Firearms training: Doing more with less

Budget cuts are a fact of life — and cuts will undoubtedly affect your firearms training

Every Rangemaster has felt the sting of the budget cut. It’s never a pleasant feeling when you’re forced to slash training, especially when you see other units, like Community Services, flourish around you and Vice/Narcotics Squads surrounded by enough night vision scopes to outfit a movie set.

In spite of the constant reassurances vocalized by police chiefs and sheriffs that “politics will never interfere with the operation of this department,” the bottom line is whoever controls the purse strings runs the agency. The fact is, as law enforcement budgets shrink, sheriffs and police chiefs at some point have to cut training funds as part of overall fiscal streamlining. For the most part, functions such as Patrol, Juvenile, Communications, Vehicle Maintenance, and Training don’t have that self-generating income like Vice/Narcotics do with the prospect of drug seizure money being disbursed every year or so.

So when the budget ax falls, where do you cut? Ammunition, targets, cleaning supplies, armorer’s parts, programs, uniforms? A creative Rangemaster can make it through these tough economic times, keep his chief or sheriff happy, and make sure his/her officers are also adequately trained, highly motivated, and thoroughly prepared for the street. Believe it or not, he/she can do it and not “red line” the range budget.

Conduct a Needs Assessment
Your first job is to conduct a thorough review of your current training programs. The last thing you want to do is cut back on the frequency of your training. Traditional learning curves show that the skills needed to master semi-automatic pistols under high-stress conditions need more and frequent fine-tuning than those old revolver skills. So cutting back to twice-a-year is probably not a good idea. However, you can probably cut some line-item expenditures and keep the training at three to four times annually.

How About Ammunition?
You’re probably thinking, “No way. I don’t have enough ammo now and I’m not going back to reloads.”

Well, don’t fret. You can still maintain a thorough and comprehensive range program, keep factory ammunition, and cut a dollar or two off your ammunition expenses at the same time. How about modifying your programs to include more malfunction/stoppage training or ball and dummy drills? Maybe add in a few role play scenarios? In other words, implement a few programs that require less live-fire exercises but still keep it realistic and relevant?

Explore your Target Options
f you’re using expensive full color or 3-D targets, try going to the black & white situational targets for a change. While the color targets (or overlays) are great, perhaps the change might be a way to augment your multi-target courses of fire or maybe even use target backers to simulate “no shoot, no threat” targets. You get the picture? The same thing applies to range uniforms, cleaning supplies along with all the other necessities that go along with running and maintaining a range facility.

Look at Equipment and Programs
Don’t fret because the $35,000 computerized simulator system you planned for 2010 is now history. You can get the same type of training and instill the same skills with a 16mm movie/35 mm slide system and a little creativity. Are you using your indoor range to its maximum potential? You can purchase a video judgmental training program for a fraction of the cost. By using one of the many commercially available film or slide programs, you’ll be able to measure reaction and response, cover and concealment, verbal commands, and even marksmanship to a certain degree. Consider moving a mail box and a fire hydrant into your indoor range to duplicate a street scene. It may not be as sophisticated as a menu-driven computer generated simulator, and may even require a little more work by your range officers, but maybe the interpersonal communication that will develop between the trainer and his/her student will be an added benefit.

Role-play scenarios have always been an excellent method of measuring an officer’s reaction under stress. By using Simunition-type marking cartridges you can create an exciting training exercise that will replicate the same reactions that a $35,000 computer simulator would have measured. Inert OC can also liven up the training. Building search challenges, traffic stops, stop & frisk situations, DV calls, just about everything an officer would do on the street can be duplicated with a creative Rangemaster and dedicated trainers.

Next, modify your live-fire drills a little. How about adding some one-handed reloading drills into this quarter’s in-service program rather than just going with a 200-250 round course of fire? You can instill some needed street skills that can excite the student, build confidence, save ammo and maybe even help him/her on the street some day. One-handed semi-auto reloading drills while seated in a chair for those “trapped-behind-the-wheel” situations and one-handed tap, rack, target drills for clearing malfunctions and stoppages permit the use of ball and (reusable) dummy rounds. They’re also fun to learn and can create a positive learning experience.

Organizations like the International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors (IALEFI) and the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA) have a ton of excellent firearms programs available which demonstrate these and other infrequently taught (but essential) techniques with only a minimum number of rounds actually being fired.

Try night fire exercises. When was the last time you did a low light course? You can keep your overtime costs down and run a few night-fire exercises by having your officers train and qualify on their duty hours. Maybe your graveyard shift troopers are accustomed to going to the range at 3:00 a.m., but it’s an option you might want to consider.

There’s no “Rangemaster’s Law” that says training has to be completed between 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Furthermore, a night-fire program held outdoors (if that’s all you have) may be a pretty good measure of what a street encounter might be like.

How about a refresher course on field-stripping, cleaning and maintenance of their semi-auto or a classroom session on department policy; Graham v. Connor, or Popow v. Margate; or even a group discussion or critique on the latest department incident and its impact on training? A classroom session on use of force report writing might also be a great idea, especially in light of today’s climate of police litigation.

Next, you may want to implement some non-lethal force options into your range training. When was the last time you conducted an OC or Mace refresher? A couple of inerts can go a long way, particularly when coupled with some psychomotor skill training, the Force Continuum or some other timely topic. None of these require live ammunition.

The bottom line here is this: Improvise, adapt, and overcome.

Nobody is thrilled with budget cuts. But they’re a reality we have to accept in these economically depressed times.

You’re the Rangemaster and you’ve been put in that position not just because you’re a great teacher, but also because you’re a smart administrator. Use your authority and ingenuity. If the budget bug bit you and your forced to do more with less, call a staff meeting of your range officers.

“We’ve been cut another $25,000, gang. Here’s what I have in mind for this year’s in-service. What do you think about..........?”

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