Safety and Training

A Cop’s Look at Cops… Are Cops the Best Instructors?

A revolver propped against a box of Black Hills ammunition

Cops, as an institution or body of workers, are a diverse lot. By the same token, they deal with a population ranging from the scum of the earth to the privileged elite — neither of which has respect for the law and those who enforce it.

Enforcing the law and public safety is complicated. Quite a few officers (and chiefs) have forgotten how to police. While some agencies engage in community outreach, others engage in useless intrusive revenue enforcement. These minions spend time enforcing petty ordinances, becoming yard police, and telling you which day of the week you may wash your car or mow your lawn.

3 revolvers and 3 semi automatic handguns for a concealed carry course
A cop instructor understands it isn’t the handgun but the shooter — given a quality firearm.

Duties best reserved for environmental officers have been given to the police. The result is an erosion of respect and trust, as well as the cop’s work ethic. This is most often seen in municipal agencies, as sheriff’s departments in large counties have more work to do without such nonsense.

Not to mention the many speed traps operating as revenue agencies in small towns. These officers’ focus isn’t on crime — I realize traffic safety is very important — but most could not catch the flu in a blizzard when it comes to real crime. On the flip side, a radar unit can be a good tool for catching dopers and recovering stolen property.

As for answering the many calls flooding 911 dispatchers, cops spend more time wiping people’s nose than helping those who really need help. Not their choice, but this is how it is. Calling the cops because Junior won’t do his homework is common. Domestic tiffs often become violent.

Then, we have hard working investigators who are bull dogs, and don’t stop until a crime is solved. These men and women often wreck their health and home life while tracking down the most dangerous and deranged offenders.

After a lifetime of experience, including stints as a patrol lieutenant and active criminal patrol, it seems that the majority of police, perhaps 80% across the board, are decent sorts who will help citizens and catch criminals if they can. About 10% do much of the real work in accident reconstruction, felony cars, saturation squads, and drug task forces. The remaining 10% have no business wearing a badge. In some agencies, the percentages are reversed.

Kahr 9mm pistol with 2 spare magazine and a 1791 Gunleather OWB holster
Quality firearms such as the Kahr 9mm and quality leather (1791 Gunleather) are essential, and a cop instructor should recognize quality.

In truth, my assessment is not to besmirch any person or group of officers. We simply cannot ignore the fact that firearms are a small part of many officers’ job. There are a few very good instructors, very good trainers, and good shots. Some officers have a specialty. It may be drug interdiction or juvenile work. The time they spend on other training is reluctantly given.

Cops as Instructors

Some of the instructors who basically live on the range are very good shots. As an example, many years ago, a firearms instructor decided to teach us how to bounce the lead .38 Special load off the road and under a car to strike an adversary behind cover. He would draw and fire quickly at about seven yards, strike a concrete lane on the range, and bounce the bullet into the kill zone of the target — every time.

He practically lived on the range. If he liked you, he put you in a dank, hot room running a beautifully made Star loading machine knocking out .38 Special wadcutters. Suffice it to say, few ‘got it.’ Red was one of the finest shots ever. Few, if any of us, reach that level of skill.

Two semi-auto handguns for self-defense
Cops tend to test handguns thoroughly have strong opinions based on fact.

However, we learned safe handling and had a trainer who illustrated what could be done with a handgun. Several of my fellow officers competed and won matches on a national level.

There would be no police training without the NRA and these NRA trained instructors were very good at their job. Many peace officers have a certain specialty such as traffic, drug interdiction, human trafficking, or homicide. The amount of time given firearms training or anything outside their sphere was given grudgingly.

Training is sometimes top notch and at other times, it is pathetic. As an example, my chief — who had a warped sense of humor — sent me to a driving school intended to improve my chase and safety skills. We didn’t tear up the roads. Instead, we sat through a boring three-hour video.

Firearms qualification is seldom difficult. Most agencies qualify with the handgun once a year, but some must qualify 3–4 times a year.

Some officers like to hold out their police experience as a qualification of an expert. Perhaps a forensic tech deserves that title. Teaching marksmanship and safety doesn’t make you are an expert. Promoting a particular gun and load based on your experience isn’t always valid.

On the other hand, a police instructor must work with the firearms issued and realizes it is the shooter, not the gun, that wins a gunfight. There are quite a few officers who have been to many schools but have little practical experience. On the other hand, they have more experience than the many so called security experts who have never felt the slap of a fist, had a street fight, or dealt with a dangerous criminal.

I worked security at a large church for some time. Every part-time officer who helped with traffic flow and security had more experience than the independent security experts who had the good folks spend a fortune on card readers and cameras. Few officers make their 30 years without such an experience in dealing with dangerous felons. So, if the cop has some gray in his hair and a few scars, he just may have some experience worth sharing — beyond the NRA mandated training.

Higher Standard

Most cops’ firearms experience is limited to being issued a certain firearm, training, and some qualification. Learning to use a firearm safely is just following directions. Special teams and certain units are trained to a higher standard.

pitted, black, Ruby .32 ACP gun
A student actually showed up with this old Ruby .32. Most cop instructors would not let it on the line.

