Before I start, I have to state that what you’re about to read is my opinion, based on my own life and professional experience in law enforcement and does not represent anyone else’s view. This topic has been around the law enforcement community for a long time and will always be around.
Law enforcement officers are trained to a high standard with firearms; however, every law enforcement officer could always use much more training.
I will try not to restate what many others have already written and discussed. The goal of all this is to help officers find ways to improve their skills, making them more effective and survivable, because we all want the same thing: to go home safely at the end of our shifts.
In order to understand the issue with the lack of training, we have to know why the problem exists. Law enforcement has been portrayed in a negative light by the mainstream and social media. Officers’ lives and the lives of their family members are being threatened in a way that is unprecedented. There are many out there who have and will kill an officer for simply wearing a badge and gun. How does that affect training? Simply put, no one really wants to become a peace officer anymore. Departments all across America can’t get enough qualified recruits to fill vacancies fast enough. Funding and financial support is strained. So we have is an overwhelmed, understaffed police force that doesn’t have funding for additional training.
The Financial Cost of Training
Training costs money, lots of it. To put a single recruit from the hiring process through the academy costs tens of thousands, and in many departments, easily over a hundred thousand dollars per recruit. I say “per recruit” because not every recruit graduates from the academy. Academies for local, state and federal agencies differ; what they have in common is that they all train, mold, and weed out recruits, turning people from different backgrounds into peace officers.
The majority of peace officers’ firearms training will be in the academy, where they’re all taught the basics of how to safely operate their duty weapon. So all officers leaving the academy will have shot thousands of rounds through their pistols with many repetitions of various drills and qualifications. One must understand the difficulties and limitations of firearms training for agencies; they have to train large number of recruits with varying skill levels, and get them proficient enough to pass all of the qualifications with strict schedule constraints.
So what are the exact capabilities every officer obtains during the academy? An officer with basic academy training should be able to engage targets from one to twenty five yards and hit center mass. The standard is high, and if you don’t pass the minimum qualifications, you don’t graduate.
After the academy, firearms training becomes very scarce and infrequent. This is where staffing levels affect the amount of training available. When an officer is sent to training, their shift needs to be replaced by another officer. The other alternative is to send the officer to training on their day off, which requires overtime pay, and if there’s no budget for it it isn’t happening. For most officers, the only time they shoot is when they have to qualify. Depending on their agency and assignment, that is either once a month, quarter, trimester and in some cases, yearly. There are refresher classes available and sometimes mandatory classes, but they are never frequent enough. Simply qualifying isn’t nearly enough to keep someone proficient.
These conditions aren’t going to improve anytime soon, and it then boils down to the individual officer to seek out further training whether it be offered by their agency or elsewhere. This leads to another issue: further training is dependent on each officer’s level of motivation and financial ability. A lot of officers believe that qualifying is good enough for them, though it really isn’t. Shooting a drill that you’ve done many times over at predetermined distances with a set amount of rounds fired on a flat, one-way range will never prepare or challenge you enough to succeed in a real-world, two-way range with odds stacked against you.
I am not the best pistol shooter, nor will I ever claim to be. I am, however, confident in my skills with a pistol to encounter threats I may face on or off duty. One of the most important qualities in every gunfighter is the ability to identify one’s own limitations. Without knowing your limitations with your weapons systems, whether it be a pistol, shotgun or rifle platform, the actual outcome will not be what you expect.
So what do you do if you’re a Peace Officer who doesn’t get a lot of training from your department after the academy, and you want to improve your skills? Search for local courses near you, taught by vetted instructors. There are so many schools out there, so do your research and sign up! Expect to spend a few hundred dollars per class, plus the cost of ammunition.
Why should you spend all this money and time for training? Because in these courses, you have a much better instructor-to-student ratio, and those instructors watch everything you do and have the experience and more importantly the time to spend with you to make you better. The drills that they run will allow you to move and shoot safely, something that wasn’t possible in the academy for time/safety reasons. You’ll shoot at paper, steel and reactionary targets, which most academies don’t offer due to safety restrictions. You’ll enhance the fundamentals that you already have and gain new skills to add to what I call your “tactical tool box”. You may never use the different shooting positions, but at least you’ll know how to employ them if you ever find yourself in a situation where you need them.
My academy training was top notch, and every instructor I had made sure we knew they were just teaching us basics and fundamentals. They told us skills are perishable and urged us to get further training and practice as much as possible. They could not have been more right. The instructors wanted more time and drills with us, but that wasn’t a possibility because they had to train the next class, and the next.
No matter how good you think you are with your firearms skills, humility goes a long way. You can always improve your accuracy, speed and proficiency. In our line of work, we’re responsible for every round we fire. With all the classes I’ve attended, I know I can hit an adult-sized torso out to 80 yards with my duty pistol in daylight, 30 yards using just my night sights in darkness, center mass at 25 yards and head shots at 7 yards. That’s my personal skill set. Can I be better? You bet I can, and I’ll take every opportunity to further my training and keep adding more tools to my tactical toolbox.
So evaluate yourself, take an honest look. Only you know where your skills stand. Do you dread having to qualify? If you do, it’s better to acknowledge the problem and start to improve your skills. It’s only your own life we’re talking about here; failing a qualification will force you to repeat it until you pass, failing a gunfight means you’re not going home at the end of your shift.