How to vet a tactical trainer: 3 questions to ask before your next class

There are many excellent tactical instructors to choose from – here’s how to ensure the training delivered is the best fit for your team


By James Scanlon, P1 Contributor

As law enforcement tactical training budgets become increasingly limited and staffing shortages make it more difficult for agencies to release personnel to attend tactical training, it is critical that agencies ensure they select the appropriate tactical training delivered by qualified tactical trainers.

The goal of tactical training is to provide students with multiple, beneficial “tools” to put in their “toolboxes.” Generally speaking, the more tools you acquire, the better. Avoid trainers who espouse the “my way or the highway” approach to training. There is more than one way to enter a structure, enter and search a room, manage a hostage barricade situation or execute a search warrant. Based on your agency’s specific resources and demands you may use some of these tools very frequently and other tools rarely. However, they all provide you with the options necessary to operate effectively in the tactical world.

There is more than one way to enter a structure, enter and search a room, manage a hostage barricade situation or execute a search warrant. (Photo/Alameda County EMS & Archie Aquino)
There is more than one way to enter a structure, enter and search a room, manage a hostage barricade situation or execute a search warrant. (Photo/Alameda County EMS & Archie Aquino)

Fortunately, there are a great number of excellent tactical training instructors and/or groups to choose from. They include instructors from law enforcement, military and private sector backgrounds. Here are three questions to ask to ensure you pick the right instructor and the right course for your agency’s tactical team.

1. Does the course curriculum meet your tactical team’s educational objectives?

You need to first prioritize your training goals and objectives and then select courses that address the specific tactical disciplines you are interested in.

An internet search will provide you with hundreds of training course options in each discipline. However, the curriculum for each of these courses is likely to vary greatly.

We need to equip tactical officers with multiple tools to successfully accomplish their missions. Here are some considerations to keep in mind when reviewing multiple courses:

  • Which courses provide you with multiple ways to conduct a search warrant?
  • Which courses provide you with multiple ways to enter rooms?
  • Which sniper schools provide you with the expertise to set up at the multiple distances that you’ll be facing?
  • Which courses provide you with multiple ways to deal with barricaded subjects?
  • Which courses provide you with multiple ways to deal with a victim/officer rescue?

Top tip: If a course or school doesn’t list individual hours and blocks of instruction, it is very difficult to determine their value to you.

2. How will the tactical trainer and/or training group serve your tactical team’s needs?

Select instructors who have the specific tactical experience and knowledge in the areas you are interested in. The tactical training world is saturated with instructors from law enforcement, military and private sector backgrounds. Many of these instructors are very experienced and knowledgeable in their specific areas of expertise. But beware of the pretender! Insist that the involved instructors provide a biography detailing their “operational experience” in the involved subject matter.

For example, while assigned to my full-time, large city SWAT team for 19 years, one of my functions was that of a sniper. I was deployed on dozens of missions. However, I would not market myself as a primary sniper instructor. I was very proficient within 150 yards and had familiarity up to 500 yards. However, I never had to set up on a mission beyond 110 yards. Many rural law enforcement agency snipers set up between 200-500 yards on a regular basis. There are many sniper instructors out there who are much better equipped than me to provide this type of training.

There are many tactical training groups out there that have impressive tactical training group owner and/or instructor bios listed on their websites. However, those individuals may not be the primary instructors for each of your blocks of training.

Top tip: Demand to know the specific instructors who will be teaching your class. If an individual tactical instructor doesn’t list experience and knowledge (to include types and number of actual missions), it is very difficult to determine their value to you.

3. What is the training philosophy of the instructor or training group?

I encourage officers to call tactical instructors and discuss their training philosophies with them. Some philosophies should simply be avoided. For example:

  • “My way or the highway”: Some tactical trainers subscribe to a theory that there is only one way to accomplish a particular technique and/or mission. Preferred tactical trainers acknowledge that there is no “one size fits all” in the tactical world. Tactical training students shouldn’t be expected to buy into every aspect of every school they attend. If a student leaves with a few more tools for his/her toolbox, it’s a win. Take what you can use and flush what you can’t.  
  • SEAL-like training: I highly encourage you to take advantage of any opportunity you may have to attend training conducted by groups such as the Navy Seals. A problem arises when a non-SEAL tactical trainer attempts to conduct SEAL-like training that is far too complicated and difficult for both him and the student to implement. This problem is often driven by instructor ego. Most preferred tactical trainers subscribe to the KISS (Keep it Simple Stupid) principle of tactical training.  Complicated tactical training and systems may work well for those who are exceptional athletes and have the opportunity to train daily in the most adverse conditions, but is that your law enforcement tactical team?

Top tip: Train hard, but have realistic expectations. Less complicated tactical training and systems are more likely to work for most teams.       

Most police officers consider themselves lucky to secure tactical training once every few years. Tactical training is expensive and time-consuming. Do your research and choose wisely.


About the author
James J. Scanlon is a 33-year veteran of the Columbus Ohio Division of Police. He served in the various assignments of patrol, canine and SWAT. He was assigned to the full-time Columbus Police SWAT section for a total of 19 years. Jim is co-founder and co-owner of the North American SWAT Training Association. NASTA was founded in 1999 and has provided training to thousands of police and military personnel worldwide. Jim is also a noted expert in police use of force/deadly force cases and has testified in, and consulted on, a number of these cases throughout the United States. Contact him at nasta@nasta.ws

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