Training to win a gunfight (versus training for acceptable levels of failure)
Law enforcement range masters must stretch their budgets until they scream, and make a meaningful training event out of every round fired by cops on the line
“What’s your ‘Qual’?” is a question you hear often when hanging out with other agency Range Masters — kind of like “What’s your major?” when you’re in college. Range Masters are always looking for new ideas and comparing their program to others. Qualification courses vary as much as uniform patches. Each agency works within their individual budgets and what that administration believes is important. The last part is usually where things break down. For example, I was amazed when I learned about an agency that had just purchased two helicopters but told the Range Master not to order more targets. The agency even asked if the officers could just share a target during qualification.
I’ve talked with officers who work for agencies that only train and qualify with their handguns once a year — they are only required to fire 15 rounds total for the year and the individual officer has to supply the training ammo out of their own pocket. Other agencies train and qualify every month, fire 100 rounds or more each time, and only fire duty ammo issued by the agency. The disparity between what we as an industry believes is an acceptable level of competency testing in the use of firearms is striking. Many states have established minimum standards to address this issue but others are generally silent. Absent a government-mandated course of fire, Range Masters must stretch their budgets until they scream, and make a meaningful training event out of every round fired.
Necessity is the Mother of Invention
We broke down what we wanted in a new basic qualification course of fire. The list consisted of movement both left and right, reloading, distances consistent with actual law enforcement lethal-force encounters, and time limits to add stress. As the discussion continued to evolve, the conversation turned to what we felt was an acceptable qualification score. As you can imagine, this sparked a long and in-depth discussion. Most of our courses required either 70 percent or 80 percent to qualify. Ultimately it was agreed that in a perfect world, 100 percent of rounds fired should be on target. By accepting a 70-80 percent accuracy rate, you’re also willing to accept 20-30 percent of rounds fired to miss the target completely. That just did not sit well with us.
I dug around the law enforcement firearms instructor world and the idea of a 100 percent qualification came up. I learned that a few other agencies across the U.S. were either at that standard or had considered it. When we sat down again to finish our work on this course of fire, I made my pitch and it was agreed that for this course of fire, a 100 percent score was to be required.
More Effective, More Economical
For a few months, I tested the new course of fire on our “guinea pigs” — also know as reserve deputies. They rose to the occasion and in a very short time were completing the course with 100 percent scores with very few remediations. At first they were hesitant and intimidated, but once they shot the course and were able to pass, it grew on them. They noted that they were concentrating much harder on their shooting and every shot was far more deliberate compared to courses they had shot previously. After this positive response, we figured that if the part-time cops can do it our regulars would just have to meet the challenge or risk constant ridicule. The Range Masters and reserves had set the bar high. Even though our regulars were nervous and griped a bit, they meet the challenge. As time went on their confidence level and shooting abilities began to rise as well.
When the officers at my new agency were introduced to this course of fire, I could feel their apprehension — it was palatable from day one. As they adjusted to it, the number of remediations decreased, their confidence level increased, and they walked with a well-earned swagger. Most commented that at their former agencies they were never pushed to reach this level of competency. They liked the fact that they were being pushed so hard and that each of their fellow officers were held to this high standard. It was a driver for personal and agency pride. A 100 percent qualification completed quarterly is no small task, but if you do not set the bar high and continue to push your shooters you are cheating them out of realizing their potential. Success breads confidence and confidence breads success. It’s cyclical.
Accuracy Looks Good on Paper
I have intentionally not detailed the exact course of fire we shoot. The reason is that I am not trying to sell you on my agency’s basic qualification. I am only asking that you look at your courses with a critical eye in light of what I have shared with you. Does your course of fire breed confidence? Does it teach and reinforce skill sets needed to win? Do your officers have buy-in that their qualification is relevant and a valid mesure of skill? Is every round fired a training opportunity or are they just being blasted away at the target? Are you squeezing every penny out of your budget to get the best training you can out of what you have to work with?
Officers involved in lethal-force encounters have historically missed their target at some point during the encounter, and will most likely do so in the future. There are many factors behind this. Even so, we must consider whether it is appropriate for us to train our officers that it is acceptable to miss 20-30 percent of the time. Are we doing our cops a disservice by programming them with this mindset? Do we train our officers to win or to have acceptable levels of failure? Can you defend your basic qualification as an acceptable measure of competency in front of a jury? And, when an officer from another agency asks one of your officers, “So, what’s you qual?” does your officer answer with pride or with something else?
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