Training. In my experience, the very mention of that word will draw mixed reviews among law enforcement officers and their agencies. Many agencies and their officers take training—especially firearms training—very seriously. Unfortunately, though, there are many who do not.
The first thing I want to make very clear is this: Unless you work for a very unique agency, you cannot expect to be very skillful with a firearm unless you’re willing to put some of your own time, money and effort into improving. The average agency only qualifies once or twice a year. Simply put, this is qualification—not training. I’ve often thought that if a person is a police officer, shooting should at least be a casual hobby for them. But, sadly, I’ve found that this is often not the case.
What I have suggested at my agency is to set aside some range days throughout the year and devote them to a variety of different firearms exercises. Here is where I bring some of my competitive shooting background into the equation. When it comes to actual live-fire practice/training, I break it up into two categories. The first is what I consider “skills” training, and it measures only an officer’s sheer shooting skills. In my opinion, most police qualification courses are “skills” tests. The exercises are short, simple and do not require much thinking. They test the officer’s ability to shoot and get acceptable hits within a certain timeframe. This is absolutely essential, and it’s where the fundamentals and techniques are learned, mastered and maintained.
The second category is what I call functional training. Here we move beyond the simple drills to more complex stage/scenario types of shooting that will require some thinking on the part of the officer. A good example of this would be a typical IDPA/USPSA stage. Within a single stage or scenario, one may be required to shoot while moving, while kneeling, and also from behind cover. At the same time, he or she may have to fire 20 to 30 shots at targets from point-blank range to 30 yards, some of which may be swinging, sliding or disappearing. The ability to do this under pressure, quickly and accurately while thinking on your feet and making split-second decisions is invaluable.
Ready to React
What I suggest to officers and their agencies is to balance “skills” training with “functional” training. If you’re the firearms guru at an agency that only goes to the range once or twice a year, suggest to the powers that be to add a few more range dates. At the range, start out with some shorter drills to work on fundamentals and skill sets. Afterward, set up a longer field course, possibly one that requires movement, getting into or out of a vehicle, multiple shooting positions, reloads, and even multiple firearms. This does not mean the round count has to be high. Working on these areas will really improve an officer’s ability to think and shoot well under pressure. Some question how realistic these courses sometimes are and to them I say this: From my experience as a full-time police officer, SWAT team member and competitive shooter, I’ve found that if I can do these well, it makes every other challenge with a gun in my hand seem easy. I realize that this may not always be possible with budgets and rising ammo prices. If this happens to be the case at your agency, I strongly encourage you to get out there and practice on your own. It may one day make a difference.