By Jean Reynolds

You can maximize the benefits of your police training in firearms by recognizing the difference between academy training and subsequent refresher classes. Academy training focuses on using a firearm quickly and confidently. Refresher classes focus on tactics, force-on-force situations, and advanced skills, such as making decisions, finding cover, and shooting from various angles. You should take the training seriously, even if you’re an excellent shooter, and try to acquire as much tactical knowledge as possible.
During your criminal justice career, your police training in firearms will come in two stages, basic and continuing. Your academy program will familiarize you with your weapon and teach you how to use it quickly and confidently. Throughout your career you will return to the firing range regularly to keep your skills sharp and increase your knowledge. Understanding the difference between the two kinds of training is a key to your success in law enforcement.

Some officers mistakenly think that there is nothing new to learn after they pass the basic standards course. During advanced training, they may feel overconfident because they can handle a service weapon confidently and hit a target accurately every time.

The truth is that the skills needed for effective use of a firearm go far beyond target shooting. They include thinking tactically, making legally justifiable decisions, and the ability to know when to shoot and at whom.

A December 2015 article in Police Magazine points out the dangers of overconfidence. While conducting a refresher course in firearms, author Matt Szady noticed a serious problem: in their eagerness to demonstrate their superior shooting skills, officers frequently fired at targets representing innocent bystanders and other officers.

Clearly these officers weren’t taking advantage of the opportunity to improve their tactical skills. Szady offered sound advice: “Train yourself to slice the pie around corners, to work stairways, to move as a team with fellow officers, and to use cover and all of the other tactics that will allow you to use your weapon efficiently in the field.”

Once you have mastered basic firearms skills, you should think about signing up for specialized training, such as force-on-force training with scenarios. Experienced officers say that theoretical knowledge may not be enough to keep you safe in an encounter with a dangerous suspect. Simulations teach you to think tactically so that you know exactly what to do in a risky situation.

Another useful type of training happens indoors in a “kill house” (also called a “shoot house”). This is a structure with doors, corridors, and other features resembling the layout of a house or business. This training will teach you skills that include door breaching, room clearing, finding cover, and knowing when and whom to shoot in a confrontation with an active shooter.

A “kill house” might be a simple plywood structure, but officers say the experience inside can be very lifelike. There may be paper silhouettes representing both enemy targets and innocent bystanders. Some agencies use pop-up figures to provide an even more realistic experience.

The most important factor in any training is your attitude. Are you there to show off what you know—or to increase your knowledge? Are you so nervous around weapons that you avoid thinking about them—or are you striving to take your skills to the highest level?

Many officers are never called upon to fire a weapon during their entire careers in law enforcement. But it’s impossible to predict what the future will bring, and for that reason, it can be lifesaving to strive to get maximum benefit from your weapons training.

Szady, M. (2015, December 28). Take Your Firearms Training Seriously. Police Magazine.