Cops aren't shooters, but they should be
Many officers fail to get the training they need to be truly proficient with their firearms
Ask any little kid, or nearly any adult for that matter, to envision a police officer and describe what they see. Dollars to doughnuts, they will describe a man in uniform with a badge and a gun. The law enforcement officer with a gun on his hip is an iconic vision of Americana, yet far too many of our modern officers fail to get the training they need to be truly proficient with their firearms. As a result, the law enforcement hit rate remains alarmingly low.
The massive amount of time, money and training required getting a new officer, deputy or trooper on the road stretches increasingly tight budgets. Add in all of the other training mandated to maintain certification and it is easy to see why continuing firearms training is usually the first and deepest cut. Some individuals may rationalize that many of those other tools and skills are more frequently used by law enforcement; therefore, they should hold a higher priority on the training schedule.
With the spike in ambush attacks against law enforcement, extensive training with firearms is more important than ever. Of all the tools available to the modern officer, the firearm is the most devastating from a personnel and community perspective. The decision to use, or not to use, deadly force always has physical, psychological and financial consequences.
No firearms training standards
The quantity and quality of firearms training varies greatly. Some agencies provide extensive and regular, high-quality training. Others simply require their officers to qualify once or twice a year providing little to no instruction or practice time. These quasi-trainers are the most concerning individuals.
First, qualifications are not training. It is a test required by an agency or other regulating authority to ensure each officer meets the minimum standards required to retain their law enforcement certification. While offering trigger time and rounds down range, qualification holds no training value.
Agencies that consider qualification as training may be getting shooters who only meet the minimum standards, and since we don’t know what we don’t know, these officers may think they are receiving the necessary training. An agency that conducts qualifications more often than mandated is wasting precious time, money and ammunition that could be better spent in actual firearms training so their officers can perform to higher standards.
There are many reasons why quality firearms training may get reduced. The first thing is usually cost. Firearms training, especially in house training, is expensive. There is the cost of ammo, overtime wages or loss of street time to train, equipment maintenance, range facility maintenance and ongoing education required to train instructors. The logistics of scheduling can also be a genuine concern for agencies already struggling to maintain adequate staffing. Lastly, some administrators fail to see the value of providing training above what is mandated.
It’s a choice
In today’s political climate, taxpayers cannot, and should not, be expected to fund advanced training for every law enforcement officer. Nor does every officer have an interest in receiving advanced training. We all have our own life priorities and interests. But consider this. You chose a career that requires you to carry a weapon and repeatedly put yourself in situations when you may need to use it. Don’t you feel you owe it to your loved ones to be as prepared as you can be? And, are you as best prepared as you can be? By these standards, is the training provided to you adequately? If not, it is your responsibility to get the training and trigger time you need.
If you decide to invest in improving your firearms skills on your own time and dime, there are numerous quality private training facilities and instructors, as well as specific law enforcement training organizations available to you. If that is the route you choose, do your homework. Just because someone can shoot and hangs a shingle, doesn’t make them a good teacher. We have already established that firearms training is expensive, so you want to get your money’s worth. It may also be a tax deduction that you can file on your income taxes if your department does not reimburse you – check with your accountant and keep your receipts.
Cost-friendly, alternative training
If you cannot afford to provide your own training, consider playing the games. Groups like IDPA, USPSA and 3-Gun are a great way to get some quality trigger time at a low cost. It’s not tactical training. But it is quality trigger time that allows you to work on putting accurate rounds on target in compressed time frames.
Unfortunately, some within law enforcement minimize the value of participation in these organizations. I have heard all the excuses: “It’s not realistic,” “It’s just a game." While these are true, they are not good reasons not to participate. What it ultimately comes down to is ego.
Generally, the public believes that because police officers carry a gun for a living, they are all good shooters. For the reasons mentioned above, this is not always true. Therefore, it is difficult for many officers to put their pride at risk and participate in a match with civilian shooters who regularly shoot above their skill level. However, this is exactly what I am suggesting you do.
Participation in these events will improve your shooting performance. You will send a lot of rounds downrange and do so under the added stress of the rules, a shot timer and the spirit of competition. No, this is not combat stress, but it is stress. Learning to perform under such conditions will increase your comfort and competence with your firearms.
These competitions enforce marksmanship accountability, so the ammo you are burning is well spent. Additionally, the people you will meet at these matches are some of the nicest and most generous folks around. Although it is a competition, your fellow shooters will welcome you as a new participant and will be willing to do what they can to help you succeed. It may not be training in the strictest sense, but receiving the tips and tricks along the way, if you are receptive to them, will broaden your shooting prowess.
An honest self-assessment
I implore you to make an honest assessment of your firearms training. Are you satisfied with the quality and quantity of the training being provided to you by your agency? Is your department training producing accomplished and well-rounded shooters, or are they happy with minimum standards? Do you feel you would be better served by some additional trigger time?
You owe it to yourself, your coworkers and your family to get the best training you can afford. And when cost is a consideration, take a serious look into playing the games. You will receive some quality trigger time, have a lot of fun and enjoy the company of some of the most dedicated law enforcement supporters out there. Just accept that you won’t be the best shooter on the range, at least not in the beginning, because cops aren’t shooters…but they should be.
This article, originally published 03/17/2017, has been updated.