Many that have invested a lot of time in the military and or law enforcement environments and who do firearms instructing will develop a resistance to what some might refer to as intellectual dishonesty. One of ours is people who regularly use the term “negligent discharge” without a full understanding of its implications.
The term “negligent discharge” often shortened to the acronym “‘ND” seems to have slowly migrated into police and civilian gun instructing circles over the years via the military. Many who leave the military pursue careers in law enforcement while others get into the realm of tactical and firearms instruction in the civilian world. It’s natural that certain concepts, ideas, and training philosophies good or bad will be carried from one culture into another. This is what seems to have happened in large part with the term “negligent discharge.”
So, what exactly is a negligent discharge? Here’s the gist of what you’re likely to hear from people of varying backgrounds; “If your gun goes off when you didn’t want it to and you had your finger on the trigger, then you were negligent.” Sounds perfectly logical, and most, especially those new to the gun culture will readily accept the premise without a second thought. Much like police recruits in an academy training environment, beginners in the civilian world will eagerly agree with most every word spoken by an instructor, because, well, if they are teaching, they must be experts. Bad ideas continually repeated come to be accepted as fact, not only by other instructors but especially by novices hungry for information who don’t know any better.they
Are there instances where firearms can be discharged in a negligent manner? Absolutely. However, determinations of this type are best left to the legal confines of a courtroom, not by instructors on a gun range, or some police managers who, without thinking things through, mis-label an event in quick attempt to place blame.
The criminal statutes in Arizona – the state where we had our police careers – reference four culpable mental states: intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, and with criminal negligence. In the legal realm, these words are coupled to conduct that could result in criminal prosecution and civil litigation. Without a proper knowledge base, gun instructors will routinely characterize what was an unintentional discharge as a negligent discharge simply because they are parroting what they learned either from the military or from other well-meaning yet misinformed instructors.
When we went through our AZPOST law enforcement firearms instructor course, the curriculum classified firearms discharges by three distinct types:
Based on the above, we can clearly see that firearms discharges routinely referred to as negligent discharges, fall into the category of either an unintentional voluntary or an unintentional involuntary discharge. By definition, if someone’s finger was on the trigger, the accidental discharge can be ruled out. The intentional discharge could also be ruled out if the shooter knowingly points a loaded firearm and pulls the trigger with deliberate intent of discharging the firearm.
The AZPOST law enforcement firearms instructor curriculum does not teach “negligent discharge” as one of the three methods of discharging a firearm. The likely explanation is the subject matter experts, firearms instructors and attorneys who sit on the board that set policies and standards for law enforcement agencies statewide and who collaborate on the construction of lesson plans believe that determining negligence is best left to the legal system.
The policy manual from the agency we recently retired from is over 1,300 pages in length with 22 pages specifically dedicated to firearms policies. The term “negligent discharge” is not mentioned once. Both of us sat on the firearms committee of our respective agencies whose purpose is to evaluate the implementation of new equipment and create the relevant new policies as well as to oversee revisions to existing policies. They are painstakingly scrutinized and might go through several rewrites to include vetting by the department’s legal unit before being published in final form. Large police agencies realize there are serious ramifications any time the term “negligence” is incorporated into policy as it incurs the risk of criminal and civil liability.
The most recent version of instructor materials currently being issued to those who become NRA basic pistol instructors does not mention the term “negligent discharge” anywhere that we could find. If a concept or term such as “negligent discharge” was of importance, surely a nationally renowned training organization like the NRA would dedicate a portion of their training materials to address it, especially to their newest instructors.
If the NRA and many law enforcement governing entities as well as police agencies don’t use or otherwise advocate the use of the term “negligent discharge,” that leaves the military. The military likes to take care of things expeditiously. A soldier in the rear area of a combat zone stands in a chow line and puts the muzzle of his weapon in a clearing barrel to clear it before entering the dining facility, presses the trigger and KA-BOOM! Well, the soldier failed to properly clear the weapon, pulled the trigger, it went off, so therefore they were negligent. Sign here, press hard, three copies. Guilt has been immediately assigned, discipline will be swift, and a report of the incident will quickly be crafted, wrapped up in a neat tidy package and forwarded up the chain. The term negligent discharge then becomes an ingrained part of the military culture and organizational lexicon and begins to be perpetuated by well-meaning persons who have simply never thought it out.
