Monday, October 17, 2011

Firearms training: Supplementing live-fire drills

Patrol officers
may not be the most “tactical” members of a department, but they should
absolutely be the most formidable pistol fighters

On average, at least one law enforcement officer is murdered
every week in this nation. Most of these officers are assigned to patrol
and are attacked without warning while handling “routine” calls or
self-initiated enforcement contacts. No clearer example of this can be found than the first two of the four officers murdered in Oakland,
California in March, 2009. These officers were conducting a traffic
enforcement stop and had no prior warning of the assault that would end
their lives and change their family’s lives forever. As in so many
cases, neither officer was able to return the fight to the suspect
before being murdered. Patrol officers are more likely than
others — including SWAT officers — to be involved in a sudden and
unexpected close-quarters attack. Because of this fact, patrol officers
should be given consistent training specific for the types of assaults
they most often encounter. In addition to being mentally prepared for
such an assault, patrol officers must master the skills necessary to
quickly and effectively fire hits into a suspect suddenly attempting to
murder them. Having served on a SWAT Team for 13 years, I
absolutely understand the need for tactical operators to train as
frequently as possible. However, statistics show that very few SWAT
operators are murdered each year. There are a number of reasons for this
statistic, but the most obvious reason to me is deterrence. Very few
suspects are willing to attack a team of eight to ten operators knocking
down their door sporting balaclavas and AR-platform firearms. Even
violent suspects faced with this situation will usually choose to live
and fight (perhaps one of us at a time) some other day. Patrol is
the law enforcement assignment in which the officer is tasked with
seeking out or responding to the worst and most unpredictable in society
on a daily basis. They usually do this work on their own, or certainly
without the built-in deterrence of a tactical team as their cover.
Therefore, patrol officers must receive the most effective firearms
training available, particularly firearms training with their handgun.
Patrol officers may not be the most “tactical” members of a department,
but they should absolutely be the most formidable pistol fighters. My
philosophy is great in theory, but when I make these points to classes
around the country, I frequently hear the same replies. Instructors want
to offer better training and patrol officers wish to train more often.
However, cuts to the training budget have made it impossible to offer or
obtain additional training. Certainly, the current economic
environment required budget cuts and perhaps even future cuts for many
agencies. But as the recent 30 percent increase in law enforcement
assaults and homicides makes clear, there has been no matching reduction
in assailants willing to murder police officers. Reducing already
inadequate or infrequent firearms training is a gamble that no agency
should take. Rather than argue that point any further in this
article, I will instead suggest that effective firearms training — at
least training aimed at the development of skills necessary to prevail
against a sudden close-quarter attack — can be affordable and effective.
Effective and Inexpensive Dry-Fire Practice Boxers
spend a majority of training time outside of the sparing ring — their
version of live-fire training. Skills are developed with the use of a
heavy bag, speed bag, or at times, open space for conditioning, foot
work, and perhaps shadow boxing. Law enforcement firearms training can
and should develop a similar training model, one in which a great deal
of training is provided away from live-fire training. Off-range
training should be a part of every training program and should include
work on the draw stroke, the flash front-sight focus, and even trigger
control. The following suggestions are not intended to replace live-fire
training. Rather, they are simple and cost-effective methods to
supplement live-fire drills. 1.) Training on the draw stroke —
With regard to the close distance of most gunfights, an officer’s
ability to draw quickly and shoot effectively, while moving laterally at
the same time, can be far more important than their shooting skills.
But the speed and skill needed for an incredibly fast and effective
response can only be developed with frequent practice on the draw
stroke. Every officer should have a mastery of the four -or five-step
pistol presentation. They should then drill on this technique often
enough so that if suddenly in a gunfight, they are never more than a
week or two from their last practice session. Every police officer
should train often enough so that their firearm is pointing at the chest
of the suspect in around one second. A time under a second is even
better. There are countless examples of officers murdered while
struggling to get their weapon into a gunfight. Situational awareness is
crucial, but a fast and effective draw stroke is equally important.
Inert duty firearms or plastic replica firearms are perfect for these
drills — Plastic weapons can be purchased for less than $40 per unit. 2.) Simunition Firearms —
Simunition and Airsoft “firearms” can take presentation training
one-step further. Valuable both in scenario based and tactical”
training, these airsoft “firearms” are also excellent for speed to target
training. Officers can practice their draw stroke, flash front-sight
focus, and even their combat shooting skills, without the use of a
firearms training facility. Simunition systems can be expensive for some
agencies, but you can purchase a great deal of Airsoft equipment for a
few hundred dollars.3.) Shooting Simulators —
Shooting simulators are another excellent (albeit more expensive,
training tool. These systems are primarily used by agencies to provide
use-of-force and decision-making training. However, these simulators are
also excellent for developing an officer’s reaction to a sudden assault
through speed to target drills. A number of companies now offer
portable simulators that are reasonably priced and that can be set up
just about anywhere in your department. If Not Now, When? It
will be years before law enforcement agencies will be back to enjoying
surplus budgets. Perhaps those days are gone forever. In the meantime,
the recent rise in law-enforcement homicides tells us that we don’t have
the time to wait for more money, more support from agency leaders, or
even more live-fire training. Fortunately, agencies can help an officer
to greatly improve their ability to prevail in an armed assault through a
supplemental program of dry-fire practice.

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