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Handgun Trigger-Pull Assessments for Recruits

A trigger-pull assessment will give you valuable information about the skill-level of recruits.

September 14, 2011  |  by Bruce Cameron

Students run through the trigger-pull assessment. Photo: Bruce Cameron.
Students run through the trigger-pull assessment. Photo: Bruce Cameron.
Recruitment plays a crucial part in the success or failure of an organization. Hiring the right people can make all of the difference in the world, at least where behavior is concerned. This rings true in law enforcement, as well as business. Police administrators and trainers need to know what kind of people they will be bringing on board.

It's essential that they learn as much they can about the individual candidate before the hiring and training process begins. The more information they have, the better. Their decisions will indeed affect the future and safety of the department and the outcomes of people's lives.

Currently, there are a number of performance tests and other evaluations that law enforcement and security departments can use to ascertain, diagnose, and measure certain skill levels. Here are a few examples and all have their place:

  • Physical fitness (endurance, agility, obstacle course, and dash)
  • Weapon proficiency (manipulation and marksmanship)
  • Specific written tests (on appropriate subjects or standardized tests)
  • Written assignments (writing an essay or short answer questions)
  • Reading comprehension examinations (reading diagnostics)
  • Psychological screenings and or rersonality tests
  • Polygraph tests
  • Interviews (oral communications)
  • Job aptitude tests
  • Cognitive, observation or memory tests
  • Scenarios or role-playing, talking in front of an audience

The results of these tests help employers make sound decisions about new personnel, when combined with information from a background investigation, a valid job-task analysis, a set of standards and job-specific prerequisites.

The ability to test and screen law enforcement recruits is the first step toward creating an effective, productive, and professional operation. If not, the alternatives and consequences may stay with you for a long time.

Handgun Trigger-Pull Assessment: A Screening Technique

The handgun trigger-pull assessment is a technique that can be used to supplement the pre-testing process for new recruits. Of course, it's essential that you discuss this with your personnel, legal or human resource department, so it meets your hiring and testing criteria. From a reliability and validity perspective, it's recommended that you try it out first. Avoid using it as a qualifier or disqualifier until you deem it appropriate.

There are demonstrable tools available that can be used to assess the future training "needs" of new personnel while determining people's strengths and weaknesses at the same time. Understanding initial proficiency levels will give trainers the opportunity to plan ahead and make good choices about who you hire and how you train.

You will want to discover as much as you can about the individual candidate in a relatively short period of time as you can. You'll need to provide a reliable test under fair conditions so everyone has an opportunity to succeed.

The trigger-pull assessment can be an important teaching tool particularly in getting prepared for firearms training, helping new recruits improve their grip strength prior to them entering the program, planning for remedial training, and setting goals for the curriculum. You can discern many things by watching how an individual picks up and handles a weapon for the first time for example. It may allow you to correct unsafe behavior on the spot. It may provide you time to demonstrate certain techniques, or it may give you a good starting point in determining their firearm capabilities.

On the day of pre-testing, the trigger-pull assessment can be used in conjunction with other activities. It must be performed in a safe place such as a firing range, simulator room, or secure classroom or training area. You'll begin with an empty weapon, and be sure to have the candidates follow all range safety rules.

The handguns themselves must be dedicated training or classroom weapons that are perhaps set aside for training. Ensure they have been deactivated, color-coded and inspected. No live ammunition should be present. You must also empty handgun speed loaders or magazines that could be used.

After handing out the weapons, require everyone to face down range. Please inspect them again and double-check to make sure everything is clear. This is a dry fire exercise but should be handled as if you were on the firing line using range commands and procedures.

The new candidate will be asked to participate in two trigger-pull assessments with the handgun of your choice. It would be wise to use the same weapon your department utilizes so you can better judge the results. It would also better simulate your qualifications and courses of fire. The factory authorized trigger-pull weight should also be paralleled. You may wish to make a check sheet of the following:

  • Does the individual have the strength needed to pull the trigger the appropriate number of times in order to meet firearm training and qualification criterion?
  • Does the individual have the skills to safely manipulate the weapon (such as hand dexterity and strength, locking the slide to the rear, closing the slide, loading an empty magazine, lowering the hammer, and performing safety function checks)?
  • Does the individual know what low-ready and muzzle control mean or is she pointing her weapon in different directions?
  • Does he understand range commands and follow directions or do they look confused?
  • Can she perform weapon tasks in the right order?
  • Does the individual understand the basic rules of firearm safety and the concept of down-range, how one picks up a weapon or hands a weapon off to another party?

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