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Finding Advantage in Reality-Based Training (RBT) for Law Enforcement

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By Evan Butler, Criminal Justice student at American Military University

The most effective way for a police officer to mentally and physically prepare for response during a stressful situation is to practice in an environment that is as close to reality as possible.

Reality-based training (RBT) is a tool that law enforcement training supervisors should use to ensure their officer’s experience and deal with the mental and physical reactions experienced in high-stress situations so when those officers face a real situation, they are as prepared as possible.

What is Reality-Based Training (RBT)?
RBT involves either force-on-force training or role-playing exercises. They can be conducted using a variety of methods and tools, but the importance must focus on detailed realism of the trainee’s experience.

[Related Article: The Tactical Coffee Cup: The Value of Real-Life Training Scenarios]

The most effective and useful training I have experienced was during my career in the military. We used both non-lethal training ammunition (simunition) and multiple integrated laser engagement system (MILES) while executing force-on-force exercises in a variety of environments.

Types of RBT
Police Training RangeSimunition is an effective RBT primarily because trainees can feel the psychological and physical effects of imminent danger. During a training scenario, trainees are shot at by instructors armed with realistic-looking firearms, loaded with paintballs. While it leaves no lasting damage, being hit with a paintball is very painful.

This RBT allows trainees to experience and practice managing their reactions to pain, including instinctive responses that can reduce reaction effectiveness, such as an adrenaline dump or auditory/sensory exclusion. When experiencing a potentially dangerous situation, physical changes to the human body, such as an elevated heart rate and loss of fine motor skills, are common due to the release of the hormone adrenaline into the bloodstream. The body prepares itself for physical stress by releasing adrenaline and when a large amount is released quickly, it can be quite difficult to overcome the effects. RBT helps trainees experience this sensation, learn to cope with its effects, and still perform duties in high-stress situations.

Experiencing simulated combat during training is vital for teaching officers how to respond during high-stress situations. Another advantage to simunition training is that the officer’s actual duty weapon can be used by making some minor modifications, which contributes to the realistic scenario and provides further experience and confidence using the duty weapon.

MILES is another highly effective method for training. Blank fire adapters and live round inhibitors are attached to an officer’s weapon to ensure live rounds are not introduced to the training area. Participants wear sensors on their body that will register if they receive a hit. The weapon functions exactly as it would in normal operation, except a non-visible laser is fired instead of a projectile. The only disadvantage to this type of training versus simunition is the lack of anxiety experienced when real projectiles hit the trainee.

The Need for RBT in Law Enforcement Training
Setting up realistic training situations will give trainees a chance to practice critical decision making, execute standard operating procedures, and employ tactics that can, quite literally, save their lives during a real situation.

The integration of RBT into law enforcement training regimens will increase confidence and improve proficiency in a variety of high-stress situations. All law enforcement training supervisors must keep this fact in mind when developing future training sessions for their departments.

Evan ButlerAbout the Author: Evan Butler has been serving as a Master-at-Arms in the United States Navy since 2009 and is currently a Security Force Watch Commander and Field Training Officer (FTO) for a unit near Charleston, South Carolina. Evan has received formal military training in traditional law enforcement, anti-terrorism and force protection. As an FTO, he develops relevant monthly training modules for a sizeable security department in order to keep them up to date on new tactics, techniques, and procedures available to law enforcement officers. Previously, he was responsible for the initial instruction of newly reported personnel in force protection, access control, intrusion detection system operation, and basic watch standing principles at a military training department. Evan is certified with the American Board for Certification in Homeland Security (ABCHS) in CHS Level V and has completed the Security Specialist and Police Officer I apprenticeships through the United Services Military Apprenticeship Program (USMAP). Evan earned an A.A. in Counter Terrorism Studies with American Military University and is currently pursuing a B.A. in Criminal Justice with AMU. Evan is also a member of the Kappa Kappa chapter of Alpha Phi Sigma National Criminal Justice Honor Society at AMU.

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