Written by Ellis Pines – April 4, 2019
“Lessons Learned” scenarios from Meggitt Training Systems go beyond de-escalation of force to give officers options in stressful situations.
Most people, including police-academy recruits and rookies, find it hard to grasp use-of-force confrontations. Officers may enter a situation with little knowledge of the venue and personal dynamics. They must respond with their best judgment to a changing threat that can escalate in seconds. Yet throughout the encounter, they must adhere to federal and state law as well as department protocols. Media coverage of recent incidents has exacerbated this challenge.
Average citizens, informed by television, Internet and newspapers, may feel qualified to draw conclusions on superficial bases that would never stand up in court. Yet apprehension of these Monday Morning Quarterbacks can lead officers to under-react to present dangers. What kind of training can help officers make the best possible decision?
Meggitt Training Systems designed its “Lessons Learned” courseware to address these pressures. It draws on actual documented events with known outcomes. Through interactive, realistic, virtual scenarios, trainees and veterans can better prepare for the unexpected.
Timeliness of Reality-Based Scenario Training
Few people can identify with the ordinary pressures police face in the field. Writing in a non-partisan public affairs magazine, University of Missouri-St. Louis professor – and former police officer and expert – David Klinger summed up the challenge for law enforcement. He noted only “a few of the participants [in incidents like Ferguson, Mo.] understand the true nature of deadly force in American police work – the complexity of many situations in which officers fire; how officers think, what they feel and how they perceive things during incidents in which they discharge their guns; the emotional toll that a shooting can take on an officer; and, perhaps most importantly, the fact that police officers could use deadly force much more often than [they] do.” 1
Not surprisingly, departments are replacing traditional force-continuum training with an emphasis on response to likely scenarios. Two legal police legal advisors, Ken Wallentine and John Klein, have explained the rationale: “The foundation of reality-based scenario training is teaching officers to anticipate and recognize threats that are likely to lead to force decisions. Threat assessment training teaches officers to recognize suspect threats and to respond to preempt unlawful force against the officer or public.” 2
Therefore, in spite of budgets that must balance training and operational factors, law enforcement acquisition strategies are increasingly turning to systems that integrate virtual scenarios with simulated marksmanship. These scenarios should prepare officers for making near-instant judgment calls that can have long-term legal ramifications. More than merely showing action in a realistic way, the most useful videos depend on three factors:
- An incident that actually occurred, preferably within the last few years, with known outcomes.
- An accurate depiction of that event.
- Options for the participant beyond shoot/no shoot, including “talk” and escalating choices of action, from chemical spray to baton to firearm.
Meggitt’s reality-based scenarios – such as the “Lessons Learned” courseware – is 100-percent grounded in actual cases that have transpired in the past few years.
A Library of Up-to-Date Events and Policies
Imagine you have been summoned to an unfamiliar office building. All you know is an armed man is wreaking havoc. Early indications are it is a disgruntled employee, seeking vengeance on his former employer and colleagues at random. As you enter, the suspect is on a full rampage. Employees are ducking for cover. You can see some are already hit. You must take control, get help for the wounded, but, most important, defuse the situation.
This script, like the entire Lessons Learned curriculum, includes an immersive real-world scenario, incorporating a fully documented end-to-end event and new law enforcement policy changes. Some of the scenarios reveal wrongful shooting incidents that made the news.
To maintain the integrity of the case, knowledgeable law enforcement professionals remain involved throughout the production of the vignettes. Experienced police trainers carefully guide the content of each production, and a pool of police experts from around the country provides input into all produced scenarios. Once on location, two or three active police officers monitor the filming to ensure the final product avoids Hollywood scripting and remains true to the actual situations.
The scenarios that emerge from this rigorous process are typical of a wide range of engagement law officers may face, on duty or off: bank robbers, a belligerent “sovereign citizen” stopped for a traffic violation, a homicidal bomber, domestic abuse calls, a suspect that fits a description or shots fired at a local high school. In short, the growing Meggitt library of Lessons Learned courseware encompasses the full range of typical scenarios officers are likely to meet.
As an educational tool, each Meggitt scenario offers a slightly different experience. The skills and competencies students ultimately gain through the entire course are then applicable on a very broad basis:
- Maintaining focus amidst a barrage of sensory and emotional stimuli.
- Developing a “warrior mindset” to survive a gunfight.
- Using verbal communications skills to keep a situation under control.
- Cultivating an ability to react to the unexpected under intense pressure.
- Making correct, quick decisions when an incident escalates.
Beyond De-Escalation of Force
The law enforcement expertise that created Lessons Learned understands scenarios represent an ever-changing incident landscape. They have therefore endeavored to find new scenarios to help officers at all stages of their career, rookie or refresher. In doing so, they have reevaluated the either-or decision making of shoot/no shoot. Today’s officer must be armed with an entire menu or vocabulary of responses that can shift within seconds.
For example, consider the so-called “sovereign citizen” scenario mentioned above. The FBI Counterterrorism Analysis Section has characterized these extremists as domestic terrorists. Although many of their actions are not necessarily illegal, when provoked by a law enforcement official (whose authority they disavow), their actions can quickly turn lethal.
In the Lessons Learned circumstance, based on a “sovereign citizen” situation, the officer stops a vehicle for a traffic violation. When approached, the irate driver immediately gets out of his car and begins to hurl verbal abuse: “You don’t have the right to detain me.” The scenario tests how long the officer can control the situation with communication while also testing if the officer can simultaneously be ready for a gunfire exchange.
On the other hand, in a “suicide by cop” scenario, the officer has to be ready for escalation, but verbal skills may have a greater chance for defusing the situation.
Few Americans can conceive the rapidity with which conflict resolution turns into life-and-death struggle. Such, however, is the officer’s life. Each Meggitt scenario adds to the repertoire of responses that can both abet survival and restore order.
1 David Klinger, “What I Learned after I Killed a Criminal: Don’t believe the lie that America’s law officers are heartless beasts,” Politico, May 7, 2015, accessed September 1, 2015 from http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/05/what-i-learned-after-i-killed-a-criminal-117751
2 Ken Wallentine and John Klein, “A Rational Foundation for Use of Force Policy, Training and Assessment,” 2014, accessed September 1, 2015 from http://www.aele.org/START.pdf