There’s not a single U.S. law enforcement agency that doesn’t provide its officers with at least one less-lethal force option. Most agencies issue or allow a variety of less-lethal tools. However, equipment is only half of the equation. Training is the other essential part. This article will address equipment and training issues related to the use of common less-lethal law enforcement tools. I’ll also explore the importance of conducting safe and meaningful training.
Contemporary law enforcement agencies realize the need to maintain a training program that includes the entire use-of-force spectrum, from command presence to deadly force. Most, if not all states, require certain basic and ongoing training for law enforcement. This training is prescribed through mandates made by state commissions, such as Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST).
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Initial training for most officers with duty-specific equipment occurs in the basic police academy. Upon graduation, agencies that send their recruits to regional academies may require the new officers to undergo additional training in defensive tactics and firearms taught by the department’s own in-house instructors. This provides an opportunity for department trainers to assess the proficiency of their new officers before they hit the streets with their FTOs. It also serves as an opportunity to teach agency-specific policies and train officers with equipment not trained on at the academy.
Beyond initial training, regularly scheduled training is required to maintain proficiency and provide updates on new techniques and equipment. The frequency and type of training should be specified in written department policies to ensure it occurs.
Training is usually broken into specific disciplines, which can include:
• Defensive tactics (sometimes called “arrest and control”)
• Tactical communications
• Emergency vehicle operations
• Legal updates
For purposes of this article, defensive tactics, firearms and tactical communications are relevant.
The vast majority of agencies I’m familiar with have separate training cadres for range training and defensive tactics training. This model seems to work best as long as the two types of training complement one other. By that, I mean that the training should be consistent and without contradictions. Example: My department’s defensive tactics instructors and firearms instructors train our officers to verbally engage suspects with the command, “Police, don’t move!” This verbal order is defensible in any scenario, especially if the incident were to result in a “furtive movement” shooting. A lack of consistency in training could result in an extended reaction time on the part of the officer, potentially resulting in the suspect prevailing rather than the officer. It could also cause confusion on the part of the suspect should multiple officers give conflicting commands. Finally, conflicted training could be problematic during litigation where instructors from the same agency are testifying in opposition to each other regarding training. (For more on why this is so important, see Dave Grossi’s column from last month, “Unifying Use of Force Training: An integrated approach to training better prepares you for the job.”)
A Range of Equipment
Less-lethal tools reflect a range of force levels.
Chemical sprays: LEOs have used handheld chemical sprays (CS “Mace” and oleoresin capsicum “pepper spray”) for decades. These products are considered to be on the lowest force level of tools. The major manufacturers of aerosol irritants are CTS and Def-tec. Both provide several different-sized canisters for different applications, from very small (ideal for concealed carry by detectives or when off duty) to large payloads suitable for crowd control. Two options often overlooked by those responsible for selection and purchase of chemical sprays: the “fire extinguisher” size, which is great for deployment against aggressive dogs, and the inert agents, which are ideally suited for realistic scenario-based training.
Impact weapons: There’s a plethora of impact weapons in current use, from the old-school sap and straight-stick baton to the modern side-handle and telescoping batons. Monadnock and ASP are among the leading manufacturers of impact weapons. There are several agencies that also authorize the Orcutt Police Nunchaku (OPN). Be familiar with what your agency authorizes and the training requirements imposed. Are wooden batons authorized or just the high-impact plastic ones? Are only certain brands and model numbers allowed or is the policy more generic? Though these questions seem innocuous, they will be very relevant in any use-of-force litigation you may someday face.
Note: It’s important that officers train and practice striking bags with their actual equipment. However, when conducting scenario-based training, dedicated training impact weapons and red/blue guns should be substituted in place of the actual equipment to prevent injuries.
Electronic control devices: Still the undisputed leader in electronic control devices (ECDs) is TASER International. The most widely carried ECD remains the ever-popular TASER X-26. Like all products, however, TASERS aren’t completely effective all the time. It’s important to know the tool’s capabilities, as well as its limitations, and to have a backup plan in the event of a failure to render the subject compliant.
Many department trainers (at least those who haven’t attended the TASER Instructor Course) are unaware that TASER makes non-conductive training cartridges. The cartridges propel plastic darts, rather than the metal barbs, that can be used to impact a role player who is wearing proper safety gear. The key here is proper safety gear worn by all participants and mature role players with defined parameters and scripts.
Extended range impact munitions: Extended-range kinetic energy impact munitions include 12-gauge shotgun, 37 mm and 40 mm platforms. An entire article could be dedicated to this equipment. Suffice it to say, selection of this equipment and training on its use should be conducted by knowledgeable department personnel who have conducted extensive research. Rather than shooting at static paper/cardboard targets, use life-size 3D humanoid targets. Better still: 3D humanoid targets that are remote-controlled and move in all directions.
Reality-based scenario training should be a part of less-lethal training and certification whenever possible. This training should require the student officer to make critical use-of-force decisions in dynamic situations replicating real-life scenarios. Scenarios can be varied to entail a single officer, two officers or a multitude of officers. Similarly, one or more role-playing suspects can be used in a variety of scenarios.
