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Old March 18, 2008, 12:31 PM   #1
Glenn E. Meyer
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Choosing a police gun

From Policeone.com

Weapons testing and evaluation: Don’t waste your time

It surprises me to find that some agencies are still conducting large-scale test and evaluation programs to select new firearms. When one pistol manufacturer claims 70 percent of the U.S. law enforcement market (and the manufacturer is probably accurate in that claim), is there really anything new we can learn in side-by-side test programs?

Having been involved in this process for one major department and critically reviewing the results of several others, I feel there is little benefit to the process. For one thing, most large-scale test programs are rather transparent as to the program managers’ effort to make sure their personal favorites will win.

Perhaps the most important reason for not testing is the fact that among the major brands, there simply are no bad duty pistols on the market. Each brand and model has its own features that will appeal more to one officer than another. At the severe risk of leaving out a favorite of some easily offended gun guru, if you choose a Beretta, Colt, Glock, Heckler & Koch, Kimber, Sig-Sauer, Smith & Wesson or Springfield Armory model, you will have a pistol that has been fully tested by someone and found to be suitable for police use. Notable brands I left out include Ruger, Taurus and Walther, not because they are bad pistols, but because they have never captured any significant segment of the U.S. police duty-pistol market. Let’s face it, NONE of these pistols is perfect. Brand X suffered some high-profile malfunctions during gunfights (most likely a negative interaction between the agency’s training style and the pistol’s controls), Brand Y had a problem with frames cracking several years ago (not seen now for several years), and Brand Z has suffered rare, but documented, catastrophic barrel failures in the chamber area (again, not seen now for several years). No mechanical device can ever be made perfect. And we can never rule out the “fool” factor - nothing can be made foolproof so long as some people keep breeding better fools. Whether it is pistols, rifles or shotguns, simplify your life. Pick a known, proven brand that meets your realistic needs, and bid those specifications to get the best possible price.


The key phrase in the last sentence above is “realistic needs.” Determining your needs is where your efforts should be focused. An example: A large state patrol organization wants new pistols. Its current ones are worn out (including dead night sights) and it wants something that requires less maintenance. First, the agency needs to determine its needs by an accurate and impartial assessment of officer-involved shootings for a period of time (say, 10 years if that covers several shootings, more if the number of incidents is low).

I read one such assessment that reported an astronomically high hit rate for the agency’s incidents, but on further analysis, the numbers included the shooting of tires, dogs and so on. Limit the analysis to the sidearm’s intended use — shooting at persons who pose a deadly threat. When I did that, the agency’s hit rate fell to the lowest I have ever encountered (which ultimately was found to be a function of training rather than the sidearm chosen — a software problem, as it were, rather than a hardware problem).

Back to our mythical state patrol agency. Let’s say its officers currently carry 9mm sidearms and their street shootings show that a significant percentage involve suspects who have (or could have) used their vehicles as cover. That’s an important finding. If you love your 9mm, so be it, but larger-caliber bullets do a much better job of penetrating auto glass and sheet metal while retaining the ability to create a serious wound on the other side. A very convincing argument can be made for changing to a .40 or .45-caliber auto pistol. We’ll take this one a bit further: Until the last couple of years, .45-caliber semi-auto pistols either had large grip frames or were of the single-action (a la Model 1911) designs. Because some folks still get the nervous shakes upon seeing a cocked-and-locked 1911, and because the agency’s smaller officers had trouble gripping the high-capacity .45s, they settled on a .40-caliber pistol. The choice was a logical compromise that provided a better weapon for dealing with the situations they could sensibly face, while keeping the pistol small enough for everyone to handle effectively. With smaller grip frames now being offered on double- or safe-action .45-caliber pistols, the logic might change.

There are only two major brands of pump shotguns still readily available and two, or perhaps three, viable police semi-auto shotguns. The pump question is simple, M or R. Since your agency probably already has shotguns on hand, buy more of what you already have (unless it is the Ithaca, as it is essentially “out of print”). Few agencies have adopted semi-auto shotguns on a widespread basis, so choose one that has a good reputation with agencies you trust.