In the police world, if an officer fails to properly clear their pistol while pointing into a bullet trap and fires a live round, or unintentionally fires a round while their firearm is pointed downrange, they aren’t accused of negligence. For starters, it’s hard to accuse someone of negligence when the firearm was either pointed downrange or into a device designed to safely capture the projectile. In the bullet trap scenario, our former agencies would issue minor discipline for failing to follow proper safety protocols and it would be written up as an unintentional discharge.
Despite all this, we see well intentioned instructors who continue to perpetuate the concept of the “negligent discharge” when teaching others or writing articles.
Before we play judge jury and executioner by hanging the millstone of “negligent discharge” around someone’s neck, we owe it to ourselves and the firearms community at large to not be cavalier in our use of language by perpetuating the use of irresponsible terms that carry with them serious legal ramifications. Let’s at least wait till we’re in a courtroom to let the legal system determine whether someone’s actions are or aren’t negligent.
Classroom training serves a good purpose, as this is where instructors often deliver lectures, lessons, tests and more. However, classroom training has its limits. While yes, officers can practice role-playing and other forms of physical scenarios, it isn’t as realistic, hands-on, or effective. Rather, the best place to learn and hone physical skills is in a training simulator that immerses trainees in the event.
Instead of a classroom, trainees are transported to a parking lot, traffic stop, home or any other environment chosen. This style of training lets officers practice and perfect a skill in a realistic, controlled environment, which is then transferred to the field.
One skill easily trained in a simulator is contact and cover concepts. There will be many instances in the field where multiple officers respond to a call. Because of this, effective communication and teamwork become critical. Practicing these concepts in a simulator teaches officers how to communicate and maintain proper movement to ensure visualization of both one another and the subject.
It is more effective to create stress by immersing officers in a realistic scenario than it is to learn in a classroom. Officers can learn when to stay in their assigned role and when/if that role changes—a valuable skill.
There are certain circumstances in which an officer will need to engage in a high-risk vehicle stop (HRVS). However, are your officers up-to-date on protocol, tactics and practice? Officers may remember the correct maneuvers in a classroom setting, but need realistic, stress-inducing field training to truly cement this learning.
This is best done through VirTra’s V-300® simulator, whose 5 screens and 300-degree visuals immerse officers in the training. Increased visuals force officers to keep their heads on a swivel as they practice keeping themselves, their partners and nearby citizens safe from harm and properly assessing the situation.
Tourniquets apply pressure above limb wounds to lessen the bleeding until the victim can receive medical attention. Knowing how to utilize a tourniquet can help officers save lives—whether it be their own, a partner’s or a civilian’s. As such, this training needs to be performed often to keep skills sharp.
The best form of training is in a stress-inducing simulator. They force trainees to continue the scenario while treating themselves or the subject. VirTra’s curriculum includes these scenarios, in addition to certified courses. All of them teach about tourniquet placement, application process and more for well-rounded training.
All forms of training serve a good purpose. Ranges allow officers to keep their marksmanship skills sharp. Classrooms provide an area for instruction and learning. Role-playing helps officers practice complex scenarios and understand empathy. But to truly round out a training program, real-life training simulators are an incredible asset. Watch these officers in action to see what we mean, or contact a VirTra representative.
The 5-screen, 300-degree V-300® was recently used in a study to determine the perceived effectiveness of simulation training for law enforcement. The way officers perceive the effectiveness of a style of training can affect how they perform – and by using the V-300, the study aimed to identify how officers perceive the “transferability of the training to the field” and how it compares to other types of training (p. 4).
The research article is titled “The association between participant characteristics and perceptions of the effectiveness of law enforcement tactical simulation training.” The study was written by members of the Lockwood Department of Criminal Justice as well as Monmouth University. It examined the perception of simulator training by 417 participating police officers and noted predictors of these perceptions.
As mentioned above, trainees who find a type of training valuable have a much higher chance of applying what they learned into real-world settings. The study found that “the vast majority of participants” believe the V-300 simulator training to be effective and transferrable (p. 9).
