The following guest  article was written and submitted by John Veit

We welcome a variety of points of view on the subjects of shooting and marksmanship. Test them objectively on the range and let the results fall where they may.

FLETC Research Project Shows Its Shooting Training Is A Bust
by John Veit

A two year research project of Homeland Security’s Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC), dealing with officer survival and performance under high stress, shows its shooting training is a bust.


The research project’s aim was to evaluate the degree to which the FLECT training program prepares graduates to perform under realistically stressful conditions.

To study and score officer performance, a real world law enforcement scenario was developed by the research team. It was made up of seven separate events, and included 97 measurable tasks that were used in performance scoring.

The events ranged from a call in service, to a spin-out, to an entry to the building, to a response to an internal affairs interview.

The sixth scenario event was a gun take/away/shootout. It is detailed and discussed below.

Study participants had completed 8-10 weeks of FLETC training which included training on the skills needed to complete the scenario. And their performance was captured on film for analysis and scoring.

A report on the research and its results was published in 2004.

The results show a strong correlation between stress and performance. As stress increased, heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol levels increased. And as expected, performance decreased.

The results relative to Event 6, are in agreement with the findings of other scientific inquiries and combat studies of close quarters shootings. Namely, traditional shooting training fails in them. And in this case, it failed in a scenario event that proved to be only moderately stressful.

The report is 4.1 megs and can be downloaded here, or by searching “Survival Scores Research Project FLETC Research Paper 2004”


Other than being a good management practice to critically assess operations, FBI reports also provided impetus and rationale for the project.

“The number of law enforcement officers feloniously killed in the line of duty was up 21.4 percent from the previous year’s number – 51 officers were slain in 2000, and 42 officers were killed in 1999.

“Slightly more than half (53%) of the felonious shootings took place at a distance of 0-5 feet, and 70% were at 0-10 feet. These close range killings are also representative of the ten-year period for 1991 – 2000.

“Body armor appears to provide minimal protection in close range shooting scenarios, as 29 of the 47 (62%) slain officers wore protective clothing.

“Many shooting incidents occur in poorly illuminated environments, at close range, with multiple subjects, sometimes including innocent bystanders. Most such incidents are over in less than three seconds.

“Many routinely recurring situations have the potential to expose officers to inordinate risks (domestic violence investigations, traffic stops, undercover investigations and arrests).

“Thus, the law enforcement officer must maintain continuous vigilance, exercise sound judgment, accurately assess threat level, communicate clearly, respond promptly and appropriately, and if threat escalation warrants, rapidly change tactics to include force – if necessary, even lethal force.”

EVENT 6 – Gun take-away and shoot-out

My interest is in aiming and shooting in close quarters situations. it is of prime importance for both officers and civilians who have a gun for self defense, because if you are going to be shot and/or killed, there is an 80% chance that it will happen at less than 20 feet.

My focus is on the hit rate which confirms whether a shooting method is effective or not.

The results for Event 6, show the shooting method trained in, was not effective. It failed in a situation that proved to be only moderately stressful, and where simunitions were used.

The results point up the need for the use of a shooting method like AIMED Point Shooting or P&S which is very simple, instinctive, fast and accurate, and which the U.S. Army says works.

As to the stress level of Event 6, the report states that it was designed to invoke maximum stress.

The report also contains a chart that shows the heart rates of those who passed and failed Event 6, and all the other scenario events.

The heart rates of those who passed Event 6A 6B and 6C were: 117, 124, and 118. And The heart rates of those who failed 6A, 6B, and 6C were: 132, 137, and 127.

Those heart rates are the highest of all the heart rates charted for the different events, which ranged from a low of 88 to a high of 137.

But, according to the literature, those numbers are much much lower than one would expect to be recorded in a real life threat situation.

This is from Bruce Siddle’s paper The Science of Combat Point Shooting:

“Studies have also found that fine motor skills deteriorate at 115 BPM, complex motor skills deteriorate at 145 BPM, while gross motor skills were performed optimally at higher levels of stress.

“Weaver falls into the complex motor skill category and will generally degrade once the heart rate peaks to 145 beats per minute. This is important, since a deadly force threat will drive heart rate well above 200 beats per minute. (This research is consistent with SNS vasoconstriction to the hand and fingers, which deteriorates the dexterity needed for precision shooting skills, combat reloading or the operation of a vehicle.)”

Realistically, Event 6 should be considered to be only moderately stressful. And that gives added significant to the event results and the narrative which describes the actions of the officers.

If the event really was a high stress life or death situation, you could expect the performance and the hit rate to be much worse than it was.

