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Fast Track.

The blue bus rolled out from behind the gymnasium taking failed new agent trainees to the airport for their long, sad ride home. Once again, the FBI had lost some potential special agents because of the FBI Academy's dismissal policy. How many other law enforcement agencies have faced the same discouraging dilemma? How many eager young men and women ready to pledge themselves to upholding the law and protecting American citizens have sacrificed their dream of joining the law enforcement profession because they had difficulty learning required firearm skills? What can be done to help new recruits become qualified in the use of firearms and go on to have successful law enforcement careers?

For many years, the FBI Academy had no recycling program for new agent trainees who failed to qualify with their service weapons. On the day of qualification, trainees either shot an acceptable score immediately or tried again after approximately an hour of remedial training. If unsuccessful, they were dismissed and boarded the dreaded blue bus. Needless to say, the pressure to perform proved intense. However, in July 1995, the FBI Academy initiated Fast Track, a remedial firearms program, which represented a significant shift in its firearms training philosophy. Since that time, nearly all of the students placed in the program have qualified with their firearms. Instructional techniques and state-of-the-art technical support designed and developed by the Firearms Training Unit at the FBI Academy account for this remarkable success.(1)

QUALIFICATION REQUIREMENTS

During their 16 weeks of training at the FBI Academy, all new agent trainees must qualify with their service weapons twice, once in the 8th week and again in the 14th week. To qualify, they must score 80 out of a possible 100 points in two out of three pistol qualification courses, which require a range of shooting starting at 25 yards and decreasing to 5 yards. The trainees must shoot using both weak and strong hands and from behind various cover and barricade positions.

When the FBI began changing from revolvers to pistols in July 1990, it stopped dismissing new agent trainees who did not qualify with their service weapons to better assess and validate the new firearms training procedures, course curriculum, and qualifying standards. Students who did not pass their 8th-week qualification test were not dismissed but allowed to restart their firearms instruction with a new class of trainees. In effect, they repeated the 8 weeks of firearms instruction that had led up to their first qualification test. Failure to qualify at their second 8th-week test resulted in their dismissal. From July 1990 through July 1995, 27 students participated in this recycling program, and all but one qualified during their second 8th-week test.

However, this 8-week firearms recycling program proved an inefficient way to manage firearms training resources. For example, recycled students who already had required intensive instructor attention in their first class also needed it when they repeated the training. Consequently, students from both classes who shot well were deprived of instructor attention, which may have denied them the possibility of becoming expert shots.

The FBI needed to protect its considerable investment in new agent trainees and, at the same time, make more efficient use of its limited resources. In short, it needed to change its firearms training policy.

REMEDIATION APPROACH

Fast Track represents the FBI's new approach to firearms training. Upon failing to qualify with their class during the normally scheduled pistol qualification course, new agent trainees receive a 1-hour individual or small-group remedial session. Fast Track instructors use a standard surveillance video camera with a 12-millimeter lens mounted on a tripod to quickly evaluate the students' shooting problems. Each student stands behind the video camera, leans over it, and aims an empty, safe handgun in front of and in line with the camera lens. Then, watching a video monitor, the student lines up the sights on the weapon to get an accurate sight picture and dry-fires it while aiming in a safe direction.

The instructors watch the students shooting in real time and, if need be, in slow motion and stop action to detect flaws in their shooting techniques. For example, instructors can detect simple sight-alignment problems quickly and correct them while the students hold their weapons in front of the video camera. The instructors place their hands over the students' hands and guide them to an accurate sight-alignment picture. While observing this on the adjacent video screen, the students see and feel what it is like to obtain a correct sight picture. Often, this proves the only remediation that students require. They spend the remainder of the hour practicing sight alignment and performing trigger control drills, then return to the firing range and attempt to qualify with their weapons.

Supportive Instruction

If the 1-hour remedial session does not help the students qualify with their weapons, then the FBI Academy officially withdraws them from their training class and places them in a recycle status, literally moving them from their class-shared dormitory rooms into rooms by themselves or with another recycled student. For 2 weeks, these students participate in two firearms training sessions a day during which they receive individual instruction or participate in ongoing firearms sessions with other classes. The program purposely consists of the same number of firearms training sessions as the first 8 weeks of training but only takes 2 weeks to complete.

