New Survey Exposes “Disturbing” Shortcomings In Firearms Training + New Document Helps Prevent Conflicts In Multi-Agency OIS Probes

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

A “national snapshot” of in-service firearms training for municipal and county LEOs raises grave “concerns about how prepared many police officers are” for winning life-threatening encounters, according to a new report from a respected university researcher.

The report also highlights post-shooting practices in many agencies that are hampering trainers’ efforts to improve their programs.

After surveying more than 300 local-level departments, Dr. Gregory Morrison, a former officer and firearms instructor who’s now an associate CJ professor at Indiana’s Ball State University, concludes that “some findings are encouraging, but others appear likely to have serious implications” regarding officer and public safety, the public’s perception of police accountability, and the toll taken “in lives, serious injuries, disabilities, and civil litigation.”

Among the “disturbing” shortcomings in training documented by his unique study:

  • Only a small minority of departments includes trainers in OIS investigations or provides them feedback about deadly street confrontations that might be useful in evaluating and enhancing the effectiveness of their teaching curricula and methods;
  • In terms of time allocation, “many departments still heavily emphasize requalifying over vital handgun/deadly force training” that introduces new skills and improves existing ones;
  • Despite their “vital role,” nearly 40% of agencies do not require firearms instructors to take refresher training once they have been certified;
  • Larger departments, which statistically have greater exposure to armed encounters, tend to require fewer firearms training and/or requalifying sessions per year;
  • Officers on some agencies are able to pass requalification tests even though many of their shots miss the target entirely, and those who fail to qualify may be allowed to re-shoot until they squeak by, “sometimes without diagnostic and corrective intervention.”
  • On whole, “the overarching characteristic” of in-service firearms training is the “wide latitude exercised by departments”—essentially a jumble of inconsistent standards and instructional modalities that too often works to the detriment of officers, agencies, and the communities they serve.

“A paradigm shift” in firearms training is “long overdue,” states Morrison, who specializes in studying deadly force programs and instruction. But with “strained budgets” expected to be “the norm for the foreseeable future,” he fears that decision-makers may view meaningful change as an expendable “luxury item,” despite the blatant need for improvement.

He told Force Science News that he believes the public would be “shocked” at many of his findings. “The public perception is that police are highly trained, far more than most actually are. Compared to 30 or 40 years ago, police training has definitely improved, but many departments have not kept up with what should be done, especially regarding firearms skills.”

He believes that his study results may, in fact, “paint a rosier picture than actually exists generally.” Departments that know or suspect that their programs are deficient are not likely to have participated in his voluntary survey, he explains.

“I agree with the thrust of Dr. Morrison’s findings and conclusions,” says Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of the Force Science Institute, which was not involved in the survey. “It’s tragic that the vast majority of firearms training today is not preparing officers for the brutal dynamics of real-world encounters and the sophisticated decision-making we hold them accountable for.”

“RICH DATA SET”

Morrison’s Police Firearms Training Survey solicited confidential responses to an online questionnaire, providing data on “key policies and practices likely to influence officer preparedness for deadly force and other high-risk encounters.” He claims it is the first survey to sample “fundamental elements to in-service handgun/deadly force programs,” especially among medium-size departments (100-249 sworn personnel).

Specifically, he sought details on staffing and instructor development, the frequency and emphasis of training sessions, the degree of focus on judgment and tactics, the nature of requalification testing, and the use made of field-encounter experiences.

His resulting “rich data set” reflects information from 312 agencies, nearly 80% of them municipal and the rest county or city-county departments from 44 states. These ranged in size from fewer than 25 officers to more than 1,000. “All highly populated states were well represented,” he says.

POSITIVE DEVELOPMENTS

Since the late 1980s and early 1990s, Morrison notes, there have been “significant improvements in the scope and depth of deadly force training.” His survey indicates that “several general characteristics associated with officer-involved shootings have become relatively common elements to handgun training: dim light, officer movement while firing, multiple targets, and moving targets.”

Also “most departments have introduced some form of scenario training,” in part in response to 3 landmark Supreme Court decisions (Tennessee v. Garner, Graham v. Connor, and Canton v. Harris). The formats employed include role-playing exercises with marking cartridges, live-fire range training, and computer-based, projected-image technology.

