Avoid Training Accidents: 5 Tips

Law enforcement can be a dangerous occupation, that is a given and something every new recruit need to accept from the start. Domestics, high speed pursuits and even random attacks are a constant part of every officer’s reality. What should not keep officers, or their families, up at night is the possibility that harm could come in the form of a fellow officer during a training exercise.

HRT operators participate in an urban assault training exercise.
HRT operators participate in an urban assault training exercise.

Training accidents are rarely the result of unforeseen or unpredictable incidents. Rather, they are the result of poor judgment or failure to adhere to established procedures. This makes training accidents that much more tragic because most could have been avoided if certain steps had been taken during every exercise.

  1. It can happen to anyone – training accidents are like any other accident in that no one thinks it will happen to them. This eventually leads to complacency and a false sense of security, both of which increase the odds that it will happen to YOU.
  2. Rank and seniority has no privilege – safety rules must apply across the board to everyone in every situation. It does not matter if you are the newest recruit at the range for the first time or the SWAT commander doing it for the fourth time that week. Failing to follow the safety rules is the first step down a slippery slope.
  3. Have a plan and follow it – the best defense against accidents is a training plan designed to stop them from happening. Allowing instructors to freelance, either by deviating from the plan or conducting unauthorized training, leads to unforeseen safety issues and an increased chance something will go wrong.
  4. Training is not real life – reality training is the cornerstone of many modern programs, the thought being that the more realistic the training the better prepared the trainee will be for the real thing. While this is hard to dispute, there is a limit to how real training can be. Regardless of the training scenario, certain safety considerations need to be incorporated including proper safety equipment, adequate oversight and a firm grasp on the basics prior to conducting advanced programs.
  5. Safety is a team effort – No one person can be relied upon to be responsible for training safety, nor should they. Multiple eyes, and minds, are more likely to recognize a potential problem. Multiple mouths are more likely to speak up when necessary. Make sure you have multiple safety observes during training and have multiple trainers review new training prior to adopting a new program.

We can never remove the hazards of police work and we can never remove the threat of accidents happening. But it is every instructor’s responsibility to make keep that danger at bay. The first duty of one involved in a training evolution is insure each trainee goes home a better officer – going home being the key factor.

Tom Burrell

Tom enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves in 1987. Following service in Desert Storm, he transitioned to active duty with the US Coast Guard. In 1997 he left the USCG to pursue a position in conservation & maritime law enforcement. Tom is currently a Captain and he oversees several programs, including his agency investigation unit. He is also a training instructor in several areas including firearms, defensive tactics and first aid/CPR. In 2006 Tom received his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Harrisburg Area Community College and in 2010 a Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State University.
Tom Burrell
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