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Firearms Training Techniques

R.S. Eden

Most officers in North America have at one time or another used or seen F.A.T.S. This is a technological advancement that no police agency should be without.

Manufactured by Firearms Training Systems Incorporated of Nor cross, GA., this system provides interactive training that puts the officer through a decision making process in potentially lethal situations. The system projects a life size image on a screen that is controlled by a computerized video disc system. A scenario is chosen by the firearms instructor who keys in the appropriate commands for the program to begin.

The officer is armed with the same duty weapon that he would carry on the street, with the exception that it is fitted with a laser system that can be detected by the computer. As the pro gram proceeds, a life like image is projected on the screen, and the scenario begins. The officer reacts to the situation that unfolds before him as he would normally if working on the street. In some scenarios it is a routine situation. In others in esca lates into a lethal confrontation. Should the officer be re quired to fire in defense of life, the weapon sends a laser impulse to the screen, which is detected by they F.A.T.S. system.

Accurate hits result in the suspect falling to the ground and the scenario ending, followed by a computerized evaluation as to whether it was a good or a bad decision, the reaction time of the officer, and a playback which shows shot placement. Should the officer wound the suspect, the suspect may fall, but continue to return fire until neutralized by the officer. Should the officer miss entirely, the suspect continues his lethal action until the scenario shows that the officer has lost, or until the officer kills the suspect. All activity is recorded and available for playback and hardcopy printout. A video system is also in place which records the officers actions and decision making process. This allows the instructor to go back over the scenarios at later training sessions and work one on one with the officers problems.

I was first introduced to the F.A.T.S. system by Deputy Jack McDonald of the Pierce County Sheriff Office a number of years ago when I attended his training program. I had a short intro duction to the system and then took my dog in to see how he would react, and to see how well I would do while trying to maintain control of my partner.

It became very apparent that the dog visualized the subjects on the screen as real. He barked and became aggressive towards the subjects on the screen as the situation became more aggressive. I learned how to draw my weapon, make decisions and return fire while maintaining control of my dog. It was a good learning experience for me, and I highly recommend it for any K9 program.

The following is an excerpt from the F.A.T.S. newsletter for the summer of 1991. I had requested that they attend my Internation al K9 Conference, and this was the information that they subse quently provided in a newsletter to their distributors.

Recent tests conducted by canine teams representing leading law enforcement agencies from around the world revealed a new appli cation for the FATS system.

These tests took place during a seminar hosted by the K9 Academy For Law Enforcement of surrey, British Columbia. Academy Direc tor Bob Eden provided a FATS system to 15 canine teams. To confirm his belief that the officers and their canine partners would benefit from training with the FATS simulator, each team responded to two scenarios selected as appropriate for canine work.

Results showed that the dogs respond very realistically to the images on the FATS screen. The FATS system enabled the officer to combine gunfire from his FATS weapon with a sequence of scena rios showing realistic threatening behavior by the on-screen perpetrator.

For dogs in the early stages of their training, the FATS system can provide a chance for the instructor to reinforce appropriate behavior. The instructor or human partner can also observe and correct inappropriate actions. The FATS system may also be useful in making early selection or deselection deci sions, thus saving the agency costly training time.

Some teams with fully trained animals commented that they had never been able to safely practice the combination of one handed shooting with a police dog actively lunging at a realistic threat. The FATS system can be used for in-service practice and training of canine team judgment and tactics while providing a documented record of requalification.

Most agencies who use the FATS system already have the scenarios and weapons needed to evaluate this additional training applica tion. As always, the ability to practice tactical and judgmental skills, in situations as close to reality as possible, can pro vide the officer and his canine partner the critical edge they need.

It is unlikely in most situations that you will be in a lethal confrontation where you will maintain control of your dog beside you. In most circumstances you will likely release your dog to attack and divert the suspect in order for you to obtain cover and return fire. There are also circumstances that do not war rant the release of your dog, but where you need to return fire and maintain control of your dog. For example a man with a gun call where you have the suspect contained and you are behind good cover with plenty of backup when gunfire erupts. To release the dog in such a situation, would almost certainly result in the suspect killing the dog, however you might be required to return fire in order to keep the suspect pinned down or prevent him from continuing his lethal actions. In such a circumstance you will want to know how your dog is going to react, and how it is going to affect you.

In the tests that we conducted, we found that left handed offi cers, suddenly faced with a lethal situation, suddenly realized that they were holding their leash in the left hand when they had to draw their weapon. Reactions were slow as the officer had to suddenly change hands with the lead, and maintain control with his weak hand while drawing his weapon and returning fire.

In almost all cases the shot placement was erratic and spread upwards and to the right of the intended target. Most dogs were trained to attack immediately upon hearing gunfire and as a result this caused some problems for handlers who now were put in a position where the dog had to be controlled. A gunfire situa tion does not neccesarily mean the dog should be sent automati cally. It is often a needless sacrifice of your partner.

Other reactions from the dogs included the dog jumping up and attacking the handlers weapon, almost in frustration, others in confusion, showing a lack of adequate range work. In any case, the problems were discussed with each handler and then worked on once the officer attended the range. The FATS system was an integral part of working on specific control problems with some teams.

Note: More advanced information on this subject during sessions instructed at the International Police K9 Conferences held annually in various locations throughout North America.

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