The devil, however, is in the details of just what these “relatively new dimensions to police handgun training” actually consist of.

SCENARIO SHORTFALL

For instance, more than one-third of departments surveyed exposed officers to no more than 2 scenarios per year during in-service training, while roughly 60% provided a scant 4 or fewer. “Nearly 1 in 5 departments either provided none or only 1 scenario during the typical year,” Morrison reports.

Among agencies using computerized systems, one involved its officers in a single scenario every 2 years. The top exposure was 20 scenarios per officer per year, reported by just 1 department.

“If departments believe that scenario training can improve performance, they have to do enough of it to actually make a difference,” Morrison says. “Exposure to 1 or 2 scenarios a year is such a small part of an officer’s experience that it can’t be expected to have a substantial impact on field performance.”

At this point, he concedes, more research is needed to determine just what the effective “tipping point” might be.

FIREARM HOURS

The hours per year spent by officers in “handgun activity sessions”—i.e., “training and/or requalifying”—ranged widely among survey respondents. Eleven departments required only 1 hour of “activity” with a sidearm per 12-month period, while 1 agency reported the high of 52 hours.

Nearly half the departments mandated 8 hours or less of firearms activity; about a third called for 9 to 16 hours. “Overall,” Morrison notes, “larger departments were more likely to provide fewer” activity hours than smaller agencies. Indeed, department with fewer than 100 officers were the most likely to hold 3 or more activity sessions per year.

When asked what the “primary emphasis” was during their handgun sessions, nearly one-third of departments “indicated that it is requalifying,” Morrison reports. Many said they split the time “approximately equally” between training and requalifying. Only 28% said they “emphasized training over requalifying.”

QUESTIONABLE REQUALIFICATION

About 35% of departments require annual requalification in basic handgun marksmanship skills, with about 44% prescribing this testing twice a year. But like much else in departmental firearms practices, requalification scoring and standards across the country are a duke’s mixture.

Alarmingly, nearly 6 in 10 departments reported that they do not require that officers hit the target with all their shots in order to pass. “Technically, officers with these departments could miss with many shots, but still requalify as long as the points they obtained from their hits reached the threshold score,” Morrison points out.

When officers fail to requalify, “it was not uncommon for departments to allow 2 or more attempts that same day, sometimes without diagnostic and corrective intervention,” his report says. Rare indeed is the department that requires failing officers to wait until the next scheduled testing cycle or to be reassigned to an unarmed capacity until they requalify.

“Only 1 in 5 departments reported that scenario-based activities were scored and used as a component to requalification,” Morrison says. Indeed, including “general characteristics associated with officer-involved shootings” as part of requalification is far from customary. For example, only a minority of departments require officers to address multiple targets (43.3%) or moving targets (18.6%).

“As a result,” Morrison declares, “some departments are requalifying their officers using rote courses-of-fire while not committing many resources to introducing new skills, improving existing ones, and/or conducting practical scenario-based training.

“If a department is going to say it’s officers are really ‘qualified’ to deal with deadly force, this assessment needs to go way beyond mere marksmanship, and involve scoring that encompasses judgment, decision-making, and tactics,” Morrison says.

INSTRUCTOR DEVELOPMENT

As to “requalification” of another kind—trainer development—“only 3 in 5 departments required their instructors to participate in refresher training.” Of those, more than one-third required instructor updating only “every 3 years or more” and a mere 10% specified as much as 40 hours of refresher training, even though “the continual development of instructors’ knowledge bases, skills, and abilities is of special importance because it determines the ceiling on the quality of training they can provide.”

Most departments, Morrison reports, depend on instructors who are assigned to training as collateral duty—“a secondary extra responsibility”—and their education and training “is far from universal. Little is known about its content or the quality of its delivery.”

OIS ANALYSIS

Officer-involved shootings and other “high-risk encounters, including ones in which police threaten to use deadly force but ultimately do not discharge their firearms, should be particularly useful to trainers for assessing and continuously improving their programs,” Morrison observes. Yet despite the “vital importance” of such feedback “for gauging the impact of training,” Morrison terms the prevailing practices as particularly “disturbing.”

