“The buck stops here” is a great saying. It implies that responsibility for decision-making always rests with the person at the top. President Harry Truman made it famous, and he lived by it. Today, it is more common for administrators to live next to it, with the buck stopping over there.
Accepting responsibility, especially at the administrative level in a police department, is becoming a vanishing art. In law enforcement, this often exists in the firearms training unit. While agencies are getting better at appointing trainers truly interested in teaching, supporting them can be a different story. Properly equipping and administering firearms training is not easy. It requires thought, study and a willingness to be a bit unpopular. Some officers don’t want to train with their firearms, and when they refuse to or cannot become proficient, they need to be disciplined. Most trainers recognize this, understanding the danger to them, fellow officers and the public. Unfortunately, too many administrators just don’t get it. Time and time again, trainers tell me about officers who are unsafe who are “passed on” by administrators. Officers who cannot demonstrate proficiency with their weapons, will not take the effort to do so, or are incapable of doing so need to be fired, period. How a chief who fits into this category can look his or her officers square in the face is beyond me.
Yes, I get it—there is more to police work. Sure, but most of the other stuff will not get you, your partner or the public killed when you are bad at it. I’ve seen agencies dole out time off without pay for backing into a fence, but then “excuse” a bad officer on the range. This shows where an agency’s priorities really are. At the same time, trainers are told to “get it done” and “get them qualified” because it is “their job.”
Pass Or Fail?
It is true that a trainer must dedicate themselves to helping everyone on a department be proficient, but it is not their job to discipline officers when they cannot. That is the chief’s job, plain and simple. They must establish policies that provide real incentives for meeting the standard, and real consequences for failing to do so. Once in place, they need to follow them—not just point at them when asked. One local agency allows three attempts to qualify. Fail, and you are placed on administrative leave while you seek out additional training. If you fail to qualify on your fourth attempt, you are terminated. And that’s not harsh, especially considering what is usually required. It is incumbent upon the training unit to provide real training with attainable qualifications. If those goals are met, anyone incapable of qualifying or unwilling needs to go.
The bottom line here is simple: Things really do start and stop at the top when it comes to firearms training and proficiency. Buying ammo and range time is not enough. Officers performing training must be supported with further training, supplies and equipment. Those you choose must be dedicated to training—not looking for a place to hide. Once that is in place, it is the chief’s job to provide unwavering support when they are forced to deal with an officer unwilling or unable to use their weapons safely. Yes, that can be hard, but it’s nowhere near as hard as notifying family members when officers are killed in the line of duty. That is hard enough when, as a chief, you did everything you could to prevent it. Imagine how hard it would be if you didn’t.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: David Bahde’s 20-plus-year LE career includes past assignments as a SWAT team leader, tactical commander, firearms trainer and more. He currently serves as a reserve officer and trainer.
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