During one of the recent Owensboro Police Department’s Citizens Academy classes, the group didn’t learn in a classroom but on a shooting range out in the county.
Firearms training instructors invited students to learn the basic skills in handling firearms and then offered them the opportunity to shoot a nine-millimeter Glock at a target seven yards away.
Most law enforcement shootings happen in a seven-yard radius, said Sergeant Chris Collins, which is why that distance was used.
Only six of the 17 academy students in the class had shooting experience, but at the end of the target practice, all were comparing the shots on their paper targets.
Each participant was coached by a firearms instructor prior to taking 10 shots at their target. The participants all agreed they learned a lot from their firearm instructors.
“We’re going to treat you like you’ve never picked up a gun before,” said OPD Street Crimes Unit Supervisor Michael Nichols.
Lieutenant David Powell, who led the citizens’ academy for years before Sergeant Courtney Yerington took over this year, said the firearms training course used to make him nervous, but that his mindset changed after realizing how serious the participants and instructors take the experience.
“Teaching is at the core of this whole thing,” Nichols said. “You don’t have to be a super shot to be a firearms instructor, but if you can’t diagnose what the shooter’s doing wrong, you’re not really getting anything accomplished.”
Firearms instructors take at least 40 hours of specialized training at the range before being certified, and many of those training hours are conducted at night, Nichols said. This is because 76 percent of shooting incidents occur in the evening or when it’s dark outside.
Those in the citizen’s academy used the same firearm that OPD officers use. The Federal Bureau of Investigation states the Glock is currently the best pistol on the market for those in law enforcement. Nichols said troopers with Kentucky State Police and deputies with the Daviess County Sheriff’s Department use the same brand as well.
“[Glocks] work when they’re supposed to work,” he said. “We switched from Smith and Wessons in 2002.”
OPD trains with pistols, but they also train with semi-automatics, such as AR-15s. Though the firearm gets a bad name across the country, Nichols and Sergeant Chris Collins said the AR-15 efficiency and precision make it an excellent firearm for law enforcement.
“If you’re responding to a shots fired call, or a call where’s there are weapons being utilized, we want to bring the biggest gun to the fight,” Collins said. “Body armor can block a pistol bullet, but it won’t protect you against this. It’s accurate up to 500 yards.”
In a country where mass shootings and AR-15s have brisked more headlines in recent years, Nichols said firearms training is extremely important. Education is better than living in fear, he said.
However, most law enforcement experiences don’t include violence, the instructors said. While firearms training is an extremely important component of an officer’s training, students were told violence on the job is a rare occurrence.
“I tell everyone, ‘Owensboro is the worst place to rob a bank or [shoot someone],” Powell said. “A homicide might happen every fourth day in Louisville–their detectives might only have a week to work on it before they’re forced to move on to the next one. But we’ll put everybody on the unit out there when a shooting happens here. We’ll put 10 detectives on it, and we’ll do our very best to solve it.”