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Selections vs. Qualifications Training

Selections vs. Qualifications Training

During a scouting mission, students get physical conditioning and some practical hands on training.

Michael E. Witzgall / SWAT Digest

The key word in the above paragraph is “train”. Replacing the current selections mentality with the needed training philosophies will be difficult at best. It might mean a complete revision of what some instructors (and teams) envision SWAT to be. For those that struggle with this idea, please keep these five points in mind:

1. “PT” should not be used as a baseline standard to wash students out of a SWAT school. The reason physical training is so often used in this manner is because it is easy to evaluate and requires little work on behalf of the instructors. Unfortunately, it tells almost nothing about the SWAT student’s potential. Many organizations that use the selections concept during SWAT training use physical fitness as the mainstay to their training philosophy (as opposed to, let’s say, concentrating on entry work). I agree that SWAT officers must be in good physical condition and that a Basic SWAT School should have physical training in its curriculum (especially an assessment test); however, I disagree with any concept that washes out an officer who is excellent SWAT material simply because he cannot run well. This makes very little sense and is often a waste of time and talent.

2. You cannot get a person in shape in a week. You can make them sore and miserable. You can pad your ego by running them into the dirt. You can make them hate life – but you cannot get them in shape. Those same hours spent running each day could be used to teach and perfect tactical skills. If you want to drive home the point that SWAT officers need to be in good physical condition, try having students do “button hooks” or “cross-overs” correctly through the door 50 times or more. Or have the students do high crawls, low crawls and 3 to 5 second rushes until they are exhausted. Those are life saving skills needed by all tactical officers while running several miles in tactical gear, though impressive, is not.

3. An intentionally high washout rate is nothing to be proud of. There are SWAT schools that, by design, strive to reach a high failure rate of 50% or more. Some courses are so difficult that it becomes survival of the luckiest, not the best. Students that do not get sick or injured and those that are willing to put up with the harassment generally graduate. The question is: are these graduates really the best trained? Or, were those students so beaten up, so sore and tired that they subconsciously switched to autopilot, learning little, but doing just enough to stay healthy (and out of trouble) to pass the course?

4. Just because an individual is on a tactical team in no way indicates that he or she should be allowed to teach at a SWAT school. In the last ten years I have fired three instructors for mistreatment of students. While doing this has caused me some backlash (angry people love to run their mouths seemingly forever), I will not allow instructors to abuse students. Instructors that are intentionally overly combative while role playing as bad guys or that constantly drop students for push-ups for real or perceived infractions either do not know how to teach or they enjoy causing others pain. One is bad. The other is borderline criminal. Unless those that are responsible for choosing the training cadre are very careful in whom they select to teach, abusive conduct by bad instructors will eventually occur. Regardless of your training philosophy, your instructors must be the very best that you can field. Unprofessional conduct displayed by instructors will destroy the validity of your school and our profession.

5. We only have the students for a week. Wasting time playing games (constantly dropping students for pushups or harassing them while running or during other activities) under the guise that it will instill self-discipline in the student is absurd. Military boot camp is generally three months long. In that time frame a recruit is stripped of his identity and then slowly, over the course of time, rebuilt into what the military wants him to be.

One of the most disturbing conversations I have had was with a much- respected tactical commander who had sent several of his officers to a Basic SWAT school in this region. Evidently, when one of his officers could not keep up on a run several of the instructors surrounded him, got in his face and began to severely demean him, his team and his department. I am sure the instructors that did this were trying to motivate the student into “digging deep” and trying harder, maybe thinking that it would instill some pride and discipline in the officer. This type of negative reinforcement rarely works for very long. The military stopped using it years ago. So should we.

I understand that there are tactical instructors that disagree and will continue to run SWAT schools in a selections manner. That is their prerogative. If that is the case, I recommend that the course title reflect that training viewpoint (i.e. Selections / Basic SWAT course), publish the course rationale and furnish the potential students with a reference list of former attendees that they can contact. If an officer has attended a SWAT school that, in his/her opinion, was unduly abusive or unprofessional, he/she should report it. Almost all states have tactical associations that, to some degree or another, review or sanction tactical training curriculum – they need to be involved. If they have sanctioned the curriculum then they have a right to know what is occurring under their stamp of approval. Contact them!

Lest you think that I am endorsing we train a kinder and gentler SWAT officer, I am not. SWAT, by its very nature, is a dangerous and demanding profession. Shifting from a selections course approach to a qualifications course will mean changing the focus of the course standards – not lowering them or dummying the standards down. The same level of intensity found in a selections course can be achieved in a qualifications course through repetition of techniques, professional instructors that teach – not harass – and demanding that students perform learned techniques under high standards of evaluation.

Over the last 15 years, I have come to believe that as a Tactical / SWAT instructor, I am given a special trust by the students that attend my courses. These students are relying on us (my cadre and I) to teach them the skills they need in order to stay alive in the near-combat environment that SWAT can become. To place importance on any training (or training philosophy) that diverts attention a way from this reality is to break that trust.

Originally published at SWAT Digest.

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