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The very first Force Science study on force training was commissioned to assess “use of force training” by a national police agency. The agency sought Force Science’s expertise on a comparison of arrest and control training programs in three countries (Canada, United States, and United Kingdom) and an assessment on whether or not the instructional methods in these countries were based on modern (scientific) principles of training. The agency’s request was based on their experience with critical failures in the application of relatively simple psychomotor skills by their street officers, and the knowledge that these failures had a dramatic negative consequence to the citizenry, officers, and the agency.
…failures had a dramatic, negative consequence…
The most common application of force by officers occurs in instances when an arrest is being made or an officer, or anyone else, is being assaulted. A high percentage involve individuals under the influence of drugs or alcohol or emotional distress. It is a relatively rare occurrence when police officers are compelled to use force for their own safety or that of others (less than 1% in all arrest situations). However, it is imperative that officers be skillful with their arrest and control techniques and also integrate these and other force skills with assessment, decision making, command presence, communication, de-escalation, team work, etc. The clinical integration of multiple skills is usually necessary to successfully solve problems on the street. If officers are unprepared to meet the various threats they face, it may lead to unnecessary injury to the officers or citizens. Also, there are few professions where inadequacies in fundamental skills may result in serious injury or death or cause full-fledged riots and possibly result in millions of dollars of penalties in civil suits against the officer and the department.
Officers also have to work with and be effective with a wider range of humans than just about any other profession. In other professions, those who work with a similar range always have an option. If they can’t handle someone, they call the police. But if the police can’t handle someone, whom do they call? They are society’s last resort. They typically call other officers who have been trained in the same fashion as they were.
Subsequently, to be effective, officers have to have a wider range of skills than just about any other profession, and they have to be very good at the application and integration of all of those skills since they must work with some of the most difficult people in society. Therefore, the results of this assessment are critical if we are to know whether the officers are to have any functional clinical effectiveness, if the department is to have credibility in the community, and if they can also indemnify themselves against the repercussions from a failure to train or perform.
MEASUREMENT OF EFFECTIVE FORCE TRAINING
In the law enforcement profession, the primary selection of which technique or system to teach is NOT based on a “clinical” or “real world functional assessment.” Instead it is based on the apparent utility of the technique or the “eminence” of the person(s) who developed the program.
Currently there are only two ways to measure force training. Force Science has used both of these over the course of our studies. The first method, which was used in this study, is to assess the methodology of the instruction, including time invested, complexity and sequence of instruction, number of repetitions, scientific foundation of the methodology, measurement of the skill, etc. The second method is to establish an objective criterion to ensure that by actual measurement the skill has been acquired and then maintained, at least through graduation. Neither of these are an assessment or prediction of the eventual functional usefulness of skills by the recruit at some point in the future.
A third method of measurement is impossible for law enforcement at this time. Every study on force is conducted under this one major restriction. There is not a single empirical study or piece of evidence on the success of any particular psychomotor skill set, tactic or approach in actual application. Subsequently, there isn’t any way to determine whether or not, regardless of the skill of the recruit, that later, as officers, they would be successful in the realistic application of the technique. Compare this, for instance, to medicine, dentistry, psychological therapy, or any other profession. In these other professions, considerable research is conducted on the success rate and conditions of any “treatment” intervention. There is a large body of data available on the usefulness of a particular vaccine in preventing the flu in 2017, or a type of surgery that is most effective for hip replacement on a particular type of hip disorder, or the effectiveness of a particular type of cognitive intervention with depression in psychology.
The average academy, at the point of teaching a skill or at graduation, never puts recruits in an all-out intense struggle matching what they would encounter on the street.
The average academy, at the point of teaching a skill or at graduation, never puts recruits in an all-out intense struggle matching what they would encounter on the street. For example, recruits are often evenly paired according to size, strength, and skill, while in training to ensure a successful experience. In one of the countries studied, training, including any resistance, was restricted by health and safety lest the recruit be injured in training. This meant that the first time the recruit met any resistance was in an actual encounter after graduation from training (most academies do this to some extent). No other professional area trains with these restrictions. Imagine a professional pilot who practiced flying under only the most favorable conditions or a firefighter who was never allowed to train near an actual fire.
