Yup, you read the title right. That’s the focus for this column and next month’s. I’m going to offer you some ideas intended to help you with a very common law enforcement ailment these days: lack of training dollars.
With apologies to Mr. Dickens, when it comes to law enforcement training, this is the best of times and it is also, in some ways, the worst of times. Over the course of my career I’ve seen tremendous steps forward in our training that have been truly beneficial. Safety, technology, adult learning theory, realism and many other advances have occurred to raise our current level of training to a historic high point.
On the other hand, we are currently being affected by economic forces beyond our control.
Make It Happen
I’ve seen the havoc wreaked by a bad economy several times in my career. In the 1970s, when I first started in Los Angeles County law enforcement, training was virtually nonexistent. After I finished my time with the Field Officer Training Program, that was pretty much it.
But good street cops find solutions to problems. A few of us in patrol recognized a need for training on building searches and put together a plan to address this. We found a house in our city that was scheduled to be demolished. We put our heads together to develop a basic lesson plan, because at the time there was literally nothing out there to help us. We were smart enough to put safety at the top of our priorities, and from there we were able to run successful building clearing training sessions that did some good for the troops. Admittedly, it was extremely crude and basic by today’s standards, but it worked.
There are probably low budget opportunities for you to do the same with your folks. You just have to look for creative ways to still put together and conduct at least some form of training.
It would be wise to look at the problem from the administration’s standpoint. Like a lot of agencies these days, I suspect they’re trying to keep the department afloat—maybe even trying to avoid laying off employees—as they seek ways to do the same job with less money. When you go to lobby for a specific training program, bring with you some suggestions and professional logic that will help sell the idea.
Tip: Don’t use the overworn “the sky is falling” approach. Having worked as a police manager, I can tell you that coming to us with a problem and at least one course of action is always preferable to just hearing, “Something must be done.”
Firearms training is something we must all keep on top of, even in the worst of times. You simply can’t afford not to keep up with it, even as your training budget shrinks. So what to do? Following are a few suggestions.
Brass is valuable—and no, I’m not talking about your command staff! Do you recover your brass and sell it off after your firearms training? This can provide some funding directly, or, if you trade your brass with a reputable ammo reloading company, indirectly as a credit toward future ammunition purchases. Another option to consider: If you’re shooting on someone else’s range, the owner might reduce the range fees in exchange for the brass.
Dry fire is a good tool for reinforcing the basics without going to the range. Many manipulation drills (e.g., stance, reloads, malfunction clearing) can be carried out in a dry-fire mode. Dummy rounds are helpful with this approach. (A good source for quality dummy rounds is ST Action Pro out of Florida: www.stactionpro.com.)
Consider developing a series of proficiency training drills that can be carried out under proper supervision and documented. These can be run during a briefing session or at other appropriate times. Remember: Safety still has to be at the top of the list if you’re using real weapons. Ensure weapons are unloaded prior to starting the drills and that they’re loaded prior to your officers going back out on the streets.
Even better, purchase or borrow AirSoft or Simunitions guns. Although this requires some money, the training value helps mitigate such an expenditure. These guns (or conversion kits if you buy Simunitions) will allow for similar training drills and reduce the need for trips to the range. Traditionally, they’ve been used for force-on-force scenario-type training. But depending on the system you acquire, live fire reloads, suspects wearing armor, lateral movement to cover, use of cover and so on can still be practiced using this approach. With Simunitions, for example, you can set up your own range using a solid wall as a backstop, tape up some targets and run drills like you would on the range. This could probably be done in the parking lot or other areas.
Remember: Always observe the obvious safety issues first, such as roping off the training area with crime scene tape, post warnings that the training is in place, check officers for any live-fire weapons, control the issuance of sims weapons and ammo, and so on.
Does your department have seized firearms in evidence? Some agencies will take the guns (or disassemble them into parts) and sell them to reputable firearms dealers to raise money for training purposes. This can be controversial: You should get approval from your administration prior to starting such a program. If you sell the guns rather than their parts, I would suggest that you stipulate with the dealer that the guns in turn be sold only to law enforcement agencies or personnel. This could reduce some of the administrative resistance to such a proposal. For good reason, they could be very concerned about selling a firearm to just anyone. I would avoid selling guns that have been used in violent crimes as they should be destroyed. In addition, you may have to get a court order for the guns before you can sell them. The court order should spell out that the department may dispose of the guns as appropriate.
Dry-fire low-light training can be done effectively on the cheap. Start with safety—always start with safety! Have your officers unload their guns and inspect them, and then inspect them again. Once you’re satisfied that it’s safe, start off with draw strokes where the students have to bring not only their handguns into play but also their flashlights. Consider using paper targets taped to the wall of your training area. Incorporate reloads, malfunction clearing and shooting with lateral movement techniques. If you want, progress from there to searching an enclosed area that’s been previously checked and posted as such. Then have the officers work through the tactical challenges of searching a darkened environment.
Hopefully these suggestions get the ball rolling for you.
The bottom line:
These decisions are never easy, but when it comes down to it, always come back to what’s best for your troops. Stayed tuned for more ideas in next month’s column.