How to equip and train female officers for shooting success

Law enforcement has traditionally been a male-dominated profession and, as such, most of the equipment has evolved to suit the male body


For too long female law enforcement officers have had to adapt and succeed in a field traditionally viewed by society as a man’s role. I am not trying to get into gender stereotyping here, so let’s concede the genders are different with their own strengths and weaknesses.

When it comes to firearms, female officers face unique challenges in regard to equipment and training. To get the best out of our shooters, we need to embrace the strengths of all of our officers; young and old, male and female. Our way of thinking in regard to training techniques is already evolving to suit the needs of the millennials and Generation Z, so let’s take that thinking one step further and help our female officers reach their full potential when it comes to the use of firearms.

Shooting equipment for female officers

Instructors with strong interpersonal communication skills create a positive learning environment where people can thrive. (Photo/PoliceOne)
Instructors with strong interpersonal communication skills create a positive learning environment where people can thrive. (Photo/PoliceOne)

Before you hit the range with your female officers, consider an equipment evaluation.

As mentioned before, law enforcement has traditionally been a male-dominated profession and, as such, most of the equipment has evolved to suit the male body.

Imagine trying to do your job while fighting with your equipment every inch of the way. Some examples include constantly tugging at an ill-fitting vest, a handgun you can’t quite get a good grip on, a holster that rides too high, a belt that is too crowded, limited options for duty footwear and a uniform design that is based on a male’s body but “good enough” for women.

Fortunately, manufacturers are producing more equipment designed and engineered specifically for women every year. Today, it is no longer necessary for your female shooters to make do with poorly fitting and dysfunctional equipment. Making small equipment changes will yield an exponential return on the investment in performance, attitude and general career satisfaction.

A couple of quick suggestions based on personal experience. Look into the Trotter Compression Bra by Cheata Tactical. This is a level 3 compression bra that offers the most comfortable support I have found. Its design makes both concealable and external body armor fit and look better. An added bonus is the additional back support it offers. This bra is breathable, heat dispersing and does a good job of wicking moisture away from the body.

Another huge improvement for female officers is the addition of deeper drop-offset holsters. A proper fitting holster can be a quick and easy solution for a clumsy draw caused by hip angle and restrictions of body armor. Because of our higher natural waist and broader hips, a holster that is at belt level will cause a full-sized duty handgun to ride too high under a women’s armpit. Not only is this uncomfortable, it causes an inefficient and cumbersome draw. Using a deeper drop-offset holster puts the handgun in a position similar to where a holster would ride on male shooters. This enables women to draw in a more natural movement that should improve their training and performance.

A drop off-set holster (left) allows female officers to draw their handgun from a more efficient position. A holster at the higher natural waist of a female (right) places the holster too high causing an awkward, clumsy draw. (Photo/PoliceOne)

Firearms training for female officers

Once equipment issues are addressed, it is time to tackle the training deficiencies and difficulties we have created in the past.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for female officers to have suffered some unpleasant, and possibly traumatic, training experiences. Whether on the defensive tactics mats or on the firearms range, bad experiences can taint an entire career. When our officers become physically ill at the idea of a training day, the situation is dire. These are the same officers who may be covering you during the worst call of your life, or they may be responding to a 9-1-1 call to help your family. Don’t we want them to be properly equipped and trained to save lives?

I am going to use broad generalizations here, so don’t go looking for a reason to be offended. As with every subsequent generation of recruits, the millennials and Generation Z pose new challenges to police instructors. Drill instructor-style police trainers are finding their techniques are not working anymore. With younger officers, trainers are getting better results using more carrot and less stick. I believe these techniques also provide positive results with female officers.

When addressing subpar performance, instructors should make a conscious effort to address the performance rather than the individual. Whether due to nature, nurture or societal expectation, it is common for women to internalize criticism, even constructive criticism, and take it as a personal attack. It has nothing to do with being tough enough to do the job; it’s just how a lot of women are wired.

Unfortunately, I have seen this manifest itself in tears and other emotional reactions. This can be particularly frustrating for male instructors. These instructors are not trying to pick on their female shooters; they simply do not understand these are commonly tears of frustration and disappointment in herself and her performance. Publicly admonishing these reactions will only make the situation worse and may create irreversible training trauma.

Many agencies are moving away from the old FTO style of training and moving toward the PTO style. When administrated correctly, they are training up the next generation of police officers ready to face the challenges of our modern world. This new training philosophy embraces what sociologists consider to be a better way to reach and train millennial police officers. This new approach may also the best way to help female officers thrive in the high-stress, high-skill environment of modern policing.

Let’s work to get the best performance out of our female officers by examining the suitability of their equipment and working to improve our training programs. It is no longer acceptable to issue women equipment designed and intended to be used by men when there are options available. Lastly, the time and place for drill instructor-type firearms training is at MCRD or during U.S. Army basic training. On the range, our equipment is improving, and we can modernize our training.

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