How a Simple Fix to Law Enforcement Training Could Reduce Shootings


If someone had a simple solution to help reduce the number of unarmed Americans being shot by law enforcement, do you think anyone would listen? I don’t. I described the solution in a YouTube video a few years ago and started getting death threats! I sent this easy fix to every anti-police violence group I could find… not a single one even responded. I can only assume that if the problem is fixed, these groups would no longer be able to claim racism as the reason for these tragic events.

I know this will sound too stupid to be true, but indulge me: Google “NRA Official Qualification Target” or “LE Qualification target”. Or you can even Google “What target will I shoot at for my concealed carry permit?” You will see the unarmed silhouettes of humans.

Official NRA Qualification Silhouette B27FSA - Police Training Silhouette
Official NRA Qualification Silhouette B27FSA – Police Training Silhouette

These qualification targets were not designed and are not used because of their color; originally they were military targets—shooting at enemies in battle—and no one has taken our recent understanding of how the brain works when it comes to training, especially training under stress and applied it to the targets being used. The issue of race has even been addressed by some who have changed the silhouette color from black to green, or blue in an attempt to remove any questions about race—the problem is we all become silhouettes at night.

This is a picture of a man looking out a window. Look at all similar to the NRA target? Want to know the race of the person in this image? It doesn’t matter!

To maintain their weapons qualifications, many police officers in our great nation get just 50-bullets per year to practice their weapons handling skills and then, under stress, take aim at an unarmed human shape and shoot the target within the department’s time limits. Common sense should tell us that if we are training police officers to shoot at unarmed silhouettes, they are going to do what they were trained to do in the line of duty. But it’s not the officer’s fault and it’s NOT racist; it’s simply bad training.

I’ve spent my life as one of the leading firearms instructors in the world, training everyone from local law enforcement, SWAT, Federal Agents, and military units. I also wrote the Sniper Training Manual for the US Navy SEALs. After retiring from the SEAL Teams in 2009, I developed a new way to teach shooting called the New Rules of Marksmanship, a fundamental shift in the way firearms training is conducted.

I began studying the world’s greatest athletes, classical musicians, and chess grandmasters. I studied how they practiced, trained, and learned. I researched the latest discoveries in neuroscience and how the brain masters any new skill. I researched scientifically proven methods of adult education and accelerated learning techniques.

In the end, I learned the way firearms instruction was being taught by everyone, including myself, was not just ineffective but potentially dangerous. Through a conditioned response, an automatic response established by training to an ordinarily neutral stimulus, when officers are under stress, they revert to what they were trained to do: shoot at an unarmed human shape as fast as possible.

It’s also important that the general public understand that officers have less than half a second to react to a firearm being pointed at them, and the average response time is just under one second. The math simply does not add up when dealing with suspects who are acting erratic, not listening to police commands, fighting with them, and then reaching into a vehicle. If officers wait, they are putting their lives, their partner’s lives, and the lives of everyone around them at risk.

Video Demonstration of Officers Reaction Time to a Threat

Special Operation forces and law enforcement units who receive “advanced training,’” like SWAT and SRT units, train on realistic photo targets and incorporate decision making—Shoot/No Shoot—into their training and qualifications. This means rather than just drawing and shooting at a human shape for time, officers are required to assess whether or not a target is a threat before engaging.

The author teaching shoot/no-shoot decision making to SWAT Officers. The officers are tested for their ability to turn 180-degrees and identify and accurately engage threats.

So part of the plan to fix this is simple: law enforcement officers should stop shooting at targets of human shapes which pose no threat and start requiring decision making as part of the qualification process. In addition, the use of less-lethal options must be conducted concurrently with firearms training. This means presenting officers with different scenarios during qualifications and training and requiring them to not only decide if they should shoot or not, but also the level of force required for the best outcome for the law enforcement officer and the suspect.

Case law has established as far back as the mid 80’s that this type of training must be required. In Voutour vs. Vitale, 761 F.2d 812 (1st Cir. 1985) The court stated: “It seems likely that police training, in addition to teaching proficiency in the use of handguns, would include training as to the circumstances in which a police officer should not shoot”.

In Zuchel vs. City and County of Denver, Colorado (997 F. 2d 730, 10th Circuit Court) The court held that Denver PD was “Deliberately Indifferent” to the need for better firearm’s training of its officers. The court also stated that this inadequate training led to an officer’s fatal shooting of an unarmed citizen. This case and many others make it very clear that training of lethal force must include simultaneous training in less-lethal options.

Society has labeled these tragic shootings the result of race and now anyone who is not on the race-bandwagon is labeled a racist. Which is more likely? That most law enforcement officers are racists, or that most of these hard-working heroes, who put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe are simply not trained properly? If you’ve already made up your mind, no one will be able to change it. Every event you see will be immediately labeled to fit with your beliefs due to something called confirmation bias—the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories.

Everyone is affected by confirmation biases, including me. So every time I see a tragic shooting of an unarmed human, I’m more convinced the number of shootings could be drastically and immediately lowered by a few simple, easy to implement changes to law enforcement training.

We need to stop using outdated training methods like the OODA loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) developed over 70 years ago by Colonel John Boyd to explain how to direct one’s energies to defeat an adversary and survive in air-to-air combat. It’s called a loop, but it’s actually a linear process that doesn’t allow for continued feedback and learning and unfortunately, it’s being used by nearly every law enforcement and military group in the country.

I developed a 21-century version called the SEAL Loop (Sense, Evaluate, Act, Learn), which is a loop and allows for learning to take place. Using the SEAL Loop, law enforcement officers would have the ability to be continuously learning and improving their actions and reactions, make better decisions, and I believe, start saving lives.

I want to make it very clear that the fastest way to stop these types of shootings is for suspects to start obeying the lawful commands of officers. In the vast majority of these cases, the officers would not be put in the position to make life or death decisions. By not listening to an officer YOU are the one making that decision.

Yet, tragically, there are still a few cases where a cooperative suspect is shot. Research published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concludes that; the police officer’s race, sex, or experience level did not predict the race of the person fatally shot. Instead, if more violent crime in a given county was committed by individuals from one race, then someone of that same race was more likely to be shot and killed by the police. Meaning, in a county where more whites committed violent crime, for instance, more whites were fatally shot by police.

If we keep doing the same thing, we’ll get the same results. It’s time to change, but we need to peel off labels to be able to see the real reason for these tragic events. Did you Google “NRA Official Qualification Target” yet, or are you afraid of the truth?

About the Author
Retired Navy SEAL Chris Sajnog, a Master Training Specialist in the Navy, was hand-selected to write the US Navy SEAL Sniper Manual. He used this experience, plus four years of studying neuroscience and elite performance, to develop the SEAL Training System (Science-based, Education for Accelerated Learning) — a fundamental shift to learning any skill. He’s the author of two bestselling books, How to Shoot Like a Navy SEAL and Navy SEAL Shooting, and the owner of Center Mass Group, LLC a 100% Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business in San Diego, CA. Chief Sajnog, now offers his unique training online at https://chrissajnog.com where he teaches people to learn and live like warriors.

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