Ahh, rifles. I’ve been dealing with the police-rifle issue longer than all but a couple other old fogeys. The AR15 design has taken the market, hands down. But, unless you’ve been living in a cave, you realize that EVERYBODY is now making an AR15 clone. Freddie the Gun Guy down the street can buy some basic armorer’s tools and generic parts and be in the AR15 business. Some of the smaller builders’ products are fantastically well made, but make sure they build a battle-worthy rifle. The AR design has now been morphed into hyper-accurate versions for snipers, varmint hunters and wannabes. These rifles may contain parts (or assembly techniques) that can hamper reliability. We don’t need a tack-driving 1/4 Minute-of-Angle AR15, we need a super-reliable 3 MOA rifle. More accuracy is always desirable - but not at the cost of reliability. Since many minor chamber variations now exist for these weapons, specify that the chamber accepts .223 or 5.56mm ammunition interchangeably. Stick with brands in widespread use with other agencies or the military and let the low-bid chips fall where they may. Like with pistols, none of the ARs are perfect, and a bad one can slip through now and then, but all the major makers turn out a good product and most are very good at rectifying problems.

A couple of agencies have been lobbied to choose a pump-action rifle, usually in the same .223-caliber/5.56mm, to maintain training similarity with their shotguns (always the Remington pump rifle, to my knowledge). OK, if that’s an important consideration to your agency (probably a political consideration) go for it. We will rarely need the slightly faster handling characteristics of a semi-auto in a police encounter. Better to have a pump .223 than no rifle at all.

Some agencies have opted for pistol caliber carbines, having some sort of heartburn with the .223/5.56 round. If you’ve bought the bunk that a .223/5.56 round will overpenetrate in an urban environment, it won’t. The AR15's round generally suffers from too little penetration rather than too much. When this issue cropped up in the final stages of approval for rifles in one agency, I staged a simple demonstration for the “brass,” where they saw with their own eyes that a .40-caliber hollow point will out penetrate a .223 soft or hollow point EVERY TIME. Truth be known, some of the agencies that picked a pistol caliber carbine just gave in to pressure from uneducated politicians. Nobody likes to argue with politicians more than me, but some people prefer to get pay raises and good assignments occasionally. OK, if the cartridge is an important consideration to your agency — go for it. Having a carbine that performs like a very easy-to-shoot 75-yard pistol is better than just a pistol alone.

Testing ammunition has also almost reached the point of being a waste of time. If you stick with a major brand that uses bullets designed to meet the FBI’s comprehensive test protocol, you’ll be sending your officers out well armed. Some idiosyncrasies have been noted where Pistol Q doesn’t feed well with Ammo X, but these are VERY few and far between. Run a few hundred rounds through your pistols and make sure they work reliably. In those locales where agencies can buy ammunition cheaply on a “state bid” program, it’s a pretty safe bet they’ll be carrying the “state bid” load, which may change from year to year. Any ammo company big enough to win a state bid produces reliable ammo that has been fully tested to the FBI protocols.

In the age of the World Wide Web, bad police products are quickly identified and communicated to all. We will always be subject to our own personal preferences, but the weaponry and ammunition available to us today would have been a dream come true when I started back in the 1970s. (And, there is no truth to the rumor that I started out carrying a muzzleloader.) If all else fails, take a peek at what your neighbor is packin’. If that one brand of pistol truly does have 70 percent of the market, there’s probably a good reason — the arguments of its competitors notwithstanding.

Dick Fairburn has had more than 26 years of law enforcement experience in both Illinois and Wyoming. He has worked patrol, investigations and administration assignments. Dick has also served as a Criminal Intelligence Analyst, and as the Section Chief of a major academy’s Firearms Training Unit and Critical Incident Training program. He has a B.S. in Law Enforcement Administration from Western Illinois University and was the Valedictorian of his recruit class at the Illinois State Police Academy. He has published hundreds of articles and a book titled, Police Rifles.
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Old March 18, 2008, 01:08 PM   #2
markj
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Quote:
When one pistol manufacturer claims 70 percent of the U.S. law enforcement market
Let me put it this way. Just cause Harleys are common law emforcement motors doesnt make em best for everyone else.

Find the one fits ya and you shoot well. They all shoot a bullet out of the front.
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Old March 19, 2008, 05:16 PM   #3
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Why reinvent the wheel?

It does seem wasteful of time & money to test and reach the same (or very close) conclusion that another agency has already discovered. It would appear that this could very well be a Ford or Chevy debate considering the level of weapons today (ie. pointless).

