Barry Tong, who's served with the HPD for 18 years, says it was the program's use of dummy round training that he found the most useful. "Everyone in law enforcement has used dummy rounds at some point," he says, "but during this course we had to use them all week long, all the time. Every magazine had to have at least one dummy round in it. I am now totally confident in my ability to clear a jam, a dud round, or be able to perform a magazine reload almost without thinking about it," says Tong, who adds that such skills are of paramount importance to all officers.
And while accuracy assessments and the tap-rack-ready exercise (the three basic steps required to clear a semiautomatic pistol which does not fire) are a staple of law enforcement handgun training for good reason, some of the best instruction comes not from the shooting, but from the drills that call for students to decide when and when not to fire.
"Our job is to make our students think about each and every time they pull the trigger," says instructor Campbell, a SWAT operator with the Gilbert (Ariz.) Police Department. "You need to be able to tell me why you fired each shot," he says.
"As a police officer you need to be able to make decisions instantly at times," adds NRA instructor Dan "Fritz" Schlernitzauer, who retired from the Lexington (Ken.) Police Department after 18 years on the job, and now travels around the U.S. to teach NRA's law enforcement schools.
"We're here to make you think about what you're doing," says Schlernitzauer, who adds that certain drills are designed to test students' awareness of their surroundings as well as their decision to fire their weapon. "Ask for clarification, ask for help, and learn by teaching others, those are probably the three main things we're looking for from these folks," says Schlernitzauer, as he walks behind shooters on the firing line and notes which students are taking the time to scan their surroundings properly after holstering.
"How many fingers was I holding up?" queries Schlernitzauer after the group completed the drill. A half-dozen voices reply: "Two fingers." Dan smiles, "We just talked about scanning your surroundings when you're done firing," he explains. "If you don't practice it at the range and make it second nature what makes you think you'll remember it during the heat of the moment and when it might save your life?" Lesson learned. The next time Schlernitzauer asked the group, everyone had the right answer.
And while the HPD students were trained extensively in dim light shooting, forced to learn how to shoot an "incapacitation drill" in which they could only use one arm, versed in various close-quarters firing techniques, and shown several methods of firing with a flashlight throughout the week, the basic lesson stayed the same throughout the NRA course. The message of the NRA course is, until you can explain what you're doing to someone else and watch as they successfully do it, you haven't really mastered that skill.
"I think that the role-playing exercises are really what helps us become better instructors," says HPD's Carreiro. "They ask the same questions that your actual students will; if you can explain what to do here and now, you won't have any problems down the road."
Campbell explains that teaching students to teach others is one of the goals of the program. "We use a lot of role playing, which forces each of our students into the role of instructor several times a day," he says.
Instructor training includes "blind exercises," where one group of students teaches the other a completely new skill. These are especially effective because they force students to use all of their skills, interact with others, and at the same time watch their students' shooting form in a safe environment.