Defeating the ammunition and budget blues
A four-step approach to maintain firearms standards for officer safety, professionalism and liability avoidance
By Lieutenant Matthew T. Borders
With budgets getting tighter and ammunition harder to find, here’s a four-step approach for departments to maintain firearms standards for officer safety, professionalism and liability avoidance.
1. Conserve ammunition
Courses of fire should address critical skills, such as moving and shooting, shooting from cover, and recovering from unexpected contingencies, such as malfunctions, and weapon transitions. Document these drills over time so you can demonstrate training that provides essential officer survival skills.
Since firearms skills are perishable, firearms training should occur at least twice a year to maintain these skills. One training date should focus on marksmanship and qualification while the other should focus on tactical skills.
Marksmanship and qualification
Create dry fire drills that build marksmanship. Some of these drills should work on the officers getting their weapons out of the holster by starting slow and building speed. The old adage of “slow is smooth and smooth is fast” is true. Have the officers draw their weapon, get it on target and pull the trigger. The instructor can function the slide so the officer can pull the trigger again. This can be repeated, or the officer can holster the weapon and start the drill again. There are many other dry fire drills that exist but do not use too many of them because students can get bored.
Another drill that helps accuracy and uses less ammunition is a hole-for-hole drill. Line the officer up on the three-yard line and have them draw and fire one round on the target at slow speed. The officer remains on target and attempts to hit the same hole the first round left with the next two rounds. This drill emphasizes sight alignment and trigger control and uses very little ammunition.
Have students shoot targets from the 25- and 50-yard line after some of the basic drills. When students realize they can shoot accurately at longer distances by employing good sight alignment, trigger control and manipulation, the closer distances seem much easier and confidence will soar. As confidence soars you will find formerly marginal shooters are more inclined to attend range dates.
Plan the courses of fire before the training date to keep the ammunition count within the budget.
Police1 resource: Great firearms training with low ammo count drills
Tactical firearms training
Sadly, many departments go to the range once a year only to qualify their officers and fail to provide tactical training. This is a huge liability, and the departments are doing their officers a grave disservice in terms of officer survival.
Tactical training is essential. Here you will want to use courses of fire that teach combat instead of marksmanship skills. These skills include moving while shooting, moving then shooting, seeking cover, getting off of the X and working with flashlights. Decision-making courses of fire, such as shoot or don’t shoot, should be conducted during this training. These drills provide officers practice in articulation and teach that weapon discharges are not the only outcome of potentially hostile targets. Departments that use outdoor ranges should schedule training later in the day to accomplish some low-light shooting.
This type of training necessitates a close student to instructor ratios to maximize individual instruction. Some courses require running the course one student at a time for safety.
Box drills allow students to work on move then shoot or you can restructure it to shoot while moving. Allowing students two rounds per target allows you to stress accuracy as part of the drill. The instructor can even run the drill for time and add time for misses to increase stress, introduce competition and push performance levels.
Have barricades on the range and run drills that have the student seeking cover and getting off the X. Incorporate drills simulating urban environments by placing friendly and hostile targets on the range. Many of these drills can be easily accomplished with limited ammunition of 10-15 rounds.
If officers carry patrol rifles or shotguns, weapon transition drills should be part of this training. Design the course of fire around moving with each weapon and then transitioning to the handgun at closer ranges (have the long gun run dry as distance is closed is a good way of forcing transitions). Also, consider having students deploy the weapon the way it is carried. If the long weapon is kept in the trunk of the car have a car on the range and have the students exit the car and obtain the weapon from the trunk.
Incorporate low-light shooting drills. Having shoot or don’t shoot drills where targets must be identified by flashlight simulates real-world scenarios. Also, use drills where the student must reload or malfunction their weapon in low light.
Finally, incorporate non-firing training elements, such as deploying flashlights, into periodic roll call, control tactics and active incident response training.
Police1 resource: How to set up a low light training drill
2. Use of technology
Officers should receive training on force-on-force scenarios and shoot/don't shoot decision-making. The simulators provide this training while using no ammunition.
Review use of force videos and drive training points from them. Many good use-of-force videos can be viewed from media sources, such as YouTube, and they provide valuable training.
Police1 resource: How simulator technology improves police cadet training
3. Sustainment programs
Cleaning up the range provides a valuable commodity, brass. Most brass can be sold. Small departments can collect hundreds of dollars from collecting spent brass and this can be put back into the training budget.
4. Non-firing instructions
A comprehensive firearms program will incorporate more than just shooting. Instructors should address off-duty safety; lead safety; review use of force, firearms general orders, case laws concerning use-of-force; and yearly weapon inspections. Document all these items.
Even if you have limited resources, your training should not be limited. By being selective when creating courses of fire for firearms training, using firearms simulators and developing sustainment programs, you can conduct quality training.
About the author
Lieutenant Matthew Borders is a lieutenant for a mid-sized Police Department in Northern Virginia. He has a total of 23 years in law enforcement and has served four different agencies. Lieutenant Borders has been a Department of Criminal Justice Services-certified General Instructor since 2004 and a certified firearms instructor since 2009. He has developed, created and administered a Firearms Instructor Development Class for the Rappahannock Regional Criminal Justice Academy.