Conventional, two-hand flashlight shooting techniques restrict officers’ search perspective and force officers to lead all searches with the weapon's muzzle.
Using light and weapon independently provides a greater field view and greater options.
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One of the most difficult phases of any critical situation is turning complex problems into successes. Few situations drive this home harder than when engaging an adversary in reduced-light environments. History and statistics tell us the majority of a police officer s day involves diminished light; while we recognize this condition, our profession has been slow to truly develop relevant training programs to address it. In attempts to deal with the problem, a number of techniques have been created to facilitate the use of a sidearm and a flashlight, but they do little to address the sensible use of a flashlight in day-to-day situations and transitions from the day-to-day to spontaneous, extraordinary situations involving the application of force.
Various techniques in wide use among organizations and instructors operate under the presumption that if a flashlight is to be used, it must be used in concert with a weapon, having all search activities lead with the weapon s muzzle. These techniques begin and end from a ready position with both flashlight and weapon deployed, suggesting that an aggressively hostile opponent bent on homicide lurks around every corner. When officers aim a flashlight at an individual using a typical two-hand technique, they also point the muzzle of a firearm at what might be an unarmed or innocent person. This simple, often dismissed act creates a serious degradation of the rules of firearms safety, as well as the policy of most agencies, and is a serious disaster just waiting to happen.
Most situations necessitating the use of a flashlight seldom require the use of a weapon. In fact, officers engage in casual, non-threatening flashlight use throughout a typical duty day, but are routinely trained in flashlight shooting techniques alone. What actions will an officer take when routine becomes extreme? What options will the officer have available if training has never addressed transitions to aggressive postures, deploying both flashlight and weapon simultaneously?
Typically, reduced-light training consists of officers learning various methods of operating a flashlight and weapon together. Officers are then told to select a method that they feel comfortable with. Training is conducted on a flat range, at defined distances and from static positions.
A number of reasons exist, some good and some not so good, why reduced-light training is conducted this way. Of course, most convincing is safety. After all, night or reduced-light ranges can be safety nightmares requiring instructors to take extra steps to maintain control and avoid tragedy. However, situations involving conflict are rarely static, seldom occur at known distances and are not likely to use the flashlight, unless the officer has already assumed a posture with weapon and flashlight deployed. Compounding this already monumental problem, the methods taught solely target engagement techniques and do little in addressing drawing, searching and moving with a flashlight. These techniques also fail to address physical control of the weapon or flashlight, should a suspect end up within an officer s reactionary distance or engage the officer in a physical fight.
Effectively addressing these needs requires training that takes the officer far outside the scope of common tactics and firearms training. Reality-based training allows officers to engage in activities similar to real world scenarios and pit skills and abilities against those of other calculating individuals. No other form of training, when managed effectively, generates the level of stress and requires rapid problem-solving skills that reality-based training does, especially when it s applied as force-on-force training. However, even though this form of training is dynamic, it still has limitations. Typical reality or force-on-force training relies on some form of expensive marking ammunition fired from modified firearms, requires dedicated training areas and involves significant prep time, clean up, safety equipment and supervision. Further, this type of training is not the sole answer to all the problems found in the low-light environment, because the limitations and financial considerations of the tools required for training only serve to further complicate matters and limit training time.
However, what if there was a low-cost tool that required no special set up and minimal safety equipment, allowing trainers to exercise all the various conditions experienced in the low-light environment? Would it be worth your time to consider it for your own agency?
For a little over 30 years, Airsoft products have made their way into our lives as low-cost toy guns, bringing their fair share of controversy in the hands of both kids and adults. Built to accurately replicate nearly every type of handgun, long gun and shotgun, Airsoft weapons represent viable tools for training, particularly for reduced-light training. In fact, a number of Airsoft products, such as the Systema PTW, are designed as dedicated training tools for law enforcement and military applications, and are restricted from being sold to the general public.
Airsoft weapons fire lightweight plastic or biodegradable pellets at velocities ranging from 200 - 400 feet per second. These projectiles are so light they lose velocity quickly, allowing you to use them nearly anywhere with little worry about property damage or physical injury. Minimal injury or damage concerns means these no-nonsense training tools can be used to address practically any firearms-related skill or technique. Their cost effectiveness allows officers to work through countless repetitions of a drill without having to worry about the cost of ammunition.
