Monday, March 26, 2012

Current Training May Leave New Officers More Vulnerable

By Tracy E. Barnhart, Backgate Contributing Author

Below are but a few of the findings that will be included in an assessment of training in the U.S. and the United Kingdom that has been conducted across the last 3 years by the Force Science Institute. Wherever they are based, if officers are unprepared to meet the various threats and levels of resistance and violence they face, it can impair their ability to make good judgments, to affect control, and to avoid injury or death to himself or herself. This fact in itself leads to the excessively high turnover rates among correctional agencies. Therefore, if I were to give some advice to a new officer what would be some things that I would want to know that would give me a better chance of success.
  • The average officer within months of leaving an academy will be able only to describe how a given suspect-control technique should be used but will have “little ability” to actually apply it effectively in “a dynamic encounter with a defiantly resistant subject.”
  • At the rate academy and in-service training is typically delivered, it could take the average Corrections Officer up to 45 years to receive the number of hours of training and practice in command-and-control and officer-safety techniques that a young student athlete gets through practice and education in competitive sporting events during the usual high school career.
  • Many Correctional training programs are not employing modern research-based methods of successfully teaching psychomotor skills, a shortcoming compounded by the fact that current record-keeping fails to capture even the most elementary relevant information about the dynamic nature of real-world assaults on officers.
“I would say, Jump on this website and start reading and educating yourself!”

Take into consideration the amount of practice that you do involving your agency response to resistance techniques. If your agency is like mine, that would be about eight hours per year during recertification, at slow speeds, with your partner acting a specific way. That would be like asking a martial arts instructor to give you a black belt worth of knowledge but he could only train you eight hours per year. Most instructors that I know would laugh at you and walk away. However, your administration, community and court systems expect that level of expertise from you as it relates to your use of force incidents. You are expected to win, not get hurt, and not hurt the inmate. Not one of us would bet $5 on a football game in which we knew that the quarterback only had practiced with the ball only one time in the past year.

Remember those terms in previous articles, Reasonable, Excessive and liability? Are you confident in your ability to be reasonable? How about your ability restraining an inmate while you are being video taped and not being excessive? Will you use the techniques properly and as instructed or will you write in your reports that you Attempted the proper agency technique only to have to abandon the maneuver during the restraint and do something else that actually works?

Training shortcomings that threaten survival

Any departmental self-defense techniques need to have a two-pronged approach;
  1. Having techniques that allow an officer to enact the strategy of advancing from one position into a more dominating one {positional moves.}
  2. Those techniques that allow an officer to finish a fight quickly and efficiently {submission moves.}
We run into problem with administrations attempting to water down martial arts techniques in order to alleviate the pain aspect of their maneuvers. All techniques are by their nature Pain Compliance or Submission Techniques. If you take away the motivation of pain to establish voluntary compliance, then there will be no compliance with your commands in the mind of a defiant criminal. They must be shown, better yet feel, that if they voluntarily comply, the pain will stop, thereby giving them the motivation to obey your commands.

Officers and supervisors need to evaluate handling of real-life events with a critical eye. Do we have the skills and fortitude to recognize mistakes have been made and take corrective actions?

Consider the Navy Blue Angels flight team. At the end of every flight, there is a debriefing in which rank is taken off the table and every member can feel safe to do self-criticism or constructive criticism of another team member. Corrections need to adopt this same mentality where pre- and post-performance is evaluated with a critical eye, with the focus on improvement rather than castigation or discipline. The answers to these questions should be addressed:
  1. Is our self-protection techniques based in reality, work when used, and easy to apply?
  2. Do we need more training?
  3. How could we have prevented or avoided the violent incident from happening?
Look out among the predators of the institution. Watch them as they do countless push-ups and train themselves into physical combatants in which you might someday have to physically restrain. Are you ready? Do you have the stamina to withstand an onslaught of punches in an all out assault until your back up arrives? It is one thing to look back ten years ago when you were in great shape and in a martial arts class three times a week. Look at yourself now. Are you as ready now, as you were then? One thing you have to consider when working in a prison setting. You are getting older everyday yet the average age of the inmates are staying steady at a young average. Inmates come in and get out and new young aggressive inmates fill their open beds. You however, get older, more and more out of shape everyday. This is why we must keep ourselves in shape and condition our bodies for combat. We walk among the predators of society without question. Our abilities must reflect our authority to tame these aggressive predators without question.


  1. Every year on my inservice critique sheet I bring up the need to overhaul the DT program due to the issues raised by the above article. Yet nothing changes.

    1. As long as inmates are allowed to have recreation such as lifting weights, playing basketball, and such for several hours per day....most hand to hand conflicts are a no win situations for officers. The powers that be have forgotten that officers have to play by the rules, where as convicted felons are in prison because they violate the rules of society. Officers are threatened daily with being sued or placed in prison or worse, where as convicted felons are already in prison....and made it "Their House". Not all inmates are combative,,, but for those that are....some thrive on it. It has been said that the officers can not prevent the convicts from taking over a prison...but they can keep them from holding it.