Patrol Rifle Practicality, Part II
Let’s review: Last month, I shared the opinion that every police and sheriff’s department in our country should have a patrol rifle program. To me, this view is rooted in a risk assessment of America’s current criminal environment. Do not get me wrong and label me as paranoid—we are generally a very safe nation. My concern is, however, that there are both homegrown individuals and imports who are filled with hate. Whether it is focused on what our country stands for, a violent criminal effort or even an extreme anger targeting law enforcement, criminals who are well-armed in both mindset and weapons are a reality for law enforcement officers today. I hope your department shares this perspective. But there are concerns and responsibilities attached to such an effort. We have discussed some of them—most notably, the need for a proper selection process and well-managed program.
To go further, there are some other essentials that I see as important within your department’s patrol rifle plan. Although we discussed the importance of qualified instructors, the end point is the training that these folks deliver. Let’s agree that the decision-making aspect of patrol rifle training is equally important as where that 5.56mm projectile ends up after being fired. To begin with, the "when and why" of pulling the weapon out of its rack in the patrol car is a significant topic. A well-developed, mature grasp of these guidelines delivered by the instructor cadre makes sense. Building on this, a reality check may also be appropriate: While it is certainly fun and challenging to go through good range drills, the overarching training goal is to prepare officers for use of deadly force against another human being. The mechanical act of increasing rearward trigger finger pressure, resulting in a round down range has to be preceded by a solid, identified need to stop and protect. Stop a suspect’s deadly acts. Protect yourself as well as others. This truth should be emphasized both through an instructor’s words and through the training itself. In the former case, the responsibility attached to being issued a patrol rifle—or any weapon for that matter—rests with developing comprehension that it has to be used reasonably. That, in turn, makes this topic an instructor-led discussion for both the range and the classroom. Combining the mental process with the physical act of shooting a target reinforces both.
When it comes to range targets, instructors should remind the officers on the line that these paper personas represent a suspect, a violent criminal. Silhouette variants are the norm due to their price and availability. But one way of making them more realistic—and, by the way,more legally defensible—is to upgrade them. This can be easily accomplished by just photocopying faces and guns and adding them to the silhouette target. Not that much of a challenge for an instructor dedicated to making it better on the range. Just please do not use photos of politicians, celebrities, arrestees or, for God’s sake, fellow cops. Remember, nothing good will come of it. Composite drawings would probably be a good choice
Another alternative is to sometimes use "real world" targets that picture—often in color—a variety of threats. There are a lot of great options out there. I use them frequently for firearms drills. The first time an officer confronts a suspect shooting from around a corner or over the hood of a car should not be when the threat is deadly real. Another choice is that of an armed suspect with his back to the firing line. It happens, right? So why not use such a target? But it would be wise to also discuss the issues—both immediate and long term—critical to lethal force against a person in such a position. In place of a common silhouette, there are options like the Singleton International (PhilSingleton.com) or HK-2 Target from Realistic Targets. Both feature an armed suspect pointing a firearm at the student (the bonus is that both these targets also have numbered circles or other graphics incorporated into their design for training the fundamentals and gauging accuracy). That is a very real and very defensible representation of a dangerous human. Showing such targets to a jury examining a patrol rifle program’s range drills would, perhaps, make it easier for them to understand what officers train for.
Patrol rifle range training often focuses on distance shooting out to 50 or 100 yards. Use of different firing positions, besides just the standing option, as well as working behind simulated cover, add to the goal of preparing our officers. But patrol rifle history shows us that cops carrying this weapon should be trained for close in use as well. One example came from an active shooter incident inside a grocery store. The suspect was moving down an aisle. As he did so, he was holding his estranged wife in front of him with only his head and a portion of his body visible. He had just shot her in the arm. A contact team with a patrol rifle officer on point rounded an end cap into the aisle. Quickly assessing the threat, this officer used a well-placed head shot to stop the suspect and save his victim. This is just one example, but it is a good one. It makes clear the need for both close range practice and pushing out to big yardage distances.
