New firearms training aims at better protecting police amid rise in officer killings

BURIEN -- It's a terrible trend that needs to stop: Police officers being killed in the the 'line of duty.' It's happening more  and more -- almost 100 officers have been murdered just this year. To help better protect police, the Washington State Law Enforcement Academy is changing their firearms training and using technology to create a new generation of officer safety. “This is new to most agencies and they use it on a limited basis, so they don’t really use it the way that we’re using it,” explains Mike O’Neill, firearms program manager for the academy. He's talking about a SIRT pistol which is armed with two lasers that can tell instructors and cadets whether their finger is properly placed on the trigger and can help improve accuracy. “Let’s say that they’re pushing the trigger, then you’d get that kind of motion on it. If they’re pulling, then you’d get that kind of motion on it, if they’re heeling the gun you’d get that kind.”

But the police academy  is also doing something else that other agencies are not; incorporating defense tactics with firearms training. “It’s a natural fit, but many academies still have separated training and, of course, that’s not how one functions in real life,” says Bob Bragg, fitness and force instructor at the academy. Because most officer involved shootings take place at a distance of less than six feet from a suspect officers are often forced to defend themselves or protect their weapon long before making the decision to use lethal force. “There’s an expectation that really exceeds most officer’s capabilities,” adds Bragg. O’Neill explains,  “If I’m comfortable in my tactical skills it allows me to devote a little more of my time into, "Do I have to do this or don’t I have to do this?'" So, instead of standing still and firing at paper targets this new generation of law enforcement will have to pass tests with lots of movement. O’Neill says, “If you can select cover while you’re doing this instead of standing in one place or you move or I step offline, so I’m no longer on that same line then re-engage the target, those things aren’t being done in the traditional fashion.” Overall, there is almost 90 hours of this specialized training that involves dozens of skills and scenarios. The goal is fewer lives lost as a result. O'Neill says, “I believe that this is the way people should be trained and I believe that as technology changes, I believe that our training methodologies will change and I believe that the new officers will be better equipped to handle the rigors of being a police officer now." CLICK HERE for more information on the Washington State Law Enforcement Academy