By: John Elliott
Tyson Kilbey, a well-known firearms instructor, wrote an article for PoliceOne.com earlier this year presenting “5 underused ways to improve police firearms training.” And, after forty-four years working in various capacities in law enforcement, I heartily agree with all five of his suggestions.
I’ll review Kilbey’s methods here, and present a few of my own tips for ways police officers – and anyone who carries a gun – can better prepare for tactical situations.
The Not-So-Good Old Days
When I attended my very first police academy many years ago, by our third week, our training with firearms consisted of daytime revolver courses, from standing positions only, and from seven to twenty-five yards out from stationary paper targets.
At the end of the fourth day, if we hit the target from those distances thirty out of the thirty-six rounds we fired, we passed with flying colors! And it apparently didn’t matter how close we were to the center bullseye; it only mattered that most of the rounds hit that paper. So, as incredible as it may sound, they graduated a whole bunch of people that year, some of whom could barely hit the broad side of a barn with a shotgun at fifty feet!
On the fourth day, we had our shotgun training. After just three hours in the classroom, we were marched back out onto the range to pump out about a dozen .12 gauge rounds into more paper targets, this time from about twenty feet away. And that was it, the very end of our firearms training!
We never had any opportunities to train with rifles. There weren’t any nighttime firing exercises. And it was all done from the standing position, nothing from the kneeling, sitting, or prone positions, and absolutely nothing from barricaded or concealed locations! I don't recall anyone failing that police academy back then. How could they?
Fortunately for me, however, after that first academy in northern Virginia all those years ago, I attended three more: one in Rhode Island and another one in Florida. Their training regimes were far superior and reflected the growing need to keep up with the troubling times and be prepared for a whole host of scenarios most people would never think about.
But even these more intense classes fell far short of what should have taken place when it comes to realistic firearms training. And even in France, while I trained with several members of Interpol, and concurrently with Europol in the Netherlands, the firearms courses were woefully lacking.
Video Review and Breakdown
Kilbey prescribes as the first way academies and law enforcement agencies can improve their firearms training is by conducting video reviews, including a breakdown of what took place. If police recruits are able to watch themselves on a video feed while being assessed by instructors, it will help them immensely to correct mistakes and become much more proficient shooters.
Motivating through Competition
Kilbey recommends having annual or semi-annual shooting competitions within law enforcement agencies. He writes that such competitions will motivate officers to “perform at a higher level.”
In the department I worked for in Florida for many years, there was the annual “Chief’s Challenge” competition, and it did indeed motivate and reignite the desire in officers to hone their shooting skills.
Kilbey says competitions should be held regularly, with awards given to those who demonstrate the greatest improvement from year to year. Kilbey also suggests incorporating timed obstacle courses that involve varying shooting positions and different types of targets.
I recall watching the bodycam video of an officer who pulled over an offender for a traffic violation. As the officer steps from his patrol car, the suspect driver pulls out a rifle and begins shooting at the officer. The officer returns fire as he runs to the back of his patrol car. But then his pistol jams, and, under the extreme stress of the situation, the officer is unable to clear the weapon in time. The video then clearly shows the suspect walking to the back of the patrol car, rifle in hand, and killing the officer, before he runs back to his vehicle and escapes.
Kilbey is correct again in insisting that stress-inducing drills be taught every year and at all police academies. Even seasoned officers should practice often with malfunctioning firearms, and one way to do that is to place dummy rounds in magazines. They invariably create jams, and, when used in timed events, extreme stress for the shooter.
Breaking Bad Habits
In something he refers to as a “Follow-Through Drill,” Kilbey explains that most shooting range drills include having the shooter scan the range and then re-holster his or her firearm after the final round is fired. Kilbey explains that doing so is a bad habit, because in real life – which for cops oftentimes involves a life or death situation – officers may have to move quickly to positions of concealment after or during shooting engagements, while giving radio transmissions to back-up officers and to dispatchers about suspects and locations.
Police academies should avoid creating sloppy habits in their recruits and focus on breaking those practices that are second-nature to the average shooter.
Nix the ‘Interview Position’
In his last bit of advice, Kilbey suggests officers train with drills that involve not having their hands in the “interview position,” or down at their sides, before having to access their pistols. He recommends having officers start from a sitting position, for instance, or while they are holding something in their hands, such as a taser or pepper spray.
It’s far too easy to take the “normal” gun range drills for granted and master the expected – but how often are we perfectly prepared for the events tactical situations throw our way?
Prepare for All Possible Scenarios
My advice goes a bit farther. In addition to Kibley’s fine advice, I would also suggest officers train in varying lighting conditions, including extreme darkness, and in weather that includes heavy rain, and perhaps even snow and ice, if possible. But even that doesn’t go far enough, because there are times when officers have to fight for their lives, all the while trying to access their firearms in order to neutralize the suspect.
Thus, in addition to the “standard” positions of standing, sitting, kneeling, and prone, academies should teach officers to fire from their backs while lying on the ground. Officers should learn to fire over their heads and behind them while in that position, too.
Academies should teach recruits how to quickly access their pistols while wearing gloves, long winter jackets, or any type of apparel that makes it so the pistol and holster are covered over. And, for goodness’ sake, teach all officers how to handle a variety of rifles and shotguns safely while conducting live-fire drills that produce anxiety and nervousness, because all of that may one day save that officer’s life, and/or the lives of others.
Master the Fast Draw
Many years ago, while in Rhode Island, I worked with an officer who could access his pistol from his holster and fire several rounds, all in under one or two seconds. His “fast draw” technique, something which reminded me of the Wild West, was simply amazing and is also something all police officers should learn, because there will invariably come a time when it will be needed to fend off a violent attack.
Having many years working in law enforcement and endless hours at various gun ranges under my belt, as well as SWAT training back in my home state of Rhode Island, I very much appreciate Kilbey’s timely advice. We are unfortunately, living in an increasingly violent and hostile world, one in which police officers can’t be too well prepared.
John Elliott is a forty-four year veteran of law enforcement, writing from Illinois. Contact him at Inquiries@JohnElliottBooks.com.