The Demise of Police Self Defence Training.


It's been a little while since I've given some thought to the state of Police Self Defence Training and it's gradual erosion over the last few years. I'm currently putting together a self-defence course for retail and hospitality staff and find myself in the odd position of knowing that those staff that choose to do this course will be better trained to defend themselves with unarmed/hand to hand tactics than my former colleagues currently are in the Police.

So what has gone wrong? Well several things.

Several years ago, what is now The College of Policing decided to professionalise things by publishing policies etc to try and standardise as best they could the Personal Safety Training. But, unfortunately, when writing these a grave error for the safety of Police Officers was made. The text read that the course SHOULD be of a minimum of 12 hours contact time. Funny word should, MUST would have been a much better word to use. Those higher up in the chain of command seized upon that word and tasked training departments with reducing the length of the Personal Safety Course because their priority was to optimise the length of time an officer spends on the street. Instead of thinking that, after the safety of the public, making sure their staff went home safely was vitally important for their welfare, physical and mental health. All over the country the length of the course was reduced, the least number of hours I heard about was 3 hours per year !!!!!!

Another factor is the lack of professional trainers. As a trainer the priority must always be to make sure that your students leave the course the best you can make them. Sadly too many trainers treat the course as a popularity contest and want to be everyone's mate. The simplest way of doing that is to let them go early. You'll always get good feedback if you give people an 'early dart'. Speaking to former colleagues still in service it's now regularly 9am before they get in the dojo and something has gone seriously wrong if they aren't away by 3pm. And that's the normal course, if they are an , erm, 'elite' department, the training day is 0930 to 1330. From another Force i've been told about Officer Safety Training being known as a 'Slide Day'. turn up , a little bit of restraints and handcuffs, a game of footy and slide away at lunch time. Yes , the student will always learn more if they enjoy the course, the days of starting the courses with a beasting and a tirade telling them off are hopefully long gone. But it can be made enjoyable and still be a full day. Whether training is devolved or centralised there must be stringent spot checks in place to make sure Trainers adhere to training time and content, if they don’t take their ticket to train off them.

There is also a huge PST Manual that seems to have every possible way of doing things because when consultation took place if a particular service did things slightly differently it was put in ‘to cover them’. This needs to stop, there should be a National Course 2 Day Course that all Services teach exactly the same with a National oversight on it. Included in this is that the course must be a pass or fail. Allegedly it is now but if Trainers honestly failed those that should be failed they’d become down on like a ton of bricks by senior management because those Officers would not be available for ‘live’ duty. There’s always been that understanding of, fail a couple but don’t push your luck or you’ll be out of the Training Dept.

Finally, there seems to be an overreliance on equipment. Over the years things have come on leaps and bounds from the days when we had to go on patrol with a bit of balsa wood in a secret pocket down the side of your leg ( and woe betide you if any part of that was visible, you were given a dressing down for looking too aggressive). Even in those days there was the odd officer who was 'staff happy' and resolved everything by laying in with the truncheon. It seems to me that, with the addition of more equipment, it has almost become a default option with more and more officers to go for that baton, spray, conducted energy device first rather than trying their best weapon. Yep, open their mouth and speak to people. Communication is a vital part of Personal Safety Training but how much of it is included in the course ?

Police Personal Safety must not be seen as the poor relation in the Protective Training world but it is. Taser is the ‘sexy’ subject and the one that has the potential to gather more adverse media coverage. Public Order Training is the one more likely to ruin some the Service’s reputation because of a bad decision. But let’s not forget that both of these subjects are offshoots of basic Personal Training and should be treated as such. Personal Safety Training is what Officers are more likely to use day in and day out and therefore should be given the credence that it deserves. This needs senior management backing and a National will to make it work.

Just my opinion but at one time I was classed as an expert in these matters! We are going in the wrong direction and there needs to be a change, led from the top, to invest more time in Personal Safety Training. It really MUST be 12 hours contact time !!!!! And that does not include Pre-Reads, NCALT Packages, First Aid or the Fitness Test being included in those 12 hours.

Dave Leigh.

Former PST Lead Merseyside Police.

Former North West Representative Self Defence and Restraint Practitioners Committee.