Police Academy Training – Firearms

Police Academy Training - Firearms

Firearms training is one of the most enjoyable parts of the police academy experience. After all, where else can you go to shoot a bunch of ammunition on somebody else’s dime? However, it doesn’t take long for the new recruits to realize these lessons could very well save their lives at some point during their career.

The week begins in the classroom with the students learning the nomenclature of pistols, revolvers, amd shotguns (Remember, not all academy training is the same). They learn how to field strip (take apart) each weapon, clean it, and to safely re-assamble them. They’re taught how to properly lubricate their weapons, and how to check them for damage.


Police officers use pump-type shotguns

After the instructors are certain the rookies are able to safely handle their weapons, they begin teaching how to hold and grip a pistol or revolver. They also show their students the best method of drawing the weapons from a holster.

At this stage, the students get their first experience of drawing their weapons while giving the command “Police, don’t move!” They also practice drawing from various positions, such as standing, kneeling, and while lying prone, on the ground.


Shooting from prone position

Students learn to reload while under fire. They also learn to clear their weapons from jammed cartridges and other stoppages. The recruits practice lifting their weapons to eye level; they learn to focus on the weapon’s sights while keeping the target in their line of vision, and they practice breathing properly. All this rehearsal time builds the recruit’s strength and stamina, an important attribute when they’re in a do or die situation.

Looking through the pistol sights. It’s important to line up the front, single dot sight with the two rear sights (the front dot is the larger white dot in the center).

Soon, the time comes to actually fire their weapons on the range. After dry-firing a few times, they’re ready to load live ammunition.


Police recruits are taught to shoot center mass of their target, meaning the center of the largest portion of the target. On a human, that would be the torso area. To help police officers become accustomed to aiming for center mass, silhouette targets are used for practice in the police academy.

(The following excerpt is from the Virginia Minimum Training Standards for Law Enforcement Officers)

Virginia Modified Double Action Course for Semi-Automatic Pistols.

Target – Silhouette (B21, B21x, B27 or Q).

Minimum Qualifying Score – 70%.

(a) Each officer is restricted to the number of magazines carried on duty. Magazines shall be loaded to their full capacity. The range instructor shall determine when magazines will be changed.

(b) Phase 1 – seven yards, hip shooting, crouch position, load magazine, fire one round double action on command (two seconds); or fire two rounds (three seconds), make weapon safe, holster, repeat until six rounds have been fired.

On command, draw and fire two rounds (three seconds), make weapon safe, holster, repeat until six rounds have been fired.

On command, draw and fire 12 rounds in 20 seconds, make weapon safe, and holster.

(c) Phase 2 – 15 yards point shoulder position. On command, draw and fire one round (two seconds); or draw and fire two rounds (three seconds), make weapon safe, holster, repeat until six rounds have been fired.

On command, draw and fire one round (two seconds) or two rounds (three seconds), make weapon safe, holster, repeat until six rounds have been fired.

On command, draw and fire six rounds (12 seconds), make weapon safe, holster.

(d) Phase 3 – 25 yards, kneeling and standing position. On command, assume kneeling position, draw weapon and fire six rounds, then fire six rounds weak hand, standing, barricade position, then fire six rounds strong hand, standing, barricade position, until a total of 18 rounds have been fired (70 seconds).

14 replies
  1. Marjorie
    Marjorie says:

    Fantastic! This is the kind of help that can’t be found in mystery writers’ guides. It’s impossible for any book to cover every conceivable situation–even your book. And “Police Procedure & Investigation, A Guide for Writers” is the best I’ve ever found. EVER! Thanks for that as well, Lee.

  2. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Hi Marjorie. It depends on the individual department. I’ve worked for three and each one issued shotguns to all officers. And we were issued buckshot and slugs. However, I’ve seen some departments that issue one shotgun per car (it rotates to the next officer on duty), and I’ve seen departments that keep their shotguns in an armory. So you’ll be safe with whatever you write.

    Your bull story, believe it or not, is believable. I’ve seen it. Yep, it sure did, but it took several rounds from a shotgun to put the animal down. This happened on a graveyard shift and agents from Wildlife Management and Animal Control came out to take care of it.

  3. Marjorie
    Marjorie says:

    Lee, are shotguns standard equipment in squad cars–always, often, seldom? When they’re provided, is the ammunition likely to be typical shotgun shells or slugs?

    An officer in my novel has to stop a charging bull. Yes, I know you didn’t need that information, but I thought it might give you a smile or just a tiny grin–awfully small payment for your fantastic helpfulness. Some answers just can’t be found in the usual places!

  4. Joyce Tremel
    Joyce Tremel says:

    Sorry, I’m a day late with this–I was busy yesterday.

    In the Pittsburgh area (not sure about the city of Pgh, though) most departments require a bachelor’s degree and police academy training before you are hired. Departments used to pay for the training but it got to be too expensive. Allegheny County has an excellent police academy–

  5. D. Swords
    D. Swords says:

    I can’t imagine the pressure of being thrown to the wolves like that. I was fortunate enough that my first three months on the job were in the police academy (run by my department.)

