By Scott Smith
Competition applies to the street.
Training is one of the most important things a police officer, agent or sheriff does. A career in law enforcement means keeping up with technology, changing laws/regulations, the newest criminal trends, and being familiar with new equipment and how to operate your tools. An officer’s greatest actual tool is his/her firearm.
It is easy to improve our knowledge and to keep current on the educational and technical aspects of the job; we sit through a class or read the latest updates. When our agency gets new equipment, we have blocks of instruction on the use, policies and deployment of the new gear. To practice our ground fighting and self-defense skills, we can make use of the agency training facility and a partner.
Staying current and proficient with our firearms is an entirely different matter. For many in law enforcement, yearly “training” is limited to our department’s qualifications. While this may cover us legally, you need to have more than the minimum required training with your firearms to prevail in a shooting. Many of the folks in law enforcement consider qualification and the once-in-a-blue-moon trip to the square range to shoot a box of ammunition as actual training. The bad news is that it is not; it is just qualification. When deploying a firearm in a stressful situation, you will need and want more and better skills.
While some of the troops will sign up for additional formal training, you only get so much from whichever shooting class you take. To be proficient with your firearms, you need to use them.
Many federal agencies do not allow their uniformed officers to “take home” their weapons. If you fall in this category, then you may have to purchase a duplicate of your duty weapon in order to train on your own. Firearms are expensive, but so is the cost of not being prepared to use your firearm under duress. It is your personal responsibility to be ready and skilled.
How does one obtain skill with firearms? If your agency is proactive, you perform live fire training (scenario based drills), you have moving targets at your range, or you utilize force-on-force training. But, what if you work for an agency that feels the state/federal minimum qualifications meets their requirements? How do you get practical training/practice? Dare I say it; you can go shoot an action pistol or three-gun match. While these competitive situations will never replicate a real-world deadly force encounter, you will become proficient at using your gear.
To help alleviate the fear of “failure” when shooting in competition, I suggest taking G4S International Training Incorporated’s Competition Pistol I and II courses. These are pure shooting schools that will teach you how to efficiently draw, reload, use cover in the scope of the game, shoot on the move, and more. Before you scoff at the idea of going to a shooting center to learn to play a game, stop and think of the positive aspects. Actors go to acting schools, dancers rehearse, and runners train daily. They all seek advice/education from professionals in their fields. You should do the same.
In May, I traveled to their Shacklefords (its near Williamsburg), Va. facility to attend the Competition Pistol II course. This course was taught by Brandon Wright. Brandon was a Virginia State Trooper for nearly a decade and is a certified police firearms instructor. He is also a world-class action pistol competitor. While the class is geared to competition, I found it to be one of the most thorough shooting courses I have taken.
Why do I suggest a competition pistol course for law enforcement? Having attended many tactical shooting courses, I found them geared to being “tacticool,” allowing the attendees and staff (many of whom are current or former operators) to meet the image of what a SWAT or Special Forces operator is supposed to be. This means you show up with your latest vest, coolest AR or handgun, and get ready to learn high-speed, low-drag maneuvers. Unless you are there as a unit and the training is geared to your unit, for the most part the gear becomes the most high-speed part of the course. I have found the training quickly becomes nothing more than how to reload, get off target, shoot controlled pairs, clear malfunctions, etc. Do not get me wrong, for many officers this may be the only time they get to train in full kit, so any training is good. What you must realize when attending tactical courses is the fact that it is hard, if not impossible to learn the skills developed over the career of SWAT and military Special Forces operators in just 16-24 hours. What I found in G4S ITI’s Competition Pistol courses is that you will learn advanced handgun skills and more.
Now I know what you are thinking, I just said all the skills of an operator cannot be learned in a short period of time. You may then ask, “OK, smart guy, then how can I learn to compete in just 16 hours?” The Competition Pistol course is going to teach you the basics of moving and shooting, reloads, “setting” up around barricades, target engagement, and being prepared to shoot when you have to. It will teach you essentially all the tasks needed if you are involved in a shooting. The biggest difference is the manner in how the material is presented. GS4 ITI presents the instruction in a manner that will improve your competition scores while having fun, not being the next Rambo.
First, GS4 ITI gives you something the tactical shooting courses generally do not. They provide a means to improve your skills and a way to document it via a log/course book. Your course book keeps track of what the class covered as a training log. This allows you to keep track of when you went to the range, the skill and drills you worked on, the weapon you used, and how many rounds you fired that day. This book also will document your training and experience, should you become involved in a shooting. It will also help prove that you have been taught the skills and background most commonly involved when a shooting occurs. Your training division will verify that any and all training documentation is good to keep indefinitely.
The course book not only gives you a general training record, but it will give you two sets of standards to be used as your baseline. These two standards will test all the basic skills required to handle and become proficient with your sidearm. The training guide covers basics and there are pages for recording techniques such as shooting with pivots, draw to shot time, shots to and from slide lock, target transitions, and several other skills needed to become proficient with your handgun. These are the skills you should master with your duty weapon.
Competition vs. Real-World Police Tactics
One area that will generate some disagreement between competition and real-world police tactics is “setting up” when moving into or out of positions. A “setup” is being prepared to engage targets that are at known positions on an action pistol course, but this also teaches how to smoothly move in and out of position. Setup helps you to smoothly slice the pie around barricades without having to move your entire body by extending into the shooting position and how to get in/out of that position efficiently. While most of the class is learning to shave time for competition, you will use those same skills to keep yourself and others alive. The instructor will explain how these moves will help you on the job.
Throughout the Competition Pistol II class, these skills are reinforced with “mini-matches.” These are instruction block final exams to show how all the skills you have worked on combine to improve your shooting on the clock. Using a shot timer, whether shooting standards or action pistol stages, will give you hard data to measure your progress. Your shooting scores may not show improvement if you are already shooting “A’s” or “X-rings,” but your times will show improvements. Your times are the improvements that could keep you alive.
A particular skill set that the course covers has become crucially needed today, because of active shooting incidents, is shooting on the move. CPII will help you realize how fast you can move and shoot accurately. It will also determine what your distance limitations are for accurate engagement. You will also perform target transitions on the move and engage in a multiple hostile incident. These are duty skills you may one day be called up to achieve. You can also incorporate weapons transitions for these drills when training on your own department range.
For those who do not plan to ever shoot an action pistol match, the final session of the course will give you a chance to have some shooting fun. You will get to shoot various steel targets, such as the Texas Star (with five falling plates rotating around a center point). You will also fire on various-sized steel popper targets, activating targets (which appear/disappear, like a bad guy would), and various plate racks. You’re pretty much guaranteed to have fun shooting GS4 ITI’s steel. Speed shooting steel is just plain fun and excellent training too.
Competition Applies to the Street
While the course name is G4S ITI Competition Pistol or Competition Pistol II, these courses can be applied to enhance your duty training. These courses will hopefully get you out to shoot an I.D.P.A., U.S.P.S.A., 3 Gun match, CMP, etc. Not only will competition make you a better shot and enhance your ability to work under stress, it will help you be comfortable with your work tools and learn your personal and equipment limitations. One added bonus from getting out and shooting matches is that you will work with shooters who can improve your skills, offer knowledgeable opinions on firearms/support gear, and you will even have fun doing it. There are many GIs and LEOs who participate in shooting sports for these reasons and it’s a win/win for all parties involved. PM
Scott Smith has served as a USAF Reserve Security Policeman, uniformed federal police officer and is currently a reserve deputy Sheriff. He is an active IDPA, USPSA and three-gun competitor. He can be reached at email@example.com.