The Officer’s Guide To Police Pistolcraft by Michael E. Conti
A review by John Veit

The Officer’s Guide To Police Pistolcraft is a new (2009), comprehensive, practical, and reality-based survival guide for today’s Police Officer.

It is written in plain English, and in a conversational style that engages the reader in a pleasant one-to-one discussion. There are lots of stop-action style photos to help in seeing and understanding just how-to-do what is being discussed, and in some cases to point out what not-to-do.

Some chapters read like a good novel and not a field manual. They are filled with helpful and practical ways of carrying out the day to day tasks of an Officer. They also deal with the obligations and responsibilities of the modern day warrior.

Mike Conti, the author, has been a member of the Massachusetts State Police (MSP) since 1986. During his career he has worked in a variety of jobs ranging from uniformed patrol, high-crime area community policing, SWAT and special security details, to undercover narcotics and death investigations.

He has been involved as a professional trainer since 1991, and holds numerous instructor certifications in various use of force disciplines.

In January 2000, Mike was given the task of setting up and putting into operation a Firearms Training Unit (FTU), for the State Police. The unit is responsible for conducting yearly qualification courses of fire for department personnel, and for training academy recruits in firearms use.

It instituted a new paradigm of training which is reality-based, as the traditional sight-oriented and marksmanship-based approach that was being used, did not meet the needs of police officers on the street.

The Officer’s Guide To Police Pistolcraft is based on Mike Conti’s 20+ years of on-the-job and training experiences. He learned WHAT WORKS and what doesn’t in real time on-the-street, and for keeps.

The training is combat-oriented and focuses on preparing officers as thoroughly as possible to know WHEN to use the pistol as well as HOW to use it when needed. And both sighted and point shooting techniques are intrinsic components of the new paradigm training system.

As the reader will find out, the new system is not so new at all. In many ways it is a rediscovery of an effective and proven system of combat pistol shooting and training, whose roots reach back in history to WW II, and well before then to the dim and dark streets and back alleys of Shanghai.

What Bert DuVernay said in his Book Review of Police Pistolcraft – The Reality-Based New Paradigm of Police Firearms Training, is equally applicable here: “The real message of this book is that police firearms training must be based on the requirements of the job, rather than the various forms of competition upon which nearly all police firearms training is based.

The following covers just some of the topics and issues that are dealt with.

Chapter 1 starts out with a very brief and interesting history of police “agencies” that dates back to the 1600’s. Firearms training was first instituted in 1895 in abbreviated form, after Theodore Roosevelt, the newly-appointed New York Police Commissioner, found that his officers were prone to accidental discharges with their weapons, and that they performed miserably when employing their pistols during actual gunfights.

After he left that position, NYPD’s firearms training stopped. And most municipal officers never received any firearms training prior to the mid 1920’s.

Any reader who has worked for some time for any “government” agency, and particularly at a headquarters or centralized location, will find the story of the controversial beginnings of formalized training, and its development over time, plus the FBI’s adoption of a reality based program to be a very interesting read.

Just as interesting if not bizarre, was the FBI’s subsequent modification and rejection of the reality based system which followed a change in personal, not a change in the requirements of the job.

That left a void which gave rise to the Modern Technique and competition-based target pistol shooting, which was soon equated with and called combat handgun shooting. It became and served as the basis for the vast majority of U.S. Law Enforcement Agency training programs for well over thirty years.

During that time, the police hit rate when engaged in actual real-world close-quarters gunfights, was and has remained under 15%. That poor efficiency rate is compounded by the facts that more than 85% of close range encounters occur within 21 feet, and more than 53% of them take place within 5 feet.

In the 1990’s, there was a shift in thinking towards using a reality based approach to determine what was needed to improve shooting efficiency to better assure officer survival and reduce casualty rates.

That thinking, plus investigative work as detailed in the Guide, and determined effort, gave rise to what is called the New Paradigm.

