A recent news article, detailing what seems to be a bizarre series of events, chronicles the shooting of an unarmed man, who was apparently begging for his life, by a police officer in Arizona. The officer has since been charged with second degree murder, lending credence to the news story. If the report is accurate, the officer in question also had engraved “You’re f—ed” on the rifle that he used in the shooting, or perhaps had purchased a rifle part with this engraving in place.
Before beginning this discussion, it is critical to clarify that I am using the general occurrences that appear to be related by this news article to open a discussion. I have no knowledge of this specific case other than reading the news article. Furthermore, I have no interest in discussing the specifics of the case in this forum, nor in “trying” the case or judging the officer via the internet, especially in the absence of anything resembling facts. It is entirely possible that the following discussion does not apply at all to the specific case detailed by this article.
However, similar types of incidents, to which this discussion does apply, do occur with some frequency within organizations and agencies whose missions require the tactical application of firearms skills. My only intent in referencing this specific article is to open a general discussion that I believe will be of interest to trainers working at the administrative level.
On to the discussion…
In most organizations employing armed professionals, especially in law enforcement, there are two specific training components. The first is entry-level (academy) training. This is usually completed once in a given person’s career and typically includes a relatively intensive period of firearms and related tactical training.
The second component to training is often referred to as “in-service” training. This training is normally periodic in nature (for example, an agency may require bi-annual or quarterly firearms training) and almost always includes empirical qualification standards which are typically a job requirement. In fact, for many (if not most) agencies and organizations, this periodic qualification is the training, in practice if not also by written policy.
Furthermore, these in-service firearms training periods are also usually run by a separate training department, or billeted instructor. Aside from scheduling the time for requalification, an individual armed professional’s operational chain-of-command typically has very little input, involvement or oversight with respect to this high liability skillset.
For purposes of this article, we will discuss two unfortunate effects of this structural arrangement.
The first is that the trainer is largely removed from operational application and accountability with respect to their training programs. This isn’t to suggest that trainers don’t care, or that, in the aggregate, they don’t do the best job that they can. It is simply a statement of fact. Training departments have many responsibilities, but the “squeaky wheel” will always be supplying the warm (and qualified) bodies necessary to fill billets and meet manning requirements. If minimum standards are being met, a trainer in most organizational environments has very little capability or opportunity to impact operational outcomes.
The second effect is that the administrators and operational leadership are largely removed from awareness, oversight, and ability to affect the “armed” part of the armed professional’s skillset. If the training department has signed the right paperwork, the block is checked.
The cumulative result of these two effects is that (outside of some specialized units) no person, or entity, is ever in a position to simultaneously 1) care about, 2) evaluate, and 3) influence an armed professional’s “armed” skillset and its operational impact—at least not until it’s too late.
This triple threat failure—on top of whatever operational issue manifests as a result (such as shooting an unarmed man begging for his life with a duty rifle engraved with “You’re f—ed,” or gunning down a nine year old child brandishing a toy gun, alone, in a park, in broad daylight, at point blank range) makes it easy to blame the people. It’s easy to hurl blame around at the administrators, the supervisors, the trainers, and the individual officers. There’s probably enough blame to go around and, in most cases, all parties legitimately can shoulder a piece of it.
However, assigning blame and lobbying for accountability (while not without merit) is of limited value if the underlying structural deficiencies which contribute to good, hard working, and talented people being involved in high stakes operational failures are not addressed. When armed skillset trainers are completely detached from operational application and operational leadership are completely detached from evaluating and impacting the operational skillset of their personnel—I would argue that a primary component of the overall deficiency that leads to similar types of high-profile, high-liability events is structural in nature.
Addressing these structural issues will require a fundamental shift in how organizational training is delivered and documented. First, qualification should be labeled as a completely separate function from training—one which primarily facilitates the administrative, paper-driven functionality of minimal standard performance. This should be reflected in the both the standards used and the level of resources allotted to qualification. Second, in-service training should be just that, training—for the job. As such, it should be designed and delivered, or at least overseen, by the operational leadership. Third, training itself should be restructured from high resource, blocked methodology, to low resource, interleaved methodology, designed using operationally based neural-network application.
Let the qualification department take care of the primary administrative liabilities. While ideally symbiotic and mutually supportive of operational efforts, this is a separate function. Operational leadership should be focused operational performance and on mitigating the operational liabilities. To do this effectively, they must be provided with the tools, support, and infrastructure to both evaluate and influence their peoples’ operational performance.