It’s something I say at the end of every training article: Stay safe.
Now, normally I am referring to all my fellow law enforcement officers out there to stay safe as they go about their duties. Drive safe. Interact with people safely. Arrest people safely. Today, I am asking you to train safely.
I believe training safely can sometimes be taken for granted. We would like to think that our fellow officers wouldn’t do anything to put someone in harm’s way while training. We would like to think that there is no way one of us would bring live ammunition into a training scenario. But that is exactly what happened in November 2022 when a Texas officer was shot in the face during an active shooter training exercise.
Officer Lina Mino of the Sansom Park Police Department was shot by an officer from another agency during an exercise that was not supposed to have any live ammunition. The bullet travelled through Mino’s eye, into her brain, and exited through her ear. Miraculously, she survived the incident. The company that was brought in to conduct the training may not. Mino is now suing Texas Police Trainers LLC and their CEO over the incident.
So, what is the takeaway? What can we learn from an incident like this?
One of the most effective ways to ensure a safe training environment is to do safety checks. This should be a multi-step and multi-level process.
The first check should be on the training location. Make sure there are not any weapons or items that could be used as a weapon in the training environment. Knives, baseball bats, etc. might be grabbed by a role player or officer when the adrenaline is flowing during a high-level training scenario. Once the location is deemed safe, nobody should be allowed in without being checked.
That leads us to officer checks. As a trainer, you should be setting up an outer boundary that, if crossed, that person WILL be checked for weapons. It does not matter if it is someone that is just observing or is actively participating. If you want to come in, you get searched.
Officer searches should be complete. Depending on the type of training you are running, you may take guns, ammunition, knives, OC, ECW devices, and batons away from officers. If someone brings an item to your training site, have them take it outside of your perimeter and secure it. If an officer leaves the site for any reason, they get checked again when they come back. Oh, by the way, this goes for all the trainers and role players as well. Nobody is immune from being checked.
Finally, make sure you check the weapons or other items that will be allowed in training. If you are using sim guns, make sure they are sims. Make sure you do not have any live ammo mixed in with sim ammo. If you are using props or training knives, verify that they are the training ones.
VirTra simulators use real firearms that utilize our drop-in recoil kits. If you are permanently making some of your firearms part of your VirTra training program, you may want to consider painting the guns so they are easily identifiable as a training weapon.
As with any other type of training, students stepping inside of a VirTra simulator should be going through the above safety checks before they start.
I want all of you to be here for the next training article, so please…
Like it or not, students are evaluating us as instructors. A half-effort on the part of the training cadre will usually result in a half effort on the part of your student officers as well. Often, students look at in-service training like an inconvenience to their regular routine. Recent training accidents have given me pause to consider what we can do to make our training environments safer and more professional for officers. If you are lax about your safety protocols in training your students will be too. Conversely, if you are keeping to strict safety standards your students will recognize your professionalism and perform at higher levels. When students arrive to a training venue, have your safety protocols already well established. Cadre should search each other for contraband in front of the students. After unsafe items have been identified and removed from the venue, the cadre can inspect the student officers. Once everyone has been inspected a thorough walk through of the training environment must be conducted to include any vehicles that me be used.
As instructors it is important to ensure the scenario comes to a logical law enforcement conclusion. Years ago, my agency had a use of force incident where an officer and “bad guy” ended up on the ground as most violent encounters do. Having had an adequate amount of ground defense training our officer had enough talent to get the subject into a bilateral vascular restraint. When the subject realized that the officer had gotten the better of him, he tapped the officer’s forearm just like in a UFC fight. Our officer had trained that way for so long that it was instinctive to him to release the hold and continue with back control until back up officers had arrived. Please do not take that to mean that I condone choking your students out in training. My point in using this example is that realistic logical law enforcement conclusions and calling out of role when the proper technique is applied will prevent catch and slip errors like this from happening in real world scenarios.
Unsafe behaviors must be caught quickly and corrected immediately. In his book “Training at the Speed of Life” Ken Murray talks about how quickly an officer’s training can be called into question when an officer uses a questionable technique or poor judgment in a use of force encounter. If you, as your department’s use of force instructor, fail to correct that behavior, the officer could easily claim that he was not properly trained. As a Firearms and Defensive Tactics Instructor I have encountered students who performed overly aggressively in their training scenario. When the student was called out on his performance he acted as if the instructors were out of touch with the way things happen “in the street.” Remember: as your agency’s instructor you are responsible for ensuring that “company policy” is adhered to for liability reasons. You are your department’s insurance policy. Do your best to ensure that tactics techniques and principles are current, relevant, and applicable to what is going on in the field.