Mags Times 4
Just as an agency should have an adequate patrol rifle program, its officers should have an adequate number of magazines. So what is the tactically acceptable number? Many departments choose to issue only two. In my mind, that is just not enough. The minimum should probably be four magazines, preferably 30 rounders. Instructors should guard against the fact that some agencies often buy from the lowest bidder. This translates into the possibility of poor quality or less reliable magazines. As mentioned in the past, a set of training magazines should be available rather than subjecting officers’ duty mags to the abuse that happens during range drills. With appropriate guidelines and controls, progressive departments allow officers to purchase their own patrol rifles. This logic should apply to rifle magazines as well. If a motivated street cop wants to have extra ammo available just in case the next North Hollywood-style shootout by a criminal thug comes to your town, it should be approved with a few reasonable guidelines. I just hope the officer doesn’t embarrass us all by pulling "Tackleberry" behavior, such as running around with Vietnam-style bandoleers of countless magazines. That would be carrying it too far and he could quickly become a former patrol rifle officer.
One way of having an extra magazine within easy reach is to attach it to the rifle. The trade-off that has to be understood is that, like any other accessory, that second 30 rounder adds the challenge of extra weight to the shooter’s effective handling. An additional concern comes when two mags are clamped together with one in the rifle and the other standing by alongside it. Because of the inertia generated by the bolt cycling back and forth, the top round frequently works at least partially free. With each trigger press, that round tries to creep forward. This often results in the projectile’s tip canting upward at a non-functional angle. This will definitely be a problem if that backup magazine is needed and the top round is not ready to be chambered.
With extra mags approved comes the question of where to carry them. There are some creative answers out there that, to one degree or another, address this issue. Some—such as mag pouches—attach to the gun belt. This is all well and good if the officer possesses sufficient waistline circumference to accommodate the magazine pouch along with all the other items required as part of a uniformed cop’s street presence. (Author’s note: In 1976, I accessorized my gun belt with a holster, pistol mag pouches, a handcuff case and a newfangled radio pouch. That was it.) Options include "piggy back" pouch designs which increase the number of magazines that can be carried. But, like our earlier discussion about added weight on the rifle, multiple magazines on the waist should be evaluated for their mass as well. A common issue for more mature—OK, older—cops is the long term effects that the gun belt’s bulk imposes on the lower back. It may not be a concern for some, but I can tell you it became one for me.
Go Bag vs. Vest
One solution to this problem is the presence of a "go bag" or "bug out bag." Stocked with extra magazines and other essentials that can’t fit on the gun belt, the bag should be readily available with some form of sling or strap to free up the hands. However, in my perfect world, load bearing vests are a preferred solution. They can be ordered in the same color as the uniform, complete with name tag and badge holder or cloth badge sewn on. The word "Police" might even be desirable on the back of the vest. Not only do they allow for carrying multiple magazines, but at least one pouch should be dedicated to trauma dressings and a tourniquet or two. This is common sense driven. A lethal force encounter and a patrol rifle officer are by definition a potentially injurious combination. There are good odds that someone’s gonna get hurt. Having these items readily available just makes sense.
If the load-bearing vest concept is adopted, then a sturdy "drag strap" securely attached at the back should be incorporated into its design specifications. Issues that stand out with such vests rest with how a street cop would use it. One option is for the department to allow their use as part of the normal uniform. Some variations incorporate body armor, which has its obvious advantages so long as they maintain a professional uniform appearance. Another is for the vest to be carried in the patrol unit where it can be quickly grabbed and put on. There’s, of course, a problem of emergency deployment attached to this which would have to be worked out, especially if the vest is stored in a patrol unit’s trunk.
A properly trained and equipped patrol rifle program brings a significant force option to law enforcement’s job of protecting the community. Our purpose here has been to help enhance that mission.
Before we close, I want to apologize. Last month’s article had a mistake in it that good folks like Steven Suchocki (Edgerton, Ind. PD) and Aaron Devoe (Woodburn, Ore. PD) were kind enough to point out. I had stated that a suppressor would slow down a bullet and I was wrong. My thanks to those of you who keep me honest. Train Safe. God Bless America.