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4 ways to improve your department’s patrol rifle program

Unfortunately, many patrol rifle programs are insufficient in preparing officers to have the confidence and skills to properly and effectively deploy their rifles during stressful engagements

Watershed moments cause us to pause and reflect on current practices in law enforcement. The Newhall incident — which left four CHP Officers dead in 1970 — led us to make changes in our training. In 1999, Columbine caused us to take a second look at our tactics when responding to active mass killing.

Similarly, the Bank of America Incident — which occurred in Los Angeles in 1997 — opened our eyes to the fact that we were being out-gunned by our adversaries. We began the push to outfit officers with more suitable equipment: the patrol rifle. Although most agencies recognized the need for a higher-caliber, higher capacity-weapon capable of better accuracy, the initial transition across the country was modest.

Today patrol rifles are commonplace. Officers in a variety of assignments — including patrol — have access to these tools. This advance in firepower has helped to even the playing field and has emboldened officers to deal with high-risk calls for service.

Unfortunately, many patrol rifle programs are insufficient in preparing officers to have the confidence and skills to properly and effectively deploy their rifles during stressful engagements. Most programs are only directed at familiarizing the officer with the weapon system — nomenclature, care and cleaning, shooting positions, loading/unloading and possibly transition drills.

This is a good starting point, but for many agencies, this is also where it ends. Here are four things you can do to help to improve your patrol rifle program.

1. Add Depth to Your Current Program
In addition to the previously stated program curriculum, continue to add to the officers’ foundation by incorporating moving targets, reloads, shooting from the opposite shoulder, shooting over/under/around barricades, malfunction drills, transition from rifle to handgun and back again, low-light shoots — which will be nearly impossible for iron sights at distances even out to fifty yards.

If an officer might encounter it out on the streets, it should be considered as a course of fire in your program.

2. Increase Training Frequency
Too many officers are carrying patrol rifles on a regular basis and are unfamiliar with the functions of the weapon or their tactical application. Under stress, officers have a difficult time performing reloads, clearing stoppages and shooting effectively.

Additionally, officers may defer to their handgun simply because they are more familiar and comfortable with its use even though the rifle would have been the more appropriate application.

Understanding that budgets are tight and personnel are short-handed, the more opportunities provided to your officers to get behind the rifle, the more effective and proficient they will become.

3. Do Reality-based Scenario Exercises
Placing officers in realistic situations they may encounter out on the streets is the best way to evaluate future performance, identify deficiencies, improve competence and confidence, and to a certain extent, inoculate officers to the stressors of the event.

Once you’ve done all you can on the range, get the officers into a sterile environment and conduct realistic, productive, and educational force-on-force scenarios.

We’ve found in our training that nearly all officers agree that the patrol rifle is an outstanding augmentation to our arsenal. However, when placed in reality-based scenarios, officers have left their rifles abandoned in their cruisers, were unfamiliar with how to utilize the rifle when conducting building searches and many were reluctant to carry the rifle in lieu of their handgun.

4. Address Your Slings
Often overlooked — or merely minimized as an accessory — the sling is an important component in the rifle system. Although the sling does not aid in the function of the rifle, it does play a role in deployment and to a lesser extent, comfort. Regardless of the type of sling system you choose to use, it should allow for an effortless transition to enable you to fire from either shoulder, or transitioning from your rifle to your handgun.

At any rate, train with whichever system you use and identify deficiencies during training and not in the heat of battle.

Arguments can be made for other accessories such as optics, lighting mounts, grips, etc. The vendors have ensured we have no shortage of options when it comes to adding accessories to our rifles. As with the slings, whichever accessories you choose to add to your platform, ensure you are familiar and proficient with its use.

Too many officers have died while in the performance of their duties. In order that their lives were not taken in vain, let us learn from their demise and become more resolute that others will live because of improved training, tactics and equipment.

We honor those fallen officers by learning, advancing, and continuing to train. Failing to do so leads to more lessons learned in blood — more officers’ lives lost.

Dan Danaher is a retired sergeant with 28 years of law enforcement experience. He has been retained by his former agency as the range master to oversee the firearms and TASER programs. Dan is also the co-founder of Tactical Encounters Inc., a law enforcement training company based out of Michigan.