Chapter 1 also discusses the psychological and physical effects that accompany the activation of our “Flight or Fight” response, which is triggered automatically in close-quarters life threat situations. Of special interest are photos of bad gun handling techniques that are known to occur in stressful situations either spontaneously or as a result of watching films or TV programs.

Chapter 2 is on weapons, equipment, ammunition and carry gear. It has a full compliment of how-to-do photos, and practical tips and suggestions on carry gear. They are based on the Mike’s years of day to day carrying to meet the requirements of his assignments, and his years of being a trainer.

Chapter 3 is on safety – on and off the range, and at home.

Chapter 4 is on pistol handling and operational skills. It is replete with how-to-do and don’t-do photos. The TIRR clearance drill was a new to me. It is sensible, practical and doable.

All of the Chapters present basic information that also can serve as refreshers on what one should pay attention to. And the practical tips and suggestions are a bonus that hold the reader’s attention.

Chapter 5 deals with the combat skills starting with the combat stance. It is a natural fighting stance for effective pistol use at close quarters.

The interview position is shown and described as a stable non-threatening position from which a variety of use of force weapons and tactics can be employed without telegraphing the officer’s intent.

Also included are body Point Shooting from the holster and full extension Point Shooting from the holster, other Point shooting techniques, and precision shooting, drills, alternative shooting positions, transition drills from one level of force option to another, techniques for moving and for engaging moving targets, and the use of cover.

[Note: For safety, when shooting from the hip or positions near to the ground, to avoid having your bullets ricochet off the ceiling of an indoor range, or fly off into the yonder when outdoors, be sure your targets are at the height of or close to the height at which your pistol is.]

Pistol retention considerations and techniques are addressed in Chapter 6, which is short. The development of holstered and un-holstered pistol retention skills, and a win at all costs mindset when it comes to pistol retention, are emphasized. Attempts to disarm officers happen more often than one would imagine. And when it does, make no mistake about it – you will be dealing with a deadly force situation.

Chapter 7 discusses the mental aspects of the job. It includes a discussion of the realities of making use of forces decisions, preparing for the lethal force encounter, knowing about and understanding reaction time lag, dealing with the aftermath of encounters, the lethal danger of the blade, and the possibility of being involved in a terrorist situation.

Chapters 8 deals with how our eyes work, the challenges and benefits of low light environments, and using flashlights with pistols; Chapter 9 deals with plainclothes pistol techniques including concealed carry considerations for the investigator, undercover operator, and off-duty officer; and Chapter 10 deals with the left-handed pistoleer.

Chapter 11 is written by a female officer for female officers and covers mindset, pistol and carry considerations, and attire.

Chapter 12 emphasizes that perfect practice makes perfect, and presents a variety of dry and live fire drills and techniques. From the book, “Some of the best practice you can do with your pistol and equipment can be done without firing a shot.”

Dry exercises can be used in developing a smooth presentation and a consistent tactical recovery. And they require only a few minutes to complete. For example, there is a Basic Presentation & Recovery Practice Session (Dry) which can be done in three minutes and calls for five repetitions of each of these exercises:

  1. Holster to body point position and recovery (one hand hold)
  2. Holster to full extension position and recovery (one hand hold)
  3. Holster to full extension position and recovery (two hand hold)

Along with each exercise is a reference to the section in a prior chapter of the book where the position called for, is detailed in text and/or by a photo or a series of photos. There also are additional presentation and recovery hints and tips.

There are suggested dry practice exercise sessions:

  • Advanced Presentation & Recovery Practice Session (Dry)
  • Reloading Practice Session (Dry)
  • Semiautomatic Pistol Refunction Practice session (Dry)
  • Semiautomatic Pistol Stoppage Clearing Practice session (Dry)

Live fire practice sessions. There are three live fire point shooting skills development practice sessions at 3 yards or less, along with three live fire precision shooting skill development practice sessions at 3, 7, and 15 yards.

Chapter 12 concludes with a section that discusses living as a professional pistoleer.

In summary, this book is a very good read, and promises to be a long standing and authoritative survival guide for police officers as well as others who have a handgun for self defense use.