Los Angeles Sheriff's deputies practice firearms training in low-light conditions. Photo by Kim Pham.
Once you graduated from the academy, you would think you'd be finished with those performance exercises. Wrong! You'll now need to practice probably harder than ever. Now that you're in the streets, there are no do-overs, no mulligan's and no "tapping out." Your safety and the safety of others is now at stake.
Academies follow state officer training standards and often make the performance exercises for the minimum standard type of student. Some academies have become production lines, and standards have waned. Most are covering the basics and hope that the Field Training Officer (FTO) or departmental trainers pick up the slack. That may be true, but how much more can we put upon the FTO? This leaves many officers to practice with their police pals on and off duty.
So how do you practice your skills in the dark?
Safety should be the first consideration! If you and some of your pals are going to practice, have a safety officer. This is not a one-on-one drill. There will be an observer acting as a safety officer. No ammo, no edged weapons, no OC spray, nothing that sparks (in other words, nothing to make you seek expert medical treatment in a hurry).
Now that these things are locked up, perform another safety check. Yes, I mean that. There are several items on your duty belt that you should have full confidence you can deploy without reservation and under all conditions. Let's look at some of these:
Weapon skills: Can you reload in the dark? Can you perform function checks, clear stovepipes, handle failures to feed and other gremlins that get into your gun in the dark? Hint: Invest in some snap caps for safely training.
Handcuffing skills: Have you ever practiced handcuffing in low light, in the dark or just by feel?
Perform other belt drills: Stop and look at your duty belt. How many different items are strapped to you? Can you deploy, and can you secure them after use without glancing or in low light? We often practice this principle with a sidearm. These other things can be bothersome — remember, it's the little things that get to us.
Radio: Ever wondered why some officers have the "in trouble" button go off? Can you, by memory, turn the channel selector and then, by feel and memory, go to your channel? Is it four clicks or five? Can you operate the radio with both hands or with a coat on? If you use an earpiece, what happens if you lose it?
Cat feet: Can you walk in the dark with stealth? One of my martial arts buddies refers to this as walking with cat feet. This is walking on the balls of the feet with balance, stealth and silence. During building checks, I can usually hear the cops coming like a herd of large critters. Walk with purpose, balance and stealth in the dark, not like some cartoon critter.
Academies love to train you under perfect well-lit conditions; the FTO loves to train you under the adverse conditions. Take your skills to new and higher levels. Go practice in the dark.