Why training police merely to qualify isn’t enough

Our training should be designed to simulate — as closely as possible — real-life encounters

The latest statistics provided by the FBI in their Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted Report — LEOKA — are from 2012. In that year, 48 Law enforcement officers were murdered in America. Of that number, 44 were killed with a firearm — that’s 91.6 percent.

The same report showed that the average age of officers killed was 38, and that they had an average of 12 years on the job. This made me wonder, “How much time on a range did they have?”

I know that in my state, a minimum of one hour each year in qualification is all that is required to prove proficiency. I then began to think, “How many hours after showing ‘proficiency’ those did these officers actually spend training for a gunfight?”

Winning Is Everything
I use the term “win” deliberately. It’s been my experience that many agencies train officers to qualify, but not to win a gunfight. I don’t want our students to merely survive a gunfight —I want them to win it. 
Think about what it means to you to win a gunfight.

I recently attended a class presented by Greg Bettis of the Holy Springs (Georgia) Police Department. Greg teaches a class that I and all of my staff instructors — and we’ve taken it twice — call “Hard Lessons for Law Enforcement.”

In his training, Greg talks about training for the street — that we as trainers take a good hard look at what the training we are delivering is designed to do. If our training programs are designed to simply get a student through, then the training is wasted. 

Our training should be designed to simulate — as closely as possible — real-life encounters. This develops skills that will translate into winning on the street. 

Even if those skills are slow in coming, at least a student has mentally been in the fight. This reminds me of a saying I heard somewhere: “The body will not go where the mind has never been.”

Greg walks students through two well-known shootings — notably, the Newhall shootings of four CHP troopers in 1970, and the Miami shootout with the FBI in 1986. As a result of those walkthroughs, my staff and I created specific training scenarios replicating those shootouts and put our students through them. We also developed training based on the murder of the four Lakewood (Wash.) officers who were sitting in a coffee shop in 2011. 

A Trainer’s True Mission
These classes require students to move, shoot, reload, and communicate — something seldom done on the range with only turning targets and a time limit. That is low-stress compared to the fast moving dynamic pace of a real gunfight. Proper use of cover and concealment is taught and must be demonstrated as well as shooting accuracy.

In the class, we challenge everything we as an industry have ever taught about how to win a gunfight. We force the students into auditory and visual exclusion. I will not describe specific drills in a public forum, but please feel free to contact me for more details.

Remember what it means for your officers to win. Embark upon a program to get them there. Start off slow and increase tempo — adding induced stress as skills improve. Never lose sight of the fact that as a police trainer, your students’ safety is your first concern. Develop innovative drills that take students to where they have never been tactically before.

You’ll ruffle feathers along the way, but stay the course. At the end of it all, our job as instructors is to give our students knowledge. That knowledge will lead to skills, and those skills will provide the ability to win. 

If we are not doing that, we’re not doing our job — we’re merely training our officers to qualify.

And that, my brothers and sisters, is not enough.

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