Train for your life

It’s boring, really: doing the same thing over and over until it becomes reflexive, until it can be done in your sleep, eyes closed, hands going through the motions like they belong to someone else. And then one day you shoot out most of your load while...


It’s boring, really: doing the same thing over and over until it becomes reflexive, until it can be done in your sleep, eyes closed, hands going through the motions like they belong to someone else. And then one day you shoot out most of your load while crouched behind some dubious cover. Suddenly, all that training kicks in and you drop that nearly empty magazine, pocket what’s left of it, slam home a full one and you’re back in the action. Just. Like. That.

Sure, maybe you fumbled a little. Yours hands are sweaty and you’re under fire—and honestly, as much as your instructors talked about this, you didn’t really expect it to happen, at least not here, not tonight. But the thing is, you trained for this. Over and over and over until you were bored to tears and wanted to boot that insistent firearms instructor right in the tail end due to the number of times she made you do it again. You could have been home watching a game or spending time with your kids or even on patrol, actually policing. Who would have ever thought that all of that repetitive training would one day save someone’s life? Maybe even yours.

Your chief did. Your sheriff did. Your training officer did. Your supervisor did. Your state’s training academy did. Other LEOs who came before you did. The people who came up with your training courses did. And thank goodness for their foresight, because without them, you and the people you protected with that muscle memory response and those shooting skills, refined while sleepy-eyed and complaining in the cold, might be dead.

But shooting isn’t the only skill for which law enforcement trains, and with cuts shredding a lot of agency’s budgets, some critical training is being shoved to the side for when things get better. That, say the experts, is one heck of a mistake, because if you neglect training then things will never get better. In fact, inadequate training will only make policing more dangerous and infinitely less effective.

Reasons to train and train and train again

Sometimes you just have to remind yourself and your troops why you keep on doing this. You train because if you don’t, you can make mistakes. And all training doesn’t revolve around firearms, even though the experts say police tend to associate one with the other. Use of deadly force is only a small part of the whole training package, although admittedly, the most visible.

And what can happen to departments that don’t train like they should is scary, unless being sued is in your personal Top 10 list of things to do in the New Year.

Take a look at some of these cases drawn from an article compiled by Jack Ryan and published on the Police Agency Training Council’s website. Here’s what a look at the court documents in those cases revealed:

A woman who claimed that police violated her right to receive necessary medical treatment during an arrest processing sued an Ohio city. In part, the suit claimed the city had failed to properly train its officers.

In a New York City case, a district court held that “failure to train and supervise city employees can only constitute deliberate indifference by the city….”

In a third case, police were taken to task for allegedly training its officers to use a knee to the back of a subject’s neck while effecting handcuffing, despite one officer claiming in a report that they adhered to a different formal training standard.

A Denver case involving an off-duty officer brought into focus the need for and lack of off-duty training in the case of officers who are expected to remain armed and in on-duty status when off-duty.

The take-away is that the failure to train at all and the failure to properly train (which sound similar, but are really two different things) can be fatal to an agency. And, while training may look like an easy place to pilfer money when city officials are insisting on slashing your budget, you can’t afford not to train your officers because the costs of defending a lawsuit, both in terms of dollars and agency public relations, can make the tiny amount of money you plunk down for a training component or training officer…or even just occasional incremental training in tinier agencies…money that’s not simply well-spent, but often critical to your survival.

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