Money is tight, and free time is even more scarce. Many law enforcement officers work off duty jobs to help cover family expenses. Why should any officer then turn around and spend any remaining cash and family time on private firearms training? After all, doesn’t the department provide training?
Let’s face it: many agencies and academies give officers the basic tools they need to survive, not necessarily the best. While the odds of you defending your life in a shootout are less than you needing to know how to investigate a traffic accident, the consequences of failing in a gunfight are much steeper than most anything else you could fail at on the job. Why would you saddle yourself with the minimum training when your very life may be at stake?
Departmental training and state standards are all too often based on a minimum level of marksmanship competency, not on real world performance. Unfortunately, this brings about a qualification mentality rather than an emphasis on training. Some departments are more interested in passing scores on paper targets instead of teaching the skills needed for surviving a deadly force encounter.
Frequently, when agencies teach skills, they rely on techniques that were introduced decades ago. Some of those methods are still relevant, while some are not. Even if those techniques proved to be ineffective in the field, it can take a very long time for policies to change. Sometimes, nothing changes until a tragedy occurs.
“Most departments’ firearms training are lagging far behind the private sector and are overly concerned with passing marksmanship heavy qualification courses,” said Rob Pincus, a law enforcement officer and developer of Combat Focus Shooting. “Certainly, there are plenty of antiquated and target shooting approaches in the private sector as well, but an officer willing to invest some time can find quality training focused on applying defensive shooting skills from a number of instructors/schools.”
Many public sector firearms programs are still based on the officer survival movement of the 1970’s. While that era helped improve the safety and effectiveness of law enforcement officers, the subsequent decades allowed for advanced studies on the effectiveness of different training programs and how the body performs under life threatening stress. These studies have shaped the training at cutting edge department and, more frequently, in private sector training.
Post Shooting Survival
Winning a deadly force encounter means much more than simply surviving the attack. An officer must be prepared to defend his or her actions in a departmental investigation and in a court of law. Sometimes criminal charges may be wrongly filed against an officer by an uneducated or politically motivated prosecutor. Far more frequently, a civil suit will be brought by the very person who attacked you. If your attacker was killed, you can expect the family will sue as well.
“Additional, private firearms training is a form of insurance for law enforcement officers,” said Paul Carlson, owner of Safety Solutions Academy. “When you are involved in a use of force situation, you will bear the majority of the consequences of the situation. The first thing that comes to mind is your own survival, but your physical freedom and financial security are also at risk.”
“Having the highest level of proficiency with your firearms makes sure that you are able to run your gun efficiently with less conscious input,” said Carlson. “This leads to more brain processing power available to analyze and correctly respond to the complicated situations you are presented with on the job. The result is that you are far less likely to make a costly mistake that can lead to a negative outcomes.”
An officer who seeks out quality firearms training beyond the basics offered at the department can present themselves as a professional to a jury. This shows that you treat your employment seriously, as a profession, not just a job. A quality private instructor can also be an exceptional expert witness on your behalf should you need to defend yourself in a courtroom.
Far too often, I have seen departments select officers to be firearms instructors because of the amount of time on the job rather than possessing an aptitude for teaching others. These instructors can prove to be detrimental to the overall performance of officers in the field because of their inability to convey ideas and build up officers’ shooting skills. For an officer who is relatively weak with the fundamentals of shooting, private instruction can get him or her on track without the stigma of looking bad in front of other officers.
According to Pincus, a good firearms instructor need not have a law enforcement background for improving defensive shooting skills. “Their ability to teach, coach and explain is what matters,” he said. However, if the course is designed to incorporate scenarios the officer might encounter, or additional gear the officer might use, the instructor should have an understanding of how those things relate to the student officer’s needs in training.
“Many courses cover both fundamental defensive shooting skills and gear or tactics,” said Pincus. “In those cases, it is important that the instructor understand the context of those issues for those in the public sector, but it is not necessary that the instructor has been an officer.” Pincus is a reserve deputy sheriff with about two decades of active and reserve law enforcement experience.
Personally, I have taken advanced firearms courses from experienced cops and instructors who have never put on a badge. There are good and bad in both the public and private sectors. However, one of the best courses I took was an eight hour class with a pair of instructors, neither of whom had any law enforcement experience. What they had, however, was an excellent teaching method along with skills that demonstrably improved my shooting.
“If your goal is to learn to run your gun more efficiently with less conscience input from your brain, the background of your instructor has little impact on your learning,” said Carlson. “What does matter is their ability to teach the physical skills of handling a gun in a context that applies to your job.”
What If You Are Already an Expert?
Being the best shot in the department doesn’t mean you are better than anyone you might meet on the street. Think of it like being a big fish in a little pond: when you are dumped in the ocean, you might suddenly find yourself being gobbled up by much larger fish because your overconfidence failed to prepare you for your new reality.
With firearms training, there may be a lot you don’t know that you don’t know. Additionally, you might not be as good as you could be.
“Even if you have great firearms skills you still can learn a lot from instructors from outside your agency,” said Carlson. “You might pick up a new way to perform a skill that works better for you, or, be exposed to more advanced techniques that your department doesn’t have the time, budget, or expertise to train. Most importantly, everyone has room to improve.”
So, is it worth spending your money and time to get firearms training outside your department? “As good as you are today, it might not be enough to deal with what you face tomorrow,” said Carlson. “It is your choice as to whether you make the decision to improve, or not. The consequences are yours as well.”