Designing Qualification Courses

You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge.

We have all heard that training is not qualification, and qualification is not training. However, in a lot of agencies, qualification is the only time the agency provides ammunition for the officers, and thus becomes defacto training. When the qualification course is lacking in relevance to anything that resembles what we know happens on the street, problems occur, and then people sit around in wonderment of why the failures happened.

In it’s purest intent, a Qualification Course is SUPPOSED to be a display of BASIC skills OWNED by the shooter. The issue is that when the shooter went through initial basic training, they acquired basic skills of that time in history, and they may not actually own them. If they do not continue to train and maintain those skills, they perish (figuratively, and in some cases, literally in gunfights). When qualification courses change over time, if the shooter has not kept current with their training, then they are even further behind the curve.

Morally and ethically peace officers should go through courses of fire (designed specifically to teach and test retention of new skills) and also have random qualification courses to show retained knowledge, skills, and abilities. The model policy of the International Association of Chief’s of Police sets some guidelines where they say that static qualification once per year is not enough (among other recommendations of best practices). While I may not agree with everything to come out of IACP, I am fully supportive and in agreement with them on this issue.

Getting back to the sad fact of qualifications being training for a lot of peace officers in this country, instead of lamenting about the state of affairs, why not change qualification courses to be more street relevant? Well, there is the issue of man power, training resources, money, and a whole lot of other things; which are all impotent excuses that cost lives. It is despicable to sacrifice critical deadly force decision making skills because it is “not in the budget.” How about instead of spending money on a new badge or uniform design, or some other item that does not directly affect human life, you find the money to better train your officers, and thus better serve and protect the population? What a revolutionary idea.

I know of a large agency that selected a pistol with a very heavy constant trigger, and poor ergonomics. They were in awe that their officers shot poorly on the qualification they had previously shot fine on. The solution? Make the scoring area larger. No, you can’t make this stuff up. No way it is because some bureaucrat, made a poor choice on weapons for street cops. It has to be that the course is too hard, yes, that course that everyone was previously doing fine on….

When you are ok with minimum standards, you will get minimum and mediocre results. When lives are on the line, the minimum is severely lacking. So, what can we do about making qualification courses more relevant:

Targets – Two of them. We know violent felons hunt in packs, so shouldn’t we train to go up against more than one? If not for that reason, it gives us the ability to test transition skills.

Scoring Zones – For the chest, an 8×10 with a 6″ circle situated at the top of the 8×10, inside of a SQT-A1 silhouette. That target already has a satisfactory head box, with appropriate cranial ocular vault marking.

How to Score – *This Assumes a 30 round qualification course.* If a chest shot is called, then only a chest shot is scored. If it hits the head, it is a miss. Same for called head shots. If it touches the line, the lower point value is scored. Why award mediocrity?

6″ circle and 3×5 head box = 10 points

8×10 = 8 points

Anywhere else on the target, including outside the 3×5 on the head = 5 points

Possible of 300. Minimum of 240 is 80%. Instructors have to get 90% to pass.

Time Frames – For the purpose of establishing times for the drills in this course specifically, and other training in general – Given a level 2 or greater security holster, the average peace officer should be able to draw and fire their first shot in 1.5 seconds. Broken down that is a quarter second to realize a cue to fire has been given, a quarter second to start the process of the draw, a quarter second to complete the draw-stabilization on target-prep trigger (AFTER the gun is ON target), and a quarter second to micro confirm everything is as close to proximity as possible, and a last quarter second finalizing the completion of the trigger press.

Due to age, retained skill, and various other reasons; times may be less or greater. However, it should not go much more over 1.5 seconds at 7 yards and under to maintain street relevance. Remember, if we are drawing in a hurry, it is in reaction to an attack. The quicker we draw, the more time we have to shoot. Draw fast, shoot deliberately.

At 15 yards it moves to 2.5 seconds for draw to first shot.

At 25 yards 3-3.5 seconds is the maximum amount of time that should be allotted.

