We recently conducted training for a Police Department in Massachusetts, and as always I told them that one cannot know when or where shootings or major incidents will occur. This particular department has not had an officer involved shooting since they can remember. Shortly thereafter, the Boston bombing incident occurred, which resulted in one officer killed in an ensuing firefight.
The reason you train continuously is that one can never know when certain skills will be called into play. For police officers this subject has always perplexed me. The vast majority of police officers as individuals and police departments as entities, often view tactics and firearms training as an addendum item, if the subject is even addressed at all. The prevailing attitude of: “We qualify on a regular basis….” apparently is sufficient to cover any and all future incidents. Nothing could be further from the truth… far from it. There is nothing in a department’s history or an individual’s career more important or as life altering as a shooting.
Departments and their respective cities have been bankrupted by bad or marginal shootings. Careers have been lost as a result of the misapplication of deadly force. Naturally there is the personal life of the officer at stake as well.
If you understand nothing else then comprehend the fact that most standardized qualification courses of fire simply illustrate that you can repeat the process of something which you have done hundreds of times before. There is little decision making on your part. Everything is handed to you on a silver platter so to speak. Distances, times and sequential orders of fire are laid out in front of you accompanied by buzzers, horns or turning targets. There is no adaptive process required, no decision making skills employed and very little (if any at all) corrective procedures carried out for marginal shooters. If you do not qualify then try again until you do – even if this is by the slimmest margin possible. I cannot envision any profession of a critical nature which applies such marginal goals. (Imagine a surgeon just barely scrapping by on a board recertification and then opening you up.) I fully comprehend why qualifications courses of fire exist and the logistics behind a department’s sole reliance of this as a measure of competency. This may not however, suffice for deadly force application in field settings.
Training must transcend marginal standards. If this requires personal expense then so be it. A department may not fund personal training – but they will fund autopsies and burials. This may sound harsh and unsympathetic but it’s not. It’s frustrating. Departments, if they have a mind to, can find funding for additional training. This article will no doubt, fall on many deaf ears, but perhaps not on all.
We will be offering an Active Shooter/First Responders class for police and Active Shooter/Critical Response class for civilians in September. We have conducted a number of first responder classes for police in the past years. As events unfold there is a definite trend toward this evolution on behalf of suspects who target randomly selected targets in a very random manner. These scenarios are very fast and fluid and the response must be in kind, which is why we train in the manner in which we do.
Both of these classes will be taught by active duty law enforcement personnel who not only train for this – but respond to such events in the real world. In other words, first-hand knowledge which is the practical versus the theoretical which is impractical.
These classes put into play very unique and unusual skills sets and responses which are unique to active shooter scenarios. I have read through and observed some of the planning modules proposed by various entities in response to active shooters. Just about every one of these voluminous workbooks is unworkable in terms of real world timelines. If you have ever wondered why SWAT teams, fully dressed out, are often times seen milling about in front of news cameras posing in their balaclavas, then you know why. At that point it is pretty much a glorified crime scene and nothing more. The event has already come and gone and that is the long and short of it. There may be exceptions to this rule but they will be few and far between.
A side note: When I was growing up we did not have the incidents occurring that we do now. It was a different era in which people interacted with each other and not an electronic device. There seems to be a lot more mental illness which is acted out in a violent manner targeting individuals who have little or nothing to do with the individual’s actual issues. This is just an observation and nothing more. In the 50’s there were cowboys and Indians, in the 60’s there were hippies and flowers and free love, in the 70’s there were disco balls, big hair and some really, really bad fashion statements. All of this has changed. We may be electronically connected but we are not individually connected. I don’t know if there is an answer for all of this but I do miss the hippies, the bell bottoms and the seeming innocence of what we once had.