Firearms Training for Traffic Stops

Most police officers are sent to the range two or three times a year to “qualify.” The police qualification process was originally designed as a yard stick to ensure that officers could properly handle and shoot their firearms.

However, as the years went by, police officers and trainers quickly realized that what happened in qualifications bore no resemblance to actual gunfights. New techniques by progressive trainers have been developed, and some have proven to be useful.

Unfortunately for the vast majority of agencies, the non-realistic qualification process remains firmly in place. What’s worse is, at a lot of these agencies, training to pass the qualification is all of the shooting instruction their officers will receive.

Lets look at one specific area of patrol work: traffic stops. I’ve had criminal justice professors tell me that traffic stops are the bread and butter of police work. The reasons for their statements are manifold, but I think we can all agree that many a bad guy has been taken off of the street by a beat cop making a “routine” stop. Some of us like doing traffic, and some of us are encouraged by the brass to do traffic. At the end of the day, there are a lot of cops making a lot of traffic stops out there.

But…how many of us have gone to the range and shot at, or from, a car? Very few, I imagine. There are a lot of variables in a traffic stop that are not accurately recreated on your normal range day. For example, our targets are hung so they are generally at our own height. Walk up on a Mustang, and I bet the driver in the car is no where near at your height. Sure, a small thing, but when we are discussing life and death, the little things add up very quickly.

What about the other people in the car? If a passenger starts shooting at you, are you able to return fire with the other people in the car? And what about the other people in the car? Are they also perps…or hostages?

Don’t forget: cars offer a lot of concealment locations for weapons and contraband.

Here is a video from the Minnesota State Patrol. On November 28, 2006, one of their officers stopped a car. The driver, a 50-year-old male, refused the officer’s verbal commands to roll down the window, open the door, or exit the vehicle. After multiple commands, the officer used his baton to break the driver’s window, and attempted to extract the driver from the vehicle. In the struggle, the driver produced a handgun, and threatened the officer. The officer dropped back, sought cover, and engaged the driver, ultimately shooting and killing him. The driver, as it turns out, was wanted on multiple warrants. Time elapsed from breaking the window until the last shot fired? Less than 8 seconds.

Does your training program train you for what you see in this video?

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Richard Johnson is a gun writer, police trainer and really bad joke teller. Check out his other writing on sites like Human Events, The Firearm Blog and Police & Security News.

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