The narrative that discusses gun handling and reloading is very interesting.

Most training courses teach “tactical” reloading, yet the NYPD’s SOP 9 study of thousands of police combat cases, found that: The necessity for rapid reloading to prevent death or serious injury was not a factor in any of the cases examined. In close range encounters, under 15 feet, it was never reported as necessary to continue the action.


Here is the brief description of, and the report on Event 6.


“Gun take-away/shootout – maximum levels of arousal were achieved as the scenario deteriorates with the return of the theft suspect, an escalating argument, and the decision by the “senior partner” to remove the hostile theft suspect from the building. The “senior partner” has his weapon taken and is shot by the suspect, who then takes the complainant hostage which he also shoots. Stress is further escalated by loud music limiting communication, the sound of a loud, barking dog in the adjoining room, very close quarters and very limited cover. The exit is blocked by the downed “body” of the “senior partner.” The suspect (a firearms instructor) has cover and produces a shotgun (simunitions) which he uses in conjunction with the downed “senior partner’s” weapon to fire at exposed parts of the trainee with simunitions rounds. The trainee’s third round in the magazine in the weapon provided has been altered to not fire, forcing the trainee to respond to the development. The suspect is either shot by the officer and eventually falls, or commits suicide if the officer does not disable the suspect.


“Event 6 was designed to invoke maximum stress levels. Overall, performance, deteriorated, as expected, and only 28.2% performed well enough to pass this event.. Several stress producing elements were placed in this event. The “startle” response was invoked here, as the gun take-away and shooting occur rapidly and in a confined area with little cover and no avenue of retreat. As a result, this phase of the overall scenario saw the highest blood pressure and heart rates recorded during the seven events.

“Popular theory has long held that a loss of fine and complex motor skill could be observed as a result of high stress levels. The trainees observed in this study did not appear to be unable to perform fine and complex motor skills as noted when weapons handling skills were evaluated.

“Rather, they seemed to perform them in the incorrect sequence or perform the wrong function all together, thereby producing a 25.8% success rate. Many of the trainees tapped the top or side of the weapon as the first stage of the immediate action drill, rather than the bottom of the magazine. A number merely racked the slide. More than a few would shoot, work the slide, and shoot until the weapon was empty, sometimes pulling the trigger up to 10 times before initiating a reload.

“Loading exercises were performed smoothly, though every single trainee turned their total attention to the weapon and the reload rather than maintaining contact with the suspect as per their training. This inability to perform skills was observed to be more the result of impaired decision-making (mental) ability rather than impaired motor capability. The low performance scores reflected this impaired decision making capacity.

“Further evidence of poor decision-making was noted in the trainee maintaining the position of advantage (51% passing). The speed of the engagement and proximity of the threat forced the trainees into situations requiring rapid decision-making. While virtually all trainees sought cover, the cover that was provided was minimal.

“Rather than maintain minimal cover, many trainees left cover and exposed themselves further by turning their backs to the suspect, charging the suspect while the suspect was shooting at them, or stepping into the middle of the room to engage the suspect from a more direct angle. Summary scores for EVENT 6 include:

“Successful performance (70% and above) was recorded in the areas of:

Threat assessment (73.2%)
100% correct in judgment to shoot (70.2%)
Consistent with use of force continuum (79.2%)
Performed emergency reload at least once correctly (72.0%)
Continues to engage the suspect (76.8%)
Responded to call sign accurately- post shooting (73.5%)
Operated radio correctly- post shooting (70.4%)
Responded to call sign timely- post shooting (71.2%)

“These results indicate most of the trainees did recognize the man with the gun who had a hostage and shot the partner as a threat, used appropriate force (firearms) against that threat, and continued to engage the suspect. With two opportunities to reload, the trainees generally recognized when the slide was locked to the rear, dropped the magazine and inserted a loaded magazine. The three remaining elements were post-shooting communications activities that occurred after the threat was neutralized.

“Mid-range performance (50%-70%) was recorded in the areas of:

Maintains position of advantage (51.0%)
Maintains officer presence (68.1%)
Properly identify when to shoot (57.9%)
Verbal commands utilized (68.4%)
Exercised tactical retreat (50.5%)
During scenario gave follow-up identifier –post shooting (55.6%)
During scenario gave follow-up details -post shooting (52.2%)
Called EMS for downed partner –post shooting (63.1%)
Handled radio in weak hand –post shooting (65.7%)

“These data show a majority of the trainees presented themselves as in a position of authority, could identify when to shoot, gave verbal commands, and considered or appeared to consider a tactical retreat. The four post-shooting elements were all communications related.

