Are Officers Spending Too Much Time on the Range?

By Shane S. McSheehy   |   Dec 28, 2019

Every agency has specific, often unique training needs. Creating a training agenda that checks all of the required boxes is challenging, to say the least. Trainers often must discern which types of training are required, as well as the frequency of each training topic. In addition, they’re responsible for removing training topics when they become irrelevant or fall to the bottom of the priority list.

At one point, my agency held six out of its twelve training sessions at the firing range. These sessions involved a variety of firearms-based proficiencies. For most agencies, firearms exercises are a staple within the training schedule. As mass shooter incidents and deadly attacks on law enforcement officers continue to make headlines, it’s not hard to understand why trainers place a high emphasis on firearms and scenario-based Simunition-style training. This type of lifesaving training is a must, and it is invaluable in safeguarding officers.

When it comes to police training, time and money are common obstacles. When excess budget dollars and time are spent on training in one area, other crucial areas of training may be neglected. As trainers, we cannot ignore the fact that, despite the seemingly daily instances of police-involved shootings and similar events, incidents in which police officers are assaulted with firearms are actually very low.

The most recent available FBI report on the subject, titled Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA 2017), confirms this fact:

  • Over 60,000 officers were assaulted in 2017
  • Of the 60,000+ officer attacks, four categories of weapons were used
    • Personal weapons (hands and feet): 77%
    • Firearms: 4.4%
    • Knives/cutting instruments: 1.8%
    • Other dangerous weapons: 17%

An overwhelming majority of law enforcement attacks involve “personal weapons”—meaning hands and feet. With that, the question becomes: Are trainers too focused on the firearms range and perhaps not allocating enough time for the defensive tactics room? Shouldn’t we be allotting an appropriate amount of time in our training calendar to respond to the incidents which are most likely to occur? It’s an interesting question.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, there are over 700,000 officers nationwide. I would argue that many—if not most—have been physically attacked or otherwise had a physical altercation of some sort while on the job. Conversely, officers who have used their firearm in the line of duty are still (thankfully) mostly uncommon.

I have engaged in peer and network discussions, conducted informal polls, and participated in training forums. I’ve learned that relevant, realistic, and regular agency defensive tactics training programs are not commonplace. Perhaps the popular collective justification for that is that defensive tactics training is dangerous and causes officer injury. Officer injuries are expensive to an agency’s healthcare plan, can impact overtime budgets due to coverage issues, and require specific training facilities and specialty equipment. While these are very legitimate concerns, the positive outcomes far outweigh these challenges.

The Benefits

An officer who is confident in their ability to defend themselves—and also in their ability to use well-designed, proven physical maneuvers and tactics to influence control and mitigate resistance—may use a lower level of force than an officer who lacks defensive tactics proficiency. Quick and effective control is key. It can only be accomplished as a result of a training program that is not only proficient but also routine. Once-a-year segment training programs are not sufficient to build or retain useful, effective officer defensive and control techniques.

Officers who build, practice, and retain these skills have additional means to navigate a police use-of-force scenario. They are no longer relegated to using only a taser and baton, or worse—only a firearm.

I am certainly not suggesting that we attempt to mitigate deadly force scenarios with an inappropriate use-of-force response. I fully appreciate the fact that our response to force is completely driven by a suspect’s actions. However, officers who demonstrate skillful and practiced defensive tactics techniques are more efficient with control and mitigation. This efficiency is essential for a quicker resolution and may negate the need for the officer to use a higher level of force.

The Solution

There are viable solutions related to building and maintaining proficiency in defensive tactics skills. Consistency in training, as well as routine exposure and practice of skillsets, is crucial to effective officer performance. Some suggestions include:

  • Partner with a studio or gym which offers grappling, jiu-jitsu, boxing, or other defensive tactics-based training, and extend discounted membership offers to officers
  • Participate in train-the-trainer courses and bring the training back to your agency
  • Design defensive tactics training in smaller time segments. Integrate this training into most bi-weekly or monthly training sessions instead of dedicating it to only one full session
  • Incorporate simple defensive tactics skills into an existing annual physical abilities test
  • Provide incentives for officers to train in defensive tactics. Be creative!

Officers must learn and practice a variety of skills. It’s a reality that will continue throughout their careers. As trainers, we are responsible for providing relevant and meaningful training to our officers. We must prepare them for those incidents and situations which are most likely to occur. In 2017, 77% of all assailants who attacked police officers used their hands or feet. This figure is not an anomaly; it’s consistent with totals from previous years. While firearms exercises are still an extremely vital part of our training regimen, we must realize the importance of allocating an adequate amount of training time to teach our officers how to defend, control, and mitigate physical attacks in which no weapon is utilized. Regular and consistent training is key to officer performance and confidence. After all, the end goal is to keep our officers safe and prepared.