Eight Kenai Police Department officers stood in a row, three yards in front of their prospective targets, guns at the ready.
“All right,” said officer Todd Hamilton. “Three rounds: two rounds in the chest and one to the head. You got three seconds … Ready?”
A timer beeped; fingers tightened and pressed down on handgun triggers.
Pop. Pop. Pop… Gunfire on top of gunfire echoed in the distance.
The officers checked their surroundings once the gunfire ceased.
A mere 1.9 seconds had passed. Bullets hit their marks, and the officers passed the first of many drills.
The Police Department held its annual qualifying drills Wednesday at the Snow Shoe Gun Club rifle range. The drills are an annual requirement, but the Police Department undergoes additional training throughout the year. The training prepares officers for rare situations: hostile interactions involving firearms.
Officers tested for three weapons: handguns, shotguns and rifles. Firing occurred at multiple distances — two yards, seven yards, 100 yards, among others — and guidelines varied depending upon the distance.
Range masters, who trained for hours using Alaska Department of Public Safety standards, offer guidance to the officers during the qualifying drills. The day on the range serves two purposes, training and testing.
The Department of Public Safety establishes the tests. Officers are required to pass all tests. If they fail to do so, a range master instructs them through the drills until they succeed.
The Police Department’s eight officers testing Wednesday afternoon passed all drills on first attempt. Every officer, from investigators to the chief, is required to pass, said Sgt. Kelly George.
Pistol qualification drills are from two to 25 yards. At the longest distance, officers are allowed to try different stances, like lying on the ground. Guidelines set 20 seconds as the time limit for the distance.
“That’s a lot of time, guys,” Hamilton said. “Make those shots count.”
“From this far away, it’s challenging,” George said. “If the officer has an issue with form, grip or stance, this is where it will show. The slightest hesitation or hiccup, they’ll miss by a foot and a half.”
At 10 yards, the officers shoot with their non-dominant hands, which simulates an injured limb.
“We go through training on different things like disabled limbs … because if we don’t train, we wouldn’t know what to do in real-life situations.”
The Police Department follows four major firearms rules: all guns are always loaded; never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy; keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target, and you are ready to fire; and be sure of the target as well as your surroundings.
All firearm owners should adopt the first rule, George said. Treating every weapon as if it’s loaded reduces the potential for once-in-a-blue-moon-type accidents.
The fourth rule is essential to officers, he said. If an officer finds himself or herself in a harmful situation, an awareness of their surroundings must be established. They need to account for every round fired.
“Law enforcement situations are very dynamic, and they happen very fast,” George said. “But the officer has to take many things into consideration.”
Officers train throughout the year to prepare. They are given a number of rounds each month and are encouraged to practice alone and with coworkers.
Additional training includes Semunitions, replicate paint ball firearms. Those are used in live training scenarios, which involve movement. The qualifying drills are static.
The Police Department also tries to send a range master once a year to a Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, or FLETC, to learn the latest in nationwide law enforcement tactics. The courses are coveted, George said.
“It’s important that we stay up to date on firearm skills, rules, safety,” said officer Levi Russell. “It’s like anything else. If you don’t stay with it, you’ll lose it.”
While the training is frequent and intense, actual instances in which Kenai officers discharge firearms are rare. However, deployment — removing a firearm from the holster — of weapons may be more common than people realize, George said.
Out of the eight officers shooting Wednesday afternoon, only two had ever discharged their weapons, he said.
“Some officers go their entire careers without having to discharge their weapons,” George said.
Russell said other than euthanizing moose, he’s never discharged his weapon during a call.
Firearms are deployed during reports of burglaries, or investigations of late-night business alarms being set off by someone or something. The officers clear the scene, so a family can safely return home and investigators can work uninterrupted.
This summer, many altercations involving officers have occurred. Suspects have shot or shot at Alaska State Troopers and city officers. Kenai and Soldotna have had no such incidents, however.
The discussion is everlasting regardless of an increase in incidents, and the Police Department regularly receives updates from state and Outside agencies, George said.
“We have an increased awareness, at least,” he said. “The chief will send out information to the staff about situations. We do talk about those things all the time, but we’re not sitting down and discussing increasing rates.”
Following the handgun drills, the officers switched to shotguns. They tested with buckshot as well as slugs. The last exam involved .223 modern rifles, and the officers shot from distances of 100 yards.
The three types of weapons all have been deployed at some point, George said.
Later, the officers practiced active training. For example, offices ran 100 yards then shot at targets — training for another rare situation, a pursuit.
Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at email@example.com.
This story has been revised to correct a typographical error.