FROM THE CONTROL BOOTH: Be An Angel On Their Shoulder


By Steve Tracy  I Editorial director

Be An Angel On Their Shoulder

In the July/August 2013 issue of The Police Marksman, George T. Williams’ article about firearms instructor styles included the “Angel on Their Shoulder” style of coaching. I’ve subscribed to that method when running officers through their paces, firing rounds downrange during training.

Firearms instructors need to walk a fine line between serious instruction and an enjoyable experience. What we’re teaching can mean the difference between life and death. The use of deadly force is, by definition, serious stuff. Safety is a necessary prime order on the range and a certain level of seriousness must be maintained on the range. While the drill instructor method may work fine with new recruits, it isn’t going to work with seasoned veterans. Your co-workers are experienced police officers used to being in control. They don’t like being barked at or talked down to.

I recently complimented a firearms instructor at an eight-hour class I attended because he was friendly, knowledgeable, and appropriately humorous at the right moments. He made the class enjoyable for all his students while also maintaining a serious and professional instructional environment. His self-deprecating manner worked well for him and he quickly earned the respect of his students. Although the subject matter was grave, this instructor didn’t remain dour when conveying the information. He was upbeat and fun.

If you talk with professional dog trainers, they’ll tell you that there is no such thing as a bad dog, only bad owners who don’t train their dogs properly. I lean toward the belief that there is no such thing as someone who is a bad shot, only bad firearms instructors who don’t take the time to train their officers properly.

When I was a newly minted firearms instructor, I remember officers who hated coming to the range. Who could blame them when the mentality was, “Get them in, put them through the course, make them clean their gun, and then get them out!” I try to make sure I welcome each officer and explain the course of fire. I go over why the training applies and how it will improve their ability to stay alive. I try not to rush through anything, despite time constraints that always apply to police work.

Large departments may not have as much one-on-one instruction as smaller departments, but it’s still important to remember that the training should have meaning that translates to the street. Officers should leave with a sense that they learned something they can use.  An emphasis on quality range training should be more important than just CYA range attendance.

When officers need remedial training, view it as a personal challenge to get them to improve. The thanks that you will receive after an officer does well will be both satisfying and personally rewarding. When running the line, I observe the targets and then remind the officers to focus on their front sights. At our range, instructors walk just behind the line and when I instruct, I am often repeating, “Watch your front sight, front sight, front sight” when I see bullet groups expand or stray from the center.

As range officers, we know how serious our jobs are, but sometimes we need to make sure that our work is translating to the street. The officers we train need to take away useful tactics and skills that will keep them alive. Since we’re taking the time to conduct the training, it’s up to the instructors to make sure it’s quality and not just CYA.

Recently, an officer drew his duty pistol during a particularly stressful call. He later told me that he heard my voice from on the range reminding him to watch his front sight, front sight, front sight. The “Angel on Their Shoulder” style of firearms coaching worked well for him and we’re both glad range commands weren’t just being given over the speaker system from the control booth.  PM


Back to Top