Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Citizens' Police Academy: Week Four: Firearms

By Annette Dashofy

The topic of this week’s Citizens’ Police Academy session was Firearms Safety. To be honest, I didn’t think I’d learn much. Having married into a family of hunters and gun collectors, I’ve heard the lectures before: Assume all weapons are loaded. Never point a gun at something unless you plan on shooting it. And so on and so on. That is not what the session was about. If someone walked into class Monday night and expected a dose of that stuff, they’d have been greatly disappointed. I, however, was not.

Our instructor for the night was Rob Harrison. His voice was a little raw from teaching recruits all day. Those trainees will receive anywhere from 80 to 100 hours of firearms training in upcoming weeks. Marksmanship is only part of what they will learn. They’ll also learn things like drawing their weapon efficiently and using good judgment. Being a top-notch marksman is no good if you shoot at the wrong target. Trainees will be made to run sprints, do push-ups and other physically demanding tasks until their heart rate gets to around 130. An elevated heart rate will mess with the mind and body. At that point, the trainees are given a situation and asked to react. This simulates the real-life stress they will be under when asked to identify a threat, or possibly more than one threat.

Rob mentioned that breathing exercises help counter the effects of stress.

I knew that. Yoga 101.

All officers are required to qualify annually with their firearms. In-service training consists of one hour of classroom time and three hours of shooting. An example of one of the drills they may encounter is shooting at the center of a circle from three yards away and then placing the second shot in the same spot. This demonstrates to the instructor a good trigger press and an understanding of their sights.

By the way, Pittsburgh trains using sighted fire as opposed to unsighted fire. Want to guess what that means? Of course. Sighted fire means using the front and back sights to aim. Unsighted fire is point and shoot.

Also, officers are NOT trained to shoot to kill. Or to shoot to injure. They are trained to SHOOT TO STOP THE THREAT. And, yes, they aim at the body mass, not the leg or arm. They want to hit their target. A miss not only means they haven’t stopped the threat, it means they have a stray bullet out there that might hit the wrong target.

To answer Joyce’s question from last week, NO, we did not get to use the simulator, although it was mentioned and tales of the days when CPA students DID get to use it were shared. It would have been fun, I’m sure. But I’m also sure that I’d have made a fool of myself. One thing I’m learning through this experience is that I’d never have made it as a cop. I’m also learning an even greater respect for those who do this work day in and day out.

And one last bit tidbit for anyone writing about someone whose vision is not 20/20…

Our instructor told us about a recruit who came to qualify with her firearm wearing glasses after not having them for all the training. When he questioned her on it, she said she couldn’t see the target. He pointed out to her that you don’t need to see the target clearly. The FRONT SIGHT should be the clearest thing in your vision, not the target. As someone who just got her first pair of bi-focals, I found this fascinating. And as someone married to a competitive shooter who complains CONSTANTLY about no longer being able to see both sights AND the target, I smell a character in my future with aging eyes.


Tory said...

I still remember trying paint pellet wars, thinking it would be fun. After shooting someone from my own side ("friendly fire") I decided shooting people, even with paint pellets, was not for me. I can't imagine being part of the real thing!

Annette said...

Tory, and that was when the other people shooting at you only had paint pellets, too. Think of the adrenalin rush of live fire coming your way and then try to keep your hands (and mind) steady enough to actually hit the right target. Woo!

ramona said...

Very interesting, Annette. I've enjoyed your reports from the Academy.

I hate to think of doing laundry with an elevated heart rate, much less shoot a gun. No wonder they do so many hours of training.

mike said...

Annette--Thanks for another great account. Like the distinction made between shoot-to-kill and shoot-to-stop-threat. I didn't know that.

I began Army basic training in February--best time to go, my Dad said, cause the weather's better in the Spring. Yeah, right. My platoon qualified on our M-14s in mid March, and it snowed--those big, fat flakes that filled our eyes and rifle sights. No amount of blowing would keep the sights clear. Somehow I qualified...but those were the days when the Army paid lip service to its own guidelines. BTW, after that day, I never shot a gun or rifle again. I probably couldn't hit the side of a barn from 50 yards now...nor would I care to.

Annette said...

Mike, our instructor mentioned that he gets a fair number of recruits who don't really like handling guns. And he says the number of people coming into the Police Academy who have NEVER handled a gun before is growing.

Sadly, that doesn't appear to be the problem with the criminal population.

Lee Lofland said...

I don't think officers are allowed enough range time. I realize budgets are tight and ammunition is expensive, but visiting the firing range once or twice each year to shoot sixty rounds or so just isn't adequate to keep their skills up to par.

I've always found it odd that the two skills that could mean life or death for police officers - shooting and driving - are the least practiced.