WHY DON’T COPS SHOOT WELL? from ART OF THE RIFLE

Something I’ve touched on in the past is how people that use rifles, or even guns in general, as tools in the field aren’t obsessed with marksmanship. Most hunters aren’t great rifle shooters. Most cops can’t shoot a pistol all that well. It’s almost axiomatic.

People on the shooting side of things usually attribute this to sloppiness, carelessness, or ineptitude on the part of the field users #dunningkruger. In some cases that’s probably true. In my experience, about a third of cops shoot well, another third are okay, and only a third are borderline incompetent, or completely so, but there’s something else going on. It’s related to another topic that I’ve hit on in the past, that of jutsu vs do, or art vs technique.

I’d like to offer a slightly different take than I did before on this topic. In the past I consciously steered clear of any discussion on fieldcraft, but it’s really like ignoring the elephant in the room. Now that I’m no longer constrained by a professional obligation toward invisibility (it was more a matter of principle than an obligation in my case, but it was important to me to follow professional best practices). I still feel constrained, because I’m not going to go in depth on urban sniping in my blog, and I have almost no experience hunting animals, but I’ll see what I can do.

First of all, why might cops be sloppy? There are several reasons, and the truth is probably a combination of them that varies from person to person. I can only speak from observation, as my personal experience is of enjoying keeping my skills as sharp as possible. Some people like to punch a clock, that’s just life.

Training in law enforcement is not frequent enough to maintain anything more than the ability to qualify, and the qualification courses are, shall we say, blunt instruments. Generally, what is considered training is just a warm up, qualification, and maybe an exercise or two. Two to three hours six times a year would be considered a good amount, 12 times a year is like a Cadillac level, and those 1%ers might have a dedicated range with department provided training ammo. Bare bones might be one or two “training sessions” a year.

Let’s disregard the training problem for a moment, because I don’t think it’s at the heart of the discussion here. Before I get to the meat, though, I’ll talk about another problem. Most cops, thankfully, don’t get into shootings over the course of a career. By the time an officer has been around long enough to be good at what they do, they are probably more skilled in other aspects of the job that reduce the likelihood of getting into a shooting. The gun is more of a back problem (not just the gun, but the combined weight of everything on the belt) than an everyday tool. So let’s call the second problem complacency. When something hasn’t happened yet over a long period of time, there is a false sense that it will never happen, when the future is uncertain.

Let’s disregard complacency for a minute as well. In fact, let’s assume that we’re dealing with a perfect-world scenario with adequate training and no complacency. Even among full time, or near full time SWAT cops, with a higher likelihood of getting into a shooting, and more than ample training for firearms, they still don’t typically shoot at an above average IPSC level. I believe the reason for that is simple, you only need to shoot so well to get the job done, and there are so many other tasks that you need to get you to that point.

For someone who shoots as a hobby, it’s just the shooting that is important. When the shooting is the activity, the sole focus, getting as good as possible is THE NAME OF THE GAME. When shooting is just a means to an end in a complex system of many other things that must be done right, it would be a little silly to put any thought on the last nth percentile of performance.

I’ll talk about something I can speak to with authority. A normal law enforcement call response generally consists of receiving a radio transmission, responding to it, and clarifying any details within a few seconds. There is also an art to reading between the lines of the information that is given, because the way things are conveyed can tell someone with experience what might actually be going on. That conveys the information of what is going on and an address or a location defined by geographic information if an address isn’t available. Consider the difficulties of maintaining a real-time 3D map in your head.

The officer determines which routes to consider. In a city, the traffic volume needs to be taken into account and any idiosyncrasies of the flow of traffic. For example, during a “code run” (lights and sirens) the law in most places says that the vehicles are required to pull to the right. In a three-lane, one way street, this isn’t going to happen. If you pass a car on the right with emergency lighting on, and they pull to the right, that’s on the officer, so it would be better to plan another route, or take up processing power with deactivating the emergency equipment temporarily.

While en-route, a strategy for approach and contact is considered, as well as the coordination of responding assets. Also, driving and scanning for driving hazards is a priority. This is the time to consider what modes of force to have ready. The quality of pre-planning and adapting well prior to contact will lessen the potential for the use of force.

Upon contact, threat assessment, adaptation, and scene safety are priorities. If everything else is done well, use of force will be kept to a minimum. Any force used is potential liability, and being sued is a really stressful process, so you’re banking on all the other skills to be up to the task.

On most calls that require no force, interview skills will be a premium asset, as well as gathering the necessary data to later complete the required documentation (the “real” work). Decision making and selling any enforcement will also mitigate the potential for force or a bad contact.

If force should be necessary, most shootings happen up close and fast. There is usually a lot of information to process really quickly. If you made an USPSA course out of an average shooting, it would just be stupid, and it probably couldn’t be done safely.

Post shooting, the scene still needs to be made safe and aid rendered. Communication via radio or verbally needs to happen, and coordination of immediate post shooting protocol, preservation of evidence, notification to admin types, and investigation of the shoot initiated.

All of those things are skills like shooting that require practice and discipline to improve and keep at an effective working level. Consider that everyone has a finite amount of time, not only for practice, but on this earth. Also consider that a well-balanced person worth being around will need time away from the stress of work and the things associated with it.

I hope this begins to convey why most cops are not superb marksmen. I believe that there could be a similar case made for hunters, even though they are hoping to get a chance at taking a shot.

Any thoughts would be appreciated.