An investigation has confirmed a whistleblower’s disclosure that training exercises for police at a VA facility in Butler, PA put employees and patients in danger, the Office of Special Counsel has said in letters to the White House and Congress.
The VA inspector general conducted the investigation on referral from the OSC that scenario-based exercises–such as timing the response to a report of theft–were conducted in the facility while the responding officers were on-duty and carrying loaded weapons and without telling them in advance that it was only a drill.
The report found that “supervisors conducted rapid response testing exercises in a manner that caused them to be live-action, scenario-based training, and not drills, but did not properly implement firearms safety measures appropriate to such live-action training” such as issuing the officers non-firing weapons first. An allegation that some officers drew their loaded weapons on a person playing the role of a thief during one such exercise was not confirmed, however.
The IG said that reality-based training is a standard method used by law enforcement at all levels but “tragic and fatal training accidents have occurred when loaded duty weapons were introduced into the training environment.” While the investigation focused on only one facility, it added, similar training is used nationwide and guidance is unclear regarding how it is to be conducted.
“When police officers are asked to respond to an active threat while carrying loaded weapons, there is no room for error,” the OSC said. “These types of exercises should be conducted in a safe training environment.”
The center has “suspended all trainings pending the revision of relevant procedures and subsequently implemented corrective measures,” it said.