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Cover Story

Beating the High Cost of Training Ammo

Police officers need to shoot to maintain their firearms proficiency but that’s become a budget buster for agencies.

May 07, 2012  |  by - Also by this author

Next Level Training is working on producing more emulated handguns, including a Beretta M9 emulation, a Smith & Wesson M&P emulation, and a Glock 19 emulation. The company also recently developed the SIRT-AR Bolt.

Unlike the SIRT Training Pistol, the SIRT-AR Bolt is used with an actual firearm. Users replace their AR’s carry bolt with the SIRT-AR Bolt. With the SIRT-AR Bolt in place, the weapon can be safely dry fired with laser shot indication. The trigger auto-resets after each "shot," and users can also make mag changes and perform weapons manipulations.

The one thing the SIRT training weapons can’t do is emulate recoil, at least not yet. And Next Level Training freely admits that fact. "We advocate a combination of dry fire (SIRT) training and live fire," says Heutmaker.

A Softer Bang

Another alternative firearms training method that many law enforcement agencies have considered is the .22 conversion. There are kits available from numerous manufacturers that can convert duty pistols from 9mm and .40 S&W to .22 Long Rifle. There are even more kits for converting ARs from 5.56mm or .223 to .22LR. Smith & Wesson even makes a .22LR AR, the M&P 15-22.

Douglas is particularly fond of the .22LR conversions, especially for ARs. "The great thing about the .22 cartridge is that you can shoot that stuff all day long for one-fifth the price of 5.56mm rounds," he says.

Others are less enamored of the rimfire round. International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors (IALEFI) executive director Robert Bossey has had bad experiences with .22s in law enforcement training programs. "We found when we used .22 conversions at the academy that there were stoppages. We’d have 10 guys on the line shooting, then two stoppages, and it would shut everything down."

Bossey’s also not fond of the implications of .22 conversions in law enforcement; he believes they teach officers bad habits that could make the difference in a firefight. "We always say, 'Train the way you're going to fight.' Well there's a lot of difference in the recoil and the report of a .22 vs. a 5.56 round."

Despite his reservations Bossey admits that shooting .22s is better than shooting nothing. And that's the argument of the firearms trainers who support .22 conversions. "Shooting is a completely perishable skill," says Douglas. "And if you can't afford the ammo or can’t get it, then a .22 conversion is a good alternative."

That's Douglas' advice for agencies as well. Officers need to shoot, even if they have to shoot .22 conversions instead of 9mm or .40S&W. "Today if I was running three practices and one full-on qualification, I’d probably run two of them with .22 conversions and the other two with full-recoil ammo. It would be a real cost-saver," he says.

Of course .22 conversions are not free. Converting an old Glock costs around $250,  and the Smith & Wesson M&P 15-22 AR lists for about $500. Still, at the price of ammo today, these conversions almost pay for themselves. The problem is getting agencies to embrace the concept and make the investment in both training time and equipment.

A Role for Airsoft

Perhaps the cheapest projectile that anyone can fire from a gun is the 6mm airsoft BB. Even with the cost of CO2 to send it down range and $200 for a semi-auto airsoft handgun, you can’t beat airsoft's cost per shot.

Still very few agencies, if any, use airsoft for traditional firearms training. Where airsoft is playing a role is in force-on-force scenarios. And Spaulding applauds that and wants to see more of it. "If there is a silver lining to agencies having less training ammunition, it's that it’s forcing agencies to conduct more interactive training," Spaulding says.

Interactive training is very valuable, according to Spaulding, because it teaches officers the skills and hones the instincts they will need to prevail in a real gunfight. "It makes them make rapid crisis decisions," Spaulding says. "And the students come to understand that the skills they have learned on a square range really do work and that kind of confidence is huge. It's the number one factor in overcoming fear, confidence in your skills."

Using airsoft for interactive training saves agencies the cost of Simunition rounds and conversion kits or the need for building shoot houses. Such innovation comes when agencies are cash-strapped and need to maintain training standards.

IALEFI's Bossey says if agencies really want to cut costs and save money on firearms training, they should watch what smaller agencies are doing. "It's always the guy who has a five- or 10-man department that comes up with the innovations," Bossey says.

For now the cost of training ammo has pretty much stabilized, but it remains much higher than it was just a few years ago. And agencies are being squeezed on all sides by loss of tax revenue and the skyrocketing cost of gasoline. Training budgets will invariably take a hit in this environment and firearms training budgets and training ammo budgets will suffer. That means that more and more firearms instructors will have to find a way to teach both recruits and in-service officers without firing quite so many live rounds.

Going Into Business

Back in 2008, the training budget for the Hamilton (Ohio) Police Department was hit with the fiscal equivalent of a bomb. It was reduced by 75 percent.

That left the training officers searching for any way to continue the same quality of officer instruction. And they found an ingenious solution. They went into business.

The state had recently passed a civilian concealed carry law. And that left interested gun owners in Hamilton searching for CCW classes. Hamilton PD's chief decided to put the department’s training officers and range facilities to use and provide those classes.

And they were a hit. Hamilton PD training officer Brian Buchanan estimates that he and his colleagues have taught more than 5,000 local residents how to safely and legally carry a firearm in the last four years. "People enjoy being taught by law enforcement officers," he says.

The CCW training business is by no means lucrative, but it has achieved two goals. The Hamilton PD knows that most CCW permit holders in its jurisdiction were properly trained and the fees paid by the students have made up for the budget cuts. "It's also a positive interaction between the public and the police and a great public relations tool," Buchanan says.

For More Information

Next Level Training (SIRT)

Smith & Wesson

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