It’s sadly ironic that each year, U.S. law enforcement officers are killed and dozens more incur career-ending injuries during training intended to enhance their safety. Deaths and serious injuries incurred during training are among the most preventable; preventing them is essential to reducing line-of-duty deaths in line with Law Officer’s Below 100 initiative. One of the key components of Below 100 is the concept of WIN—What’s Important Now? When it comes to training, it’s incredibly important to establish a culture of safety and checks-and-balances to prevent problems. One of the best instructor courses I’ve attended was put on by Simunitions. Throughout the weeklong course of instruction, safety was the main topic. Review your training processes and take the time to look for potential problems, whether it’s inadequate protective gear or debris in a training area that might cause a bad fall.
Agencies that have training simulators (FATS, PRiSM, etc.) have a unique opportunity to train their officers with state-of-the-art equipment. Unfortunately, it seems that these valuable training tools are often underutilized. Simulators allow trainers to use branching systems—changing up a scenario that looks the same so that sometimes the use of deadly force is required and other times lesser force. This provides an opportunity for the student to make critical decisions under simulated stress.
Blending defensive tactics and range training with the use of a simulator makes sense. Six months ago my department conducted a training session in which D-tac instructors played the role of a suspect in a car stop. They ran from the vehicle, requiring the student officers to chase them over a fence and into a building. There was then a physical struggle between the officer and the role player. Ultimately, the officer concluded the training session with a complementary scenario administered by range staff on the PRiSM system. The entire scenario (from contact at the car to an officer-involved shooting on the training simulator) lasted approximately three minutes. The officer then wrote a brief report of the incident, articulating their actions and justifications for various decisions and uses of force. This last step—the documentation of use-of-force action—is something that should be a consideration in every training program. At the very least, ask officers to verbally articulate the thought process behind their actions. If officers don’t understand the importance and method of proper documentation, they may find themselves in the crosshairs of unwarranted allegations or a civil suit.
Instructors tasked with training officers on the use of less-lethal equipment have an awesome responsibility to their fellow officers. Training must have relevance, and that relevance must be demonstrated to the students. The training must be verified through an assessment at the conclusion of the training. This assessment should be in the form of an objective demonstration of practical application (e.g., a demonstration by each student of their ability to properly deploy a TASER or apply a carotid restraint). Lastly, training must be conducted in a safe and positive learning environment. When an officer leaves training, they should take with them confidence in their ability to employ training and equipment that will allow them to dominate any use of force encounter.
A Vital Difference
Less-lethal tools include those whose design and intended use are to incapacitate (or at least cause compliance, oftentimes by inflicting varying degrees of pain) a violently resisting suspect so that they may be safely taken into custody without causing significant injury to the suspect.
Lethal weapons—primarily firearms—are specifically designed to inflict mortal wounds rapidly; ideally, they instantaneously incapacitate the person so that they’re incapable of inflicting serious bodily injury or death to others.
Who Trains on What Equipment?
Who should be responsible for less-lethal training—defensive tactics or firearms training personnel? Generally speaking, if the equipment launches a projectile (lethal or not), firearms instructors are responsible for instruction. This means range staff is responsible for firearms, ECD (TASER) and extended range kinetic energy impact munitions training. D-tac personnel generally instruct ground fighting, carotid restraint, personal body strikes (hits/kicks), OC/CS sprays and baton work. Some departments, particularly larger ones, have specialized instructors in each area but, in general, most departments will divide the training responsibilities as outlined above.
Less-Lethal/Training Equipment Manufacturers
• ALS Technologies (less lethal munitions, chemical grenades, diversionary devices, OC sprays and more): www.alstechnologies.com
• ASP (telescoping batons, “red gun” training guns, handcuffs, etc): www.asp-usa.com
• CTS (chemical agents, extended-range kinetic energy impact munitions, flash-bangs): www.combinedsystems.com
• Def-tec (chemical agents, extended-range kinetic energy impact munitions, flash-bangs): www.defense-technology.com
• Karbon Arms (ECDs): www.karbonarms.com
• Ring’s Blue Guns (a large variety of realistic size/weight training guns that fit in your holster): www.blueguns.com
• Simunitions (marking projectiles): www.simunition.com
• TASER International (ECDs): www.taser.com
Use simulators to train on more than just shooting—it’s about dynamic decision making, and simulators are a great way to enhance this.
• Advanced Interactive Systems – www.ais-sim.com
• IES Interactive Training – www.ies-usa.com
• Meggitt Training Systems – www.meggitttrainingsystems.com
• VirTra Systems – www.virtra.com
• TI Training – www.titraining.com
• Cubic Simulations Systems – www.cubic.com
Chris Boyd is a veteran of the Carlsbad (Calif.) Police Dept. He has worked patrol, K-9 and vice/narcotics. Boyd is a certified Taser, MP5, NFDD and firearms instructor, and is currently assigned as a patrol sergeant. He’s also an entry-team leader on his department’s SWAT team.
Lt. Chris Boyd has over two decades of experience with the Carlsbad (CA) Police Department.