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Working the graveyard shift can make hitting the range extremely difficult – here’s how to use simulation 24/7 to keep officers sharp and improve individual skills

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It can be hard keeping on top of firearms training while working the graveyard shift.


Those of us who have been in law enforcement for more than a hot minute have experienced the struggle of keeping on top of firearms training while working the graveyard shift. Graves can make hitting the range difficult, especially while attempting to balance family life and, well, everything else.

Even on training days set aside by the agency, you might still find yourself rolling around in a fog because the middle of the day is your middle of the night, and don’t even get me started on fighting weather conditions. One way that agencies can eliminate these issues and help officers continue to develop skills any time, day or night, is to incorporate a simulator into their training plans.

Here are a few ways to use a simulator and keep your cops’ shooting skills sharp.

Shift shoot-off

Fast-forward to 3 am on a slow night with little traffic on the road. Instead of patrol officers sitting around fighting the urge to fall asleep, why not have a shift shoot-off, an International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) competition, a steel challenge match, active shooter training, or work on scenario-based training. All of these are within the realm of possibility with the simulator systems currently available to law enforcement.

If time does allow for training during a shift, creating a “friendly” competition among officers is a way to further build on acquired skills and strengthen relationships within the team. The stress brought out by competition aids in building muscle memory, and the repetition moves tasks from the conscious to the sub-conscious brain. As the mind can only focus on one thing at a time to work effectively, this training is a must.

Pre-shift simulation training

Working for a larger agency may not allow training during a shift. In that case, coming in early and jumping on the simulator can get an officer’s mind in the right zone. The simulator can aid in removing any cobwebs before hitting the road to patrol.

Running through scenarios to address any issues that were observed on calls can open an officer’s eyes to threats they overlooked. The scenarios can also help increase reaction time and get first-round hits more quickly. An officer re-watching and critiquing their performance is a tool that SWAT teams and competitive shooters alike use to self-evaluate. Looking from the outside in with an objective eye can sharpen any dull spots.

Post-shift simulation training

If before or during shift doesn’t fit into the officer’s schedule, then they may take a few minutes after a shift to drill or blow off some steam after a stressful night. IDPA and steel challenge matches are fast and fun, focusing on target transitions and reloads. These skills are crucial, and every officer should be prepared to use them if ever in a gunfight.

cover both fundamental and dynamic training scenarios

A department having access to a simulator can drastically improve the officer’s ability to place accurate fire on target. The simulator can be used to work on the fundamentals of marksmanship. Starting with an inert firearm, then moving on to a recoiling platform adds the realism necessary to properly apply the skills to the real world. The shooter can then move on to more dynamic training, like target transitions, positional shooting, problem-solving and, if the simulator is equipped with multi-screens, expanding situational awareness.

Multi-screen equipped simulators that wrap around the officer aid in training officers to fight off the dangerous effects of tunnel vision. Many officers have found themselves locked on a suspect, missing what could have been a secondary threat off to the side. Departments must support officers in training to limit tunnel vision.

The ability to use a simulator to train is something I wish every department could offer its officers, deputies, or troopers. I believe there are only positives when it comes to using a simulator. Whether it’s the blistering heat of Texas summers or the subzero temperatures of Alaska, simulators make training possible no matter how harsh the weather gets. As long as you have power, training can happen 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Simulators are available in all shapes, sizes and prices. Like everything in law enforcement, cost is usually the deciding factor for a department. Fortunately, there are grants available to help agencies offset the cost and set their officers up for success.

NEXT: How to buy training simulators (eBook)

Pete Goode is a former Royal Marines Commando sniper and helicopter sniper team leader. After becoming an American citizen, he entered into law enforcement and became a firearms instructor, CQB instructor, Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events (CRASE) instructor, SWAT sniper and SWAT Sniper Team Leader. His law enforcement experience includes working patrol, Crimes Against Persons and Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC). With over 15 years of instructor experience, Pete is passionate about continuing to learn and develop skills and tactics and passing them on to his fellow operators and officers.