Red dot sights on pistols for patrol officers: Policy and training considerations

As tech advancements in LE go, RDS for pistols is one that will produce measurable results for departments and officers


By James Dexter, P1 Contributor

Technology has been an enhancer for the law enforcement profession since the first electric police car debuted in Akron, Ohio, in 1899. Fast forward to 2019 and technology continues to enhance an officer’s ability to do the functions of the job, with a focus on improved efficiency and ease of use.

Technological advancements in sighting systems have allowed officers to enhance their ability to utilize their firearms – from the service revolvers of old with their machined-in sights to the plethora of options currently available for semi-automatics that include adjustable sights, tritium and fiber optics.

Highlighting the difference between single focal plane with an optic and three focal plane with traditional iron sites. (Photo/Jim Dexter)
Highlighting the difference between single focal plane with an optic and three focal plane with traditional iron sites. (Photo/Jim Dexter)

Changes in iron sighting systems enhanced users’ ability to see and track their sights but offered no method to change the way their eye saw the sights and the threat itself; officers were still relegated to a front sight, rear sight and threat targeting system.

Enter the red dot sight (RDS) for pistols. More specifically the duty-grade red dot sights that can stand the rigors of police work. Red dot sights are not a new thing; competition shooters have been using electronic sighting systems successfully for over 30 years. With companies improving red dot sights so they can be mounted directly to a slide and handle the rigors of slide-mounted recoil and manipulations – such as the Trijicon Ruggedized Miniature Reflex (RMR) and Leupold’s Delta Point Pro – RDS systems can now be trusted for duty-carry handgun use.  

FOCAL PLANES

Father Time gets us all, there is no avoiding that. Recently a group of firearms trainers were asked what they do to help those with aging eyesight. The question was met with a perfunctory “nothing” in response.

While traditional iron sights can vary in ability to see by including high viz rings, or fiber optics, the system remains that of front sight, rear sight and target. No variance in iron sights will change how the sights are used and what the eye needs to see to take an acceptable shot.

Traditional iron sight shooting of a pistol requires three focal planes. This means the eye must do more work to achieve its task – it must take in and process the front sight, the rear sight and the target to align everything prior to a good trigger press.

With an RDS the eye utilizes one focal plane: the target. When shooting an RDS the officer remains threat/target focused as the dot overlays on the target and, once the dot is placed in the correct targeting location, the officer can engage. The ability to remain target focused has further benefits than simply decreasing the number of focal planes the mind must engage. Remaining threat focused allows officers to take in and process more information during a deadly force encounter, as nothing must go out of focus prior to making the decision to press the trigger.

DUTY USE

While competitors have been using RDS systems for years, these sights were normally mounted on platforms attached to the frame and were not designed to handle one-handed manipulations or being racked off a ballistic shield.

Duty-grade optics allow an officer to mount the RDS directly to the slide and not impede the officer’s ability to do any type of manipulation that may need to be done with a firearm. Trijicon’s RMR and Leupold’s Delta Point Pro are reliable sighting systems that remain functional through the demands of police pistol use.

Optics-ready choices like the FN 509 MRD are becoming common in the duty carry market. For FN the optic is the focus, not an afterthought. (Photo/Jim Dexter)
Optics-ready choices like the FN 509 MRD are becoming common in the duty carry market. For FN the optic is the focus, not an afterthought. (Photo/Jim Dexter)

Multiple mounting options for RDS exist that allow departments to choose how to move forward with RDS on pistols. Direct milling a slide allows for the RDS to be mounted directly to the existing firearms slide in a cut designed specifically for the chosen optic. Almost every major firearms manufacturer now offers a pistol with mounting plate options so that officers can choose the optic they want to use and mount with the correct plate onto the slide. Aftermarket mounts that utilize the existing rear dovetail also allow for RDS to be mounted to the slide.

RDS entrance into law enforcement use has also been hindered by a firearm’s ability to be holstered and carried with acceptable retention. Safariland addressed that issue with a “RDS” series of holsters that allow an officer to choose their desired retention level of holster for RDS-equipped Glocks, Smith & Wesson M&P CORE and Sig Sauer P320 RX guns. These options allow departments to approve RDS guns without worry of any policy issues related to holsters, as Safariland has an RDS series option for the most commonly used retention holsters.