While students experience a variety of shooting difficulties, the majority have trouble with trigger control or anticipation of recoil. These problems prove harder to correct, but the firearms instructors designed the Fast Track system to help those trainees overcome such obstacles. First, the Fast Track instructors carefully analyzed each segment of the pistol qualification course and documented the required shooting skills. Then, they developed drills that closely replicate these necessary shooting skills. Because most of the problems with sight alignment, trigger control, and anticipation of recoil result from poor coordination rather than strength, many of the Fast Track shooting drills focus on creating correct muscle memory. With adequate repetition, students can reproduce the skills and qualify with their weapons.

Besides using state-of-the-art teaching tools, Fast Track also relies on high-quality individual instruction to assist the students. Training is supportive and positive.

The instructors provide the students with a steady stream of simple instructions. The instructors want the students to internalize these simple instructions so they will remember them when they attempt to qualify while attending the FBI Academy and later when they must qualify in the field.

Virtual-Reality Goggles

In addition to breaking the pistol qualifying course into its component parts and providing hands-on, individualized supportive instruction, the Fast Track instructors employ another, more high-tech solution to shooting problems - a miniaturized video camera mounted on a set of virtual-reality goggles. Students carefully align the camera with their eyes, then operate their weapons based on the picture they see on a small video screen mounted inside the headset. The entire setup weighs only a few pounds, and students can adjust the fit easily.

One instructor remains without goggles to act as the firing range safety officer. A second instructor wears a similar set of goggles, which is tied directly into the student's camera and allows the instructor to see exactly what the student sees. Starting with dry-fire and leading to live-fire exercises, the instructor can see the same visual picture as the student and physically manipulate the student's hands to demonstrate the proper sight picture, sight alignment, grip, trigger control, and acceptance of recoil. With this system, no gap exists between the instructor's and the student's senses. What one sees, hears, and feels, the other does, too.

As with the other video system, the instructors can videotape each student using slow motion, pause, and frame-by-frame review to identify problems and show the trainees their mistakes. The instructors also use the same hands-on approach to create correct muscle memory for the students. In short, this system allows instructors to see what the students see, videotape it, and accurately determine what the students comprehend and whether they can duplicate correct sight picture, sight alignment, trigger control, and acceptance of recoil.

Picture-in-Picture Technology

A modification of the virtual-reality system uses picture-in-picture (PIP) technology, a split-screen technique often used in television to allow viewers to watch more than one program at the same time. This system, contained on a portable rack with built-in electric cables, allows one instructor to use it safely at outdoor or indoor firing ranges.

While the students wear virtual-reality goggles that are tied into one video camera, the Fast Track instructor does not use goggles but sets up a second video camera focused on the students or the students' targets. Then, by employing PIP technology, the instructor can see what the students see in their goggles on one side of the video display screen and, at the same time, can see how the students hold and fire their weapons or where the shots strike the targets on the other side of the screen. This system gives the instructor the opportunity to pinpoint problems that may not have been readily visible before. As with the other systems, the instructor can videotape the students and replay their shooting sequences while providing feedback.

Remote-Operated Firearms

The remote-operated training firearm is another adaptation of technology to firearms instruction. A small electric motor is mounted on a standard-issue weapon. A cable connects this motor to a battery-operated switch box, which the instructor controls. This device allows the instructor to fire the weapon, which removes trigger control problems from the shooting situation. If the student correctly grips the weapon, obtains an accurate sight alignment, and does not anticipate the recoil of the weapon, then the bullets will go where the student aims the weapon. Often, students who experience trigger control problems suddenly become sharpshooters when using the remote-operated firearm. This tells the instructor and, more important, the students that their shooting problems lie in trigger control and anticipation of recoil.

