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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Cop school: Shooting and driving

Lt. Hall demonstrates the correct shooting position.
At the final session of the Fairfax County Citizens’ Police Academy, participants had a chance to shoot police guns on the firing range and drive police cruisers on a training course at the Criminal Justice Academy in Chantilly. [This report covers a make-up class on Nov. 17 because I was unable to attend the regular session last spring.]

“Never point a firearm at anyone unless you are ready and willing to kill that person.” That is one of the key safety rules presented by Lt. Brian Hall, supervisor of the Fairfax County Police Department’s Firearms Training Unit. 

Hall explained how to shoot but didn’t get much into when to shoot. He did say, however, that a police officer is justified in using a firearm “if you feel your life is in danger or there’s a huge threat of physical injury.”  

Citizens' Police Academy participants practice on the firing range.
 Other safety rules stressed by Hall:

  • Treat all weapons as if they were loaded.
  • Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire.
  • Be sure of your target and what is beyond.

Regarding that last rule, Hall described an incident earlier this year involving an officer “who was more than justified in shooting” a man who was coming at him with a hammer and banging it on the hood of the police cruiser. The officer didn’t shoot, though, because there was a playground behind the assailant.

The handguns issued to officers are .40-caliber Sig Sauer P226 or P229 pistols. They can shoot accurately at 100 yards, Hall said. The shotguns are 12-gauge Remington 870s. They can use a buckshot round consisting of a one-ounce piece of lead (a slug round) or a “bean sock round,” which causes less damage and is usually used in the type of situation where a suspect is threatening an officer with a knife.  

The SWAT team uses a .223-caliber LWRC rifle, which can fire a round that “can go a very long way and do a lot of damage,” Hall said. That weapon would come in handy when they’re involved in a stand-off and need to shoot through a door, for example. Officers have to be approved by their supervisors and complete a 50-hour training block before they are issued one of those rifles. 

The obstacle course where cops learn to drive.
The training center’s Emergency Vehicle Operation Center has an obstacle course where police recruits learn how to chase a suspect while maneuvering through traffic and sharp turns.

Master Police Officer Thomas Beckman said when he trains recruits, he starts with the basics and focuses on safety.  And by basics, he means how to get into a car and how to do “shuffle steering” (both hands on the outside of the steering wheel; left hand on the left side, right hand on the right) so your wrist doesn’t get broken if the air bag activates. Always keep the doors locked, he said, because you could fly out of a car if there’s an accident even if you’re wearing a seatbelt. And keep the windows all the way up or down to avoid getting cut by the window edge in a crash.

Dodging cones.
When the participants in the citizen’s police academy prepared to drive a cruiser on the course, Beckman told us to practice “ocular driving—your hands take you where your eyes are looking.”

Recruits have to pass a driving test that includes precision driving through a cone course, parallel parking, and backing into a narrow space. Anyone who fails three times is dismissed from the academy. Those who pass have three chances to pass another test where they have to negotiate an obstacle course with simulated street conditions, including stoplights, stop signs, traffic, and radio traffic causing distractions. The final test for the recruits is a nighttime, simulated high-speed pursuit of a “rabbit car” with lots of obstacles and distractions.

“High-speed pursuit is one of the scariest things you will ever do as a police officer, especially with the traffic in Northern Virginia,” Beckman said.

The Fairfax County Police Department is getting ready to pick a new vehicle to replace the Crown Victoria, which Ford isn’t making any more. The department will select either the Chevy Caprice or Ford Interceptor, Beckman said.

The training academy uses cars donated by the public as rabbit cars. When the driver training unit is through with the donor cars, they go to the bomb squad or Fire Department for more training. Donors get a tax credit for the full Blue Book value of their car. If you’re interested in donating a vehicle, contact MPO Beckman, 703/818-1924, ext. 200.

At the end of the class, Citizens Police Academy participants were given certificates for completing the academy in a ceremony presided over by Acting Police Chief Lt. Col James Morris, Deputy Police Chief Lt. Col. Ed Roessler Jr., and former Police Chief David Rohrer, who was named deputy county executive for public safety in September.

My target.
“We are blessed to have such a caring and engaged community,” said Rohrer, who joined the police department in 1980 and is still adjusting to a job that doesn’t require a uniform.

Morris urged the participants to stay involved with the Police Department by jointing the Citizens Police Academy Alumni Association and attending the citizen’s advisory committee (CAC) meetings at their local police station. The public is welcome to attend the Mason Police District CAC meetings on the first Tuesday of the month, 7:30 p.m., at the Mason Government Center.


  1. Very interesting series of posts, although the headline is what caught my eye. I was impressed that cop school had a class on Shooting and Driving, and was wondering if they also had Shooting and Driving While Wearing Sunglasses At Night, Walking Away from Explosions In Slow Motion, and How To Not Play By The Rules.

  2. Please note the Dec. CAC Mtg. this coming Tues., Dec. 4th, will be the annual Holiday Pot Luck and will start at 7 pm instead of the usual 7:30 pm. including an abbreviated business meeting. Please bring a food item to share. The next regular CAC Mtg. will be on Tues., Feb. 5. There is no Mtg. in January as the first Tues. in Jan. is New Year's Day. Public is welcome to attend!