Additionally, the study provided numerous insights into simulation training. Researchers analyzed how various types of officers view and accept different training styles. Since the study included a variety of ages, races, education levels and ranks, the study was able to establish connections. Here are some interesting finds from the ‘Results’ and ‘Discussion’ sections (pp. 7-9):
• 90.1% of participating officers and recruits reported that the training provided ‘above average’ training in preparation for encounters with civilians.
• Participants employed by a municipal police department particularly believed the simulator to be effective, more so than other agency types.
• Older officers were less likely to believe simulator training is effective.
• More educated participants (bachelor’s degree or higher) were more likely to perceive the training as effective.
To read the study referenced, click here. You can also contact us to learn more about our simulators and how we can help provide transferrable training.
John Comiskey, Brian Lockwood, Shannon Cunningham & Julia Arminio (2021) The association between participant characteristics and perceptions of the effectiveness of law enforcement tactical simulator training, Police Practice and Research, 22:6, 1655-1667, DOI: 10.1080/15614263.2021.1948848
How do you transition your officers from traditional iron sights to a pistol-mounted red dot optic? There are plenty of good training ideas—such as increased practice on the range, lectures on how the optic works, etc.—but one of the best is having your officers engage in an extensive training course.
One such course is VirTra’s nationally-certified course “Red Dot Optic Training and Sustainment.” This new curriculum has 21 accompanying training drills and was created in conjunction with Victory First® utilizing Aimpoint® red dot optics. Just as it sounds, this course is designed to help officers successfully transition from the traditional iron sights to a modern pistol-mounted red dot optic.
Red Dot is one of VirTra’s V-VICTA® curriculum, and thus, follows the same structure. With this curriculum, instructors receive lecture materials, presentations, handbooks, range drills and more to teach, train, test and sustain their officers on the given material. This starts in the classroom, then leads to extensive red dot optic training either in the simulator or on the range.
Since training a new skill requires extensive practice, the Red Dot Optic course includes 21 detailed drills; everything from how many yards out the target is, time limits, rounds and repetitions, etc. VirTra includes this information so instructors can either practice it on their real-life training simulators, or on the range.
Obviously, the point of any course is to familiarize officers with the taught skill—in this case, utilizing the pistol-mounted red dot optic—but VirTra’s courses go a few steps further. After the course is completed, officers should be able to identify advantages and disadvantages of the red dot system, identify the importance of target and threat focus instead of the focus on the front sight, and more.
To continue learning about VirTra’s “Red Dot Optic Training and Sustainment” curriculum and how officers benefit from this training, please contact a VirTra specialist.
How a person learns evolves over time, yet simultaneously stays the same. Learning is also complicated, yet one of the simplest concepts to understand. And though learning is both easy and difficult, it is up to instructors to understand its nuances and create the best learning environment for their trainees.
In creating the best learning environment, instructors can rely on the social learning theory described by Albert Bandura. It describes how people learn socially through observing, modeling, then imitating the behavior and reactions of those around us. Or simply: monkey see, monkey do. It can also be from the perspective, “Don’t do what that monkey did!”
For a moment, think of a child. How do they learn how to act, move, communicate, the ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs,’ and the rules of life? It is all learned through observation. Children follow their models, which often begins with parents and siblings and later branches out to friends, teachers, book and TV characters and so forth. After observation comes action, where children mimic the learned behaviors. Depending on if the behavior is met with a punishment or a reward, the behavior is then reinforced or discarded.
As children grow up, so does their form of learning. Now, observational learning comes with an extra step: thought before action. This new consideration helps people to improve themselves, as they think through possible outcomes rather than immediately imitating a presented behavior. After determining and performing the best course of action, they then become a model for others—bringing the social learning theory full circle.
While officers are full-grown adults, and not the children in this example, social learning theory still applies to training. Starting at the beginning, the V-VICTA™ curriculum my team and I create heavily promotes observation. It is recommended to have one officer complete a skill drill or training scenario with the rest of the class watching using a rubric for evaluation. Depending on how the first officer performed, those watching know which actions are important, which actions to mimic, which to avoid and overall, how to create a better outcome. While the first few officers may stumble and err, the remaining officers improve techniques and together everyone learns. This allows for larger numbers of officers to obtain high quality training with great time management.
