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From the street to the range: Train your officers on a real gunfight

One powerful way to train an officer’s combat mindset on the live-fire range is to recreate an officer-involved shooting


A training session based on a real-world event should begin with a debriefing of the incident.


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By Richard Fairburn, Police1 Columnist

I have yet to find a lawsuit alleging an officer’s improper deadly force actions were the result of a failure to qualify. Instead, the lawsuits revolve around a failure to train — yet many agencies are stuck in the qualification rut when it comes to firearms training. My recommendation is to “qualify” once each year. Every other deadly-force session should be training.

A training session can be devoted to developing standardized skills like marksmanship or mechanics (reloading, malfunction). The third gunfight training element I describe in my book “Building a Better Gunfighter” is mindset.

One powerful way to train an officer’s combat mindset on the live-fire range is to recreate an officer-involved shooting.

The debrief

A training session based on a real-world event should begin with a debriefing of the incident. Our goal is to learn from an officer’s incident and possibly improve on that officer’s performance, not judge him or her. We go into our re-creation with the massive advantage of time to analyze what happened. The involved officers had to tackle the problem cold, so we must give them wide latitude in our analysis.

Each group should take a few minutes to review the incident and come up with their “best” solution. Perhaps they would choose to move to a cover point rather than duke it out with an adversary on open ground. Perhaps a more alert officer could have had his or her weapon in hand sooner, before the threat took them by surprise. Often, more than one possible solution will be developed.

The live-fire exercise

Moving to the live-fire range, duplicate the event as closely as possible in terms of distance, target(s), available cover and lighting. Pre-planning a response trains the officers to think on their feet, and their subconscious mid-brains will record the event as a possible solution to something they may face in the future.

Once all officers in the training class have run the live-fire exercise a couple of times, they will naturally come up with new solutions based on their performance in the first runs. Give the officers as many repetitions through the event as possible, within your time and ammunition budget. Each run lays down an ever deeper memory track on their brain’s “hard drive,” conditioning their mindset.

Example: ‘Dozier Drill’

An example of a recreation is Jeff Cooper’s famous “Dozier Drill.” On December 17, 1981, U.S. Army Brigadier Gen. James L. Dozier was the deputy chief of staff for NATO’s Southern European land forces, stationed in Verona, Italy. Despite being warned of kidnapping threats against NATO officers by the Italian Red Brigade (Marxist terrorists who had previously kidnapped and killed an Italian prime minister), Dozier had no firearms in his apartment.

That evening, at about 1800 hours, eight terrorists arrived at Dozier’s apartment posing as plumbers. Four or five of the terrorists entered the apartment, where one removed a submachinegun from a tool bag to effect the capture. In other words, a few seconds elapsed before the terrorists had a fully ready firearm, giving Dozier a chance to engage them — had he been armed.

Cooper’s recreation used five steel pepper popper targets online abreast, spaced about one meter apart. In the original version, a role player on-line with the shooter would remove a handgun from a tool bag and load the weapon as a measure of the time available to deck all five targets. Putting down all five targets in under five seconds with a handgun, starting holstered with both hands held shoulder-high in the surrender position, is good performance for cops.

The distance to the targets has grown from the original 7 yards over the years in practical pistol competition to avoid ties among the very best shooters. Top competitors can easily do it cleanly (five hits for five shots) in under three seconds, which is why the distances are often extended to add difficulty.

To wrap up Gen. Dozier’s story, he was rescued by an elite Italian SWAT team after 42 days of captivity. All of the terrorists were captured, Dozier suffered no serious injuries, and not a single shot was fired.

Diversify your training

Once you have successfully recreated a couple of officer-involved shootings during your live-fire training, kick it up a notch. Do it with multiple officers and a mix of handguns and patrol rifles. I can think of a couple recent ambush incidents in Dallas and Baton Rouge that would tax your best operators.

About the author
Richard Fairburn has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience in both Illinois and Wyoming, working patrol, investigations and administrative assignments. Richard has also served as a Criminal Intelligence Analyst and as the Section Chief of a major academy’s Firearms Training Unit and Critical Incident training program. He has a B.S. in Law Enforcement Administration from Western Illinois University and was the Valedictorian of his recruit class at the Illinois State Police Academy. He has published more than 100 feature articles and two books: Police Rifles and Building a Better Gunfighter.

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