A couple of times a year we still read about a police officer killed during training supposedly conducted with safe or unloaded weapons. Now despite any number or trainers and organizations publishing their rules for simulation training, and despite the existence of several well-attended multi-day schools devoted to running such simulations, we are still losing a couple officers a year to these tragic accidents. The National Tactical Officers Association has compiled a good summary of these deaths online (police training deaths link below).
These deaths are completely unnecessary!
Let's follow the logic. Why do these accidents continue to happen? Well, the obvious reason, and the place to start, is that clearly live weapons were somehow introduced into the training area. Why does this happen despite any number of good safety protocols existing? Clearly either 1) no good safety protocol was implemented, or 2) a good safety protocol was implemented but insufficiently followed.
Why would reason 1 - no good safety protocol implemented - happen?
This one lies squarely on the backs of the person in charge of the training. It is due to laziness, ignorance, incompetence or all three. (You'll have to excuse my strong language here, but we're talking about fellow officers being killed.) We still see way too many simulations run off-the-cuff, with some half-assed protocol ("OK, everyone leave their gun in the spare room over there and then reconvene here so we can get started") kinda-sorta implemented, some of the time. Included here as half-assed are "protocols" that fail to search an officer anytime they leave the simulation area - to take a call, hit the head, go to lunch, or whatever. Now why would someone in a position to be running a simulation in the first place fall prone to laziness, ignorance, incompetence or all three? Part of the reason is that we simply, as a profession, do not have a culture of safety in simulations. Think of it this way. Generations ago, gun safety on the range was all but non-existent. Go to the range in the '20s or '30s and you'd see muzzles pointed everywhere, including by the instructor at students during demonstrations. That attitude has now changed 100%, and we now live and breathe the four cardinal firearms safety rules whenever we engage in firearms training. Our firearms instructors are (if they are any good) merciless about enforcing them. The level of consciousness about firearms safety that we all (hopefully) have now is simply ingrained in us as part of the culture of armed professionals. Sadly, we simply haven't reached that level of concern - as a cultural norm - with simulation safety yet. No one howls when a simulation is run unsafely; no one gets fired; no one gets disciplined. But as simulations become more and more standard in law enforcement training - driven by the courts and by low-cost simulation technologies like airsoft - it will happen. In 30 years, our kids or grandkids will look back at these training deaths and wonder "What the hell were they thinking?"
Why would reason #2 - a good safety protocol insufficiently followed - happen?
Here the fault lies with the protocols themselves. It's clearly not likely to be because an instructor who knows them wakes up one morning and says "the hell with the safety procedures today." Rather, it's because the protocol is too complicated or impractical to be followed. It may be 100% safe if it is in fact followed, but if it consumes too many resources (too many officers, too much space, or too much equipment) to implement, if it consumes too much training time to implement, or if it's just unworkable under the demands of a law enforcement trainer working with small budgets and too little time and nonetheless people that need training, then it's going to fall by the wayside. In this vein, we have seen protocols that required many police officers acting as safety officers so that two officers could train; we've seen protocols that had so many "rings of safety" that in order to run a simulation in a room inside a building, you'd have to shut down not just the room, but the corridor leading to it, the entire building, and its parking lot (no kidding!) It's just like the old vest argument. A few years ago there were lots of vests on the market, and most of them worked (this is before the Zylon controversy.) Yet the companies with the most comfortable vests had most of the saves, despite the fact that they had only a minority of the vest sales. Why? Because comfortable vests were actually worn. Uncomfortable vests, no matter how effective they might be, were not. To no-one's surprise, the same sort of behavior occurs with regard to simulation safety, too.