“Low performance (under 50%) was recorded in the areas of:

Used proper tactics to control the suspect (30.1%)
Performed immediate action (30.2%)
Performed tactical reload (7.1%)
Performed tactical magazine exchange-3 trainees tried (0.0%)
Demonstrated proper weapons handling (25.8%)
Incorporated tactical movement (14.0%)
Used proper kneeling position (9.2%)

“These scores show a majority of the trainees made poor tactical decisions as to courses of action, did not effectively resort to more advanced/complex and less utilized re-loading methods, could not perform a sequence skill under stress, did not employ tactical movement concepts of “shoot and move”, and did not use the instructed kneeling position behind cover.

“Radio communication scores were tracked throughout the scenario and the event 6 score for radio communication shows a rise in success to 64.9% from the previous event. It should be noted the radio skills measures were expected to take place AFTER the shooting had come to and end and the suspect was down. The trainee was then expected to call for EMS and support, responding to the dispatcher’s questions as appropriate. These trainees, though still observably stressed by the events, were no longer dealing with a direct threat, but were still exhibiting the physiological effects of the stress response.

EVENT 7 – Interview/debrief

“Event 7 was the debrief exercise, conducted immediately post-shooting in order to determine the effects of stress on cognitive responses. The overall score shows a passing rate of 49.49%. While the trainees were observed to accurately recall and relate information that occurred prior to the event 6 (gun take-away), their ability to accurately relay information after the take-away was more noticeably inaccurate. Trainees repeatedly indicated (wrongly) the steps they had performed to clear the malfunction when, in fact those steps did not occur. Several trainees rendered visual hand movements sequencing tap-rack-reengage, recalling their training in a convincing manner while the videotapes showed those actions had clearly not occurred.

“Although trainees demonstrated proper use of force 70% of the time in the scenario, it could only be articulated 57% of the time during the de-brief. Evaluators viewed the tapes to determine if the student demonstrated 100% correct judgment to shoot. The 30% that failed did so for such actions as shooting the hostage, shooting when the target disappeared behind the wall, failing to shoot though they had the opportunity when their partner was shot, or repeatedly shooting the suspect after he was down and inactive.

“Further evidence indicating a lack of judgment was noted by the relatively slow response time in drawing the weapon. A time value was collected once the gun was taken away from the senior officer in the full view of the trainee. The trainees took an average of four seconds to draw their weapons and bring it up in the direction of the threat. No part of their training allows four seconds to draw and cover a threat. It was clear when the tapes were reviewed that the trainees lacked recognition and/or comprehension of the events in front of them during those first few seconds. Although they saw a gun (their partner’s) suddenly appear, it apparently took several seconds for the significance of this action to register in their mind.

“The use of force was successfully articulated by 57% of the trainees, as they correctly described the moment they perceived lethal force could be properly used. The remaining 43% typically could only identify that they had the ability to shoot when the suspect pointed the gun at them. These trainees, though prompted to consider this further, could not articulate the gun take-away, the shot partner, or the hostage at gun-point as actions worthy of the use of lethal force.

“The results for Event 7 verify the numerous limiting effects stress exerts on cognitive perception, recall, and decision making skills.


“Shot placement data was collected immediately following event 6. The specific performance elements recorded were weapons clearing, number of rounds saved, shots placed on the suspect, and shot placement on the suspect Overall performance in this element showed a 28% passing rate. Analysis determined only 3.4% of the trainees demonstrated 70% accuracy or better when all rounds expended during the engagement were considered. Only 19.4% of all rounds fired hit the suspect who was approximately 3 yards from the trainee. In addition to shots going low, trainees scored poorly in applying fire to center mass or available center mass. Approximately 20% shot the hostage. The only performance item in the upper 50 percentile was proper clearing on the weapon, with 63% passing this element.

“Of note was the statistically significant difference in overall shot placement scores by gender. 94.74% of females failed the shot placement element, while 66.25% of males failed. Further analysis was conducted to examine firearms qualification scores achieved during training. Once again, a statistically significant difference was, observed (as expected), with females averaging 248 compared to 273 for males. These data would suggest that a lower degree of accuracy in a static training environment may translate into a lower level of accuracy in a dynamic environment.”

The Shot Placement stat that jumped out at me was that only 19.4% of all rounds fired hit the suspect who was approximately 3 yards, just 9 feet, from the trainee.

As stated above and per the literature, Event 6 should be considered to be only moderately stressful. So, if the Event really was a high stress life or death situation, you could expect shooting effectiveness to be much worse than the hit rate of only 19.4% which was reported, and which shouts out for new thinking and bold action in close quarters shooting training.