Which is better for your officer, department and trainer—quality training, or officers that qualify? It seems obvious; and if you were to ask administrators this exact question, even they would say training. Yet with greater frequency departments are providing marginal training and falling back on a “qualification.” It never ceases to amaze me how police departments can repeatedly return to failed policies and methods. It may be that police administrations have the shortest collective memory of any profession. You would hope not, but when the same proposed solutions have been recycled for the third time after abject failure the first two, the shortcomings are simply hard to ignore.
Failure To Train
In all my time as an officer, sergeant, and now consultant, I have yet to run across a “failure to qualify” lawsuit. At the same time “failure to train” lawsuits are increasingly popular. It is the department’s absolute obligation to make certain their officers are properly “trained” in the application, use, and manipulation of their firearms. Failure to do so leaves the department, the officer and the administration at risk of expensive litigation—not to mention the fact it leaves both them and the public at significant other risks. Qualifications are nothing more than stopovers on the policy train; feel-good gestures that satisfy someone’s need to have “met policy.” If that is all that is done, it provides no protection at all from litigation and may be nothing more than a tool for a litigating attorney. Any department that relies solely on their qualification is playing a dangerous game of Russian Roulette with their future.
Now, can a qualification be a training tool? Sure, only if it is a method of affirming the quality of the training received. They must demonstrate that a standard has been met through the training. It is not something to be done in lieu of training, but in concert with it. But as budgets get tighter in this economy it seems many departments are dropping the training and leaving the qualification. It is a critical error with significant downrange affect, and it really needs to be turned around. In fact, given quality training that is well documented you could remove the qualification all together. When it makes it to court, you need to prove the proficiency of the officer and how that proficiency was reached. But simply qualifying is meaningless. The mindset of qualifying a couple times a year, or even less, has proven to be a litigator’s dream in the past, and that hasn’t changed. It is pretty simple—if you want to open your department up to serious litigation following a shooting, then qualify them without documenting they were properly trained.