Beyond the Badge: Patrol rifle training in Pulaski County
PULASKI COUNTY, Ind. --- Officers can go their whole career without ever needing to fire their gun, but consistent training builds up for that one time it might be needed.
This week on Beyond the Badge, Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office is training for anything they might face out on the street and getting comfortable with the uncomfortable.
Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Seth Barton has been a firearms instructor for five years.
“Just naturally, I've just been driven because of what I did in the military to gravitate towards the firearms training side of things,” he said. “And I've been teaching on the law enforcement side for five years. Going on my sixth year now.”
“I think firearms is one of the things that gets overplayed a lot. And I think people judge us for it or they think cops just train firearms consistently and they expect everybody to be these magic crack shots. But it takes a lot of time and effort. And the thing is, a cop can go 20 years in his career and never need to use his firearm, but that one time that he needs to use his firearm, it's either to protect his life or the life of some citizens or to eliminate a threat to the public in some way, shape or form. The officer needs to make sure that what they're doing is justified number one, and number two, that they're going to hit what they need to hit to eliminate the threat that's presented before them.”
Seth tries to put on at least four firearms instructions per year.
“We have to have 24 hours a year through the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy that we have to maintain general training with, but two hours has to be for firearms, two hours has to be for emergency vehicle operations. And two hours have to be in defensive tactics.”
“According to Indiana, you only have to qualify with a weapon system one time. Now what we run into in Indiana is a lot of department heads want to qualify every year. And that qualification consists of a static range doing basic drills at a certain distance. And I don't believe that's truly preparing officers for what they're going to face on the street. Not saying for years that that hasn't worked, and guys are you know, have come home alive and or protected somebody if they needed to. But I like to gear my training towards things that I think are more practical and effective.”
“Officers don't get their patrol rifles out very often. So, when they do, I think they look awkward.”
Seth said he wants to make sure they are as comfortable as possible, running several different drills, such as malfunctions, transitions and maneuvering with the patrol rifle.
“It's not just the most accurate shooter and it's not just the fastest shooter, it's the fastest and accurate shooter, which sounds like a basic fundamental thing that you should want. I should want to be the fastest and I should want to be the most accurate, but there's a middle ground and everybody's different.”
“I want to make sure that they feel comfortable getting down and maneuvering with that rifle. If they're down behind cover in a gunfight, it needs to not be the first time that they're trying to move around something with a 20-something inch rifle in their hands.”
Seth said the biggest challenge is trying to keep everybody motivated.
“When it comes to teaching police officers, firearms training, you know, not everybody, and most people don't get into being a police officer because they are expected to be in a gunfight every five days. It's cool to me when I have older officers for example, that maybe aren't as motivated. But when they get done and they say, ‘Hey, that was good training. I had fun with that. I learned something’ and you know, that's when you get rewarded. It keeps everybody focused. Everybody continues to grow, instead of just being stagnant throughout their careers.”
“A few years back one of our other officers did have an officer involved shooting and you know, that was a... you could say it was a hostage situation. It ended up multicounty pursuit and that ended up ending in an officer involved shooting with that gentleman. The ultimate gratification you can get is knowing that some training that you put on was effective and realistic. And that gentleman was put in for an award and then got recognized in Congress for the actions that he did to be able to end that situation and help that little girl that was kidnapped. That's a textbook situation of why you do what you do on the firearm side of things.”
Seth said there’s a lot more to firearms than just shooting; you have to know when you can shoot and when you can’t shoot.
“It is a challenging position. But the other side of all those challenges is being able to articulate your actions in a court of law, that what you did was right, and what you did was reasonable. And what you did was the last possible thing, that was the last option you had that you can use to help somebody or save somebody or save yourself, you know, everything's judged later. So, you have to be able to be competent enough behind a firearm to then be mentally competent enough to defend your actions later in court.”
“I just hope that officers can continue to stay strong, stay mentally strong, continue to learn, continue to grow and continue to stand behind what they're doing. And if they ever do something wrong, they're going to be held accountable for it."