FEATURED IN TRAINING
This morning was my annual visit to the range to do my HR 218 qualifications. As I headed out west, I thought about qualifications--my own, and the kind that I was about to do. Over 29 years you see a variety of philosophies in qualifications, experience a number of different courses of fire, and see a wide variety of cop's reactions to being on the line.
Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, almost everyone qualified on a modification of the NRA Practical Police Combat (PPC) Course. It wasn't practical, it had nothing to do with combat, but at least by 1975 in Florida it had evolved to two-handed isosceles positions. Not too long before, police training and qualification had still been one-handed target style shooting. The 1970s were a watershed in law enforcement. The rulings of the Warren Court had substantially changed how investigative aspects of the job were handled, and the violence of the latter 60s and early 70s brought about an immense response in actual tactical concepts being introduced. By the 1980s, agencies of all sizes were incorporating these concepts into their training. Officer survival had entered the parlance and was a serious subject.
Firearms training continued to advance, the isosceles position began to find competition from the Weaver position, and officers found themselves being trained to move and fire--forwards and laterally. The concepts of cover and concealment, long recognized in the military, began to be imported into the police world.
Qualifications began to reflect these new concepts. Agencies varied in their courses--some opted for "easier" courses of fire that were, in reality, simpler but not especially easier. Others adopted tough courses of fire, putting their officers under the psychological stressor of possible failure and removal from the job. Some included strings of fire from the one and three yard lines; others continued to shoot out to 25 yards. Movement was introduced; put a pistol in my hand and tell me to walk forward and shoot; my feet will do the shuffle to avoid tripping, as I was taught over 20 years ago.
Then there were "innovative" introductions. Night firing and qualifications. No one ever thought of that when most of us dinosaurs were working shifts. Shotgun qualifications--another concept that had been overlooked, despite it being the most powerful firearm in terminal ballistics in the police arsenal. Shooting from seated positions, to help address the number of incidents where an officer was trapped in the patrol car and needed to bring deadly force to bear.
Innovation in qualification especially flowed from larger agencies. One south Florida agency is known for varying its qualification course every time an officer appears for the six month shoot. One time it will be the department's formal qualification program, a 36 shot course between three and 15 yards. The next time the officers will be directed to the firing line at seven yards and directed to draw and fire one round--and then be dismissed. Unusual, but also realistic. For every Miami FBI or LAPD North Hollywood shootout, there are hundreds of incidents where the shooting is over in one or two shots.
Now we have seen a return to one-handed techniques. Not to re-embrace the old target shooting training, but to train the officer to be able to shoot if impaired. Along with this has been emphasis on one-handed reloading techniques, and now even weak-hand draws. The latter two may not fit into qualification, but one handed double taps with the right and then left hand have easily been incorporated into courses.
Innovative trainers have realized that neither training nor qualification requires extensive facilities. For many years barricade shooting was conducted around a 2x8, standing vertically. Folding chairs have worked for seated, "in car," shooting positions. Many a move-and-fire course has been laid out, not through an intricate Hogan's Alley, but with old, nasty traffic cones.
HR 218 has played a role in qualifications. In the sunshine state, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), which oversees officer training and certification, had a standard qualification for the police academy, but there was no continuing statewide program. In reflection of HR 218, FDLE adopted a simple qualification program, to be shot by active duty officers every second year. Simplified course? FDLE took the position that it should establish minimum standards, and a simple course, and let the several hundred police agencies in the state determine the appropriate qualification standard for their agency, based upon their community and agency needs.
Where does leave the common cop? A lot depends on both the firearms staff and the agency policy. If the agency uses qualification as a purely pass/fail program, and relegates an officer who fails to qualify to the rubber gun squad or worse, it places an unnaturally high level of stress on the officer. But if the agency uses qualification not only as a "standard for service," but also to establish needs for remediation and takes the remediation seriously, it should relax the cops on the line and allow a more natural approach to the program.
As a brontosaurus, I can look back to the old days and then to today, and see the tremendous strides that have been made. In less than two generations, firearms training and qualification have come from a necessary evil, often just, literally, a play day, to part of the job designed to help ensure an officer goes home at the end of shift. We've come a long way and, hopefully, will continue to trudge in the same direction.