5 More Considerations When Developing an Officer Firearms Program

This second part of our series on campus officer gun programs gives you the low down on officers carrying their weapons when they are off duty, patrol rifles, inspections and more.

In 5 Considerations When Developing an Officer Firearms Program, we covered gun and holster selection, training and qualification. But those are just a few of the things to be considered when developing your campus officer gun program, policies and procedures.

Campuses must also determine if their officers should carry backup weapons, if their weapons should be in their possession when they are not on the clock and more. Be certain you cover the following five additional issues when developing your programs.

1. Off-duty carry
Off-duty carry is more complicated and poses a potential serious officer safety threat. Many sworn officers feel obligated to carry off-duty because they feel they are sworn 24/7. However, their equipment and lack of focused training can be a real problem.

Many officers who carry off duty buy a low profile holster that lacks the retention characteristics of a duty holster. Retention devices add bulk to a holster and defeat the need for it to be unobtrusive. At the same time, many officers wear 5-11 or similar tactical trousers and other clothing that calls attention to them being a cop. A cop, recognized by such, and wearing a holster that does not effectively protect a weapon from an unauthorized grab or from coming loose in a fight or during some other strenuous activity, is setting himself up for failure.

Second, just as drawing from a duty holster requires thousands of reps to develop muscle memory, so does drawing from a concealed holster, whether it’s on an ankle, inside a waistband, a fanny pack (God forbid!) or some other unobtrusive but accessible place. If an officer needs to draw a weapon in a hurry to protect life and limb but lacks the skill to access a weapon quickly, disaster could ensue. Also, a weapon carried inside a waistband or on an ankle may result in an officer lasering himself. An officer trained to bring a weapon to his centerline may laser his femoral artery when drawing from an ankle holster, for instance. In other words, it is imperative that an officer carrying an off-duty concealed weapon train as rigorously to draw it safely and quickly as he or she does with a duty weapon.

Finally, lots of off-duty officers intervening in a situation requiring drawn weapons have been shot by responding uniformed officers who did not realize they were good guys. Teaching officers how to respond when in plain clothes to a situation in which uniformed officers, with adrenalin flowing, are arriving could save their lives. This training also needs to be included in a department’s firearms training program.

2.  Back-up weapons
Two of the issues mentioned in the preceding paragraph are germane when considering back-up weapons: holster retention and practicing safe and effective weapon deployment. Having an extra weapon is a nice safeguard in the event one’s service weapon catastrophically fails or an officer is in a fight and cannot access his or her service weapon. However, the weapons being carried today are highly reliable and durable, and the fact that most officers are carrying one or two spare magazines, each carrying 10-20 rounds, constitutes lots of firepower and mitigates the need for a second weapon. In a fight, the advantage of a second weapon can quickly become a liability. All of a sudden, instead of having to protect one weapon from an unauthorized grab, now the officer has to protect two.

Some departments allow officers to carry back-up weapons. Mine doesn’t.

3.  Inspection program
Your and your officers’ lives depend on reliable weapons. Do your research and invest in weapons that are simple to maintain but with a good reputation for reliable service. Send several officers to armorer school and learn how to maintain your weapons. Conduct regular 100% zero-based weapon inspections. Replacing a few relatively inexpensive parts can result in years of continuous good service. There are several checks an officer can and should do after cleaning a weapon. Get your armorers to identify them and incorporate them into your range days. This way, every officer, when leaving, knows his or her weapon is in good shape; and if a problem is encountered, such as a dirty firing pin channel or a cracked pin, the problem can be addressed at the range. This beats having an officer walking around with a weapon that could fail in a critical situation.

About the Author

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Lt. John Weinstein is the commander of Northern Virginia Community College Public Safety District 3.

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