Preparing police recruits for the responsibility of using a firearm
Retired Vancouver Police Department Sergeant Steve Miller knows his way around guns better than most police officers. During the course of his 30-year career with the VPD, he spent seven with the Emergency Response Team and three as the Range Sergeant before retiring. However, it wasn't long before he put retirement on hold and assumed the role of Instructor, Firearms training with the JIBC Police Academy in 2006.
Firearms training is an integral component of the municipal police recruit training program at JIBC. During their first 13-week block, recruits in the program complete two days of classroom instruction and six days of "live fire" training in the JIBC's 25-metre indoor shooting range. "Ideally I’d like to have them for a few days more, but it's enough to ensure the recruits are proficient," says Miller.
Most recruits have never held, let alone used a firearm before starting training at the JIBC New Westminster campus. "Most students are a bit apprehensive the first time they make their way down the staircase to the range," says Miller. His genial, light-hearted approach to the recruits is disarming and intended to make them less apprehensive, but the earnest expressions etched on their faces point to the seriousness of the subject at hand.
After the customary introductions, range tour and instructions on the importance of wearing protective gear for eyes and ears, each recruit is issued a firearm – a SIG SAUER for VPD officers and a Glock for those with other departments – and 60 rounds of live ammunition. Once the briefing and ordinance issue are completed, the recruits exit the red-bricked briefing room and enter the range.
It's the sound of the whirring extractor fans and the vacuum they create that the recruits notice first. Then they see the core of the range. A stark concrete wall divides the range into two six–position shooting lanes. The wall is scarred by errant bullets that failed to reach their intended targets; the steel bullet trap at the foot of range is pockmarked by those that made the distance.
For a generation of young police officers weaned on video games featuring graphics and user interfaces that create hyper-realistic experiences, the simple technology that moves the paper targets in place must appear almost prehistoric. But none of their gaming experience will have prepared them for the intensity of squeezing a trigger, feeling the kickback and being bombarded by a wall of sound and acrid smoke that envelopes the room and overwhelms the senses.
After Miller issues a series of instructions, the recruits begin firing. Miller and his fellow instructors closely observe the recruits, intervening occasionally to issue a correction or encouraging words. After the first six rounds of fire from five metres, the recruits retrieve their targets to assess their performance, while throwing furtive glances to their left and right to compare themselves with their peers. Miller and his fellow instructors review the nuances of shooting grip and stance, sight alignment and trigger control, while stressing the importance of being able to relax, as the more their charges tighten up their shoulders and neck, the more difficult it becomes to shoot well. However, with adrenaline coursing through their veins, relaxation is probably not high on the list of students' immediate priorities.
"This is a defining moment for many of these officers," says Miller. "It marks the transition from ordinary citizen to armed citizen, and with it comes the duty to protect the public and themselves."
The level of difficulty goes up by increasing the shooting distance, introducing distractions such as flashing sirens, and adding the challenge of shooting in low-light conditions. Once the recruits have mastered marksmanship in the range, they will then further hone their skills in tactical exercises at the outdoor range, as well as during a number of scenario-based training simulations at the New Westminster campus. During these simulations, students are armed with "simunition" - best-described as "paintball for police officers".
"Carrying a weapon is a serious responsibility," says Frank Ciaccia, acting director of the Police Academy and a New Westminster Police Department Inspector. "Steve and his team do a fantastic job of preparing the recruits to face one of the unfortunate realities of our profession: at some point in their careers they will have to draw their weapon. Hopefully, not many of them will be required to fire."
A handgun is just one of many tools available to a police officer, to be used after considering and exhausting all alternatives. That detail is reinforced and rehearsed during many hours of simulation training at JIBC. However, if and when any of these students is called upon to use their firearm, it will be with the confidence, discipline and decisiveness instilled by Steve Miller and his team.
Last updated October 3, 2014