Relevant and realistic firearms training on a tight budget

By constantly visualizing, reading, and listening, you can get the most out of your force-on-force training investment when you get there

The courts have ruled — on numerous occasions — that our firearms training must be relevant and realistic. We could cite the court cases here, but any firearms instructor worth his or her weight knows what they are. The problem arises when those same firearms instructors try to implement what they consider to be relevant and realistic training on the range. Some departments, usually based on outdated state qualification courses, have determined that firing several rounds from the twenty-five yard line in thirty seconds is relevant and realistic.

If you look at the statistics from the FBI on officer assaults and murders, you soon realize that this is not the case. More than half of all officers are killed at less than five feet, with roughly 75 percent of officers being killed at twenty-one feet or less. Think about your own agency. When was the last time someone from your department was involved in a shooting at 75 feet? What about a shooting at 75 feet, with a handgun, where you had 30 seconds to slowly squeeze off several rounds at the bad guy?

Do officer involved shootings happen at this distance? Sure, but they are far and few between. Besides, that’s what shotguns and rifles were made for — to reach out and touch that bad guy.

In order to make your firearms training relevant and realistic, you must add in the element of stress. Under stress, an officer will not perform as he did on his best day on the range, but as he did on his worst day on the range. This means we need to train hard and frequently to make our worst day of training better than the bad guy’s best day. In order to do this, our training must encompass every situation, scenario, and every possible confrontation you can imagine. By doing this, you will prepare yourself real life out on the street.

That sounds easier said than done in these tough economic times, but there are ways to train that won’t send your administrators into a tailspin. The most inexpensive of these — and the one that can be practiced most frequently — is mental rehearsal. Put yourself into various situations through the use of visualization.

As you drive past that liquor store on your beat, visualize the store being robbed by two masked men. Mentally rehearse in your mind exactly what you would do. Check the area for positions of cover and concealment. Think about what you would say to dispatch, and where you would station arriving backup units so that they could best utilize cover and concealment. Play the scenario out in your mind with multiple endings.

How would you handle the situation if the bad guys give up, or if they decide to shoot it out instead of giving up peacefully? Check the area for safe backstops for shooting, and check for possible crossfire situations where you would place the arriving backup units. By doing this, you will be mentally prepared to handle the situation, should it occur. This tactic of mental rehearsal/visualization should be practiced for all high-risk locations within your jurisdiction. Banks, check cashing stores, the Stop-N-Rob convenient stores, liquor stores, drug stores, and anything you have determined to be “at risk” for a possible confrontation.

Next on the list of relatively inexpensive training is to read everything you can get your hands on, both good and bad. Why bad? Because you can learn from others’ mistakes. By reading everything you can get your hands on you’ll be able to eventually determine what is bad, and weed that out of your training, and be able to explain to others why they shouldn’t perform that certain tactic.

This job is all about common sense, and you need to apply that common sense when reading about this job. If an officer recounts in an article how he placed himself in jeopardy by the use of a poor tactic, then you’ll realize that you shouldn’t be using that same poor tactic. Even if that same poor tactic is one that someone else recommends in a different article. By applying common sense, you can determine for yourself whether or not the tactic is a poor one, or an appropriate one. But you cannot make that determination until you have a vast database of knowledge that comes from reading everything you can get your hands on to include articles, books, and online resources.

Along with reading everything you can get your hands on, watch everything you can get your hands on — training videos, dash cam videos, store surveillance videos, everything. Once again, take that dose of common sense when watching a training tape. With dash cam or surveillance videos, watch the suspect’s actions for the telltale signs — those precursors of an imminent attack which are almost always present. If it’s a dash cam video, watch the officer’s tactics. Ask yourself if you’ve made some of the same mistakes, or if the officer in the video handled the situation better than you would have. You want to constantly critique yourself and your tactics. How else do you expect to improve if you’re not willing to constantly critique yourself?

The next thing on our inexpensive training list is to talk to the veterans, to those who have been there. Learn from other’s mistakes, and positive outcomes. Even “war stories” have a purpose, if you’re willing to really listen. Sure, some guys go a little overboard when speaking of their exploits, but by applying common sense you can weed that out for yourself. If you’re willing to listen you’ll hear some of these officers admit their mistakes, or how they would have handled the situation differently, or how “next time we deal with that a-hole” we’ll handle it differently knowing his history.

You’ll also hear how things went well, how the plan you threw together worked, or how we can make it even better the next time — because there is always a next time. Every once in awhile you’d get a new supervisor that would try to break these bull sessions up, because they didn’t realize the benefits that these discussions have. By talking to the older guys on the job, the younger guys can have that same shared experience to grow their database of knowledge.

The more experience you have — whether it’s through time on the job, through reading, watching videos, or talking to veterans — the more efficient you’ll be in your tactics and be able to more easily handle the situation under stress out on the street. It’s just like that tactical toolbox that we most often speak of. The more tools in your toolbox, the more situations, or jobs, you can handle. The more tools, or experiences, you have, the safer you’ll be.

All of this should culminate with some force-on-force training. The initial price of training does go up when doing this, but by doing all of these other things you will ultimately get more for your money. Force-on-force training allows you to take what you’ve read, seen in a video, or talked about with the older guys, and apply it to a realistic, fluid, scenario. In the end, force-on-force training saves you time and money as it saves officers lives, and prevents injuries. Officers are able to take what they’ve learned in training, and apply it to the real world situation they may find themselves in out on the street.

The harder you train, the safer you’ll be. Train to learn what your strengths and weaknesses are, and then train harder to make both of them better. How you handle a hot call out on the street is directly related to how much you’ve trained for that situation.

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