Police firearms instruction has come a long way over the last decade, mainly because one of the three elephants in the room that was ignored for 40 or so years has finally been acknowledged and addressed. That elephant is the reality of close-quarter lethal encounters, and the training necessary to win them. Today we have even major police agencies teaching their officers how to fight with a pistol based on the way that real gunfights occur. These training methods incorporate close-distance target-focused shooting, one-hand shooting, and simulated fights - either force-on-force simulations or a House of Horrors type experience. And while police shooting data is sinfully difficult to get, the data we are getting and the powerful anecdotal evidence we are accumulating indicate that it is working. (I chose the adjective sinfully deliberately, aiming my moral arrow at the administrators who refuse to divulge the data, the lawyers who put those administrators in a bind, and the lawmakers who created the whole situation to begin with.)
So far, so good. But there is yet a baby elephant and an adult elephant in the room that we are ignoring. These two issues go beyond the police agency and live also in the nature of the expectations of the society we serve and are part of.
The baby elephant: We are responsible for every round we fire. Yes, we are indeed responsible for every round that leaves our guns - after all we deliberately fired those rounds. But this statement is often taken to mean that any misses are unacceptable, or that missed rounds are the mark of an unprofessional, irresponsible officer. This reflexive, unthinking implication stigmatizes officers who miss in a gunfight. But to expect that it is humanly possible to achieve 100% hits in a gunfight is contrary to all logic, common sense and experience. These events are often just too chaotic and dynamic for that to be possible.
Now yes, with proper training, we can expect to achieve a very high hit ratio in many of the very close-distance encounters that characterize most LE shootings - but not always 100%. And as the distance increases, and the complicating factors likewise increase, we may be doing very well to achieve considerably less. It is one thing for academic commentators - in and outside of the profession - to opine that anything less than 100% is unacceptable and negligent, but no one who has:
- been in a large number of different kinds of gunfights (which is damn few people), or
- has participated in a large number of realistically simulated gunfights of varying complexity, or
- has honestly studied either with knowledge of the physiological and psychological effects of these events on the people involved, will come to that unfounded conclusion.
So if some of our rounds are sure to miss in the real world, what's it mean to us and to the profession? It means that our administrations and our society must accept that reality. And in fact, to a large extent they do. Police rounds miss all the time. Agencies and political units get sued for damages as a result. But if the rounds were the result of a tragic situation in which the officers involved did their best, usually the officers themselves aren't held responsible.
What we need to do is
- work to insure that this doesn't change;
- work to educate society that bad results from missed rounds are the statistical result of the actions that the bad guys force us to take, and
- if we are now telling our officers that "misses are unacceptable", then stop it and tell them the honest reality of the situation.
CAVEAT: I trust that no one will take any of the preceding as a plea to dilute our firearms training or to do less of it. In fact, I am a strong advocate of much more and much better firearms training, and believe that standards should be much higher than they are on average.