Use-of-force performance is one of the great social issues of our time. The current focus is on police officers. However, it is a virtual certainty that this issue will eventually impact the private security industry as well. The liability is certainly there. Every security company is only one bad video or viral social media post away from a public relations disaster.
There are many issues to unpack with respect to use-of-force performance. One of the most significant—and ironically one of the least talked about—is the fact that industry standard training and qualification methods do a poor job of preparing people to use tactical skills in the real world.
Virtually all vocational training structures, including those for security and law enforcement, are based on the assumption that important, job-related skills will be performed with some frequency in the workplace. Training provides an introduction and can develop an initial, basic level of performance. Skillful performance and experience are then developed on the job, usually under the watchful eye of experienced coworkers or assigned mentors. Documentation of the training and testing provide liability protection for employers and supervisors.
With respect to use of force, especially deadly force with firearms, however, this structure fails to deliver adequate results. The first time that a police officer or security officer uses his or her weapon on duty is likely to be the only time this event occurs during that individual’s career. For most, it will never happen. Unfortunately, this first-time event has the potential to be a pivotal moment, not just in the officer’s life, but indeed for the security company, the community, and perhaps even the world. There are no second chances to get it right.
It is impossible to become proficient at any task, much less a complex one that occurs under tremendous stress, without practicing. Therefore, use of force and tactical skills cannot be attained on the job. It is impossible. There simply is no opportunity to repeatedly perform them. To develop competence, these skills must be developed, and each officer’s performance ability validated, solely through the training and qualification process.
After standing up several security forces in the U.S. Navy and dealing with these same challenges repeatedly, the author became fully invested in finding effective solutions. Through more than 20 years of research, he can now identify two fundamental issues that negatively impact the preparation of armed professionals for use of force: Training delivery methods are poorly aligned with how the human brain learns, and methods of firearms qualification are mostly unrelated to real-world performance needs.
These two issues are important. They must be addressed before systemic use-of-force performance can be improved. Yet they are also not the only structural considerations in play. Another critical one is the separation of leadership and administration from firearms and tactical skills training. This generally occurs for logistical reasons; however, it robs leaders of an extraordinary tool for effective armed workforce management.
Most specialized skills and certifications carry some sort of initial training requirement followed by a periodic requirement for training or qualification. Both are normally mandated by some combination of regulation and policy.
When it comes to firearms training, the vast majority of the available resources and time are dedicated to preparing for, running, and passing the qualification test. Meanwhile, leaders and administrators (often back in the office) are typically only interested in three key performance indicators from the event: Did everyone qualify? Was anyone injured? Was anything broken or lost?
To be fair, why would there be high-level interest in any other metric? Those three issues cover everything that tends to matter for the security company. Liability and compliance have been addressed. Undue expenses have been avoided. Qualified security officers can go work billable hours. The company can make money. Good documentation also provides protection to the company and the company’s leadership should anything go wrong.
Implementing more rigorous standards necessarily requires more training and results in higher rates of failure. This creates inefficiency in the onboarding, training, and compliance processes, as well as a requirement for more training hours—and all to improve the performance of skills that may never be used on the job.
Costs matter. Extra expenditures on training that substantially exceeds the statutory minimums eat into profits and make a company’s bid less competitive. When the training is for skills that are unlikely to ever be used on the job, justification for resources rapidly becomes a challenge. The simple truth is that security managers have little incentive to push for anything more than the minimum that is necessary to legally put security officers on post.
This state of affairs is unfortunate, and not just because it negatively impacts the skill and performance ability of security forces. It also pushes leadership away from participating in firearms and tactical training. When training and qualification occur infrequently in predominantly high-resource settings and involve little more than performance of a rote shooting test, why would leadership be involved? There is nothing much of value to witness, only empirical scores and documentation to gather and track.
Not only does a lack of effective training negatively impact performance and officer survival, the lack of involvement this structure creates also deprives leaders and administrators of access to a powerful set of diagnostic tools and corrective opportunities. Without them, leaders are flying blind. Applied correctly, these can pay huge dividends towards both preventing performance issues in the field and ultimately reducing the organization’s liability.
As a force protection officer onboard a U.S. Navy warship, the author managed the ship’s security force while also serving as one of the ship’s small arms instructors. During deployment, one of the sailors had a negligent discharge while conducting counter-narcotics operations. The totality of the circumstances surrounding the event was particularly egregious. The sailor displayed a serious lack of judgment, not a lack of knowledge or skill, nor a momentary lapse in attention. After evaluation, the author was directed by the commander to attempt to retrain and requalify the sailor for firearms use.
During multiple dryfire training sessions over a period of days, the sailor continued to display a consistent lack of attention to detail and ongoing poor judgment. He also displayed either an unwillingness or inability to handle weapons with the care they were due.
The sailor was more than adequately skilled, from the perspective of qualification. Based on personal experience observing this sailor with a firearm repetitively, however, the author ultimately assessed that he should not be requalified or be allowed to handle small arms. The commander was briefed on the status, and the sailor’s qualifications were revoked.