Throughout this training, instructors act as the ‘parents’ or the ‘prime’, so to speak. It is the instructor’s job to reward positive actions or ‘punish’ potentially dangerous actions—either praising the behavior, describing the error in debrief or immediately providing a real-life consequence, such as an electric shock delivered by a Threat-Fire® device. Training after this manner helps reinforce correct training and make these lessons second-nature once officers are in the field.
Learning can be either complicated or simple; it all depends on how instructors approach the task. Creating an environment that places a heavier emphasis on observation before performing—our earliest form of learning—could be the greatest asset in your classroom.
Lon Bartel spent 20 years as an officer, where he spent 12 of those years as a Rangemaster and 18 years as a certified law enforcement trainer. Now, as an IADLEST Nationally Certified Instructor and Force Science certified Use of Force Analyst and Advanced Specialist, Lon works to create powerful training curriculum for law enforcement.
Bandura, Albert. “Social-Learning Theory of Identificatory Processes.” Handbook of Socialization Theory and Research, Rand McNally & Company, 1969.
McLeod, S. A. (2016, February 05). Bandura – social learning theory. Simply Psychology.
Instructors need as much freedom as possible when it comes to training. After all, they know their department’s needs better than anyone. So when it comes to training, shouldn’t instructors have the ability to craft scenarios and drills to best address these needs?
This philosophy is why VirTra designed the V-Author® program. Simply put, V-Author is an easy scenario creation program that can create virtually unlimited custom image-based scenarios, skill drills, target exercises, firearms training and more.
As with all training, instructors begin by setting the stage. In this case, instructors create the scenario’s background, either by selecting an image from the provided library or uploading a picture of their own. The ability to upload pictures is critical, as instructors can have officers train in local environments, such as where situations normally arise.
After the background is selected, the next step is to drag-and-drop pre-filmed characters into the environment. VirTra’s character library is filled with dozens of single characters, crowds, props, weapons and more—any combination of which can be used. Best of all, VirTra’s training technology takes this to the next level: characters are programmed with different behaviors and reactions, which instructors can select from or have be triggered by events initiated by the trainee.
The combined abilities of uploading new environments and using unique character combinations allows instructors to have the most customized training. The powerful training doesn’t stop here, though.
Just like all other VirTra programs, V-Author is run through VOS, allowing for extensive debrief. After the training is complete, instructors can play back the situation, scrub the timeline towards specific events and show the placement of shots fired. Should a training event be particularly insightful, instructors have the ability to save a session and playback at a different time.
V-Author is an incredibly beneficial tool to departments worldwide. This article only goes into the beginning of V-Author’s abilities—for the full breadth, contact a VirTra representative!
Before becoming a law enforcement officer, there are a few pathways students can take. Usually, they will study Criminal Justice in college before attending a police academy. Some students, however, begin their interest in a law enforcement career early enough and begin learning in high school. Career and technical education (CTE) programs have allowed high school students to take courses based on individual interests – including law enforcement.
Tom White of Taft Union High School in California understands the unique learning needs of high school-aged students and has combined that knowledge with the technology and efficiency of a VirTra simulator. Using a V-100® simulator, White’s students have improved their communication skills and better understand the split-second decision-making processes that officers go through on a day-to-day basis.
White was able to fund the V-100 through grant funds, assuring that there are grants available for CTE programs. Additionally, White is currently in the process of obtaining a grant for a V-DTS™ – VirTra’s Driver Training Simulator—to allow for further realism in training and expects to have the Driver Simulator in the next few months.
“You can’t take a student into the field at 16 or 17. Having the driver simulator allows me to simulate them in their own squad car and simulate a call going out on the radio” said White, whose goal is to have students operating the V-DTS when answering a call, then traveling to the destination. Then, students will step out of the V-DTS and enter the V-100 to “respond” to the situation.