Could it be that the real intent of these tests is to justify somebody's position in the department? Or is it a situation of spending this year's budget in order not to lose the funds next year?
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Old March 19, 2008, 09:33 PM   #4
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Quote:
If you love your 9mm, so be it, but larger-caliber bullets do a much better job of penetrating auto glass and sheet metal while retaining the ability to create a serious wound on the other side. A very convincing argument can be made for changing to a .40 or .45-caliber auto pistol.
Whoever claims authorship of this article should do a bit more research on his own instead of claiming "one size fits all." If they had done credible research then they would have known that 9mm penetration of auto glass and sheet metal routinely exceeds that of .45. That's one of 9mm's selling points.
But then, sounds like the author already had his mind made up so whatever "fill" he includes really isn't credible but just "fill".

Quote:
If you stick with a major brand that uses bullets designed to meet the FBI’s comprehensive test protocol, you’ll be sending your officers out well armed.
What if the agency decides the FBI"s "comprehensive test protocol" isn't what that particular agency needs? The Border Patrol uses 8" instead of the FBI's sacred 12". And the BP is involved in a lot more shootings that the FBI. Also don't forget that pre-1986 the FBI also had "comprehensive test protocols" involving RII and the "computer man". Their "comprehensive test protocols" during that time touted rapid expansion, limited penetration. And at that time my agency's testing showed that rapid expansion, limited penetration really wasn't the optimal performance. We even sent our range people to Q to discuss our testing with them. But the FBI knew better because they had their "comprehensive test protocols." Then post-1986 the FBI's "comprehensive test protocols" claimed the W-W 147 Subsonic was THE ONLY 9mm any serious dept should carry. Once more our range guys showed the guys at Q that the W-W 147 Subsonic wasn't up to what was needed on the street. But the FBI had their "comprehensive test protocols" and they knew better. Didn't matter that my agency was shooting a lot more people with the 9mm that the FBI did in the entire time they carried the 9. After a few years of getting shooting results from the field from other depts did people wake up and realize that the FBI's "comprehensive test protocols" for the 147 Subsonic really didn't work that well on the street. So the FBI revised their "comprehensive test protocals" and admitted that round wasn't the best that they had thought. Gee, wonder where they'd heard that before?

Sounds like the author is another one of those gun rag authors who gets paid by the word because the facts sure don't support some of his assertions.
And, yes, I was involved in testing of handguns for my dept when I was commanding R&D.
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Old March 20, 2008, 10:47 AM   #5
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I was on the selection board when my department switched from revolvers to semi-autos. The issue sidearm was a model 65 S&W .357 which had been used in one shooting incident where it worked 100% with one shot. The sheriff felt that we needed to step up to the modern age and with a bank account full of drug dealers seized money the pistols we were to have would cost the tax payers nothing. We evaluated several pistols including S&W, GLOCK, H&K, and Beretta. A neighboring county had bought a batch of Ruger P.45's which they sent all of them back due to continued problems in the first year of issue. The GLOCK was a fine pistol in my opinion but the sheriff wanted an external safety. We after shooting and evaluation chose the H&K USP .45 as the best choice.
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Old March 22, 2008, 03:25 PM   #6
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If LE went back to 6-shot K-frame model 10s with .38 Spl. +P ammo I don't think there would be any significant change in the gunfighting effectiveness of LE and we'd sure save a lot of time and money thta could be better used elsewhere. My $.02.
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Old March 22, 2008, 04:02 PM   #7
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Florida departments changed to semiautos...

... directly following the Palm Bay massacre in the '80's.

This was largely due to one of the officers being executed by the BG while he was trying to reload his revolver.

There's the usual case, and then there is the worst case. Going back to revolvers would work for most cases, but every so often it would just be idiotic.

Cheers,

M
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Old March 22, 2008, 10:50 PM   #8
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Need to test for fit and feel for the ones who will use them. Also for felt recoil of round/caliber choosen.
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Old March 23, 2008, 12:41 AM   #9
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Nearly all police issue firearms are purchased based on cost and what manufacturer's services come with 'em. Cop weapons tech training, etc. In any case, politics has more to do with procurement than anything else. Cost being the primary reason.
Most new cops, anywhere, have never seen a firearm, of any kind, prior to being hired anyway. The days of cops being shooters are long gone.
"...Need to test for fit and feel for the ones who will use them..." That's irrelevant. Just like it is with the military.
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Old March 23, 2008, 05:37 AM   #10
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The best Pistol?