Between shots, or splits as they are called, should be between 3/10 to half a second. Any quicker is to out run the headlights, and shoot faster than the brain can process what is happening to the target/down range. Any slower is taking excessively too long for the vast majority of circumstances a peace officer may be morally certain to find themselves in; with the exception of longer range shots or crowded areas, which can take up to 1 second between shots.

I fully understand that there are a lot of people that can draw and shoot faster, and have quicker split times. That is fine, but it is not relevant to what we are trying to accomplish. You see, when shooting for keeps, you must be able to articulate why you fired every single round. Taking another human being’s life is the most serious thing there is. If someone needs to be shot 3 times, then you do not need to shoot them 4. Same for 1 shot needed or 15 shots needed. We use the minimum amount required to neutralize the threat. When the bullets fly both ways, it takes more time to process what is going on, then when you are at the range under no stress trying to get a fast shooting, feel good, clip for the gram. Get real, and quit focusing on what some hobbyist forum says is needed to win a fight.

While these are standards, they are minimum, but realistic in the form of time, scoring, target size, movements, accountability on legal application of deadly force; for the common man with proper skills. Many can do the below listed tasks faster, but they are not the majority. This may seem to contradict my previous statements of mediocrity, however, they do not. Just because a particular reader is a JSOOC Ninja, or hits precincts of pain , does not mean that the majority of peace officers have those skills. Nor does it mean they want to, if they are capable of it. Shooting is a very small part of being a peace officer. Shooting people is the most serious, life altering event a peace officer can go through. Some of us choose to master, or at least have a working and thorough knowledge of the basics applied to deadly force encounters. Then there are those that have no interest, and barely any skill. If they are willing to practice they too can pass this course. If they cannot pass it, and do not want to train, they need to hang up their badges because they are a danger to the population, us, and themselves. The below described course is not hard to the advanced gunman, for everyone else it is passable, if you work for it.

Therein lies the rub. Standards are higher than mass approved minimum, but not as high as I would like them to be. Knowing that every peace officer cannot go through an advanced 14 week, 12,000 rounds course; and knowing that all officers will not be sent off to secret squirrel courses; this course fills a void. The best part is that with an hour of supervised coaching and practice every week for a few months can get those officers up to an acceptable standard. Continuing that practice will yield a retention, and eventual ownership of skills. Which will allow us to progress to other actions, which allows us to start building thinking gunfighters. Assuming that a box of 50 rounds of practice ammo is $20, and the hour of their time is $30, that is $50 a week. Times that by 50 weeks out of the year, and the cost is $2,500 per officer. Now, that may be more or less depending on your particular agency, but $2,500 a year to INVEST into an officer is a bargain. That is way cheaper than a lawsuit, it is cheaper than the devastation caused to a family who has lost a relative due to improper training, and it is way cheaper than having to look a 4 year old child in the eye on Christmas Eve telling them their father, one of your officers won’t ever be coming home; all the while you know in your heart that you just didn’t feel they were worth that extra $2,500 a year. If that is the case, I hope you have a very long life, and may it haunt you to your death bed.

This mess we have gotten ourselves into as a whole, has got to be corrected somehow. Someone has to be the one to stir up enough emotions to make a change. I reckon I’m just about as good as stirring up discontent as anyone, so I volunteer to scream and cause a scene until something changes.

What do we know happens on the street? Deadly Force Threats move and cops move. Cops shoot one handed at close range. Cops drop their guns, fumbled out of the holsters, or have them knocked out of their hands. Cops get shot in the hands and arms. Cops recover their guns with whichever hand they can. Forcible felons hunt in packs. Cops get ambushed. Cops draw down on bad people, and those bad people drop their weapons. Sometimes they don’t drop their weapons, but don’t complete that last act to force us to use lawful deadly force, and we have to hold them at gunpoint. Bullets to the chest don’t always work, and we have to go for the eyes. Controlling a response of 2 rounds to the chest, or 2 rounds to the upper chest and 1 to the head, or a single round direct to the proper part of the head burns these responses into an officer’s subconscious. That repetition, along with proper training on decision making, and mental conditioning for combat go such a very long way to saving lives. So, now onward to the why’s:

Movement – There should be stages that require movement for relevancy. At 25 yards, on command, move briskly to 15, while drawing. Once the line gets to 15, HOLD. On signal, engage.

