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Looking Ahead: Shifts in Training Needed for Security Guard Use of Force

It should be plainly evident from today’s headlines that use of force is a defining social issue of our time. The current focus is on police. But the private sector’s time is coming. A poor media portrayal is all it will take.

A decade ago, use of force application was murky and largely based on witness statements. Today, it tends to be captured on video, which is then often released on social media. This landscape generates new liabilities for security companies.

The private security industry must acknowledge the same ugly truth now being faced by law enforcement: traditional methods of training and qualification fail for use of force application and tactical skills.

Training, qualification, and proficiency development for virtually every vocation are based upon a fundamental assumption—important tasks will be performed on the job with some regularity.

Initial training provides a consistent baseline and limits the organization’s liability. Paperwork then documents training attendance, the information presented, and testing results as they are generated and retained.

Meanwhile, mentorship and practical experience in the field develop the employee’s proficiency. Just as police are assigned field training officers, new private security officers are assigned to work with more experienced personnel. Job qualification requirement booklets, where signatures are required from senior personnel to validate a trainee’s knowledge and ability in key job areas, are often assigned.

These approaches are effective at producing proficiency; however, they primarily work when training staff to complete routinely performed tasks, such as area checks, patrols, and personnel searches. When skills are rarely—if ever—used, then the full burden of both preparation and proficiency evaluation falls on the training and qualification process.

Firearms skills are the most high-profile example. A quick glance at the news will demonstrate that current approaches to training are proving inadequate, even for public-sector law enforcement. This is despite higher standards of selection, training, and performance than are maintained by most private-sector security.

For example, in the U.S. state of Tennessee, the basic law enforcement course requires a minimum of 400 hours of training, including at least of 40 hours of firearms specific training. A minimum of eight hours of in-service firearms training are required per year, and 75 percent proficiency or greater must be achieved on firearms qualification.

In contrast, an armed security officer requires only 16 hours of initial training (encompassing all subject matter, to include firearms). Only four hours of firearms training are then required every two years, and the minimum firearms proficiency standard is only 70 percent.

Acknowledging the inadequacy of today’s training and qualification is important. It is also important to understand that while resources certainly can play a role, training deficiencies are not, primarily, a resource problem. Instead, they represent a structural issue with how training is designed and delivered.


The problem is twofold. Many training methods do not match how the human brain learns, and how and what is measured during qualification is irrelevant to operational performance. Fixing these issues must involve significant structural changes to both training and qualification. This requires an understanding that training and learning, while related, are separate concepts. Training should impact learning and retention; however, this is not guaranteed and, unfortunately, often fails.

A report published last year by the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training (IADLEST) and its Partner Advisory Committee (IPAC) makes it clear that traditional methods of blocked training, where subject matter is presented to students in concentrated form during condensed time periods (i.e. eight hours of technical training delivered within a single eight-hour training day) produce poor long-term retention and are no longer adequate for the armed professions. According to the Force Science Institute, quoted in the same IPAC report, continuing the status quo in a way that creates the “illusion of learning” constitutes nothing less than “the antithesis of professional responsibility.”

When a security officer’s performance ability in critical job-related skills, such as use of force, cannot be assured through evaluating daily job performance, then merely holding regular training and documenting completion is not adequate. Typically, learning and retention fail to occur because far too much information is presented in too short a time period. The brain’s intake and storage systems are simply overwhelmed.

Blocked training often occurs in industrial settings. Long-term learning during the training period itself is much rarer. The brain simply does not learn in this manner. The reader has likely attended a training program or seminar in the past with little retained knowledge to show for the effort and expense. Even with physical skills training, as noted in the same IPAC report, a blocked approach fails to produce long-term retention. Using these standard approaches for critical skills that are rarely used, yet will only be performed without warning, and under extreme stress, is a recipe for failure.

Measurement is the second problem. It is impossible to argue that firearms qualifications are relevant to job performance. The real-world involves the analysis of complex environments, rapid decision-making, and ongoing situational awareness. Qualification for firearms usage today requires none of this.

Qualifications are expensive, time consuming, and resource intensive. They are also the only mandatory and measurable activity related to carrying weapons. In practice, qualifications frequently become training—even though it is broadly acknowledged that this should not happen.


The current situation is simply unsustainable. It must change, and soon. Use of ineffective training, combined with irrelevant performance metrics—which often replace any actual attempt at training—is simply an unacceptable liability. Everyone—security providers, officers, clients, shareholders, and the public—deserves better.

To fix these issues, security providers must apply training methods that match how the brain learns. Training should be designed to generate long-term learning, using methods such as spacing delivery across shorter segments, over time. For example, the first day of firearms training may involve nothing more than a lesson on safety concepts and locking back the slide of a semi-automatic pistol (one of the most difficult administrative handling and gun safety skills for many students to master) in a classroom setting. Technology and hybrid instruction are likely to play an increasingly significant role.

Qualification must also change. Standards for armed professionals should begin to incorporate both decision-making and de-escalation. Thinking ability, rather than marksmanship skills, should become the primary consideration for evaluating readiness to carry firearms on the job.

Ready or not, the future is coming. Major changes for armed professionals are coming with it. Will your organization be ready?

Dustin Salomon, CPP is a former naval officer, certified law enforcement firearms instructor, graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, and has a master’s degree in security management. He was a U.S. Navy Force Protection department head afloat, the plank-owning operations officer for a mobile security detachment, and worked as a high-threat private security contractor between 2004 and 2013. He is the author of four books on firearms training, including Building Shooters: Applying Neuroscience Research to Tactical Training System Design and Training Delivery, and has spoken on brain-based firearms training design to both the FBI and Georgia Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors conferences. Salomon is the founder of Building Shooters Technology LLC, a small business focused on affordably improving use-of-force performance for armed professionals through the application of brain science to training design.