It is the goal for law enforcement firearm trainers to make training as realistic as possible. The challenge is to maintain the balance between safety and realism. Even when we train to move and shoot, many of us don’t practice live fire moving and shooting with others downrange.
We practice contact/cover for routine encounters. The cover officer provides overwatch, precludes outside interference and is responsible for the safety of the contact officer. The contact officer’s responsibility is to interact with the suspect(s). Statistically, by the way, more than half of all assaults on officers are in the presence of other officers.
When does the cover officer engage? When the tactical situation dictates. This means if we train for this contingency, we have to be able to shoot around the good guys without shooting the good guys.
When it comes to this kind of training, there are a few simple rules:
- Crawl, Walk, Run
- Gun out, Gun down, Finger off
- It’s supposed to be stressful
- Safety, Safety, Safety
The need for contact/cover firearms training
Dan Gray of Trident Firearms Academy told me that agencies do not do enough two-officer drills. These two-person tactics are really necessary for two officers who respond to a “domestic violence call gone bad.” For example, two officers have worked their way into the residence and now need to fight their way out.
How do officer teams fight their way out? By aggressing the aggressor, slicing the pie and moving to cover, sometimes alternating from contact to cover.
Training for this type of contingency, at the very least, will improve communication among officers. Every law enforcement multi-officer response can reinforce contact/cover.
Gray illustrates the need for small unit shooting training by citing a common patrol scenario: “Imagine the routine alarm call where the patrol officer finds a pharmacy door kicked in. Do you call in SWAT? No. The squad sets up a perimeter and you go in.”
Currently, Trident Firearms Academy is working on a complete training seminar for just these types of calls. Small unit tactics are essential for the patrol level.
Gray told me the course will include a non-live fire simulation house combined with move-and-shot live fire.
Crawl, Walk, Run
John Hall, a law enforcement firearms trainer, described several different ways officers can train for shooting contact/cover. He cautions firearms trainers with a simple fact: The “pucker factor,” the participant’s realization that they are using live fire and not everyone is parallel to the firing line can abruptly dawn on the officer. This does not happen until the moment the officer puts live ammo into the gun.
Let’s clarify this a little. The officer downrange will exhibit a dose of anxiety with the thought of someone behind him with real bullets. Surprisingly, this often does not occur to an officer when on a real call, with a real suspect, and the cover officer has a loaded gun pointed in their direction.
The officer up range during training will experience a similar anxiety, a likely product of the realization that they have live ammo and someone is downrange. This anxiety is not mitigated by the use of suppressors, which means that perception of the discharge may not be a factor in the anxiety.
Hall explained that firearms trainers must move slowly with this kind of training. The first step is obviously a dry-fire practice, using flagged chambers or Blue Guns. This is the crawl phase. This, and all subsequent phases, should include frequent breaks, routine azimuth (Are we navigating in the same direction?) checks and an emphasis on fundamentals.
During the crawl phase, trainers should do simple move-and-shoot drills.
A simple move-and-shoot drill looks like this: Two shooters begin at the 25 yard line (for handgun drills). They move downrange within arm’s length. One officer goes first and moves to the 20-yard line. Both officers engage the same target, communicating while shooting. The cover officer leapfrogs to the 15-yard line and the officers trade roles. They continue until one officer is finally at the 5-yard line.