Capt. Gerald Metzler has been taking firearms requalification tests for 32 years, but Wednesday he learned something he didn’t know.
He was not gripping the pistol correctly.
Metzler discovered this after a restructuring of the annual shooting skills test for officers.
“This year was a little different,” Metzler said. “We went back to the basics so I picked up on some things I had been doing wrong that I didn’t even realize.”
Lt. Bill Probus, who led the testing, said the sheriff’s office has opted to change the format to something more fun, a little less stressful and a little more effective than classes in the past. One of the differences is a more intense focus on remedial skills.
Classroom and hands-on training focusing on the proper use of a gun’s front sights helped Metzler more accurately hit his target.
He finished with the highest score among his class of nine in the four-hour session, 476 out of 500.
Every gun-toting sheriff’s office employee is required by law to requalify, or retest with their weapon, each year.
Probus and three assistant instructors spent one-on-one time with each student to ensure hand techniques, grip and eye level from standing, kneeling and behind barriers were perfect. Probus said he hopes the new format will be more realistic; studies show that most shootings occur within 10 yards, the distance most of the training took place.
“If you study and look at real-life shootings, you know there are some commonalities,” he said.
Instructors put more focus on those commonalities.
Students spent an hour in a classroom reviewing use of force options and techniques and discussed real-life officer-involved shootings before training continued on the shooting range.
During the test, students shoot two human paper targets with 50 bullets from 3 to 25 yards as instructors call out actions.
A score of 400, or 80 percent, is required to pass.
At the end of testing Wednesday, Probus said there had only been five people who did not pass with 80 percent. Tests continued Thursday and Friday but results were not available.
If an officer does not pass, instructors take his or her weapon and remove them from duty. They are instructed to return to the training range for a three-day remedial course. The officer can’t return to duty until the test is passed.
“Almost everything we can remediate,” Probus said. “Usually you have to break a bad habit and substitute a good habit for it.”
Sgt. Glen Rahn, who also tested Wednesday, said he found this year’s course more realistic to what he would see on the streets.
“It’s definitely an improvement,” Rahn said. “The personnel they have out there is excellent.”