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Plenty of Practice Prevents Poor Police Performance

It is a rare week to pass without a report of an accidental shooting by police.

The reason for better than 99 percent of these accidental weapon discharges is the lack of ongoing firearm training after a law enforcement officer completes initial academy training.

Most firearms training instructors agree the average police officer is at his or her most proficient level of firearms familiarity upon training academy graduation. This finding leads to yet another surprising fact — there is no unified standard for academy firearms training for cadets at federal and most state levels — or subsequent ongoing training programs either.

At Washington state’s Law Enforcement Training Center (“LETC”), cadets undergo 90 hours of firearms training. According to LETC firearms instructor Sean Hendrickson, “Those skills that they receive here at the academy, firearms skills, degrade pretty rapidly after they leave the academy if they’re not practicing or getting more training.”

According to an Associated Press report on December 9, 2019; Washington state’s required 90 hours of academy training topped the list of states that responded to queries about training standards. Amounts reported by other states varied, with Florida at 80 hours, Missouri at 66 hours, Utah at 52 hours and Georgia, Illinois, and Indiana at only 40 hours.

With less and less initial training, firearms skills will degrade even more quickly. This was found to be especially true for the “block and silo” methodology of firearms instruction employed by most police academies.

LETC firearms program manager Doug Tangen put it bluntly, stating that accidental shootings by cops “are all caused by a degree of negligence because at some point the officer violated one or more of the four universal firearms safety rules: Assume all guns are loaded, always point the muzzle in a safe direction, keep your finger off the trigger, and be sure of your target and what it beyond it. Guns don’t go off by themselves.”

There are over 3,000 law enforcement agencies at all levels of government in the U.S. Not all of them responded to the AP’s inquiries. Compiled from those that did respond, media reports and public records requests showed a total of 1,422 accidental shootings were identified from 2012 to present. These incidents were from only 258 agencies, leaving about 2,750 law enforcement agencies unreported on and those who did most likely the proverbial tip of the iceberg concerning accidental police shootings.

Jason Wuestenberg is the executive director of the National Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors Association. He advocates scenario-based exercises that mirror high stress situations both at the academy and throughout every officer’s career. He believes that “Usually when something bad happens, it’s due to a lack of training or leadership.”

Anyone familiar with the military is aware that accidents involving firearms there are rare, few and far between. The military’s “six Ps” are “Prior Practice and Planning Prevent Poor Performance.”

Perhaps law enforcement agencies should add two more Ps to that for ‘Plenty of Prior Planning and Practice Prevents Poor Police Performance’ with respect to its officers and their firearms. 


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