By Jerry Cooper
I do not consider myself to be an expert on anything; however, I have developed a certain line of knowledge in specific areas. One such area of knowledge and skills concerns use of force by law enforcement. It has been my privilege to have trained thousands in these topics.
I am a certified instructor in subject control. Subject control is what we in law enforcement for decades called defensive tactics. For ages, we trained law enforcement officers specifically on how to survive worse-case scenarios. Such instruction evolved as we realized the need to take control of potentially dangerous situations from early on in an encounter, and not wait until the situation goes south on us. In every contact, someone is going to be in control; if not the law enforcement officer, it will be the other guy. We also learned that it is not enough to simply defend ourselves by escaping the assault. Once we have defended ourselves, what are we going to do next? Unlike a citizen defending him or herself, a law enforcement officer must still try to control the assailant; therefore, better techniques were needed. The term “subject control” reflects this change in philosophy and techniques.
In the past 15 or so years my primary focus has been on the legal aspects of use of force, and the science (neurophysiology) involved in the process. I have presented classroom lectures and employed practical scenario training in these issues. As a certified firearms training simulator instructor, I have used the most advanced tool available today for training individuals in force assessment.
For those who are not familiar with the law enforcement version of the firearms training simulator, I must point out that the term “firearms” is really a misnomer. Modern simulators are wonderful tools that allow for instruction in all force options. The interactive scenarios can provide training in officer presence, verbal commands, physical (hands-on) force, impact weapons, chemical spray, TASER and firearms. I have used this system to train civilians, military special operators, and of course, law enforcement personnel.
Many members of civic organizations have asked me to explain how law enforcement officers are trained in use of force. It has been very rewarding to demonstrate training techniques, especially use of the simulator, to these groups, and give them an opportunity to engage in the training. The feedback I have received from the individuals who have taken advantage of these opportunities has been inspiring. When a person is faced with stressful stimulus-response scenarios where split-second decisions have to be made, they come away with a much greater appreciation for what law enforcement officers face during situations that are tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving.
In recent months, there have been numerous incidents involving the use of force by law enforcement. Professional investigations have determined or will determine in each case whether the use of force was constitutional. In the meantime, the national media has used this situation to bash law enforcement. Many agencies with these simulators are just now learning what I learned many years ago: they can use the simulators to educate people outside of law enforcement regarding what officers face in police-public encounters, especially when a scenario forces the “officer” into a life-threatening encounter. I’ve seen numerous reports regarding the impact of offering this experience to civilians.
It has been particularly rewarding to present this type of training to members of citizen police/sheriff academies. Some participants in these classes enroll because of their interest in and support for law enforcement. Others, however, look at these classes as opportunities to expose agencies in the act of promoting a corrupt police culture. It is this latter group that usually leaves the simulator training with an entirely different viewpoint.
I have had the pleasure of conducting training for writers taking part in writer police academies. These people are eager to handle real weapons and learn from scenarios which simulate life-like threats. The writers get a glimpse of what it is like to suffer a downward spiral of mental and physical functions as their heart rates instantaneously jump to over 145 beats per minute. Well-known figures within the writing community taking part in my training include such people as Lee Child, Jeffery Deaver and Marcia Clark.
The majority of training I have conducted using the firearms training simulator has been for the benefit of law enforcement personnel from local city and county agencies. State law enforcement officers have been in my classes, including every sworn officer in the State of North Carolina from one such agency. Federal officers I have trained primarily came from the U. S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the National Park Service. At times, the DEA groups included some military special operators. Most of the officers attended my instruction as a part of in-service training and basic recruit training. Armed detention officers and armed security personnel also benefited from the instruction. At times, I had the opportunity to help evaluate officers who had been removed from active duty temporarily due to being involved in a serious use of force incident. To be cleared for return to gun-toting duty, some agencies required these individuals to run through a bank of scenarios to determine the reasonableness of their judgment and to ensure that they were not too hesitant or overly eager to use force, especially deadly force.
I have witnessed the value of what is called “force-on-force” training, whether carried out by using a firearms training simulator, simunitions, or some other practical exercises using role players. It has been shown that in order to function appropriately under stress, one must train under stress. Unless you can get a trainee’s heartrate to go over 145 beats per minute in training, then you might be setting the trainee up for failure in the real world.
Many law enforcement agencies either do not prescribe to what I have presented herein, or claim they just do not have the resources to engage in such training. As to the latter point, the federal courts have ruled that lack of financial resources does not excuse inadequate use of force training. The courts have also emphasized that firearms qualification does not constitute use of force training. So how do so many agencies get by with subpar training? As with many other issues, there are the caught, and the un-caught.
I can say this with certainty: as for use of force training I provided using the simulator, no one left the training until I was comfortable that his or her judgment was sound, and that their threat response was within the range of conduct the U. S. Supreme Court considers “reasonable” (Graham v. Conner).