On average, at least one law enforcement officer is murdered every week in this nation. Most of these officers are assigned to patrol and are attacked without warning while handling “routine” calls or self-initiated enforcement contacts. No clearer example of this can be found than the first two of the four officers murdered in Oakland, California in March, 2009. These officers were conducting a traffic enforcement stop and had no prior warning of the assault that would end their lives and change their family’s lives forever. As in so many cases, neither officer was able to return the fight to the suspect before being murdered.
Patrol officers are more likely than others — including SWAT officers — to be involved in a sudden and unexpected close-quarters attack. Because of this fact, patrol officers should be given consistent training specific for the types of assaults they most often encounter. In addition to being mentally prepared for such an assault, patrol officers must master the skills necessary to quickly and effectively fire hits into a suspect suddenly attempting to murder them.
Having served on a SWAT Team for 13 years, I absolutely understand the need for tactical operators to train as frequently as possible. However, statistics show that very few SWAT operators are murdered each year. There are a number of reasons for this statistic, but the most obvious reason to me is deterrence. Very few suspects are willing to attack a team of eight to ten operators knocking down their door sporting balaclavas and AR-platform firearms. Even violent suspects faced with this situation will usually choose to live and fight (perhaps one of us at a time) some other day.
Patrol is the law enforcement assignment in which the officer is tasked with seeking out or responding to the worst and most unpredictable in society on a daily basis. They usually do this work on their own, or certainly without the built-in deterrence of a tactical team as their cover. Therefore, patrol officers must receive the most effective firearms training available, particularly firearms training with their handgun. Patrol officers may not be the most “tactical” members of a department, but they should absolutely be the most formidable pistol fighters.
My philosophy is great in theory, but when I make these points to classes around the country, I frequently hear the same replies. Instructors want to offer better training and patrol officers wish to train more often. However, cuts to the training budget have made it impossible to offer or obtain additional training.
Certainly, the current economic environment required budget cuts and perhaps even future cuts for many agencies. But as the recent 30 percent increase in law enforcement assaults and homicides makes clear, there has been no matching reduction in assailants willing to murder police officers. Reducing already inadequate or infrequent firearms training is a gamble that no agency should take.
Rather than argue that point any further in this article, I will instead suggest that effective firearms training — at least training aimed at the development of skills necessary to prevail against a sudden close-quarter attack — can be affordable and effective.
Effective and Inexpensive Dry-Fire Practice
Boxers spend a majority of training time outside of the sparing ring — their version of live-fire training. Skills are developed with the use of a heavy bag, speed bag, or at times, open space for conditioning, foot work, and perhaps shadow boxing. Law enforcement firearms training can and should develop a similar training model, one in which a great deal of training is provided away from live-fire training.
Off-range training should be a part of every training program and should include work on the draw stroke, the flash front-sight focus, and even trigger control. The following suggestions are not intended to replace live-fire training. Rather, they are simple and cost-effective methods to supplement live-fire drills.
1.) Training on the draw stroke — With regard to the close distance of most gunfights, an officer’s ability to draw quickly and shoot effectively, while moving laterally at the same time, can be far more important than their shooting skills. But the speed and skill needed for an incredibly fast and effective response can only be developed with frequent practice on the draw stroke. Every officer should have a mastery of the four -or five-step pistol presentation. They should then drill on this technique often enough so that if suddenly in a gunfight, they are never more than a week or two from their last practice session. Every police officer should train often enough so that their firearm is pointing at the chest of the suspect in around one second. A time under a second is even better.
There are countless examples of officers murdered while struggling to get their weapon into a gunfight. Situational awareness is crucial, but a fast and effective draw stroke is equally important. Inert duty firearms or plastic replica firearms are perfect for these drills — Plastic weapons can be purchased for less than $40 per unit.
2.) Simunition Firearms — Simunition and Airsoft “firearms” can take presentation training one-step further. Valuable both in scenario based and tactical” training, these “firearms” are also excellent for speed to target training. Officers can practice their draw stroke, flash front-sight focus, and even their combat shooting skills, without the use of a firearms training facility. Simunition systems can be expensive for some agencies, but you can purchase a great deal of Airsoft equipment for a few hundred dollars.
3.) Shooting Simulators — Shooting simulators are another excellent (albeit more expensive, training tool. These systems are primarily used by agencies to provide use-of-force and decision-making training. However, these simulators are also excellent for developing an officer’s reaction to a sudden assault through speed to target drills. A number of companies now offer portable simulators that are reasonably priced and that can be set up just about anywhere in your department.
If Not Now, When?
It will be years before law enforcement agencies will be back to enjoying surplus budgets. Perhaps those days are gone forever. In the meantime, the recent rise in law-enforcement homicides tells us that we don’t have the time to wait for more money, more support from agency leaders, or even more live-fire training. Fortunately, agencies can help an officer to greatly improve their ability to prevail in an armed assault through a supplemental program of dry-fire practice.