If this is the case, then the Fast Track instructors use the remote-operated firearm to teach students how to quickly acquire and reacquire an accurate sight picture, maintain a correct grip, get used to the wobble zone (the natural movement of the sights and weapon associated with aiming a handgun), and not anticipate recoil. Without the distraction of trigger control, students learn to bring their pistols back on target and to quickly reacquire an accurate sight picture. When the instructors, who stand directly beside the students, see that the weapons are aligned correctly, they activate the control switch to the remote-operated electric motor. This pulls the trigger back in a smooth, steady motion that models a flawless trigger pull. While constantly reminding the students of the critical aspects of sight alignment and sight picture, the instructors fire a single shot, then double and finally multiple shots. This teaches the students to concentrate on a correct grip and sight alignment, to be patient, and to reacquire the sight alignment picture after they discharge their weapons.

Student Evaluation

Regardless of the method of remedial training, the students receive daily Fast Track evaluation sheets at the end of each session to help monitor their progress. This form lists the date and time of each session, lecture information, special practice drills, qualification scores, and instructor comments. The students keep the forms and review them before their next session.

REMEDIATION RESULTS

Fast Track has proven nearly 100 percent effective in keeping new agent trainees from being dismissed because they failed to qualify with their service weapons. Relatively few students have experienced any difficulties using the various technical devices. Further, informal follow-up contact indicates that those agents who completed the program have maintained their ability to qualify with their firearms in the field.

This success is based first and foremost on the instructors, who have combined their firearms training knowledge with state-of-the-art technical teaching aid. Next, quality individual or small-group instruction provided in a supportive atmosphere has contributed significantly. Finally, by carefully analyzing the pistol qualification course, the Fast Track instructors have sequenced firearms instruction into building blocks of training. This way, students are placed into the system according to their needs and can receive all of the necessary prerequisite skills before moving on to more complicated tasks, thereby improving their chances for success.

FAST TRACK APPLICATIONS

While Fast Track has improved the firearms training methods of the FBI, it also may prove beneficial to other agencies. The equipment takes only minutes to install and about 2 hours for instructors to become familiar with its capabilities. The system can save instructors time because it helps them diagnose trainees' problems and allows them to demonstrate shooting fundamentals to a group. Further, the system comes in several versions, which departments can customize to fit their needs.

The system also proves cost-effective. For example, the equipment for the freestanding video system, consisting of an off-the-shelf surveillance camera fitted with a 12-millimeter lens, costs about $250. The portable virtual-reality system, containing two headsets and a battery pack, sells for approximately $8,500. However, the basic virtual-reality headset, which departments can plug into their existing video systems, costs less than $6,000. The picture-in-picture cabinet system totals about $9,500, and the remote-operated firearm system costs less than $1,100. Considering how important firearms training is to new recruits and experienced officers alike, the cost of systems that can provide dramatic results appears negligible, especially when departments have invested considerable time and money in recruiting highly skilled individuals.

CONCLUSION

Hiring qualified people remains a difficult but necessary task for all law enforcement administrators. Once recruits have passed the initial testing and security issues and reached the training academy, they should not fail to qualify with their firearms because of their inability to learn firearms skills through standard training methods. Law enforcement agencies cannot afford to squander their limited resources and forfeit otherwise-highly skilled recruits. Firearms instructors must find new methods of diagnosing and solving the shooting problems that have caused too many individuals to abandon careers in law enforcement.

To avoid losing potential special agents, the FBI Academy has implemented new firearms training procedures. Using a variety of firearms training systems that employ state-of-the-art technology and supportive instructional methods, FBI firearms instructors developed the remedial firearms training program, Fast Track. This system has improved the number of new agent trainees who qualify with their firearms and become successful law enforcement professionals. Other law enforcement agencies may want to implement all or part of the FBI's Fast Track program or develop similar systems to fit their needs and resources. By employing technically advanced firearms training systems and offering supportive human instruction, agencies can more effectively prepare recruits for a lifetime of law enforcement service.

Endnotes

1 For more information about this program, contact FBI firearms instructors Dale Pruna and Gary Hutchison at the FBI Academy.
COPYRIGHT 1999 Federal Bureau of Investigation
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1999, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Klopf, Gene P.
Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 1999
Words:2470
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