From 15 yards, on the signal, advance while drawing, and engaging the target on the way to the stop position of 7 yards. Move, shoot, move, shoot; stopping for the shots.

At 7 yards and in, a lateral step should be included, WHILE drawing. The shooter needs to be taught to LOOK, PRIOR to the draw (even if with peripheral vision). When we program people to step to the side, we must make sure they are aware of their surroundings. Stepping laterally without looking can cause you to step off the curb, into oncoming traffic, or over the edge of a porch in the real world; which can be catastrophic for you. That may sound like common sense, but some people will not do things until they are told to, or that it is ok. Force them to vary which direction they step. Train them to be aware of what hand the gun pointed at them is in, and move in that direction, making it harder for the enemy to track them.

Stepping back is not a recommended move. You cannot back up faster than someone can move forward. If we can program things into people, we can program things out. While a lateral step is good, a diagonal, frontal assaults is better; if the terrain allows.

Hand Positions – While most of the course should be shot 2 handed, there should be at least two stages requiring primary hand only shooting. One stage with a draw and shots with the primary hand only. Another with shots from the ready with primary hand only. Finally, at least one stage with non-dominant hand only.

Reloads – It is important we test that the skill of the slide lock reload has not perished. At the same time, it is setting the officer up for failure to have them repeatedly run the gun dry. The better option is to have one stage with a mandatory slide lock reload, and then once that it out of the way, penalize them if the gun runs dry for the remainder of the course. Have them do in battery speed loads after every stage. Give them the authority to ask for a break to stuff mags. Have them be aware of what is in their gun, and get in the habit of reloading when they think they need to, before they need to from slide lock. Force them to move WHILE reloading.

Draw and Hold – There should be at least 2 stages that require the shooter to draw, and not shoot. One where they draw onto target, finger OFF the trigger, and NOT shoot. There should be another where verbal commands are issued while drawing, and the gun being drawn to low ready, with no shots fired. Finally, another where a malfunction occurs, is fixed, and the trigger press resumes. HOWEVER, it is NOT completed because the bad guy has ceased their actions that justified shooting them. Recognizing and Understanding when NOT to shoot is as, if not more, important as knowing when to shoot. If we do not train them to do this, how will the recognize, and know when to but the brakes on in a life or death encounter?

Verbal Commands – At least a third of the stages should include verbal commands. Simple is better. “STOP, Police!” is a good choice. It is imperative, they issue commands WHILE drawing, not command, then draw. Not draw, then command. Get them use to doing BOTH at the same time.

Example Qualification Course

Left Target = 3 head, 10 chest – 13 total

Right Target = 3 head, 14 chest – 17 total

Magazines will be fully loaded. Gun will be secured in holster, with all retention devices activated, unless the command is to start the stage from the ready. Placing the hand on the gun, or deactivating security mechanisms prior to the start of stage will result in an immediate disqualification.

Shooter WILL perform an IN BATTERY SPEED LOAD or a Reload WITH Retention (make them vary it up) at the completion of EVERY stage EXCEPT the single stage that specifies a slide lock reload. Failure to do this will result in an immediate disqualification.

The shooter is responsible for knowing the condition of their weapon. If a shooter runs out of ammo during a stage because they were not thinking, and they cannot complete a reload in the time frame specified for the stage, they will forfeit 10 points for every round not fired.

If the shooter does not follow the instructions of the stage (fails to move, fails to issue verbal commands in the correct order, places finger on the trigger at another time than when the muzzle is on target and they INTEND to fire, etc. it will be an immediate disqualification of the entire course).

4 Yards

Stage 1: Total – 3 rounds. (Draw, Movement)

Standing in front of the LEFT target, on signal, issue verbal commands WHILE drawing AND taking a lateral-forward diagonal step, firing 2 rounds to the upper chest, and 1 round to the head of LEFT target.

