wear a Redman suit.
- If the scenario involves a vehicle, exit the building to practice safe vehicle approaches.
- Practice officer-down scenarios by exiting the simulator to drag your brother or sister to safety without putting yourself in danger.
- After you have shot a suspect, exit the simulator to secure them and render aid.
- At the end of an active shooter simulation, exit the simulator and work with other first responders to triage and render aid.
Combining physical and virtual training into the same session can help officers make a smoother transition between the different stages of incident response.
While scenarios need to be repeatable until an officer responds correctly more than once, don’t be afraid to mix things up afterward because life on the street never repeats.