Over half the agencies surveyed reported that “no information was collected” after an OIS “on any of the 4 basic measures of performance”—marksmanship, gun-handling, tactical procedures, and judgment—for the purpose of evaluating the departments’ training programs.

Moreover, firearms instructors for the most part do not have access to investigative findings in order to draw their own conclusions regarding training relevance. Morrison offers this chart as stark evidence of the common freeze-out of trainers during post-shooting procedures:

RECOMMENDATIONS

“Departments ostensibly are all pursuing similar goals of safe, appropriate, and effective use or threatened use of deadly force,” Morrison states. But their widely disparate approaches to training “seem unlikely to produce comparable levels of knowledge, skills, and abilities among their officers. As a result, many officers may be inadequately prepared.”

What’s needed, he declares, is sufficient research and evaluation to determine scientifically which training approaches can best shape performance. He proposes a 3-point action agenda:

  1.  “Large progressive departments with training-specific feedback loops” regarding field performance should “initiate internal evaluation projects and then share their results with the police community.” Departments that currently lack feedback processes should implement them.
  2. “The concept of being ‘qualified’ must be revisited, because it should reflect a full array of competencies that officers need to successfully perform in high-risk encounters,” not just “narrow measures of marksmanship and limited aspects to gun-handling.” Traditional rote requalification is “unacceptable given heightened expectations about use of deadly force, the introduction of new technologies in weaponry and in training, and the growth of accountability.”
  3. Law enforcement needs to build “practitioner-researcher partnerships to evaluate objectively the impact of training.” This collaboration “will be crucial to accelerating the development and then the continuous refinement of valid standards for training and qualifying. There is no shortage of research and evaluation opportunities,” yet at present “the role of science in improving training for high-risk encounters is far from being fully exploited.”

Improving current training with an eye toward developing validated model programs “will be challenging,” Morrison acknowledges. But leaders who take up the task of analyzing, designing, implementing, and assessing innovative training programs “will improve police practices of benefit to both officers and public safety.”

He urges that his report be broadly shared among trainers and administrators and expresses the hope that “it can act as a catalyst for renewed discussion of how to identify and promote best practices in this vital area of training.”

GDPR

  • Privacy Policy

Privacy Policy

Effective date: January 06, 2019

Force Science Institute, Ltd. (“us”, “we”, or “our”) operates the https://www.forcescience.org/ website (hereinafter referred to as the “Service”).

This page informs you of our policies regarding the collection, use, and disclosure of personal data when you use our Service and the choices you have associated with that data. Our Privacy Policy for Force Science Institute, Ltd. is based on the Privacy Policy Template from Privacy Policies.

We use your data to provide and improve the Service. By using the Service, you agree to the collection and use of information in accordance with this policy. Unless otherwise defined in this Privacy Policy, the terms used in this Privacy Policy have the same meanings as in our Terms and Conditions, accessible from https://www.forcescience.org/

Information Collection And Use

We collect several different types of information for various purposes to provide and improve our Service to you.

Types of Data Collected

Personal Data

While using our Service, we may ask you to provide us with certain personally identifiable information that can be used to contact or identify you (“Personal Data”). Personally identifiable information may include, but is not limited to:

  • Email address
  • First name and last name
  • Phone number
  • Address, State, Province, ZIP/Postal code, City
  • Cookies and Usage Data

Usage Data

We may also collect information on how the Service is accessed and used (“Usage Data”). This Usage Data may include information such as your computer’s Internet Protocol address (e.g. IP address), browser type, browser version, the pages of our Service that you visit, the time and date of your visit, the time spent on those pages, unique device identifiers and other diagnostic data.

Tracking & Cookies Data

We use cookies and similar tracking technologies to track the activity on our Service and hold certain information.

Cookies are files with small amount of data which may include an anonymous unique identifier. Cookies are sent to your browser from a website and stored on your device. Tracking technologies also used are beacons, tags, and scripts to collect and track information and to improve and analyze our Service.

You can instruct your browser to refuse all cookies or to indicate when a cookie is being sent. However, if you do not accept cookies, you may not be able to use some portions of our Service. You can learn more how to manage cookies in the Browser Cookies Guide.

