Posted on Aug. 9, 2022 by VirTra Inc

One of the biggest mistakes an instructor can make during any training that focuses on judgmental use of force is to limit the scenario to one officer. While officer involved shootings often do involve only one officer, the training provided shouldn’t focus only on such a possibility. The reality on the street is that there is a possibility that multiple officers will be involved. Unfortunately, the truth is that when multiple officers are involved, if one makes a mistake, others might follow due to a lack of understanding of the full circumstances or out of instinct.

The place to identify such potential misunderstandings and mistakes is in training evolutions. You can’t do that if you only put one officer at a time through scenario-based training simulations. Just like we see on the “square range” where officers are put in static positions to shoot paper targets without movement or threat, putting a single officer through projected simulation training is akin to checking off the right box on an administrative checklist for training. “State required annual judgmental shooting training: check.” That’s not training; that’s administrative fulfillment. Training prepares officers for the real world and how to avoid mistakes that can cost lives.

It’s also a mistake to assume that all projected simulation scenario-based training involves judgmental shooting or use-of-force type training. Training simulation has developed to empower de-escalation training skills as well. With a given simulation system such as the V-300®, you can teach basic firearms marksmanship, judgmental use of force and de-escalation training.

After-Action Reports

True training (as opposed to administrative requirement fulfillment) requires putting officers in dynamic, fluid yet controlled situations where more than one behavior or skill can be provoked and tested, followed by a review of the training evolution. To perform an accurate After-Action Review (AAR) of any training evolution, the best tool you can have is a recording – both audio and video – of the training incident as it evolved. This allows the instructor(s) to pause the recording in debrief to specify behaviors or skills that were either appropriate or need to be corrected. It’s been said that approximately 75% of all learning occurs during the AAR as opposed to the 25% that occurs while officers are actually going through the training evolution(s).

Additionally, the training environment should be created to mimic the actual operational environment as closely as possible. That means that projected simulation is only one part of the training. It is the centerpiece that is “decorated” by role players as bad guys, injured civilians, obstacles, sound pollution (noise) and unexpected sights/visuals. The single largest limitation on properly performed projected simulation training is your imagination. Further, if the projected simulation can saturate the trainee’s situational environment to a greater degree, then the training is of greater value. That means that it’s beneficial to have a system that surrounds the officer as much as possible as compared to having a single projected screen in front of the officer. “Surround simulation” if you will, requires greater awareness and interaction from the officer being trained.

Defining Responsibilities

With an understanding all of the above, planning your training is critical. You need to know what your setting will be and how much you can modify it as well as how many instructors and role players you will have available. Any officer who is going to be a role player needs to be carefully choreographed. They need to have a very clear understanding of their purpose in drawing out the desired behaviors and/or skills of the officers going through the training evolution. The role players need to be carefully controlled so they don’t improvise in any manner that may detract from the training value of the scenario.

All of the responsibilities need to be clearly defined for the entire training staff. From the exercise controller (lead Instructor) to the Safety Officer to the Role Players, each participant needs to know their roles. Trainers need to establish who will be responsible for capturing each training evolution for use in the AARs?

The lead instructor, with assistance and inputs from the assistant instructors, should develop the training scenarios, effectively designing each simulation to include a full list of the desired behavioral objects, skill objectives, judgmental objectives, etc. All training objectives and desired behaviors should be clearly defined as benchmarks for each evolution. Any changes that occur to the setting between evolutions should be outlined. This is important as we all know students who go through the scenario will immediately tell the other students what they experienced, thereby setting up expectations. Being able to thwart those expectations adds to the unpredictable nature of each scenario.

As each student, pair of students or group of students goes through a training evolution, the immediate AAR should be limited to the “big” items that need to be corrected and/or positively reinforced. Both offer learning moments and should be utilized. AARs should never be purely negative. Corrections for deficiencies as well as praise for proper performance should be included. That said, immediately following a scenario, the major items of correction/praise should be reviewed. All other in-depth and detailed AAR items should be saved for later in a classroom. It’s important to remember that the entire group of students, not just those going through a particular scenario, can learn from the AAR of other scenarios.

Adding Stress to Simulation Training

One of the biggest learning tools for any projected simulation scenario-based training is adding stress. Some “shoot back” systems offer a pain penalty as they can hit the student with a non-lethal projectile if proper cover isn’t used. The downside of such shoot back systems is that a material that is NOT cover but is instead merely concealment can stop the projectile. Such an event actually serves to reinforce an improper behavior: seeking cover behind insufficient material…using concealment as cover. This is a mistake that can be life-threatening in the real world and should be avoided in training situations. The system used should allow the instructor to deliver the penalty in such situations.

VirTra’s V-Threat-Fire® allows for instructors to deliver a penalty without having to worry about aiming a shoot-back system first. Additionally, it includes a greatly reduced risk of personal injury and no clean up after the simulation is completed.

Finally, while most projected simulation training scenarios focus on a single behavior as the major pass/fail point (shoot / don’t shoot as the example), the situations and scenarios that lead up to that point are vast and, if used properly, can allow the instructor to evaluate a host of trainee behavioral objectives. Instructors who teach conflict resolution may be familiar with Boyd’s decision-making cycle: Observe, Orient, Decide, Act (often referred to as OODA loops because they are repeated until conflict is resolved). While many instructors use projected simulation-based training to evaluate the ‘Act’ step of that cycle, the more important Observe, Orient and Decide steps can be evaluated and critiqued if the simulation is used to its full potential. Instructors should realize that most student officers make mistakes in the decision making that leads up to their action. The action might be correct based on their observations, orientation and decision, but if they’ve made mistakes in their observation or made an incorrect decision, how do you correct that? Through a properly performed AAR supported by the audio/video playback of a scenario.

Not all projected simulation scenario equipment supports all of the necessities to deliver training as outlined above. For more information on systems that do, feel free to reach out to a product specialist.

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