The walk phase uses four officers in a drill that John Hall calls a “snake drill.” Three officers line up several feet apart, perpendicular to the firing line. The fourth starts next to the furthest from the line and shoots from slightly behind him. He moves down range, weaving to the other side of the next officer and firing. The officer continues to the other side of the last officer for the last firing sequence.
The run phase should be familiar already to line staff peace officers. It is commonly called a stacking drill. It is ideal for maximizing fire continuity for several officers approaching a frontal target from a linear formation to a threat in front of them. Succinctly, the lead officer goes prone, the one (or two) officer(s) behind him kneel and the officer(s) in the rear remain standing. Everyone engages the same target or target zone.
If the stacking drill is done correctly, everyone should be able to engage at the same time. Realistically, there are few instances where this would actually be employed, simply because finding and using cover is exponentially more efficient than shooting from out in the open. However, when stacking is used, it is effective in creating an asymmetric engagement.
Gun Out, Gun Down, Finger Off
It is important to practice all three of these drills with flagged chambers until everyone knows their role. If anything, live fire, multi level drills and multi officer drills should improve communication. However, it should be noted that whenever I have participated in these type of drills, it takes several run-throughs before we are certain that no one pointed their firearm at the calf, foot or thigh of the officer in front of him. However, the violation of the “finger off trigger” rule rarely occurs.
It’s supposed to be stressful
Live fire training like this is stressful. It teaches officers to be deliberate and purposeful when they shoot. There is a part of the training that is intangible, and it’s one of the most important goals of firearms training.
If the training is stressful, those on the range can learn a lot from it. This is the answer to the question about what the cover officer should be doing. Let me tell you: If you were my cover officer, I would not want you to be taking notes, looking at the computer screen or punching numbers on your phone. Cover is cover. Focus is focus. The suspect should be deterred from doing something stupid by the attention of the cover officer.
If the training is stressful, this is the kind of experience that teaches the officer to control the game. That is, unless someone needs immediate intervention, everything else should be slow and intentional. The environment of the contact officer should be controlled and there should be an air of “behave or engage.”
Run with it
Contact/cover live fire practice should be a routine training session for an agency. It doesn’t necessarily have to be complicated or sustained for any amount of training time. It simply should be part of the training plan.
John Hall told me that some trainers are going to say, “You guys are stupid.” In fact, I have to tell you that agencies need to recognize that this training is done at their own risk and should be strictly supervised with instructor ratios that approach 1:1.
If live fire training, or any training, places undue risk on any party, it should be discontinued immediately. The type and manner of training should be completely staffed prior to beginning, and common and extraordinary safety practices must be implemented. However, officers have to have this training in order to overcome some of the factors that they will experience in the field.