Examples of Cookies we use:

  • Session Cookies. We use Session Cookies to operate our Service.
  • Preference Cookies. We use Preference Cookies to remember your preferences and various settings.
  • Security Cookies. We use Security Cookies for security purposes.

Use of Data

Force Science Institute, Ltd. uses the collected data for various purposes:

  • To provide and maintain the Service
  • To notify you about changes to our Service
  • To allow you to participate in interactive features of our Service when you choose to do so
  • To provide customer care and support
  • To provide analysis or valuable information so that we can improve the Service
  • To monitor the usage of the Service
  • To detect, prevent and address technical issues

Transfer Of Data

Your information, including Personal Data, may be transferred to — and maintained on — computers located outside of your state, province, country or other governmental jurisdiction where the data protection laws may differ than those from your jurisdiction.

If you are located outside United States and choose to provide information to us, please note that we transfer the data, including Personal Data, to United States and process it there.

Your consent to this Privacy Policy followed by your submission of such information represents your agreement to that transfer.

Force Science Institute, Ltd. will take all steps reasonably necessary to ensure that your data is treated securely and in accordance with this Privacy Policy and no transfer of your Personal Data will take place to an organization or a country unless there are adequate controls in place including the security of your data and other personal information.

Disclosure Of Data

Legal Requirements

Force Science Institute, Ltd. may disclose your Personal Data in the good faith belief that such action is necessary to:

  • To comply with a legal obligation
  • To protect and defend the rights or property of Force Science Institute, Ltd.
  • To prevent or investigate possible wrongdoing in connection with the Service
  • To protect the personal safety of users of the Service or the public
  • To protect against legal liability

Security Of Data

The security of your data is important to us, but remember that no method of transmission over the Internet, or method of electronic storage is 100% secure. While we strive to use commercially acceptable means to protect your Personal Data, we cannot guarantee its absolute security.

Service Providers

We may employ third party companies and individuals to facilitate our Service (“Service Providers”), to provide the Service on our behalf, to perform Service-related services or to assist us in analyzing how our Service is used.

These third parties have access to your Personal Data only to perform these tasks on our behalf and are obligated not to disclose or use it for any other purpose.

Analytics

We may use third-party Service Providers to monitor and analyze the use of our Service.

  • Google AnalyticsGoogle Analytics is a web analytics service offered by Google that tracks and reports website traffic. Google uses the data collected to track and monitor the use of our Service. This data is shared with other Google services. Google may use the collected data to contextualize and personalize the ads of its own advertising network.You can opt-out of having made your activity on the Service available to Google Analytics by installing the Google Analytics opt-out browser add-on. The add-on prevents the Google Analytics JavaScript (ga.js, analytics.js, and dc.js) from sharing information with Google Analytics about visits activity.For more information on the privacy practices of Google, please visit the Google Privacy & Terms web page: https://policies.google.com/privacy?hl=en

Links To Other Sites

Our Service may contain links to other sites that are not operated by us. If you click on a third party link, you will be directed to that third party’s site. We strongly advise you to review the Privacy Policy of every site you visit.

We have no control over and assume no responsibility for the content, privacy policies or practices of any third party sites or services.

Children’s Privacy

Our Service does not address anyone under the age of 18 (“Children”).

We do not knowingly collect personally identifiable information from anyone under the age of 18. If you are a parent or guardian and you are aware that your Children has provided us with Personal Data, please contact us. If we become aware that we have collected Personal Data from children without verification of parental consent, we take steps to remove that information from our servers.

Changes To This Privacy Policy

We may update our Privacy Policy from time to time. We will notify you of any changes by posting the new Privacy Policy on this page.

We will let you know via email and/or a prominent notice on our Service, prior to the change becoming effective and update the “effective date” at the top of this Privacy Policy.

You are advised to review this Privacy Policy periodically for any changes. Changes to this Privacy Policy are effective when they are posted on this page.

Contact Us

If you have any questions about this Privacy Policy, please contact us:

  • By email: [email protected]
  • By visiting this page on our website: https://www.forcescience.org/contact
  • By phone number: 866-683-1944
  • By mail: Force Science Institute, Ltd.