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6 key reasons why police departments should transition to pistol-mounted red dot sights

Red dots: Helping shooters build a repeatable process which leads to predictable results


Sponsored by Walther Arms

By Jerrod Fraley for Police1 BrandFocus

Change is often a very difficult thing to get behind without fully understanding how the change betters a process, product or output. Law enforcement officers are by and large creatures of habit who are resistant to change. Pistol-mounted red dots are one of those changes that can place law enforcement officers outside their comfort zone, but once they spend a little time with them, they find their overall performance and confidence greatly improves.

Many law enforcement agencies are transitioning to pistol-mounted red dot sights for increased accuracy, among other reasons.
Many law enforcement agencies are transitioning to pistol-mounted red dot sights for increased accuracy, among other reasons. (Walther Arms)

Here are six key reasons why police departments should transition to pistol-mounted red dot sights.

1.  Keeps the threat in focus

This is where the discussion of focal planes and target/threat focused sighted fire comes into play. Our eyes are incredible at processing information, but they are unable to place refined, hard focus on multiple things at once. We instinctively focus on intended targets or perceived threats as we go through our normal daily routines, and it shouldn’t be any different when shooting a pistol.

For example, when driving a car, we don’t watch the front edge of the hood while the road (target) is blurry in the background. Instead, we give hard focus on the road ahead of us and simply guide the car where we want it to go. When a quarterback throws a football to a receiver, he doesn’t focus on the football in his hand as it is being thrown while the receiver is out of focus, but rather he gives hard focus on the receiver and accurately throws the ball where he is looking. The exact same single focal plane approach should be applied to shooting.

In lethal force encounters, law enforcement officers are required to positively identify a threat and act within a split second. This requires a single focal plane approach, giving hard focus to the perceived threat. The pistol-mounted red dot allows our eyes to keep the threat in clear focus, and then simply overlay the red dot onto it and press the trigger. This eliminates the old adage of “equal height, equal light” alignment for traditional iron sights and the three focal plane approach. Utilizing a sighting scheme that requires three focal planes where the target/threat is blurry is a counterintuitive process to achieve acceptable accuracy when fractions of a second matter.

2.  Increased accuracy

Acceptable accuracy is the ability to deliver rounds on target within a preferred area based on the given time, distance and severity of the situation at hand. Red dots allow the shooter to utilize either a gross sight picture at close distances or a refined sight picture at greater distances to successfully achieve acceptable accuracy. While many understand and agree that red dots vastly outperform traditional iron sights at distance, there is still an argument by some as to how “fast and accurate” they are within the confined spaces of a CQB lethal force encounter.

At close range (3-7 yards), the pistol-mounted red dot can be used in several ways to reliably and consistently give the shooter an acceptably accurate shot on target within a very tight time constraint. Seeing the dot in the center of the window and placing it within the center of the target is the most optimal and accurate sight package attainable. But, as time constraints and stress become more extreme, the shooter’s ability to fully refine their sight picture lessens and they must take a more gross sight picture. With this in mind, the shooter may reference the red dot housing or window as their “sights” while continuing to keep clear focus on the target/threat to remain completely and acceptably accurate.

Learn more about the Walther PDP, which comes manufacturer-ready to accept a variety of red dot sights:

Walther PDP "Your Duty to be Ready" (Full Video) from Walther Arms on Vimeo.

3.  Efficiency and refinement

When discussing how pistol-mounted red dots make shooters more efficient, you must break down the grip and presentation of the pistol. By refining and removing any unnecessary movements or inconsistencies within the grip and presentation of the pistol, the shooter builds a repeatable process, which in turn leads to predictable results. The red dot teaches shooters how to build a proper and successful master grip so that the dot presents itself to the shooter’s eyes predictably in the same manner each time. Traditional iron sights have a tendency to allow inconsistencies in the grip to be forgiven as the sights remain visible within the shooter’s peripheral vision and can be adjusted during the presentation of the pistol onto the target. Pistol-mounted red dots force the shooter to refine their grip and presentation by removing all inconsistencies, otherwise the dot is not visible within the window once presented onto the target.