No other professional area trains with these restrictions…
SELECTION OF REPRESENTATIVE ACADEMIES AND CURRICULUM
Force Science (FS) reviewed training and curriculum throughout the various academies in all three countries. FS then selected and intensively studied two equivalent and representative training programs from each country. FS assessed instructional content according to a variety of criterion such as a point-by-point comparison of content, time dedicated to instructional units, and teaching methodology. The primary coordinators and trainers were interviewed, and FS observed training in these and similar academies. In all but a few cases, the UK content was equivalent to that in North America but had fewer items. The UK training, combining classroom and applied clinical instruction, averaged 43 hours. The North American academies averaged a combined 78 hours, with a range of 56 to 90 hours.
Across all academies in all of the countries studied, the instruction was in large chunks (block training from two hours at a time to days at a time) and in a silo approach, neither integrated within other psychomotor skills nor integrated with other skill sets such as communication. For instance, cuffing would be taught separately from take-down techniques, and neither would be integrated with de-escalation. Control or defensive techniques were never combined with anything other than simple commands. The academies that had more time taught more techniques but in the same “block and silo” fashion.
FS concluded that not a single academy program in any country used modern principles of instruction to build and integrate force skills. Research conducted for over 100 years has informed us that the method of instruction used across academies in all three countries was less than effective. It is the type of instruction which accomplishes teaching objectives but not learning objectives. It produces in the learner a knowledge about the rules about what could or should be done and when. But at some point later when learners attempt to carry out the techniques in a dynamic or realistic encounter, they are incapable. Characteristically, individuals taught in this fashion fail on the application of the skill and then try to recover. They then try to repeat what they were taught but are again incapable of a successful application. This type of ineffective perseveration can be seen in many videos of officers using force. Officers are not only perseverating on ineffective techniques but also on ineffective beta commands.
FS concluded that not a single academy program in any country used modern principles of instruction to build and integrate force skills.
Research on the time spent and methodology of instruction used in these academies predicted that within a short period of time, and definitely by graduation, recruits would be able to describe what they had to do and might even be able to do it slowly with a compliant subject but would be incapable of implementing the technique in a realistic, professional encounter. Further, because of the silo nature of instruction across all disciplines in the academy, the recruits would also be at a loss as to how to integrate their skills in some functional fashion.
Besides the instructional issues, the method of evaluation of the skills also raised concerns. The academy grading was sometimes based on group assessment. For example, did the group overall appear to demonstrate the technique? Sometimes a recruit was evaluated individually by their performance within a group setting. Even when the grading was done individually outside of a group setting, it often was done immediately after the recruit was taught the skill. To FS’s knowledge the skills were never tested later in an integration with the other techniques as would be required in a dynamic situation.
Another separate study was conducted by FS. This was on handgun skills which was published in the International Journal of Police Science and Management. That study compared civilians who had never handled a gun in their lives, with trained officers who had completed the academy and were at the end of their FTO training. The instructional methodology used by this department was also “block and silo”. After all their training, the officers were only ten percent better than the naïve civilians under the same test conditions, which included shooting rapidly and accurately at a human target at the most common combat distances.
All three of the countries studied had dedicated qualified instructors. They had well-intentioned administrators who worked hard to ensure that the graduates of their training had been taught everything that had been prescribed. They had social pressure to ensure the officers were trained professionals. The average academy taught skills and measured them in a fashion that allowed the training institution to affirm they had taught the prescribed curriculum and that the recruit had acquired the skills to a satisfactory level of competence. However, not a single academy that was studied in Canada, the US, and the UK taught psychomotor skills in a fashion that ensured most of their recruits would have a functional level of these skills after graduation.
All three of the countries studied had dedicated, qualified instructors.
AN INTERESTING COMPARISON
The average North American academy teaches all “arrest and control” techniques in 78 hours.
A high school football player who trains and plays a twelve-week schedule for one season (no pre-season training) would train approximately two hours per day for four days. They would play an hour and half game on day five. This totals nine and a half hours per week, or approximately 114 hours for one season. That includes a full trial of their skills in all-out competition at least once per week. It would likely be considered unfair to place them in a football game, or something similar, with an unknown opponent who doesn’t have to follow any rules on an irregular or unknown field with no referee. In the law enforcement profession, it is a good thing we hire good people, because no professional tries so hard and does so much with so little!
In the law enforcement profession, it is a good thing we hire good people, because no professional tries so hard and does so much with so little!
In our next article, we will drill down into the actual skill instruction and the acquisition, maintenance or perishability of specific skill sets. We will also report on the instructional methodology that ensured the minimal perishability of the skill. That study took three years and resulted in an assessment of 10,000 videos of the process of skill evolution in a law enforcement academy.