Tune in for Project Sapient Law Enforcement & Military Podcast eye-opening episode this Friday, January 12th, as Ayman Kafel and his colleague Jake Mahar motivate and advocate for a crucial shift in law enforcement training. On their podcast, they will explore the urgent need for a neurological approach, discussing the concept of "left of bang" and emphasizing the proactive training essential for police officers. Through thought-provoking insights, they aim to inspire action and spark change, shedding light on the benefits of specialized training approaches to enhance officer readiness, foster mental resilience, and promote community safety. Don't miss this empowering conversation as they rally for the transformative training police officers deserve.
Previously published on Havok Journal by Ayman Kafel:
“Left of Bang is an idea that is part of the Marine Corps Combat Hunter Program. Left of bang is everything you do before shots are fired, the lethal threat is presented, or a physical assault begins. Bang is the violent act or the event which occurred where control was lost, and right of bang is what happens after. Most past law enforcement and military has been right of bang. Now, left-of-bang concepts must be discussed and introduced to military and forward-thinking law enforcement personnel.”- Michael Malpass: Taming the Serpent.
If you’ve read my articles, you know my issues with law enforcement training. The reality is that most cops, unless they take time to train on their own, are not well trained.
Taking training seriously means ending the “check the box” style that wastes time and money. Here are examples of training that wastes time.
Most police agencies are required to conduct annual firearms qualifications. Depending on the department, it is typically 50 to 100 rounds and begins at the 15-yard line. Most of the firing is done from a static position with a paper target in front of the officer. Some agencies give time limits at each course of fire to add some stress.
During firearms qualifications, depending on the agency, they fire one round at a time in response to an auditory signal such as “THREAT” or “UP.” In some cases, they could fire up to five rounds depending on the course of fire.
Let’s discuss the simple science of this whole firearms qualification.
In a high-stress situation, a suspect points a gun at the officer or charges them while holding a knife. Officers are encouraged to shoot until the threat is down. This is supported by medical research as it has been found that 64% of gunshot victims with wounds to the chest and 36% of those wounds to the head and neck can survive more than five minutes.
Here is the reality when an officer must discharge their firearm. The suspect is on the move and rarely stationary. The suspect is also shooting at the officer, running at the officer with a weapon, or trying to run the officer over with a car. The qualification does not consider human performance or decision-making under duress.
What are the benefits of adding stress to a firearms range?
Stress exposure training at a police firearms range has several benefits, including:
1. Improved decision-making skills under stress: During high-pressure situations, officers must be able to make quick and effective decisions. Stress exposure training helps officers develop the ability to make accurate decisions and respond appropriately in high-stress situations.
2. Increased confidence and performance: With regular stress exposure training, officers become more confident in their abilities and are better equipped to handle the physical and mental demands of their job. This leads to improved performance and better outcomes in real-life scenarios.
3. Better physiological response to stress: Stress exposure training helps officers develop a physiological response to stress that is more conducive to effective performance. This includes improved breathing patterns, lower heart rate variability, and reduced muscle tension.
4. Enhanced situational awareness: Stress exposure training helps officers develop heightened situational awareness. This enables them to better assess their environment and make informed decisions based on the circumstances at hand.
5. Improved safety for officers and civilians: By training officers to handle high-stress situations, stress exposure training helps to reduce the risk of injury or death to both officers and civilians. It also helps to minimize the potential for property damage and other negative outcomes.
I can train anyone to qualify with a firearm. What takes time is becoming proficient. Now you ask what I mean by becoming proficient.
Proficiency in one’s equipment is essential for effective performance. I mean think about it, in the military, once you’re issued a sensitive item such as a rifle or Night Vision Goggles, you are required to learn every aspect of that piece of equipment. You are then tested under duress, you are tested when you’re fatigued, you are tested while you are eating, and so on. Part of police training should be testing an officer’s proficiency. We should move away from “qualifying.”
Once a threat is presented, a law enforcement officer needs time to perceive and react. Reaction time research has been of interest to scholars for over a century (Donders, 1868; Vickers,2007). Vickers (2007) surveyed numerous studies and found mean reaction times of 0.14 to 0.16 s for an auditory stimulus and 0.18 to 0.20 s for a visual stimulus. A longer reaction time to a visual cue is attributed to the longer period of time required by the complex signal processing in the human visual system (Engelken, Stevens, & Enderle, 1991). The time for the human brain to consciously perceive, evaluate, and classify a visual cue, instead of simply reacting to its earliest detection, is 300 ms (Lamme, 2010; Rutiku, Martin, Bachmann & Aru, 2015).
