It goes without saying that firearms and defensive tactics skills are lifesaving in nature for you. That regardless of assignment or post, bad things can happen to you and your ability to protect yourself and control violent offenders may be the only means by which you make it home at the end of your shift. That said, too many officers allow these skills to deteriorate and diminish over time.
Fresh from the academy
Remember the day? Uniform brand new, leather still squeaky, body hard and skills mastered from endless repetitions on the range and in the DT room. Sure, you lacked experience and the ability to deal with the adrenalin coursing through your veins in a high stress call but you could draw that pistol and deliver accurate fire quickly. And man, those reloads were smokin' back in the day.
Then time interfered. Busy working night shifts, court during the day and what family events you could fit in there; you began relying on the agency to train you. After all, who has time to go to the range off duty? Or practice your draw stroke or dry fire your pistol. The very reason you train the street and the threats out there interfere with your training for it.
Going to the range to qualify you then began to notice that your scores started to lower. What once was an easy course of fire wasn't so easy anymore, drawing that pistol from the holster was a little slower and those reloads not as fast or smooth.
Fear began to creep in that you may not qualify or that you may turn out to be one of "those guys" at the range. You know the ones that the instructors stand right behind ready to grab their pistols if they do something stupid. But, what the heck, whether you pass the course by one point or twenty points it's still a pass, right? And, thank God I don't have to do this for another few months...
The qualification trap
Simply stated, qualification shoots are nothing more than a display of minimum performance skills. Whether regulated by the state or agency, qualification courses are supposed to be a test of skills already learned and practiced. It is not training, it's infrequent and it is not enough. Regardless of how many times a year your agency qualifies, it is not training. Far too many agencies revolve their entire firearms programs around qualification shoots. Coming to the range once a year and shooting some state-mandated course does not properly prepare you to win a gunfight or protect your agency from liability. Let me say that again qualification is a display of minimum performance skills and in no way prepares you to win a fight for your life or your agency from defending its training program.
Shame on those agencies that only have their peeps show up at the range once a year, engage in a course of fire in which they shoot a minimum number of rounds from fixed positions at fixed targets, and then send them out on the mean streets ill-prepared to win a deadly encounter.
How about agencies that use welding glasses to simulate low light conditions instead of shooting in actual low- or subdued-lighting conditions, and the states in this country that allow this?
Question: When you first took your driver's test, did the examiner say things like, "On the whistle, you will drive 100 feet forward and come to a complete stop"? Or did they get in the passenger's seat and test you as you navigated traffic on your own? If we test 16-year-old kids by placing them in realistic conditions, why can't we test cops with guns this way?
In my opinion, qualification shoots should get off the static firing line, e.g. "Ready on the right, ready on the left, the firing line is ready!" and engage in courses of fire that more closely replicate armed encounters on the street. Known as "scramblers" or assault courses, these types of timed events force the participant to move, use cover, engage in sound reloading practices, one hand only, etc. as they flow through a problem solving exercise. They must not just stand and shoot on a whistle but think, react, move and fire accurate on targets that require center mass hits with penalties for misses. They are being tested for their ability to apply basic skills in a realistic format.
Gunfights on the streets don't look like shootouts at the OK Corral with good guys and bad guys standing in fixed positions and neither should our training for them.
It's the training, folks
I've lost track of the number of officers that have told me that their training saved their life. When faced with a deadly threat, they did not have time to think but only to react and respond on automatic pilot. Agencies are responsible to provide that relevant and realistic training repeated on a regular basis. They are negligent and culpable if they don't.
It's your butt. Regardless of what your agency provides (bare minimum on an outdated concept or state-of-the-art) you still benefit from having more and engaging in it more often. From practice as simple as your pistol draw-stroke from the holster to engaging in I.D.P.A. or other combat shooting activities off-duty, practice keeps those skills fresh.
Don't be like the grizzled old veteran that I once worked around that had green tarnish all over the .38 Special bullets in his belt loops and whose scarred and battered holster held a revolver in a similar state.
Yes, it is an inescapable truth your skills can deteriorate over time. That is, of course, unless you train both mentally and physically in a street relevant training regime. Take a look at that academy graduation photo and get motivated to keep your training and equipment sharp. Your hard-earned street experience coupled with the skills and ability to dominate threats is a winning combination.