Training on a tight budget

Last year I sent out several inquiries to my firearms training friends, looking for their perspectives on training on limited budgets. I received a variety of responses, ranging from several texts of “Do you want me to just write this article for...

My friend Charles Staley of was my martial arts instructor a few years ago. He used to share the theory of learning a particular technique with us all the time, a version of “muscle memory” based on the teachings of Bruce Lee. Before a person learns a skill, the novice cannot readily distinguish a good skill from a bad skill. That is, “A kick is just like a kick...” When they begin learning the skill, it is broken into components. The skill level of the learner elevates the concept of the skill, but the learner doesn’t have the ability to raise that particular skill past the sum of its components. For a particular skill requiring smooth transitions, it is herky-jerky. After mastery, the skill becomes a simple concept again. This is habituation.

Critical shooting skills require habituation. This is proper manipulation training combined with practice.

I have three simple rules for training: Train to simple goals, use relevant training situations and train to task.

Simple task goal

A simple task goal can be something like teaching officers to make magazine changes behind cover under time pressure. The courses of fire submitted by Hall (Page 38) lists the intent of the course, and the training goals are simple and straightforward.

Related to a possible encounter

If the officer is less likely to need to make a 100-yard shot with the duty handgun, it should take a lesser priority to a contact distance draw-and-shoot drill. Having said that, Markel’s force-on-force training is spot-on. I have always advocated a run in full equipment before a session, to simulate the (likely) fight, run and adrenaline dump that precedes most “on duty’s.”


Obviously common sense has to prevail on the budget issue. However, trainers should not move on to another task mission until participants have completed the previous task to standard, even if it limits the department training day to a single task.



Paul Markel’s budget training recommendations

The title “Training on a tight budget” is a bit misleading; the implication is limited budget. But even that terminology is a bit flawed. In truth every law enforcement agency has a training budget and by definition all budgets have limits. When is the last time your chief said “Spend as much money as you like, just keep the receipts”?

I’ve been involved with law enforcement training in one form or another for two decades and the story has always been the same. Regardless of the dollar amount allocated for training, every time the total agency budget is cut (or more likely fails to expand), the training budget is reduced. As a police trainer you are expected to do more with less — or at least the same job — while spending less money.

Far too many law enforcement administrators view training as an “extra” or “discretionary.” Initial and continued education training is not viewed as a necessity but a luxury. Of course, there is always state-mandated training that agencies cannot ignore or opt out of. Unfortunately, far too much of the mandated training is cultural sensitivity and politically-correct horse excrement.

Life-saving training

After your troops have wasted hours on sensitivity training and cultural awareness, the budget for additional man hours has taken a severe hit. After all, you have to pay guys to come in and sit still while some hippie college professor tells them they need to be more “sensitive” to the needs of the poor unfortunate masses. When the time comes to train your people in an area that might just save their lives, most budgets have already been tapped pretty hard. This situation requires one individual to step up — the firearms trainer.

A dedicated, experienced and motivated firearms trainer is the difference between officers getting the training they need or simply throwing up their hands and saying “We don’t have the money.” A trainer who is personally motivated can and will make the most of the meager budget he has available.

Force-on-force training

Some of the most valuable but least often utilized training for law enforcement officers is force-on-force or dynamic situation training. Officers must deal with situations that may or may not require the use of deadly force. Unlike the square range with its static lines and shooting lanes, force-on-force training replicates the real world where officers actually work.

There are numerous reasons this training is not conducted as often as it should be or at all. One of the primary reasons is the cost. Simunitions and force-on-force specially designed marking cartridges are pricey. The average cost is more than 50 cents per cartridge, and the agency will need to purchase conversion kits for existing firearms or dedicated trainers that will not fire live ammunition. Any way you slice it you are looking at an investment of several thousand dollars for a small- to medium-sized agency, and we haven’t even touched on the special protective gear yet.

  • Enhance your experience.

    Thank you for your regular readership of and visits to To continue viewing content on this site, please take a few moments to fill out the form below and register on this website.

    Registration is required to help ensure your access to featured content, and to maintain control of access to content that may be sensitive in nature to law enforcement.