Integrating Airsoft training weapons into an agency s training program can greatly elevate the productivity of training, having a tremendous effect on an officer s training experience. After all, the best form of training for any force-application situation is experiential training, and these tools allow trainers the safety and flexibility to provide officers with the experiences necessary to prevail in difficult situations.
Flashlights and firearms, like any other handheld tool, are predisposed to the various problems associated with sympathetic response. This common phenomenon is amplified under the effects of stress and occurs when an extremity, such as a hand or finger, contracts in response to an event a different extremity is engaged in. As a result, clumsy manipulation of tools, like activating a flashlight or launching rounds when unintended, can result in horrendous disasters and frequently result in severe disciplinary action against the officer. The dynamics of low-light environments can greatly amplify stress, increasing the likelihood of a sympathetic-response incident. The conditioning required to prevent these types of events is seldom addressed by agencies because it requires numerous repetitions of a skill under realistic conditions that often violate a range safety protocols, so they are simply not done. Take an unaddressed training issue in to a high-demand event and you re asking for trouble. However, by making broad use of Airsoft training weapons, particularly for reduced-light training, you can greatly minimize the likelihood of these tragic events. Train officers to work safely with their tools, and you re ready to move into the more dynamic aspects of reduced-light work.
Next, officers must train to operate under four scenarios involving potential threats: with only weapon deployed, with only flashlight deployed, with both weapon and flashlight deployed, and with neither weapon nor flashlight deployed. Unfortunately, most training only provides, in somewhat limited doses, for situations involving both weapon and light deployed. For contemporary trainers, striving to prepare officers for the realities of real-world situations, this makes no sense. Training should accurately mirror the use of tools and their application on the street.
With out a doubt, the four scenarios listed above are inconvenient. In addition, because they require ambidextrous activity, they are difficult to mete out. However, they re far from impossible and unquestionably essential for performance and safety in reduced-light environments.
In fact, one of the safest and most effective methods is to utilize weapon and flashlight in opposite hands, independent from each other. In this manner, officers can move the light around, negotiate it around corners and obstacles, and minimize their exposure to potential danger areas and hostile suspects. Operating the flashlight and weapon independently allows officers to illuminate larger areas with greater maneuverability, have a superior search perspective and maximize their safety, which conversely means reduced liability.
Reduced-light training is a confusing subject matter; it s one that is much more complex than it appears on the surface and is frequently approached from the middle or the end, rather than from the beginning. Being human, it s easy to be taken with clever marketing, leading one to assume that a newer and more advanced tool is the only answer to the problem. After all, advances in illumination technology have given us brighter, more durable and reliable tools. But even the brightest white light is not the end-all, be-all answer to solving problems in reduced light; it s just part of the solution.
The solution rests in intelligent application of both tools and tactics under realistic conditions. The right tool, used in conjunction with the right tactics, becomes a phenomenal asset.
Training that addresses individual situational control skills, especially working in a reduced-light environment, is critical for success. When lives are at stake, there s far too much to lose if training fails to address real issues or fails to reach ample intensity. How we train and what we teach is crucial; the folks we train can t afford to make mistakes when conflict happens, regardless if it s light or dark.
Operating and, when necessary, shooting in a reduced-light environment is a very real part of our occupation. With proper, familiar equipment and concerted appropriate training, we can prepare to manage risks and challenges, allowing us to deliver a final product that truly enhances an individual s ability to succeed in the high-demand atmosphere of reduced light. Bottom line: Train to win!
Tips for Trainers
1. Consider the reality of the job. Train for the full use of the flashlight, not just shooting.
2. Make training real. Embrace the full spectrum of experiential training.
3. Whenever possible, have officers problem-solve in training. The job is far from black and white; officers must be capable of making quick decisions on their own.
4. Make low-light training a frequent part of all tactics training. Flashlights are tools, not just tubes with buttons and bulbs. Frequent use in training makes real world application more fluid and effective.
5. Train to seize initiative and control situations. There's so much more to low-light situations than just pulling a trigger.
6. Stop standing still. Move! Real conflict is dynamic and mobile. Break traditional training philosophies and incorporate movement into your program.
7. Let accidents happen and embrace them as learning opportunities. The training world is the place to trip, fall, stumble and make mistakes. Use their value to train through problems.
8. Train with the right tools. Issuing or authorizing one tool and training with another is pointless.