Training to Survive a Use of Force Investigation

Today’s law enforcement officer must show aptitude in a host of areas their forefathers never imagined. Drug Recognition Experts, computer forensics, cellular phone searches and the laws concerning the use of drones were as foreign to officers of even a decade ago as phasers or teleporters seen on Star Trek. Yet, one of the most important challenges today’s officer faces is surviving a use of force investigation and today’s recruits are ill equipped to do so.

Police training has changed little over the 25 years I have been wearing a duty belt. Sure, on the face it looks different with new tools and different focuses. But deep down it has not changed from what I first received in 1991. Firearms qualification – check. Defensive tactics – check. OC/Impact weapon qualification – check. Legal updates – check. Court room testimony – check.  There has been additional focus on some of specific threats faced by today’s beat cop, but the use of force is still thought of as something which you hope doesn’t happen and some instructors still imply resorting to force means you somehow did something wrong. While this may not express a realistic view of the world we live in, it does reflect a view of the world many administrators grew up in and continue to wish for.

draw-gunBut checking blocks does not prepare officers for survival and, even if you provide the best shoot houses, full force DT and role playing, doing so with the belief “it won’t happen to you” still fails to prepare that officer. While it is okay to convey the hope that an officer never finds themselves in a life or death struggle, that they never have to face a must win scenario, you must also do them the service of preparing them as if they will. An important aspect of this is including tips, tactics and mental preparedness necessary to win the second fight they will face – the investigation.

Every range training or day in the gym needs to include “what ifs” that make the officer not only explain what they would do but also why. After all, today’s officer will be forced to answer both questions and, although their personal survival depends on the first, their professional survival and even freedom, depends on the latter. Anyone who doubts that each and every use of force scenario will be picked apart by the administration, public, prosecutor and even Department of Justice simply does not live in reality. All it takes is a family member telling a local news reporter “Jimmy was getting his life together” or an uneducated activist claiming “he didn’t need to do that, Jimmy would never hurt anyone” and your life will become living hell.

Instructors need to be more than top shots or black belts in the latest fighting style. They also need to be up to speed on the latest court decisions related to the proper use of force and make sure they are incorporated into the training. Scenarios need to adhere to this case law and successful completion needs to require the student adhere to the current standards including the ability to explain why they used Option A rather than Option B, C or D. Only then will the students be truly prepared to survive.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

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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