What ever it is, it has to work first time, all the time.

"MORE IS BETTER ALWAYS!" Lots of rounds in it, why? Not so many reloads? Back to Revolvers? See BLOCK CAPS above.

Never seen a real gun? Not in Florida!

9mm!!! Why? Go back to BLOCKS!
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Old March 26, 2008, 01:42 AM   #11
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Amateurs study tactics...

...professionals study logistics.

Quote:
Nearly all police issue firearms are purchased based on cost and what manufacturer's services come with 'em. Cop weapons tech training, etc. In any case, politics has more to do with procurement than anything else. Cost being the primary reason.
Quote:
If LE went back to 6-shot K-frame model 10s with .38 Spl. +P ammo I don't think there would be any significant change in the gunfighting effectiveness of LE...
If I was tasked to establish a gendamerie somewhere, I'd choose stainless revolvers and parkerized shotguns....and I'd end up with whatever old AKs and pistols the low bidder provided.

Joking aside, I envy the officers who get to choose their own pistols off an approved list.

My department has a great program of annual inspections and armorer support but it seems like lots of expense and trouble when there are other departments that seem to get by with letting officers be responsible for their personal weapons.
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Old March 26, 2008, 06:11 PM   #12
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There's the usual case, and then there is the worst case. Going back to revolvers would work for most cases, but every so often it would just be idiotic.
One can say that about most things. For example, autoloaders work for most cases, but every so often when they jam up it is just idiotic. Police having guns works for most cases, but every so often an officer gets killed with his own gun which is just idiotic. There are many different "worst cases" to consider.
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Old March 26, 2008, 08:42 PM   #13
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Ok, David, we don't disagree about that.

We are looking at it from two opposite sides, though.

Your premise is that less training time and money can be spent if we go back to revolvers for primary carry by LEO's.

My premise is that it is better to afford more training time and money. I'd rather train the officer to a level where he can quickly clear a jam or get his BUG in play.

I prefer my way, conceptually. Your way may more realistically reflect the amounts of money and effort PD's and LEOs are willing to put forth.

(Of course, I would also like to see more regular training in unarmed tactics for LEOs... in addition to more training in how to use basic psychology and common courtesy to de-escalate situations with a higher success rate)
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Old March 26, 2008, 10:15 PM   #14
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LEO firearms

This could be debated infinitum. But, a few points to consider.
How many rounds needed in police-perp shootings? NYPD SOP 9 studies showed average 2-3 rounds fired pre- switch to auto's, 5 - 6 after switch. Reloading was never an issue in police-perp shootings. Data show more polife ADs and "accidents" with auto's vs. revolvers. Military has different environment which clearly favors autoloaders, and less relevance of civilian bystanders getting hit - not the case with LEOs stateside.
The FBI has always been a "law" unto itself - first used 38 +P, then 9mm was "better", then 10 mm was better, now 40 cal? (How was 10 mm superior to the 45 ACP?)
If shot placement is good, outcome will likely be good. No one handgun cartridge (38 Spcl and up) has proven superior ability to terminate a confrontation.
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Old March 27, 2008, 10:21 AM   #15
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Original 10mm vs .45acp

How was 10mm better?

Faster, flatter trajectory. More power. Better penetration.

In its original configuration, 10mm had the same energy at 75 yards as .45acp did at the muzzle.

Also, due to its slightly slimmer profile, more rounds could be carried. Note the Glock 21 with 13 rounds, and the Glock 20 with 15. Not much of a difference, but still an advantage to the 10mm.

If used in a pistol/carbine pair, the 10mm seriously outperforms the .45 from the carbine.

The round just never quite caught on. The average buyer doesn't like .41 magnum type recoil. The average Fed didn't like it, either.

That said, I own 3 .45's, and no 10mm's.

Cheers,

M
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Old March 27, 2008, 10:47 AM   #16
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Originally Posted by article
nothing can be made foolproof so long as some people keep breeding better fools
That is classic!
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Old March 27, 2008, 11:53 AM   #17
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Rounds per shooting

The number of rounds fired went up at NYPD after the switch to autoloaders.

This could mean that the police, with more ammo available, went to a spray'n'pray mode, which would have been avoided had they stuck with revolvers.

To some extent, it very well may mean that.

However, there are other pieces to the puzzle.

