Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

There actually is a case to be made for giving police training in military tactics

Even if officers are only introduced to militarized tactics a single time in their career, it can still in a moment of crisis frame their mindset.



By Aaron Barruga


By Aaron Barruga
Best Defense guest columnist

Law enforcement faces a training paradox: The least likely attack that cops can expect to respond to is also the most dangerous situation they can find themselves in. And the worst thing we can do is give police military equipment without the training that needs to go with it. That endangers law enforcement and civilians alike.

Let me explain.

Even if officers are only introduced to militarized tactics a single time in their career, it can still in a moment of crisis frame their mindset. But in order to accomplish this, all officers — not just members of SWATs and other specialized units — need to receive this training. This training should occur in both classroom and field environments. It is easy to “armchair officer” through use of force or militarized tactics, but it is key that the extravagant stress of the firefight environment be experienced.

Incoming enemy fire isn’t the only variable that causes anxiety during an attack. Fatigue, limited visibility, and miscommunication inevitably frustrate teams operating in moments of crisis. An officer will be overwhelmed with making decisions while also attempting to perform certain tasks at a subconscious level (e.g. weapon’s reload). Purposeful scenario training will recalibrate any perceived abilities that tragically fall apart when executed. This also helps officers distinguish between environmental and internal anxiety. This is paramount because it helps officers understand that anxiety does not correlate with the need to use lethal force, even if excessive cortisol in the bloodstream tempts one to do otherwise.

Departments must also exercise caution with solutions that seek to enhance hardware, not the individual. This does not suggest that updating equipment is counter-intuitive. If a product provides a simple solution (e.g. buying a helmet for ballistic protection) then it requires less scrutiny. Equipment that requires more complex integration (e.g. implementing night vision devices), should be carefully approached, especially if it doesn’t directly remedy pertinent issues.

America does not need a militarized police force, but we need cops who understand military tactics —  how to use them, and when not to do so. We need not worry about the creation of warrior cops if law enforcement receives sufficient training that emphasizes both case law and stress-induced field scenarios. Without such training, departments that are given military equipment simply will informally make up their own tactics. This uncertainty can lead quickly to tactics that are actually dangerous to officers and citizens alike.

Aaron Barruga joined the military because of 9/11 and served as a Green Beret in Special Forces. He has deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Pacific Theater where he trained foreign commandos, police officers, and militia fighters. He is the founder at Guerrilla Approach LLC where he consults law enforcement on the development of active shooter training programs and vehicle tactics.

Photo credit: Aaron Barruga 

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at Twitter: @tomricks1

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