    Of course, I had been a police cadet since age 18, and had ridden as an observer many times, so I would have had an advantage, had I been thrown in the mix like that. But fortunately, they waited until an academy was scheduled to start before I (and the current police chief, also a Cadet at the time) was hired.

    Currently, all hirees form my old department are sent to the Ohio State Patrol Academy. They run academies for their troopers, and simultaneously run academies for any officer sponsored by a public law enforecemtn agency.

  6. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Same here, Dave. We had up to a year before we had to go to the academy. It’s still that way in Virginia.

    I started my career with a small sheriff’s office and I can remember working the graveyard shift by myself many nights before I went to the academy. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, either.

    The first complaint I answered was a fight call, and when I arrived, the two guys were still toe-to-toe, going at it with all they had. I studied the situation for a second and then grabbed the guy who was on the losing end of the deal. I pushed him to my car, stuck him the front seat (we didn’t have cages in those days), and told him not to get out. I grabbed the loser first because I figured he was pretty worn out and would be easier to handle. Well, with no one to fight, the other guy just calmed down. Since I really didn’t know what to do, I sent the winner on his way, and then took the other guy home.

    And that was the end of my first case.

  7. D. Swords
    D. Swords says:

    Hi, Lee.

    Here’s an interesting point concerning academies and training. When I became an officer in the 70’s, officers had one year to get their academy training. In other words, you could be sworn in, given a badge and gun, and work the street without an formal training, as long as you had your academy training within a year.

    At some point in the mid 70’s, it changed, in that you had to complete 40 hrs. of academy based training, but you still had one year to get your full academy classes, which I believe was about 12-14 weeks at the time.

    The department from which I retired has not put anyone on the street without their full academy training for about twenty years now, but I THINK it is still possible to do the 40 hour/academy-within-a-year deal.

    How was it in your neck of the woods, Lee? And what about the other posters? Any ides on how it works in your state?

  8. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Oh, Christa (and anyone else), if you have photos of police training that you’d like to share with everyone, let me know and we’ll post them here.

  9. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Christa – You just brought up an interesting point. Many, many police officers have to be pretty creative when it comes to acquiring new equipment. They make things, borrow things, and beg people for things, all so they can keep their training current. Some even re-load their own ammunition. Actually, it’s not just for training that they put forth these efforts. They do these things just so they can conduct their daily business of crime-solving.

    I’m especially proud of of my association with the Hamilton, Ohio Police Department because those men and women have spent a lot of their own time and money outfitting their department with a pretty nice fingerprint lab and other needed equipment. I know I bought my own fingerprinting equipment, handcuffs, weapons…shoot, the list is nearly endless.

    The general public just does not realize how tight the purse strings are for police and sheriff’s departments.

  10. christammiller
    christammiller says:

    Hey, cool. I’m looking forward to those.

    I know of a few agencies that were able to work with businesses in the community that provided warehouse space, officers who provided skills (welding pop-up targets), and so on, but all of these things had to converge just right–based on the creativity of a few–to make it happen.

  11. Elena
    Elena says:

    Whoosh – you definitely answered something I had vaguely wondered about. The guys definitely watered down the POST course for me. But, then I had the job as a token of diversity – so they weren’t exactly sure what to do with me.

    The hardest part was finding a gun my small hand could hold steady enough to shoot. They gave up on the two handed approach instantly. Hard to teach a woman who is ROTFLHAO! I’m buiilt like a beer barrel with a front porch – two handed is a non-starter.

    The other requirement was that they wanted me to have a gun that could succussfully shot further than my own foot.

    But, once we settled on a gun, they were very thorough and made sure I knew and did everything useful to learn. Which included moving targets, low light situations, and various combinations.

    Fitting me with a shoulder holster was another story 🙂

  12. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Christa – You’re right. Some academies do use reality-based traning, but it’s not the norm. I wish it was. The sad truth is that many departments barely have the funds to supply ammunition for their annual certifications, so they certainly can’t afford any perks. You know, those things that could save lives.

    Even without the newer equipment police academies conduct night-firing excercises, firing with the aid of artificial light (flashlights and car headlights) and when flashing/strobing light bars are in operation.

    During a tactical training class I once took we even used live ammunition during high-risk entry excercises. Now that was nerve-wracking.

    By the way, I’m sorting through some photos of the newer training now for a future post.

  13. christammiller
    christammiller says:

    A lot of academies are starting to use reality-based training for both cadets and officers undergoing yearly requalification. They still use the paper targets, but they are also training with live targets (and Simunition), in the dark with flashing strobes, in wet conditions, etc. It’s becoming understood that this kind of training is critical to officers’ preparedness for use of force incidents, though with the current federal cuts made to justice funds, it’s anyone’s guess whether agencies will be able to set up courses!

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