Law enforcement agencies require “qualification” tests at least one time each year.
Firearms qualification ensures that officers can make a certain number of holes in a paper target within a given amount of time. Almost every department requires additional tests of proficiency for its officers.
At the Federal Way Police Department, four training sessions occur each year. This Federal Way requirement is now becoming the regional standard. Almost every agency in our region meets the regional standard and some agencies may exceed this standard by shooting six times a year.
One of the four training sessions that Federal Way police officers undergo is proficiency or “qualification” testing. Two are other live-fire training. And one is reality-based training scenarios with live role players and Simunitions marking cartridges or Airsoft weapons. Most sessions include service pistols and patrol rifles.
FWPD started doing some things years ago that are being done by most agencies now, such as reality-based training. Many officers hired from other agencies, especially from outside of our state, lack familiarity with moving while shooting. FWPD requires moving while shooting as part of the basic qualification course. Many agencies train on it, but don’t test on it. FWPD requires 100 percent hits on target as part of the qualification course.
Many other agencies don’t require all rounds fired to hit within the silhouette; they only require their officers to meet (or exceed) a minimum passing score, which can allow for a complete miss. The trend is toward requiring 100 percent hits. Our source in the department observed that, although many departments throughout the State of Washington have standards similar to Federal Way standards, the feedback from discussions at the statewide law enforcement instructor school — and from officers at smaller agencies on the Eastside — is that some firearms training programs are weak compared to FWPD’s standards.
Reality-based training has become a phenomenon in the “civilian” world also. The number of stores that sell paintball equipment and supplies is amazing. Airsoft guns look exactly like real weapons and even the military practices with such reality-based equipment. A few years back, I took a class at the Marksman (a local pistol range) in which instructors and police officers from the Puyallup Police Department explained the laws of armed self-defense for civilians. The high point in the class was deploying a Glock pistol that shoots a laser beam onto a life-size screen.
The object is to distinguish between unarmed bystanders and predators that come at you wielding deadly force. Such “shoot/don’t shoot” scenarios help the student to apply the practical legal reasoning that is taught in class. It sounds easy to sort out the victims from the predators until you are the one having to make split-second decisions with someone pointing a gun at you. Military and police are using simulators for everything from rifle practice to shooting simulated grenades at simulated tanks.
All of the new technology, however, will never replace getting out and practicing with the weapon you actually carry. A malfunction or other unexpected contingency can only be identified when your training is as close to reality as possible.