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PoliceOne Roundtable: Smart police trainers use 'dumb' simulation tools

Even as the capabilities of silicon-based simulators increase, our carbon-based simulators (a.k.a. trainers and role players), still need traditional “inert” training tools

Despite the welcome increase in computer-based simulation solutions for police training, there’s still a big need for ‘dumb’ devices such as Blue Guns, Shock Knives, Simunitions, SIRT Pistols, Redman Suits, and the like.  

With this in mind, I recently asked three PoliceOne Columnists — each a top-tier San Francisco Bay Area police trainer with whom I’ve spent some quality time — to weigh in on the role that traditional (inert) training tools continue to play in keeping our officers safe.  

Meet the Experts

Ken Hardesty is the principal instructor for Spartan Concepts and Consulting, a company dedicated to providing high quality firearms training and self-defense seminars to law enforcement and armed-security professionals.

Ed Flosi is the principal instructor for PROELIA Defense and Arrest Tactics, a complete system for law enforcement, loss-prevention, and security personnel developed by working cops and based on the needs of the end users.

Mark Schraer is the co-owner and lead instructor for Blackrock Firearms Training, a company that provides high quality, effective, and current firearms training to law enforcement, military, and legally-armed civilian students.

What’s the first “brand” (or type) of so-called “dumb” training device that comes to mind for you, and why? 
Ken Hardesty: Replica firearms. I use them all the time in firearms courses to conduct manipulative skills demonstrations. They help instructors engage visual learners while maintaining the safety protocols that must be adhered to.

Ed Flosi: To be clear, I’m not anti-tech in law enforcement training — I’m a proponent of using technology like the force option simulator — but I also realize the limitations, and the need for other, less-sophisticated training tools. 

That being said, the first type that comes to mind is impact suits. We use these in defensive tactics training to train the officers how stay in the fight, use proper distance, and create powerful baton strikes. All these skills are critical to learn for the officer that wants to win the fight.

Mark Schraer: Blue Guns or Red Guns and SIRT Pistols. Blue or Red Guns are inexpensive and offer officers the opportunity to work on one of the most critical components of winning the most common and challenging gunfights - a fast and efficient draw stroke.

SIRT pistols are a cost-effective tool for instructors and officers who wish to supplement live-fire training. SIRT Pistols allow officers to develop a mastery of the draw stroke, as well as shooting and weapon-handling fundamentals away from the range.

How necessary/useful are so-called “dumb” training devices as teaching tools for scenario-based training?
Ken Hardesty: When thinking of scenario-based training, the first example that comes to mind is Force on Force training. In this context, marking cartridges of some kind are absolutely necessary to provide students the motivation to avoid costly mistakes.  Without consequences, it becomes hard for instructors to adequately deliver the desired message.

Ed Flosi: The impact suits are absolutely needed in scenarios that will include close quarter fighting. They give the role player a better level of protection while giving the operating officer a moving target that will fight back and give feedback to the officer if they are successful.

Mark Schraer: As a profession, we must move away from the concept that firearms training is limited to live-fire shooting drills. It’s foolish not to build a dry-fire training program and to use these devices in off-range training.

When you consider the number of officers who are STILL being shot in practical exercises, replica firearms are extremely useful for running safe scenario-based training. These tools are particularly beneficial in identifying training issues related to two-officer and team movements with a drawn firearm.

When you’re building a training element, do you purposefully integrate use of those “dumb” training devices? 
Ken Hardesty: Yes, in any type of manipulative skill, (firearms, defensive tactics), the need for scenario based training is always present. Whether to enhance safety, conduct force on force training or both, these types of tools are invaluable to training programs.

Ed Flosi: We incorporate impact suits into scenarios that require the close quarter fighting as well as non-force scenarios. This makes the operating officer have to think through the force options instead of “knowing” that since the role player was wearing an impact suit that an impact weapon solution “must be” the right answer.

Mark Schraer: I not only use a Blue Gun in all of my firearms courses, I encourage every officer and instructor to purchase a replica firearm for their own personal training program. Throughout the morning sessions of our classes I remind officers of the number of drills that can also be accomplished with a replica weapon away from a firearms range.

Briefly share an example of an instance where one of these devices proved to be invaluable to the training.
Ken Hardesty: While conducting defensive tactics update training, we utilized a FIST suit and training batons, which allowed officers to engage live instructors in the suit, rather than a strike bag or other simulated threat. 

The fact that they were allowed to engage a live person in the suit — and deploy strikes against a moving target — enhanced the baton drill and the training program.

Ed Flosi: Many recruits come to us now with little or no fighting experience. Even those that do have fighting experience, most of those have never used a baton in a fight so it is difficult for their brain to grasp the need to stay at baton range instead of a traditional fist fight range.  

We’ve been successful in getting the recruits to move back to a more proper range by having the impact suit role played “reinforce” proper distance if they move in too closely.

Mark Schraer: I use my Blue Gun to demonstrate techniques when teaching the five-count draw as well as when showing techniques on moving safely and effectively with a pistol or rifle. 

I also use a replica firearm for addressing how to deliver effective hits at extreme close-quarter and ‘contact’ distances.

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