How good is law enforcement firearms training?
Are there other, or better, standards?
Keep reading to find out...
The LCD vs. Raising the Bar
Marlan J. Ingram
I’ve been a firearms instructor for 21 years. 14 years of that was in the law enforcement sector, and the last 7 years has been in the private sector. Early in my career, I was surprised to learn (from a major training academy) the concept of training to the LCD, meaning the Least Common Denominator. Basically, this means that if I’m teaching a recruit class or group of officers, anything that we do in training must be passable by the weakest performer in the group. In other words, the standard is low enough that ‘the group’ of students can pass it with a fair amount of ease. Those who have the potential for more ability are only trained to the deliberately low standard. Think about that for a minute.
Opposite this is the idea of Raising the Bar, meaning that you have a deliberately high standard, and you push the student to meet the standard. This is with the understanding that not all will pass, but those who do make the grade are obviously at a higher level.
How do these training concepts fair in the real world? According to the Rand and Lott reports, as well as FBI statistics, law enforcement officers have a 17 to 20% hit rate in actual gunfights, but the figures can go up to 34% if no one is shooting back at the officer. Some departments do in fact have better stats. In the private sector, Tom Givens of Rangemaster has trained thousands of students, and of those, 63 have been in gunfights after having received his training. Their stats? Rangemaster students have a documented 95% hit rate!
Why is there such a drastic difference? Let’s look further. In the photo, we have three (3) different targets, and they represent three (3) different standards of training.
Law Enforcement Standard
The black target on the left is called a B-21 Silhouette Target. This target, or some variant thereof, is the standard target used in many law enforcement qualifications. Officer’s will shoot a ‘qualification’ course on this target once or twice a year (depending on the agency). Qualifications (once again depending on agency) will be anywhere from 36-60 rounds fired. The accuracy standard to pass is generally 75%, meaning that you must have 75% of your shots in the black portion of the silhouette to pass. Officer’s (with exception) will rarely shoot/practice outside of that once or twice a year qualification, although warming up prior to shooting the qualification is common.
The white target in the middle is called the FBI QIT-99 Target. FBI Agents will qualify on this target four times a year, and the standard to pass is a minimum of 80% of the shots inside the lines of the silhouette. The standard to be an FBI Instructor is 90%.
The target on the right is comprised of a 6 7/8 inch paper plate and a playing card. This is the standard that we use at Openrange, but other shooting schools will have their own variety of smaller targets. For example, one of the standards that Tom Givens of Rangemaster likes is the 5x5x5 Drill, which is shot on a 3/5 Index Card (or specialty target). The thing is, along with smaller targets, we are talking about utilizing tight time standards, and the standard to pass is 100% accuracy (no misses). However, we take it a bit further, in that our qualification courses of fire shot on these smaller targets are shot ‘without warmup’, meaning that you must be able to do them on demand, and at will. As to frequency of training, the minimum we suggest is once a month, but many of our students will do such drills/qualifications once a week.
Mind you, all of this simply deals with firearms marksmanship standards. We also advocate frequent Judgmental Shooting training, as well as Force on Force training, which means that you work at (via Simunitions or Air Soft) making real time decisions against live, breathing, unpredictable human beings.
Obviously, these are different training standards, which gives insight as to why there are different outcomes. With that said, law enforcement training frequency is generally affected by manpower, budget, and logistics. Getting officers to the range more often is a major challenge (but can still be done). However, a higher training frequency will generally necessitate a bigger budget. I’m of the opinion that there needs to be ‘rethinking’ as to training content for law enforcement, as well as expanded budgets for training.
Taking all this information into consideration, what is YOUR level of training? Are you training to the LCD, or Raising the Bar?