Something that is not done enough in policing is scenario-based training. Let me rephrase my previous sentence. SWAT Teams and various other specialized units do scenario-based training, except for the Patrol Division. Patrol division is your everyday uniformed cop that works the beat. They don’t receive enough scenario-based training. Especially the type that forces the officer to think critically on their feet, to put the officers under duress so that they can learn to tackle complex problems and/or incidents.
In my 15+ years in law enforcement, I only do scenario-based training under duress with my SWAT team. As a brand-new officer, scenario-based training is only done at the police academy. Most patrol officers would go through their entire careers doing just a handful of scenario-based training.
There needs to be an emphasis on scenario-based training for the entire profession, not just specialized units.
A study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology found that exposure to stress during police training was associated with lower levels of PTSD symptoms and other negative mental health outcomes in new officers.
A review of studies on stress inoculation training (a type of stress exposure training that involves gradually increasing exposure to stressful situations over time) concluded that this type of training can be effective at reducing symptoms of PTSD and improving coping strategies among police officers.
Another study published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress found that police officers who underwent stress exposure training were less likely to be involved in use-of-force incidents compared to officers who did not receive this training.
Stress exposure training can help prepare officers for the realities of the job and improve their ability to respond effectively in high-pressure situations. Through realistic, simulated scenarios, stress exposure training can help officers develop critical decision-making and problem-solving skills under duress. Stress exposure training can help reduce the risk of PTSD and other negative mental health outcomes by providing officers with coping strategies and building resilience. By gradually acclimating officers to stressful situations over time, stress exposure training can help reduce the negative impact of acute stress on officers’ physical and mental health.
Research suggests that stress exposure training can help reduce use-of-force incidents among police officers, potentially improving community trust and reducing the risk of excessive force complaints or injuries to officers or citizens. Overall, stress exposure training is increasingly being recognized as an effective approach to preparing law enforcement officers for the challenging realities of the job while also promoting officer well-being and community safety.
In the end, police officers need to not only train for the physical strains that come with the job but also the mental side. If elected officials cannot provide funding for this kind of training, then the profession is swimming upstream with no end in sight. There will be more incidents of excessive force, civilian complaints, and accidental shootings. The profession needs to train to the same caliber as Special Forces and other elite units. I’m not saying militarize the police, I’m saying the level of training needs to change.
Malpass, Michael Taming the Serpent (2019) How Neuroscience can revolutionize modern law enforcement training.
Violanti, J. M., Burchfiel, C. M., Miller, D. B., Andrew, M. E., & Dorn, J. (2012). Police trauma and cardiovascular disease: Association between PTSD symptoms and metabolic syndrome. International Journal of Emergency Mental Health, 14(4), 227-238
Hobfoll, S. E., Blais, R. K., Stevens, N. R., Walt, L., Gengler, R., & Wiggs, C. B. (2016). Five essential elements of immediate and mid-term mass trauma intervention: Empirical evidence. Psychiatry, 79(4), 389-402.
Maia, D. B., & Marmar, C. R. (2018). History of PTSD in veterans: Civil War to DSM-5. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 31(4), 422-429.
About the Author
Ayman Kafel is the founder and owner of Hybrid Wolf Blue Line Strategies, LLC. A veteran-owned training and consulting company for Law Enforcement officers and agencies. He combines his military and law enforcement experience to bring much-needed cutting-edge training to the law enforcement profession.
Ayman is not only an active police officer but also a law enforcement instructor and has taught across the East Coast of the United States. He offers a wide variety of training, such as advanced patrol tactics, mechanical breaching courses, designated marksman, and Human Performance under duress.
In addition, Ayman is an Army Combat Veteran who was deployed during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005. He became a police officer in 2007 after 8 years of service in the Army
Ayman has seen the ugliness of war and evil in the world. He survived two civil wars prior to immigrating to the United States in the late eighties.
His current position is the commander of his department’s Problem-Oriented Policing Unit. He leads a team of investigators that employs unconventional methods and Special Forces philosophy in achieving specific objectives in the communities he serves. These unconventional methods range from winning hearts and minds to specific strategic law enforcement actions to arrest and prosecute those who are the root cause of various crimes.
To reach Ayman, feel free to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jake Mahar completed his undergraduate degrees from the University of Denver in Molecular Biology and Criminology and a Master’s degree in Psychosocial Deviance (Criminology).
Following his brief career in law enforcement due to a career ending injury, he focused on working with law enforcement officers, firefighters and military members.
A great deal of his work has resulted in breaking down barriers of “traditional” models of programming. The days of “train it till you break it” mentality are as antiquated as many of the training and tactics permeating the law enforcement ecosystem.
For the last 12-years specifically, he has been developing, programming and testing protocols to bulletproof the bodies and skillsets for the unique challenges faced by first responders and armed service members.