Firearms qualifications: Is your agency doing too many?
More qualifications mean more opportunities for failure
The typical standard and accepted practice in law enforcement for conducting firearms qualifications is once per year. Yet many agencies continue to conduct or mandate firearms qualifications 2-4 times a year, depending on the weapon system.
Although some of these multi-qualifications may be mandated by a state-level commission, many of them are self-mandated within the agency and can be changed.
Firearms qualification is a test. It’s a test that many officers stress out about because the outcome of the test may impact their job. And if the agency doesn’t provide adequate police firearms training every year, then that increases the stress level for officers because they know their skills have diminished unless they conducted firearms practice on their own time.
Not representative of performance during a deadly force encounter
Firearms qualifications are a test of marksmanship and weapon manipulation, they are not representative of how an officer will perform in a deadly force encounter.
There are numerous factors in a deadly force encounter that cannot be replicated in a qualification course of fire. So putting officers through multiple qualifications each year will not better prepare them for a deadly force encounter. And, firearms instructors cannot train or coach officers during a qualification because it’s a test, that would be cheating.
Finally, you can’t put every firearms-related skillset that an officer should be practicing into a qualification course of fire.
What happens when officers fail a firearms qualification?
Let’s look at what usually happens when an officer fails a firearms qualification.
Officers will typically get two or three attempts to pass the qualification. If they fail all of the attempts, then they typically have to attend a remedial training program provided by their agency before they attempt the qualification again.
Meanwhile, during that timeframe, they are often placed on administrative status and can’t work in any enforcement capacity, including off-duty jobs, until they pass the qualification.
If an agency allows an officer to continue to work in an enforcement capacity after they have failed a firearms qualification course of fire, then that opens the agency up to excessive liability.
Turn additional qualification sessions into training
So, here is the big question: Why would any chief, sheriff, or commissioner require their officers to qualify with their firearms more than once a year, increasing the stress their officers may feel about attending the qualification, giving them multiple chances to possibly fail the qualification and further complicating the already diminished manpower on the street that virtually every agency is experiencing? Why? There is no training benefit or extra liability protection for making officers qualify with their firearms more than once a year.
What an agency should do is conduct firearms qualifications once per year and then turn the other qualifications into training sessions. Agencies have already worked out the logistics to send their officers to the range to qualify multiple times a year, so those logistics are in place for officers to attend firearms training instead.
Culturally speaking, firearms qualifications are always viewed as a “mandatory” task, as it should be. However, despite the numerous failure-to-train case laws, firearms training is often viewed as an “optional” task, if manpower allows. In a civil lawsuit, a “failure to train” discovery can result in an equally crippling settlement check as a “failure to qualify” discovery. To correct the “training is optional” culture, simply implement a policy that states all scheduled firearms training is mandatory, and failure to attend will result in some form of minor discipline. Obviously, there should be some exceptions listed.
Now instead of having multiple qualifications each year, an agency would have one qualification and multiple firearms training sessions each year. Officers will have less firearms-related stress, firearms instructors will get more time to conduct firearms training, and administrators will likely have fewer officers failing during firearms qualification because of the extra, more frequent firearms training. That’s what I call a “win-win” for everyone.
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