Ready on the left? Ready on the right? Ready on the firing line. Commence firing!
Those words, or something similar, are heard by officers all over the country as they attend their annual mandated firearms qualification. Yes, once or twice each year all officers get the word to report to the range to qualify with their duty weapons. So many of them, for the first time since the last mandatory qualification, pull out the gun cleaning kits to spruce up the old sidearms. Then, with their pistols all clean and properly oiled, a few begin to feel a bit of anxiety creeping up. Suppose I can’t qualify? What happens if my scores aren’t high enough? You know, my eyesight has gotten a little weaker since last year. What if I miss the entire target? Will I lose my job?
Well, those are worries that should never arise because officers should be required, or at least allowed, to shoot more often. Practice by repetition is the key to firearms proficiency. And budget woes should never affect an officer’s ability to defend himself/herself. Yet, ammunition and training time are normally some of the first things to go when funds get tight. But that’s the way it is and that’s the way it’ll probably remain. So cops deal with what they have, which sometimes isn’t much. Still, do departments make the most of what little firearms training time they provide? Easy answer. NO, many of them do not.
Some departments do little more than have their officers line up on the range, wait for the command to fire, and then blast away at stationary paper targets, hoping they’ll punch enough holes in them so they can pass the minimum qualification requirements. Then they call it quits until the next year. But is that enough to survive in today’s increasingly dangerous world? Probably not.
Each week we report the line-of-duty deaths of the officers killed during the preceding week. So far in 2016, 61 officers have been shot and killed, including one just yesterday. That’s a 69% increase over this same time last year. Many of those officers were killed by gunfire during shootouts with armed suspects, NOT in gun battles with stationary paper targets. Now, I’m not saying those officers weren’t properly trained. Nor am I suggesting they didn’t respond appropriately to the threats to their lives. Not at all. Sometimes you do everything right and the worst still happens. What I am offering is that there are numerous techniques and tactics that could and should be taught to each and every officer. Things that could help them in the field.
Classroom time is great, and necessary, and goodness knows there’s a mountain of wonderful books and research material available.
Police Procedure and Investigation, A Guide for Writers, is a how-to, behind the scenes book designed especially for writers. The book can be found in public schools and university libraries all across the world, on the shelves and desks of thousands of writers, including many top, bestselling authors, on the nightstands of fans of police TV shows and people who’re interested in learning about police officers and procedures, in police departments, police academies, and more.
Book “learnin'” is great, however, it’s a must to incorporate hands-on exercises into police training whenever possible. This is also why the Writers’ Police Academy came into being—so that writers can experience the same training as what’s offered to and required of police officers and investigators.
International bestselling author Tami Hoag, Writers’ Police Academy 2016.
As I stated earlier, officers learn some skills best through repetition, and it’s the “over and over again” training that helps officers learn to react almost instinctively to various threats and situations. Then, when/if those events present themselves, officers will revert to their training and react appropriately. Therefore, it is an absolute must that officers spend at least some time training under “threat” situations. After all, suspects on the street are simply not going to stand perfectly still with their hands hanging at their sides so that officers can squeeze off 50 or 60 rounds at them. So why should officers train as if they’re going to someday face a one-dimensional paper bank robber?
Believe me, facing a live person who’s shooting at you is far different than shooting at an ink-blotted paper rectangle. Everything changes when a human suspect pulls the trigger, sending a bullet toward your head. Your brain has to suddenly shift from “it’s only a paper target (paper-man, or flat-man, syndrome)” to HOLY S**T HE’S TRYING TO KILL ME! mode.
Sure, some practicing with stationary targets is necessary. That’s how cops learn the basics. But what else could they do to better prepare themselves for the real bad guys?
Karin Slaughter, Writers’ Police Academy 2015
1. Shoot in low light situations. Not all firefights are going to happen at noon. In fact, many, if not most shooting situations occur at night. So why practice all shooting in the bright sunshine? And practice shooting while holding a flashlight!
2. Tactical reloading. Spend lots of time practicing reloading while under fire (pretend of course). When performing reloading drills, officers should practice discarding/dropping the empty magazine. You do not want your hands full, trying to reload while bullets zip by your head. However, when/if possible, shooters should place the empty magazine where it’s easily accessible for future reloading, if necessary.
3. Practice shooting while using various objects as cover. The practice will then come naturally when in the field. Always use cover!
4. Officers should get into the habit of always facing their target (never turn their backs on the shooter!). However, some departments have the officers first shoot from closer ranges (5 or 7 yards), and then when they’re finished at that distance they turn around and walk back to the next firing point. NO! They should back up to the next point. This instills the habit of always facing their aggressor.
5. Strong and weak hand shooting. Always, always, always practice shooting with either hand. The possibility of entering into a firefight with an injured strong hand is always a possibility. If it does, officers certainly want to be able to at least hold, point, and shoot their firearms with some degree of accuracy.
6. Practice shooting at moving targets. Bad guys do not stand still. Neither do cops when they’re in a firefight. So why always practice shooting at stationary objects?
7. Spend time on firearms training simulators. Simulators are great tools for preparing officers for real-life scenarios. They’re also great for pointing out weaknesses in stressful situations. I’d rather correct my errors in a classroom, not after I’ve caught a couple of rounds to my torso.
Firearms simulations training, Writers’ Police Academy 2010.
International bestselling author Lee Child and world-renowned forensic anthropologist Elizabeth Murray—firearms simulator training, Writers’ Police Academy 2012.
Finally, and this is to the officers out there, practice, practice, practice. Repetition, repetition, repetition! What you do during training is what you’ll do on the street. I guarantee it. So even if your department doesn’t offer extra time on the range, you find somewhere to practice shooting. Your life may soon depend on your ability to use your weapon effectively. Be safe! Your lives matter to a lot of people.