Deadly Force Training

The purpose of the LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS’ SAFETY ACT OF 2004 (18 U.S.C. Sec. 926B and 926C) is to supplement active law enforcement personnel in order to deter crime and prevent terrorist activity. The federal law accomplishes this by anticipating that additional armed law enforcement personnel that have already been trained will be present within each jurisdiction as officers travel from one jurisdiction to another while on business, vacationing or for any other reason.

The Act authorizes retired officers and active police officers from any jurisdiction within the United States to carry a concealed firearm within any jurisdiction of the United States; thus, increasing the likelihood that an armed officer will be present if circumstances warrant appropriate use of armed force. The retired officer must qualify annually per the standards that officers are required to meet for firearms proficiency within the agency from which he or she retired. For a retired officer to carry a weapon in all fifty states, the federal statute requires:

“… a certification issued by the State in which the individual resides that indicates that the individual has, not less recently than one year before the date the individual is carrying the concealed firearm, been tested or otherwise found by the State to meet the standards established by the State for training and qualification for active law enforcement officers to carry a firearm of the same type as the concealed firearm.”

The LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS’ SAFETY ACT OF 2004 is an aid to law enforcement and the public that costs the state or the federal government very little because the training has already been provided at the state level and each retired officer essentially becomes a volunteer who must pay the cost of maintaining his/her qualifications at the state and/or local level.

RCW 36.28A.090 reads in part:

Firearms certificates for qualified retired law enforcement officers.

(1) The purpose of this section is to establish a process for issuing firearms certificates to residents of Washington who are qualified retired law enforcement officers for the purpose of satisfying the certification requirements contained in the federal law enforcement officers safety act of 2004 (118 Stat. 865; 18 U.S.C. Sec. 926B and 926C).

(2) The Washington association of sheriffs and police chiefs shall develop a firearms certificate form to be used by local law enforcement agencies when issuing firearms certificates to retired law enforcement officers under this section.

(3) A retired law enforcement officer who is a resident of Washington may apply for a firearms certificate with a local law enforcement agency. The local law enforcement agency may issue the firearms certificate to a retired law enforcement officer if the officer:

(a) Has been qualified or otherwise found to meet the standards established by the criminal justice training commission for firearms qualifications for active law enforcement officers in the state; and…

We have produced a legal opinion letter that we will make available to any law enforcement agency in Washington State.

Liability for Mistakes in Low-Light Environments

Nevertheless, the question of liability for officer shootings in situations where justifiable use of deadly force becomes an issue is a very common situation for officers that needs to be addressed at a number of different levels according to experts.

The following information is from the Police Policy Studies Council and Law Enforcement News (a publication of John Jay College of Criminal Justice/CUNY):

Police shootings involving unarmed suspects often occur in a darkened setting. Many law enforcement agencies do not train their officers how to shoot under such conditions.

According to the Houston Chronicle, 59 percent of the 189 shootings that occurred in Harris County from 1999-2004 occurred between sunset and sunrise. In at least five cases involving unarmed suspects officers appeared to have mistaken an object for a gun in low light.

Research conducted in Los Angeles County, Baltimore County and New York City by Tom Aveni, a sworn officer, and trainer with the New Hampshire-based Police Policy Studies Council, turned up similar results.

Since most shootings occur under low light conditions, it makes sense for armed citizens and police officers to get specialized training in low-light combat shooting tecniques. The Firearms Academy of Seattle provides such training along with training in most aspects of rifle, pistol and shot gun tactics.

Although most state officer training only requires qualifying under daylight conditions that bear little resemblance to the environment in which police officers do their job, the study indicates that such training is critical.

In many if not most of these shootings, the low light conditions are such that a cell phone is mistaken for a gun especially where the suspect acts in such a way that the suspect’s body language is interpreted as intense or aggressive.

“When I see officers getting into trouble, it’s because they’re shooting at things they haven’t clearly identified.”

David Klinger, an associate professor of criminology at the University of Missouri in St. Louis, and the author of “Into the Kill Zone: A Cop’s-Eye View of Deadly Force,” believes that as much information as can be gleaned from real-life situations should be integrated into training.

“I can’t say that no police are ever trained [in low-light conditions], but it’s a training issue where many officers don’t get the opportunity to fire under those circumstances, absolutely.” He told LEN. “We want to make our training as realistic as possible so police officers are able to have spent some time in a variety of environments if they find themselves having to make a life and death decision. To the extent to which officers are not getting realistic training is the extent to which we’re not preparing them as well as we should.”

Just shooting at targets is not the kind of training that is needed in order to protect the officer and the public from the shootings that occur with a great deal of frequency, usually under low light conditions. Many shooting schools provide low light training for officers and non-police civilians; e.g., Firearms Academy of Seattle.

One example of an innovation that augments the traditional firearms training is the situation created at a recent IPSIC competition at Paul Bunyan Shooting Range in Puyallup. I participated in a scenario that created the sort of chaos present in the street environments faced by officers in real life where we started out in a mocked-up drivers seat, exited from a vehicle while engaging multiple targets that were behind partial cover and shot at moving targets.

Another situation involves engaging targets where lights may be bright in one room, dark in another and you have to move from a low-light environment to a brightly lit room.

I recently completed the defensive handgun class at FAS in which we were introduced to low-light combat techniques and learned the basics of shooting from cover. The low-light training is conducted in a darkened room with dimmer-controlled lighting. We learned two different methods of deploying a flashlight while shooting. The learning curve is rapid at FAS and by the end of the two day class all of us were shooting multiple shots with accuracy and speed that I never expected to achieve even after quite a bit of previous training and competition.

Incidentally, experts like Massad Ayoob recommend IPSIC and IDPA competitions because the degree of stress engendered in racing through multiple targets creates enough stress that a shooter begins to function like he will under the extreme stress of a gun fight. Continuing to function after your gun jams is a matter of survival that is inculcated by such competitions in which you find yourself racing through a maze of targets, making tactical decisions as to when to load another magazine and which target to engage first.

Perpetrators tend to run in packs and malfunctions are almost inevitable, especially during rapid fire shooting. Good shooters continue to move while they clear a jam (or stay behind cover). And the first rule in real life combat is that the situation is constantly changing. You may look up and find an innocent bystander standing in the doorway from which shots were fired a moment before. The ability to keep on thinking and functioning in these situations develops from constant repitition under stress with a professional trainer to push you past your normal limits of endurance.

Competition will also get you out there pushing your comfort level. So what makes the difference between officers that survive gunfights and those who don’t survive or make critical mistakes at the expense of unarmed civilians?

“The answer, simply put: ‘It is the difference in training.’ “

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