RDS POLICY CONSIDERATIONS

New equipment implementation requires guidance and policy for standardized implementation within a department. These policies ensure that officers are utilizing an optic appropriate for duty as well as requirements for the firearm to meet the needs of duty carry.

Weapon selection

Departments should define the weapons that are authorized for use and the allowed configuration.

Optic selection

Determine and identify optics that will be allowed for mounting. Optics should be duty grade and able to withstand drops and manipulations of the slide with impact on the optic.

Secondary sighting systems

With the recognition that optics are an electronic piece, much the same as rifle policies, guidance on secondary sighting systems should be assessed. Co-witnessed iron sights and lasers are common examples.

Holster selection

Most general firearms policies already specify holster requirements and should reflect RDS guns. As gun manufacturers expand RDS-ready guns, considerations for allowance of custom holsters should be made but require levels of retention and be of reputable manufacture.

Training

As any piece of new equipment, RDS training requirements should be stated in policy. While RDS should not be held to a different standard than traditional iron sights, some sort of familiarization training should be conducted. Determination of in-house, state certified, or outside company training should satisfy the requirement. Determine minimum training topics to satisfy the requirement (installation, maintenance, zeroing, optic mitigation, etc.).

Maintenance

Determine if policy will dictate who and when things such as battery changes and zero confirmation will occur. Zero confirmation can be done in conjunction with qualification and zero should be confirmed with each battery change. Policy should state if the officer is responsible for battery change or if it will be scheduled with a department armorer.

RDS TRAINING

Department adoption and use of RDS on pistols should not simply be done through issuance of a memo and immediate allowance of carry. Just as any other piece of equipment has guidelines and training so should RDS implementation.

While an RDS-equipped pistol has certain advantages, some officers may not want to make the transition. With a single focal plane sighting system, an officer’s natural arch of movement will at first be more prevalent and a good presentation is necessary for sight acquisition. These issues are mitigated by training. Those who utilize an RDS find that they become a better overall shooter due to the ability to diagnose their shooting better because they are looking only at the target they are aiming at and they can see the path of their red dot through the shooting sequence.

RDS pistols are easily concealable and work well for off-duty and plain-clothes carry. (Photo/Jim Dexter)
RDS pistols are easily concealable and work well for off-duty and plain-clothes carry. (Photo/Jim Dexter)

Training also mitigates common misconceptions about use of an RDS such as that they don’t work when they get wet (they are a closed system they work just fine), that they are slow up close (you’re not using front sight, rear sight and target acquisition with irons at close distance), and that they fog up and become unusable (preventative maintenance, people who wear glasses mitigate this all the time).

Time should be taken to ensure that officers are comfortable with an RDS-equipped pistol and that the system enhances the officer’s abilities prior to them carrying it on duty. With a well-researched and implemented RDS program, a department can enhance an officer’s abilities with their pistol. All industries necessary for the implementation of an RDS duty pistol program have shown a commitment to continuing product support and advancement. As technological advancements in the field of law enforcement go, RDS for pistols is one that will produce measurable results for departments and officers.


About the author
Jim Dexter is a 14-year police officer currently serving with the Lisle (Illinois) Police Department and assigned to the FIAT SWAT team. His former agencies include the Madison (Wisconsin) Police Department and the Federal Air Marshal Service. He is a veteran of the Illinois Amy National Guard and deployed to Iraq from 2003-2004. Jim is a State of Illinois SWAT instructor and a graduate of the FBI Firearms and Carbine Instructor schools. He is responsible for developing the IL state-certified red dot pistol curriculum and is cited in multiple RDS training programs. Jim is the owner and lead instructor of Tactically Sound Training Center, LLC, providing red dot-based pistol and medical instruction. He holds a BA from Western Illinois University and an MA in criminal justice from American Military University. Jim currently sits on the board of directors for the Illinois Tactical Officers Association

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