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10 firearms training drills for off-duty carry

Police officers must train on the skills and abilities that can help win an off-duty or non-uniform deadly encounter


An example of successful execution of the ‘who do you love’ drill.

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There isn’t any doubt that the threat to America’s law enforcement officers has increased, and that we need to redouble our training for both on-duty and off-duty threats. We need to continue the practice of semper vigilis.

The following training drills for off-duty carry – which are also appropriate for all non-uniformed assignments – are culled from numerous firearm instructors who all instruct (or own) professional schools and have been range masters at their respective agencies. These professionals include John Marrs of Spartan Training Resources and Dan Gray and Gene Whisenand of Trident Firearms Academy, as well as Vince Bizzini of Valley Defense Consulting. Their combined experience is more than 120 years of patrol and firearms, plus a little military service.

For all of these drills, use adequate safety staff and safety measures, understand the drill and do dry runs long before attempting the training. You will note that most of these drills do not have a high ammo count, and with each one, you can work on fundamental skills and abilities that can help you win an off-duty or non-uniform deadly encounter.

1. Practice language skills

Yes, this is for range training, not just briefing training. Words and language delivery can affect the outcome of an encounter. In an off-duty encounter, officers should use the psychology of language and action to create compliance, pre-program the situation, or prevent tragic “blue on blue” incidents.

The psychology of language is an entire science, but in this venue, we can create a few rules, such as give orders with a plosive consonant. A plosive consonant is made with the body by cutting off air, either by using the lips (bilabial) or in the palate area (velar). Telling someone to “stop” or “show me your hands” does not command the attention as well as orders such as “get back,” “get down,” and “drop the gun.” For the same reason, deputies should not say, “Sheriff’s Department” when getting someone’s attention. They should say, “Police.”

Legally defensible effective language should include “Call the police,” even if you are the police, albeit not in uniform. The psychology here is the fact that every witness, including the aggressor, will associate the phrase with “probably the good guy,” based on the user’s willingness to confront the authorities. When witnesses are questioned later, they will remember this, even if they do not remember the words.

Remember, the ego has to go away here because an off-duty officer flashing a badge is really a guy with a gun holding another metal object. The uniformed anybody is in charge until the dust settles. The non-uniformed officer with the gun, baseball cap and other objects that likely make him or her unrecognizable needs to comply with every order given. They should expect to be met at gunpoint and will likely be handcuffed. The non-uniformed officer needs to repeat a single phrase when others arrive: “Police officer! Don’t shoot!” Learn to shout it when training for off-duty encounters. When the real incident arrives, repeat it until your beat buddies tell you that you sound like a broken record.

All legally defensible language must include a cause and effect and be void of ego-induced language. Do not say stupid things like “Stop, or this is going to hurt,” because it will hurt your employment status and pocketbook. Rather your language should include, “Don’t make me shoot you.” Yes, telling a fighting suspect to “stop resisting” is excellent.

2. Assess your carry system

Your carry system should be capable of delivering a close-quarter hostage rescue shot. Said differently, you should be able to quickly deliver a sinus cavity shot within five yards with confidence. To train for this, shoot your gun at 10 yards within a four-inch target. This is pass/fail. If you cannot do this, you need to find a gun/ammo/training system that will allow you to do this consistently.

3. Practice distraction strikes

A distraction strike is any defensive strike used to regain control of an encounter. In this drill, the officer stands at contact distance with the target in a bladed, aggressive stance. On the fire command, the shooting hand reaches for the gun while the non-shooting hand strikes a target anywhere north of the base of the neck, accompanied by the shooter’s verbal command.

As the gun is drawn, the striking hand gets out of the way, either by touching the head or chest, depending on the system. The officer fires two or more quick shots. Practice this drill without the firearm first to ensure safe delivery of the shots.

4. Draw while moving to cover

This is done at a 3-5 yard distance, untimed. Small traffic cones or range supplied barricades are used for cover. The fire command is “threat left” or “threat right.” On the command, the shooter draws while moving left or right toward cover. The officer is successful when they fire from behind cover.

5. The focal continuum drill

When faced with a deadly threat, your vision will naturally focus on the threat. To make good hits, you must bring that focus back to the front sight. Quickly working through the focal continuum (from your eyeball to infinity) is something you can train your eye to do with practice. The faster you can change focus, the faster you will make good hits. This drill is intended to train your eye to change focus from far-to-near and near-to-far.

For this drill, you will need two targets per shooter and a pistol with two rounds (round count is multiplied for each time you run the drill).

The shooter has one target at a range of five yards and another at 10 yards. The shooter starts holding the pistol at the Count 4 position (two-handed hold directly in front to chest) with vision focused on the nearest target.

On command, the shooter lifts the gun between eye and target. As the gun enters peripheral vision, the shooter changes his or her focus back to the front sight and fires one round when sights are on target. The shooter’s focus then changes to the far target. The gun follows and as it comes onto target, vision changes focus back to the front sight, and one shot is fired at the second target when the sights are aligned.

When done properly, this drill will teach shooters to change the focus of their eye from threat to sights quickly. It is important to start slow, even saying aloud to the student “target, sights, target, sights” as they run the drill. Going too fast will have the student forgetting the purpose of the drill and it turns into a speed shooting exercise.

6. The ‘sugar cookie’ drill

The shooter starts on his back with the coach standing in front of him ‘wrestling’ with his feet. On the fire command, the coach moves off behind the shooter on the support side. The shooter then draws and fires from the compromised position. When done on a dirt range, the participant ends up looking like a sugar cookie, hence the name.

7. The ‘who do you love’ drill

This is a hostage rescue drill done from 10-12 feet. The fire command is “left” or “right.” The shooter has to hit the left or right hostage-taker. See the accompanying photo for an example of successful execution of this drill.

8. Shove BOB

This drill uses a paper target and a Century Body Opponent Bag (BOB). The student stands at arm’s length from a BOB. There is a paper target behind BOB. On the fire command, the shooter shoves the BOB over, steps back and fires on the paper target behind BOB while giving solid verbal commands.

Do not shoot BOB. Practice shoving one over before this drill.

9. Shooting while dining

The shooter begins seated at a table. On the threat command, the shooter engages a target three to five yards away. After each engagement, the shooter rotates to another one of the four seats at the table. The idea is to train the shooter to draw and shoot at the same target from each of the four positions.

10. Simulate an adrenaline dump: The wrestle/engage drill

The purpose here is to simulate a disengagement/shooting scenario. This requires a trainer with a stopwatch, adequate safety officers and a training partner for each shooter.

Begin by pairing shooters with coaches. Shooters and coaches face each other and place their hands on each other’s shoulders. For three minutes, they simply have to push, while keeping their feet moving all the time. They do not have to wrestle, but they must push against each other for three minutes. When the time has elapsed, officers must begin to shoot their standard qualification within one minute of their three-minute session.

Stay safe out there, and keep training.

This article, originally published 01/04/2016, has been updated.

Lindsey Bertomen is a retired police officer and retired military small arms trainer. He teaches criminal justice at Hartnell College in Salinas, California. He has a BS in Criminal Justice and an MS in Online Teaching and Learning. Lindsey has taught shooting techniques for over a decade. His articles on firearms tactics have appeared in print for over a decade. Lindsey enjoys competing in shooting sports, running, and cycling events.