We all know “that guy” (Not the one in the picture, if you do know him, you know he’ll kill me for accusing him of not training). I’m talking about the guy that goes to firearms instructor school, has all the answers upon graduation, and never trains again. He is the “INSTRUCTOR” (It says so on the back of his red polo shirt, and the red hat he bought from Gall’s). The scope of this article is not about him, or the folks you know like him (or her). This installment is about the reality that I and many other instructors have found that the police instructor doesn’t get to train as much as we’d like to after getting in the position. If at all.
In early 1997, I worked for a small agency. I had been out of the Marines for five short years, and frankly knew everything there was to know about firearms. You could just ask me and I’d tell you so. I got the opportunity to go to the FBI Firearms Instructor School in mid-1997. I just knew that within the first week, I’d be teaching the class. I also knew that being a firearms instructor, I’d have he keys to the ammo locker, and could train and shoot countless rounds of ammo like the bronze idol I thought myself to be at 28.
My performance was particularly weak during that two week course, and I realized how little I knew. Then the reality of being an instructor set in over the next year. A lot of agencies do consider you to be “trained” at that point, and very little instructor development time is given. With supervisors looking at man hours, schedules, overtime, and budgetary concerns, the stark reality for most instructors worth their salt is training comes at their own dime, on their own time. Time and agency training dollars become very precious commodities. Now, this isn’t a gig toward any agency. It is just the norm I hear from instructors from agencies large and small. And the more areas you instruct, the greater the battle for time becomes.
I am one of the lucky ones. I have always had good support from supervision, and got to train on company time, and on my own time. But, even so, it still isn’t the utopia of brass piled hip deep that I thought it would be in 1997. From speaking to instructors across this great nation, the trend of burnout comes with a few years because the lack of continuing education instructors get. Most guys feel like they have become heavily armed baby sitters with nothing but a goal in life of getting ten percent of the agency to shoot a seventy percent passing score. The frustration also seems to set in that they spend so much time with said ten percent of the agency, that the other ninety percent get ignored. Or they feel like they aren’t teaching people to be gunfighters, to have the tools necessary to win in deadly force encounters they may face on the job. Instead, they often feel like they are teaching officers to be test takers, to hit that magical seventy percent needed to pass for another quarter, bi-annual, or yearly qualification.
In many places, the training unit has taken such a serious hit on the budget that live ammo for training is becoming hard to come by. One agency I know of has been reduced to four live rounds per year in practice. One of the instructors told me it makes his head want to explode. I’m tracking with his frustration on that, as instructors we know that it is such a perishable skill.
There are no magic answers to these issues. But we have to do something. Time to get creative.
In bad budget years, it is easy to say “We don’t have the money for a lot of ammo, so we’re just not going to train”. I say train. It is a great opportunity to get a lot of dry fire repetitions in with the troops. The dry fire will also be hugely beneficial to the ten percent that we spend so much time with. You can then construct short combat courses on steel that take very few rounds to appease the emotional candy of making the gun go bang in training. Low round count can actually be some of the most beneficial training scenarios that we as instructors can present.
Take some time for yourself to get out and take a weekend course from one of the 1000 good schools that have popped up in the last five years. Clint Smith once said that all the new schools popping up, and it was a good thing. And he is RIGHT. Used to be there was about a dozen good places to go and you had to travel for hours to get there. Now, you can shop around and find something within a couple of hours of the house. Do your research, and spend your money wisely. It will not only pay a dividend with your skills you bring to the table as an instructor, but it’ll also help out your mental health the next time you step out on the range.
I am a police instructor. But I’m always a student first.