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PoliceOne Roundtable: Expert insights on duty firearms

Part Two: No holds barred on questions related to some of the most serious police firearms training trends on the horizon

In mid-May, I connected with three of my top firearms writers — Dick Fairburn, Lindsey Bertomen, and Ken Hardesty — to get their thoughts on a handful of issues related to the firearms marketplace. In that column, we asked and answered questions relating to the current state of department-issued sidearm pistols, key considerations for agencies to consider when buying duty sidearm, as well as common mistakes police armorers and procurement officers make with regard to the selection of duty firearms for their officers.

Here, we’ll examine ways in which trends in the consumer firearms market are being reflected in police duty pistols. We’ll also look at how officers are training with their duty weapons — what performance trends we’re seeing, and what we need to do increase the numbers of police officers winning their gunfights.

Be sure to check out the sidebar feature posted in conjunction with this column, in which Jimmie McCoy of Meggitt Training Systems offers his responses to all the questions in this Q&A series. Check this space in coming weeks and months for additional comments from other vendors in the marketplace, and as always, add your own thoughts in the comments area below. 

What are the current trends in the broader, consumer firearms market — increasing prevalence of integrated laser sights, for example — and do those trends seem to be reflected in police duty pistols as well?

Lindsey Bertomen:
I saw a new sight system while I was at SHOT this year. It was made by a company called Tactical Aiming Solutions. The entire system mounted in the rear dovetail. It was basically an optical illusion. It was a great, high-tech sighting system, but it probably wouldn’t be appropriate for all officers in the department simply because it appeared that one couldn’t use it with bifocals or a serious astigmatism. I was completely impressed with this product, but it is going to be a civilian product, not a law enforcement application.

Crimson Trace seems to be doing a fantastic job keeping up with the current firearms trends. This is a good thing. Quite frankly, law enforcement handguns should be equipped with a Crimson Trace laser by default with non-laser users having to justify not using the product. It’s not that I’m trying to sell Crimson Trace products here, although I am unabashed about it. It simply the fact that most firearms trainers I have talked to over the years will tell you that this particular product will give law enforcement officers an advantage “in the hole” where most gunfights occur.

Another current trend which I’m delighted to report is the fact that everybody is into the zombie apocalypse thing. This is a civilian trend, not a law-enforcement trend. It is not considered appropriate for law enforcement. However, the products and training that have evolved from this trend have increased marksmanship and the associated products several times over. No matter how we slice it, we are reaping the benefits of the zombie invasion.

Dick Fairburn:
Many departments are becoming more flexible on allowing “alternate” sights, like the XS Big Dot “Express” sights which help those of us with older eyes. We haven’t seen lasers integrated in duty-grade sidearms (to my knowledge), but that may not be far away.

Like other old instructors, I used to pooh-pooh lasers, but I was just at the range recently, checking the alignment of a new set of laser grips for my old Commander. If they ever develop daylight-bright green lasers that compare to the size of the current reds ones, I might become a complete convert on the concept of lasers. 

Given your position within the police firearms market, you get to see pretty much every duty firearm out there right now. When you look at how officers are training with their duty weapons, what performance trends are you seeing overall? What is one performance trend you’ve seen which has surprised you?

Ken Hardesty:
The one performance trend I’ve seen is officers and civilians alike spending a great deal of money on quality firearms and then placing them in bargain holsters that are cumbersome, difficult to use, or are outdated.

When you solve one problem, you create another. By solving the problem of cost, some officers are creating the problem of workability and functionality. I won’t give examples by name, but there are holster manufacturers currently issuing recalls due to a lack of understanding of the equipment by the individual officer.

Gear can publicly define who you are, and privately save the day.

Lindsey Bertomen:
I’m not seeing a lot of training performance trends that are unusual, besides a serious reduction in budgets. However, I am seeing many trends that point toward diminished judgment and perception of new recruits. Having said that, the good recruits are the best they’ve ever been.

There are a minority of officers who, because they’ve been practicing for the zombie invasion, are outstanding shooters. It doesn’t surprise me that the 5%ers are still doing regular shooting practice while the RODs are taking up space in a patrol car.

Dick Fairburn:
One trend that sort of surprised and gratified me — and I think is the cause of the better shooting performance we see the last few years — is the almost total abandonment of the old Double-Action/Single-Action autopistol trigger system. Jeff Cooper called it an ingenious solution to a non-existent problem and I proved in a 1991 research project how the DA/SA system, with its change in trigger pull from first to subsequent shots, was a MAJOR training hurdle for trainees.

What do you see as some of the most serious police firearms training trends on the horizon? No holds barred here — is it quality of training/trainers, or availability of ample practice rounds, or time allotted to range training (time away from patrol), or something else I haven’t even mentioned?

Ken Hardesty:
The biggest problem facing law enforcement training today is time. Agencies balk at granting release time for training. That gap is often filled by independent trainers operating either on a contract basis, or conducting open enrollment courses that motivated officers seek out. My advice would be to thoroughly vet those officers pay for training. 

The other item that comes to mind is low8light training. Something around 80 percent of officers function in conditions of darkness, yet most agencies don’t train personnel to operate in this environment. This is a recipe for failure.

Last but not least is a lack of training concerning concealed carry. Whether operating in a covert environment, working as a detective, or simply off duty, officers absolutely need to be trained to deal with lethal encounters while carrying concealed.

Lindsey Bertomen:
Probably the most alarming trend is the fact that the mainstream media seems to be taking more liberties toward police conduct than when I started my career. It is a significant stress inducer to most officers to be judged and supervised by people who do not have a clue what law enforcement officers do for a living. This trend has been worsened by lawmakers judging from their podiums — including the presidential podium.

It appears that there is an increase in public judgment of police conduct and a decrease in simple common sense. Unfortunately, some of these judgments are entering into the crucible of everyday politics.

I know the question was about performance trends, but statistically, officers who rely on their ability to exercise discretion to keep them alive cannot be hampered by the perception that their own administration or the legal system will not take care of them.

If we delve into this further, we will find that statistics for Law Enforcement Officers Assaulted or Killed in the Line of Duty suggest that initial controlling force was lower than the reasonable officer standard. I use the word “suggest” here. However, if we take the logic little further, officer perception of “my agency will back me” comes into play. If current politics tend to be overly critical of law enforcement in general, the agency won’t back them. If the agency won’t back them, the officer gets hurt. I don’t have a recommendation for solution here, but I am seeing a trend.

Dick Fairburn:
When I deliver my day-long “Building a Better Gunfighter” seminar around the country I get to spend time with lots of current police firearms instructors and hear how they train. By and large, we’re still married to conventional marksmanship training for both basic and in-service police firearms training programs.

The marksmanship skills necessary to win the “average” police gunfight can be mastered in a couple of hours, yet cops still hit with fewer than half of the rounds they fire.

The way to improve gunfight performance is not to send more bullets through more paper targets on a flat range! We must start requiring our officers to land a majority of their hits when firing at a human adversary in reality-based training scenarios.

Yes, using Airsoft or Sims guns requires new hardware and takes a great deal more time than lining them up 25 abreast. But that ‘ready on the right, ready on the left’ type of range training produces competitors not gunfighters.

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