4.  Greater field of view

By utilizing a red dot on a pistol, the shooter is able to keep both eyes open and focused on the intended target or threat while processing all necessary information during the engagement. Traditional iron sights are typically taught with a front sight focus approach causing the shooter to “lose” information pertinent to the lethal force encounter. When overlaying the red dot onto the intended target, the single focal point approach allows the shooter’s eyes to take in the entire field of view both through the optic window and around it without any restrictions. With traditional iron sights, the shooter typically gives priority of the visual focus to the front sight, causing the target to go into a soft, blurred focus and ultimately lose the visual cues of the target below the front sight.

5.  Corrects for diminished eyesight

Officers with diminished or fleeting acuity in their eyesight have astounding confidence in their accuracy when using a red dot over traditional iron sights. Because they can use all of their energy in focusing on the clearest possible image of their target, they can simply overlay the red dot and press the trigger with extreme confidence that it will impact where they are intending it to.

6.  Instant feedback for self-diagnosis

The red dot is the most valuable tool for instant feedback into what is happening when shooting. Any errors, inconsistencies or issues the shooter is having that would normally remain unseen to them with traditional iron sights are now instantly visible with the red dot in real time. The red dot shows what is occurring as the trigger is pulled; did it stay in place where the shooter is aiming as the shot broke, or did it move due to poor grip and trigger pull? It also shows how the gun is behaving in recoil. This will show whether the structure of the shooter’s grip creates a predictable return of the dot after recoil or if it has an inconsistent return into the window from all different angles. The red dot simply magnifies any human input within the shooting process and allows for self-diagnosis and better results.

A Few Policy Considerations

Unlike some firearms that are direct milled for one specific optic, the Walther PDP can accept red dot sights from multiple providers.
Unlike some firearms that are direct milled for one specific optic, the Walther PDP can accept red dot sights from multiple providers. (Walther Arms)

When preparing to implement a successful red dot program into your police department it is imperative to build a policy that is well-thought-out. Some things to consider when building a policy are the firearm, the optic, maintenance and training.

The first thing to consider is the firearm itself. Is the firearm optics ready, like the Walther PDP, where it comes ready from the manufacturer to accept multiple red dot options? Or does the firearm need the slide to be direct milled for one specific optic of choice? Both of these options have their pros and cons.

The next consideration is which optic(s) are approved for duty use. There are two types of pistol-mounted red dots: open vs closed emitter. After looking into which type is preferred, the manufacturer, housing material and design, battery life, etc. needs to be discussed.  Don’t forget to include holster options in the decision process, as some holster companies may not provide options for the firearm and optic combination the department has chosen. 

Once the firearm, optic and holster have been approved, the installation, maintenance and training aspects of the policy must be considered. Who will be responsible for the installation? How often will there be inspections/maintenance? How will the in-service training and qualifications be structured?

The red dot was not designed to replace proper shooting fundamentals and may not be the best option for every shooter, but I firmly believe it is an incredible tool that truly enhances law enforcement officers’ abilities, performance and confidence. Making that transition may seem like a daunting task, but there are an incredible amount of resources to assist in the decision-making process. Top trainers and firearms experts at Walther Arms Defense Division, including Jim Dexter of Tactically Sound, can guide your department to a successful deployment of pistol-mounted red dot sights

About the author

Jerrod Fraley is an active-duty patrol officer in Ohio. His assignments have included patrol, detective, FTO, regional SWAT team member and training coordinator, as well as serving as a member of his department's training staff. In addition to his primary duties, he is also a member of the (Ohio Tactical Officers Association) Red Team Instructor Cadre, where he teaches basic and advance SWAT and firearms courses across the state.

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