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Exclusive Web Extra: Training For The Threat

There’s No Such Thing As Too Much Training

 

EXCLUSIVE AVAILABLE ONLY ONLINE!

By Barrett Tillman

 

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Don’t treat training like playing Cops and Robbers. Be in the right mindset even in training.

 

If you’re a cop, it’s not your father’s threat anymore. In fact, it’s not your previous threat anymore — welcome to the 21st century. Late in 2008 a multi-agency task force was formed to meet the rising threat level in the Phoenix area. Consequently, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio authorized Lt. Steve Bailey and Sgt. Ken Swingle to organize a two-day class for local, state and federal agencies. The classroom sessions provided current intelligence about the organization and composition of smuggling rings and their operating methods.

Retired Scottsdale officer Rick Furr, an internationally experienced instructor, addressed the LEOs, stressing criminals’ longstanding attitude of “product loss” is vanishing. Furr asserts, “It used to be drug smugglers wrote off a lost load as just the price of doing business. That’s changed — now they’re more willing to fight for their loads.” The reasons for their new operating philosophy are varied. Apart from the efforts of U.S. and Mexican police agencies to interdict traffic flow, serious gang rivalries also enter the mix. Since it’s far easier to grab a competitor’s stash than to grow or acquire it normally, the violence level escalates. “The AK behind the door is almost universal now. It’s so common we’re desensitized to it,” says a Maricopa County law enforcement officer.

Beneath The Statistics

Some of the numbers are beyond sobering: they’re downright chilling. About 2,200 people were killed in Ciudad Juarez in 2008 — averaging out to six a day in a city of 1.5 million. In the two days before the class began, there were 37 KIAs in Tijuana, a city of 2.8 million. The dead included good, good guys, bad guys, bad, good guys and innocents. In some areas civil government had broken down or was openly controlled by gangsters, resulting in Mexican Army units establishing what amounts to martial law.

But the problem is far from one-sided. A recent border raid netted 800 firearms, 2 million rounds of ammunition and 500 grenades — going southbound. No wonder the Mexican government views American overtures to control northbound traffic with displeasure. And something you’re unlikely to hear from the U.S. State Department — Mexican military personnel operate illegally in America, far north of the border. During a 2008 operation, Arizona law enforcement caught four active-duty Mexican soldiers involved in the homicide of a third-party national. Four other soldatos escaped.

Sometimes it’s almost impossible to tell who’s who. Criminals have easy access to U.S. police equipment including blue windbreakers with big yellow POLICE on the back, and badges or ID that can pass scrutiny on a dark, confusing night. Since Glocks are almost universal these days, crooks know which guns look official. There’s one exception, however — .38 supers usually are a dead giveaway in gang homicides. Mexican citizens are prohibited to use military calibers, hence the super’s popularity among Hispanic criminals.

In context of the increasing threat, a growing concern is risk assessment. Furr cautions his clients, “When you get up, the first thing crossing your mind should be, ‘don’t do anything dumb today.'” The old saying about being sure to go home at the end of the shift still applies. Other than saving a friend or colleague in mortal danger, risk assessment screams for objectivity over ego. Furr asks the officers, “Is anything you do worth dying for?” It’s not a rhetorical question.

 

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This officer is demonstrating good use of concealment from the car’s A-pilar,
door jam and engine . He’s offering very little of himself as a target

 

Blue On Blue

Despite the rising threat from criminals, cops are still their own worst enemies. More cops are shot by fellow officers than by bad guys — and some of that can be improved by training. Bailey’s class addressed methods of avoiding “blue on blue” casualties, including planning for felony vehicle stops. By properly staging officers’ cars, police can form an L-shaped formation to avoid crossfire situations while still covering occupants of the suspect vehicle.

But here’s a bone chiller; police commit suicide seven times more than are killed in the line of duty. One officer with canine experience stated by far, the highest ratio of officer suicides is among dog handlers who accidentally killed their animal partners. Task force members addressed another “friendly fire” concern — bad cops. There’ve always been dirty cops. Said one instructor, “Sorry, that’s just a fact of life.” Federal agents sometimes allow smugglers across the border simply by looking away, or not being where they’re supposed to be — at 12:25 a.m. next Thursday. Local cops accept bribes or favors from well-organized gangs. The situation will never be solved by ignoring it or indulging in “yeah but” rationalizations. Because crooks are increasingly willing to pay bribes or purchase intelligence, good guys need to proceed with caution when working with unknown colleagues.

 

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There’s a lot going on here. Look carefully beyond the “suspect” being handcuffed; there’s another officer (being coached by the instructor in the red shirt) aiming his gun at the suspect car. This is why they’re called hot stops.

 

Training Saves Lives

Furr, whose instructor credentials include Thunder Ranch and military contracts, says there’s no such thing as too much training. He insists, “Sometimes we learn more from training debriefs than from real operations.” That’s why training needs to continually evolve and stay fresh.

One aspect involves the perceived need for speed. “We’re always in a rush, and that can be dumb,” Furr says. “Speed is irrelevant in a barricade situation. Going fast, upping the tension with speed, noise and movement changes the psychology of the bad guys.” Furr believes by increasing the pressure on a barricaded suspect, “you might make him react from mid-brain fear, like an animal.” The solution, he insists, is to stay professionally detached. “A cool head and good training will get you through to the end.”

Toward that end, the task force members received two days of hands-on training featuring role-playing by instructors and clients. The scenarios ranged from neighborhood “knock and talk” situations to the dynamics of a felony car stop. As any cop knows, domestic disputes can escalate with ferocious violence. But in context of drug interdiction, neighborhood policing techniques can be productive. One experienced officer says, “The real reason for a knock and talk is intelligence — to get a look inside a suspect building or residence to find probable cause.” Consequently, the training team put officers through scenarios with the potential for confrontations, using force on force techniques. Wearing helmets and other protective gear, “good” and “bad” role players were armed with pistols containing Simunition FX training ammunition.

 

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Be extremely mindful of crossfire issues when clearing a car.

 

Train Like You Mean It

The results were instructive. Working in two-man teams, officers approached the “homeowner” asking permission to search the premises based on neighborhood complaints. In only two of a dozen scenarios did officers notice a Glock in plain view, atop a small refrigerator. On those occasions the officers controlled the situation without violence. But one team let its guard down resulting in both cops being shot and the bad guy “killed”.

Furr and other instructors stressed the need for constant vigilance. They noted a tendency for officers to indulge in prolonged conversations with the suspect rather than keeping on-topic, resulting in distraction and lack of focus. Officers demonstrated a reluctance to draw their weapons — even in a potentially dangerous situation. Only one team drew down on the suspect when his weapon was noted within his reach. Instructors stressed officer safety justifies a response under those conditions.

Similarly, the “suspect’s wife” added another complication — she answered the door and behaved in a non-threatening manner — insisting she had a child sick at school. Some teams determined her identity and let her go, others required her to stay “just a few minutes more” while the conversation dragged on. During the debriefing, the officers were cautioned detaining an innocent individual might compromise an otherwise good bust.

The task force members, all with 10 to 22 years of experience, finished the course fully convinced of the benefits of ongoing training. As Rick Furr said, “We’re not trying to turn you guys into SWAT cops — that’s different from what you do on the street. But we can train more of you guys to a higher standard to keep up with the emerging threat, and if you go home every day until retirement, then we’ve done our job.”

 

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