Some economists say that the U.S. is currently in the…

Some economists say that the U.S. is currently in the grip of the worst economic crisis since The Great Depression. Few occupations have been hit harder than law enforcement.

Training without live ammo can still be highly useful, helping officers work on coordination and movement in realistic tactical settings.

Local police departments have been completely disbanded due to funding crises, with communities hoping that the local sheriff’s office can take up the slack. There have been massive layoffs in department after department—local,county and even state. We are seeing hiring freezes in departments where there is no money to hire people to replace retiring officers, resulting in a severe shortage of sworn personnel working the street. In an economic atmosphere where all this is happening, can anyone be surprised that training budgets have suffered?

What Trainers Can Do

On the firearms training side, many departments have had to make do with less ammunition. One solution for that is to change the training curriculum slightly to include more dry-fire practice. Drawing the pistol. Magazine exchanges. Movement patterns that include scanning for additional threats and getting to cover. Wounded-officer gun manipulation and return-fire techniques. And simply pressing the trigger of an empty gun at a safe backstop, under the watchful, diagnostic eye of a skilled instructor. These can all be effectively experienced without firing a shot, and some techniques are actually safer to practice with unloaded guns.

Reduced round-count courses are another option. Set up a challenging scenario course. Let’s say an officer has to bail from his patrol car, fire two shots at a target, run to another cover point and engage that with two hits, too. Throw in some cornering, some “pie cutting,” and some shoot/don’t shoot judgment targets. Horizontal cover, vertical cover, strong hand only and weak hand only. A speed reload here, and a tactical reload there. In as little as 18 rounds, the officer has refreshed and proven his skills—more than at many 60-shot qualification courses. And he has done so in a course that cuts costly ammunition consumption by more than two-thirds.

If such a course is implemented, the instructor has to take into account the time involved. In a huge department such as the NYPD, with a count of sworn officers in the mid-30,000 range, it would take forever to run each officer one at a time through a live-fire scenario. A department with 10, 20 or 50 sworn personnel would have more leeway with that. From a budgetary point of view, the salaries of the officers being trained, and their time spent on the firing line, constitute a huge part of the costs involved in firearms training.

Some years ago in New England, a small-town police instructor came up with a novel idea. The state’s Police Officer Standards and Training (POST) Council allowed departments to craft their own qualification courses so long as they were submitted for approval. The innovative instructor in question developed a one-shot course of fire.

Consider this Case One. It worked like this: The officer, while on patrol in full uniform, would be dispatched to the range in his department vehicle. When he arrived, the instructor provided ear and eye protection and gave a quick briefing. Then, on signal, the officer had to exit his vehicle, take cover, and nail one steel target—placed in such a way as to create a challenging “marksmanship problem”—downrange. The officer would then reload, sign his paperwork and return to duty.

Set up challenging, low-round-count courses of fire to train more skills at once. This is a cost-effective measure for smaller agencies.

I knew several officers of that department. Without exception, every one of them told me it was the most stressful qualification they’d ever shot, and one of the most instructive in terms of showing them their own ability to use their service pistol when least expected. Not all of them hit the target with their first round, but for many it literally was a one-shot qualification. And from the bookkeeping side, of course, those responsible for the budget were delighted with the tally of ammunition expenditure.

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