For instance, police departments started switching to autos in the 80's; the Connecticut State Police prominently chose the Beretta 92, right after the military adopted the M9. Others followed, through the late 80's and early 90's.

However, at around this time, it seems to me that the military in particular, and police departments in general, started reducing actual hands-on training time with weapons; lengthening the time periods between recurrent training; and reducing the standards required for initial and recurrent qualification.

This could also result in a much higher number of rounds fired per police incident.

Add to that the increased number of drug related violent incidents. BG's have been better armed, and more willing to open fire. This would tend to result in more officer movement (taking cover, ducking, etc), and therefore a higher miss rate, the more the BG's shot back.

So it's hard to say, based on number of shots fired, whether autoloader vs revolver makes that much difference, compared to lower training standards and more violent BG's.

Cheers,

M
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Old March 27, 2008, 03:31 PM   #18
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"Of course the 1911 is an outdated design. It came from an era when weapons were designed to win fights, not to avoid product liability lawsuits. It came from an era where it was the norm to learn how your weapon operated and to practice that operation until it became second nature, not to design the piece to the lowest common denominator. It came from an era in which our country tried to supply its fighting men with the best tools possible, unlike today, when our fighting men and women are issued hardware that was adopted because of international deal-making or the fact that the factory is in some well-connected congressman's district. Yes, beyond any shadow of a doubt, the 1911 IS an outdated design....and that's exactly what I love about it." -- Rosco S. Benson

I am yet to see anything actually outdo that reasoning.
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Old March 27, 2008, 05:15 PM   #19
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Yellowfin:

Your quote amply demonstrates why special police units with extensive weapons training (such as SWAT) use 1911's as a sidearm to accompany their long guns.

Beat cops that shoot qualifications once a year?

I don't want them handling a 1911. Heck, I don't want them handling a Taurus 94 .22 revolver with a 25lb DA trigger. Give 'em billy clubs if they won't qualify monthly.

Seriously. Show the armorer or your Sergeant that you can run a magazine into a pair of targets, effectively change magazines, and run a second magazine into another pair of targets. Anywhere from 16 (1911) to 34 (G17) rounds... not a big deal.

And if you qualify monthly, you will keep in practice. If nothing else, just from repeated qualification.
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Old March 27, 2008, 05:55 PM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ISP2605
Sounds like the author is another one of those gun rag authors who gets paid by the word because the facts sure don't support some of his assertions.
HUGE dittos. Also sounds like another unmarried marriage counselor. May be wrong, but that's what it read like to me.

Like you, I was on the four-agent team that did final tests and evaluations for our new standard issue. We had specific needs for our specific roles, and we rarely, if ever, wore traditional holsters.

THAT changes things a lot.

Jeff
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Old March 27, 2008, 07:41 PM   #21
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Your premise is that less training time and money can be spent if we go back to revolvers for primary carry by LEO's.
No, that is not my premise at all. My premise is that if typical LE went back to 6-shot K-frame model 10s with .38 Spl. +P ammo I don't think there would be any significant change in the gunfighting effectiveness of LE. Saving time and money would be an additional benefit, but that is secondary to the main issue, IMO.
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Old March 27, 2008, 08:11 PM   #22
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Not to tweak you, David, but...

Quote: "If LE went back to 6-shot K-frame model 10s with .38 Spl. +P ammo I don't think there would be any significant change in the gunfighting effectiveness of LE and we'd sure save a lot of time and money thta could be better used elsewhere. My $.02." - David Armstrong post #6

So yes, part of your premise was a savings of time and money.

Cheers,

M
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Old March 28, 2008, 04:17 PM   #23
David Armstrong
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Also not to tweak, but....
adding a secondary ancillary clause through an "and" does not indicate a premise or part thereof, it instead indicates a separate and distinct thought. Saving time and money, while nice, has nothing to do with the premise of effectiveness. In fact, if we saved no money or time it would not change the premise at all.
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Old April 22, 2008, 02:35 AM   #24
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However, at around this time, it seems to me that the military in particular, and police departments in general, started reducing actual hands-on training time with weapons; lengthening the time periods between recurrent training; and reducing the standards required for initial and recurrent qualification.
Doesn't hold true in my area, and with the general trend in LE regarding liability and failure to train, I do not believe that is true across the nation. Of course you can still find small agencies who haven't seen the light and think that one range day a year is adequate, but those are going away as younger officers move into management positions and the dinosaurs retire.
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