Time: 3.5 seconds


Stage 2: Total – 2 rounds. (Draw, Movement, Single Hand)

Standing in front of the RIGHT target, on signal, issue verbal commands WHILE drawing AND taking a lateral-forward diagonal step, firing 2 rounds (PRIMARY HAND ONLY) to the upper chest of the RIGHT target.

Time: 2.5 seconds


3 Yards

Stage 3: Total – 1 round. (Ready, Movement, Single Hand)

Start with the gun at low ready with gun in the PRIMARY HAND ONLY, on signal, take a lateral step and fire a single head shot to the RIGHT target.

Time: 2 seconds


Stage 4: Total – 4 rounds. (Ready, Movement, Single Hand)

Start with the gun in the NON-DOMINANT HAND ONLY, on signal, take a lateral step while firing 2 rounds to the upper chest of EACH target (no specific order).

Time: 4 seconds


7 Yards

Stage 5: Total – 3 rounds. (Draw)

Stand between the two targets. On the signal, draw and fire 2 rounds to the upper chest, and 1 round to the head of the LEFT target. Come to a low ready, take a lateral step, and HOLD for the next command.

Time: 3.5 seconds


15 – 7 Yards

Stage 6: Total – 3 rounds. (Draw, Movement)

On the signal Draw while moving forward. AT 10 YARDS – Stop to fire 2 rounds to the upper chest of the RIGHT target. Move forward, and stop AT 7 YARDS to fire 1 round to the head of the RIGHT target.

Time: 10 seconds


7 Yards

Stage 7: On the signal, draw to low ready WHILE issuing verbal commands, with NO shots fired.

Time: N/A


10 – 7 Yards

Stage 8: Total – 2 rounds. (Ready, Movement)

Start at 10 yards with gun at low ready. On signal, start moving forward to the 7 yard line. Fire 2 rounds to the upper chest of the RIGHT target. WHILE MOVING. *Do NOT stop to fire*

Time: 4 seconds


7 Yards

Stage 9: Total – 1 round. (Draw)

On the signal, draw and fire 1 round to the head of the LEFT target.

Time: 2 seconds


Stage 10: Total – 3 rounds. (Draw, Movement)

Standing to the Right of RIGHT target, on signal, step LEFT WHILE drawing, and fire 2 rounds to the upper chest of the RIGHT target, step RIGHT while firing 1 round to the head of the RIGHT target.

Time: 5 seconds


25 – 15 Yards

Stage 11: Total – 4 rounds. (Draw, Movement)

Start at 25 yards. On command, briskly move to the 15 yard line. Once at the 15 yard line, Draw and HOLD. Time will start on signal, at which point, the shooter will fire 2 rounds to the upper chest of each target.

Time: 5 seconds


25 yards

Stage 12: On the signal, draw to target, with finger OFF trigger. NO shots fired. Time: N/A


Stage 13: *SET UP GUN WITH EMPTY CHAMBER and TWO rounds in the magazine* Start with gun in low ready. On signal, acquire sights on target, and press trigger. You should get a click. Immediately perform a Tap-Rack, re-acquire sight picture, place finger on the trigger with SLIGHT pressure WITHOUT firing. Recover, and holster. Time: N/A


Stage 14: Total Rounds – 4. (Draw – EMERGENCY RELOAD)

*Gun will be loaded with ONLY 2 rounds. 1 in the chamber, and 1 in the magazine. On signal, Draw and fire one round to the upper chest of LEFT and RIGHT target. SLIDE LOCK RELOAD. Fire one round to the upper chest of the LEFT and RIGHT target; in that order.

Time: 10 seconds

END Qualification Course.

As usual, this is simply my take on the matter, based off of what I have seen work and fail, time and time again. Perhaps you have found something herein that it is useful to you, and for that I will be glad, and sincerely wish for it to save lives. In another installment, we will discuss Courses of Fire, how they are different than qualification courses, and how to design them.

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