Although the V-DTS is still in the purchasing process, simply using the V-100 has allowed White to see notable results and improvement in decision making skills and communication fluency. He has seen 25-30% of his students develop leadership qualities and the ability to confidently give direction. Being able to practice in a simulated environment that is both safe and realistic will allow young students to develop the proper mindsets and prepare themselves early on for a difficult but rewarding career in law enforcement.
A total of 63 students enrolled in the Criminology and Criminal Justice program at Arizona State University visited VirTra’s headquarters last year to experience the technology in action. The students eagerly crowded around the five-screen V-300® to watch as their fellow classmates ran through a scenario. On the opposite side of the room, more students were practicing marksmanship on the three-screen V-180®.
ASU has visited VirTra for the past three years, allowing their criminal justice students to learn from hands-on experience rather than through a lecture. Professor of Practice Bob Robson and Associate Professor Dr. Danielle Wallace watched as their students enjoyed interacting with the simulators, knowing that this experience brought a lot of understanding to their studies. Both professors know some of these students – mostly juniors and seniors – could become officers one day and believe that experiencing reality-based training scenarios and the stress they bring will prepare them for the future.
“Taking students through the scenarios that real police officers go through…For them to have this experience early on gives them a better sense of what reality is all about” said Professor Robson, noting that the students in his class may end up in law enforcement or as attorneys. “My class is a Police Accountability course, and this is the perfect place to learn.”
Criminal Justice students – such as the class from ASU – can benefit tremendously from VirTra’s training curriculum and simulators. Training provided by a simulator cannot be replicated through a lecture. Students must experience what it is like on the field using technology that brings them as close to real life as it gets. “I want them to interact,” said Professor Robson. “They’ve never had an opportunity to learn the stresses and strains that a police officer has to go under with only seconds to think.”
Universities may have the opportunity to purchase a simulator through state contracts or police training funds. It is applicable for both university police and classroom use, as both future and current law enforcement officials can train. Whether instructors choose to put students through heart-racing scenarios or practice marksmanship, Criminal Justice students can learn best in a simulated environment that allows them to experience stress inoculation and practice judgmental use-of-force decision making to better understand life on the force.
Students studying criminal justice typically seek employment in one of three of the major components: law enforcement, the court system, or the criminal corrections system. In any of these three cases, use of force simulators in the classroom can enhance their knowledge and understanding of the inner workings of criminal justice in several ways.
Criminal justice students, just like everyone else, pick up the newspaper, read stories online, or watch the news. Thanks to the prevalence of media today, there are plenty of stories about how a police officer made the wrong choice, costing someone his or her life, or how a judge was too lenient (or too harsh) with a sentence, or even how a corrections officer abused his or her authority. Sometimes, these stories are founded in truth. Other times, they are media observations and second-hand stories of events. Either way, police officers, judges, and even corrections officers spend a lot of time in the limelight, and more often than not, it’s negative.
Because not all criminal justice students will inevitably become law enforcement officials, it is important to examine how the students destined for the judicial and corrections systems can benefit from judgmental use of force training simulators.
In the end, judgmental use of force simulator training is beneficial to anyone and everyone considering a job in the criminal justice system. It is all about giving these students access to what really happens each day – not just what the media tells them. Though reporters work hard to provide only the facts, it is easy for facts to be misleading, and it can give criminal justice students a false sense of the real world. By incorporating use of force simulators in the classroom, and by properly training these students to handle various scenarios, they can have a better understanding of what the job is truly like, not only for themselves, but for others, too.
Judgmental use of force simulator training is not just for police officers and military officials. In fact, this training can serve anyone in criminal justice well by providing them with true-to-life experiences and training them how to react. It is highly customizable to serve each student’s personal needs, as well, which can make it an invaluable learning tool.
TEMPE, AZ – November 29, 2011 – VirTra Systems (VTSI.PK), a leading provider of firearms trainingsystems to Military, Law Enforcement agencies and accredited criminal justice programs, today announced a contract award for a VirTra 300 use of force training simulator from Northwest College located in Powell, Wyoming.
“Northwest College is among a growing number of innovative criminal justice programs incorporating our use of force simulators to better prepare students for careers in law enforcement,” says Bob Ferris, CEO, VirTra Systems. “The VirTra 300 allows students to develop the decision-making skills required by officers in the real world.”