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January 12, 2012
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Brian Dickey Training the 21st Century Officer
with Brian Dickey

Firearms training: Quiet on the line

Running a quiet range takes a lot of work but results speak for themselves

To start with, I’m a big supporter and admirer of range safety. I intend to retire with happy memories and no “extra” holes. The trends of increasing violence and a more focused and in many cases, better trained criminal force us, as instructors to adapt our drills and courses appropriately. The use of simulators, Airsoft, and Sims can augment this training, but I wanted to focus on lethal firearms for this article.

One of the skillsets I have focused on recently is the ability to “see.” Not “civilian see” but “cop see.” What I’ve found is by honing this ability, it makes us quicker and more reactive. Yelling “gun” on the range does not get us there though. It starts with giving our courses and ranges depth. Even though the possibility of having a 360 degree shooting arena is remote with lethal firearms, there’s nothing that says you cannot involve scans or movement.

In that vein, I wanted to put some ideas together.

Range Commands
Aside from standard safety protocols — some mandated by policy — translate the command to fire into a visual cue. Use lasers on written numbers/letters posted all over the range that the shooter has to “find” while standing on the line. Stand in a group of people giving finger commands. We’ve even used modified remote control target actuators to bring a real handgun up toward the shooter in a pretty realistic draw.

By doing these you’re forcing the thought process — the shooter has to develop a plan based on what they see. The danger in any training is conditioning and programming. I’ve had people not shoot because they felt the gun wasn’t pointing at them or they thought they had more time. The fact is that we don’t shoot everyone with a gun. That decision to shoot is a personal one and a multitude of factors are involved.

Contagious Fire
This might not seem to be a part of seeing but it really is. The reasoning behind this phenomenon can be varied. It could be faith in a senior person shooting, peer pressure, or anxiety. Put people in range drills where you are using the angles so certain portions are hidden. Our shop cut a patrol car in half so we can use it inside our range. The electronics work, and it is light enough for just one person to move it.

We can use this for felony car stop, traffic stop, ped stop, any number of scenarios. Because of the width of the car, it is probable that both the driver and passenger Deputy do not have full view of the area and suspects not to mention these things in dim light. Imagine, driver sees handgun while passenger does not. What’s going to happen? If that driver shoots what’s going to happen? If the driver yells, “gun partner” then fires, what’s going to happen?

When to Stop
We read it in the PoliceOne articles and other media all the time. A use of force is considered excessive. Standard range practice has us firing a certain number of rounds at a target or until a cease fire or whistle sounds (remember that conditioning?). Get some scrap wood, plastic, and old clothes and make up some targets. I’ll put scrap steel plate in the head or upper torso so that when they’re hit they fall. Maybe it takes one shot or more, maybe the caliber being used doesn’t reliably put the target down (another great training point).

Imagine a shooter making that decision to stop firing when the situation changes to where that type and level of force is not needed. Do they tactically reload, transition to their TASER or other option? Do they get on the radio to update their status? As cops, all of us know that the most dangerous time is immediately following an incident. Adrenaline coursing through our bodies and the myriad emotions slamming into our head.

Real Weapons
Don’t limit yourself to firearms but keep it all real. Use real guns. This includes rifles and shotguns. Use knives, shovels, and whatever else can (and has been) used. Do your troops even consider a shovel to be a potentially lethal device?

No Shoots
Instead of using different colors or “Xs” to designate “no shoot” targets, make up the same type of targets (this’ll give you extras for replacements). Instead of weapons put cell phones and canes and other real props in their “hands.” Again, this is going to force that seeing.

It’s hard to limit the ideas for an article but I hope that the ones I mentioned are of value. In my experience with this type of training, a debrief is mandatory. As instructors you also have to ask yourself what if a violation of policy occurs during these drills. This is an evolution but solid foundational policy and legal training will limit these issues.

At the beginning of every class, I ask myself, “what am I trying to do here and is it going to make our people faster, better and safer?” Running a quiet range takes a lot of work but results speak for themselves with higher accuracy, quicker (appropriate) reactions, and a more stress-inoculated Peace Officer.


About the author

Brian Dickey is a second generation Deputy Sheriff with a large California Sheriff’s Office. Brian started working in 1986 and has worked a wide variety of assignments including Custody Operations, Criminal Investigations, Patrol, D.A.R.E. and his current position of Rangemaster/Armorer, a position he’s held since 1999. Since receiving his first Firearms Instructor certification from the National Rifle Association in 1993, Brian has sought to improve and challenge those entering the arena of Law Enforcement training. Brian prides himself in integrating current trends, events, Department policies and case law into the courses he designs. Brian is a certified instructor for the Basic POST Academy as well as STC certified for Custody courses. He also holds instructor-level certifications for the extensive skill sets required of the modern Peace Officer as well as Armorer certifications in the various firearms and less lethal devices used by his and area agencies.

Brian has received commendations for his positive impact on Law Enforcement training by the California State Legislature, United States House of Representatives, State and local organizations. Nominated for the California Governor’s Award for Excellence in Peace Officer Training in 2006, Brian has also been honored to have one of his classes profiled by California POST in their “Best Practices” online resource. Brian has also authored several published articles profiling progressive weapons qualification courses for his Department.

Contact Brian Dickey





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