Every agency of any size has a point man or felony car. Some of these have a great deal of real life experience. When cops say they have seen things such as shootings, we most often mean that we arrived after the shooting was over. The victim is still running around screaming, or fighting, and hasn’t fallen.

Getting hurt or shot doesn’t make you an expert, but it is certainly part of the experience. The reasons people fight, kill, and get into legal trouble in the aftermath of a shooting or stabbing are also very important. So is understanding the areas of danger other than the firearm, such as blunt weapon attack.

No cop with more than a few weeks experience in a busy city would belittle the deadly effects of an edged weapon. I have yet to see an instructor with police experience quote the results of a so called stopping power study or secret goat shoot — he or she knows a hoax when they see one. A cop may simply load the ammunition that won the FBI contract and rest assured that it is reliable, clean-burning, accurate, and available. Perhaps we should do the same.

Open box of Hornady Critical Duty handgun ammunition
A working cop will recommend service-grade ammunition with a good reputation.

Compared to the military, individual fire is stressed over unit fire. The miliary has coordinated fire discipline, the cop’s experience is closer to your own. In other words, a cop’s skills are defensive in nature — as your skills should be.

Some officers relate well to the public, some don’t. I suppose that police society is insular. This is a type of psychological survival mindset. Some officers recommend their issue pistol over any other. The Glock is reliable and among the best beginner handguns for certain. I don’t scold students too harshly on firearms choice, if the pistol is safe, serviceable, and an appropriate caliber.

About half of my students show up with firearms that I would never trust. They range from bargain basement revolvers to 40-year-old Llama handguns. Most who buy cheap pistols could afford better, the shooter is simply a cheap skate. Some students have shown up without the key that unlocks the action on lockable pistols and others have shown up without a magazine for the pistol or left the spares and ammo at home.

Smith and Wesson 39 9mm with the magazine removed
The Smith and Wesson 39 9mm was among the first generally issued semi-automatic pistols. Instructors were grudging to accept it.

The firearms instructor with police experience will regard these students as lacking a serious attitude and he is correct. Some of the instructors like guns and shooting. The safety and training are valuable when there is an intersection with real life experience.

Some will criticize the revolver for defensive use. Those people are dead wrong, but it depends on the shooter. Cops with any type of experience realize how useless small caliber (.22, .32, .380) pistols can be.

Cops, like any other firearms instructor, can teach the NRA line and do a very good job of it. But they have hard earned insights the others don’t. Cops also understand the rougher man’s way of life and offer good advice.

Glock 17 9mm in a DeSantis SlimTuk holster
Show up at class with a service-grade pistol such as the Glock 9mm and good load bearing gear such as the DeSantis SlimTuk, and you will be off on the right foot.

Hardly a class goes by that some moron doesn’t pronounce to the class that you may shoot a trespasser on the lawn at night. I waste no time in shooting them down (figuratively speaking). Although I had several difficulties during my career that resulted in serious injury, I never had a gun shoved into my chest until I became an instructor for the public.

Final Thoughts

In the end, despite my rantings about the various experience levels cobbled under the guise of being a “cop,” I highly recommend police experience among instructors. Meet the instructor halfway with your own knowledge and understand where he or she is coming from. Unlike the hobbyist instructor, the working cop’s background includes a wide range of danger and legal experience that goes beyond simple gun handling and safety.

Do you have experience as a LEO? Are you a firearms instructor? What qualifications do you believe a firearms instructor needs? Any real world experience? Share your answers in the comment section.

About the Author:

Wilburn Roberts

When Wilburn Roberts was a young peace officer, he adopted his present pen name at the suggestion of his chief, as some of the brass was leery of what he might write. This was also adopted out of respect for families of both victims and criminals. The pen name is the same and the man remains an outspoken proponent of using enough gun for the job.

He has been on the hit list of a well-known hate group, traveled in a dozen countries and written on many subjects, including investigating hate crimes and adopting the patrol carbine. He graduated second in his class with a degree in Police Science. It took him 20 years to work himself from Lieutenant to Sergeant and he calls it as he sees it.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (22)

  1. Nothing wrong with .32ACP.
    That Ruby… however… shudder. 🥶.
    Been around some funky stuff, a Raven .25 ACP, Jennings,, Jiminez… at least a Seecamp .32 and Beretta Tomcat are functional. I don’t own any of them but I’d take the Seecamp or Tomcat if I had too.

  2. Tim Woodruff

    Good points, I was shooting very early as well.

    If you are not interested in shooting you just wont become a good instructor.

    One cop fires 50 round a year then a very few get in at 50 a week or more.


  3. Tim Woodruff I am impressed.

    So you went to the PPC matches ran the course and outshot the cops?


    Or was it the podunk locals?
    People think they can shoot until they attend instructors school

  4. I grew up in a gun shop, and by age 13, I was outshooting police officers. Do officers make good instructors? To be honest, not really. One of the issues is the number of different firearms that are out there and keeping up with all of the different models. You have not only a need to know how a weapon shoots, but also if the shoe fits. I also have experience with machine guns, which many offers do not have. I also in my lifetime sold, handled, and shot thousands of guns. I am not saying an officer can not shoot a gun. But, rather like cars, in order to be a mechanic you need to also know how things work. And I also was an officer, and I know many officers do not go beyond their number of rounds that they are allowed by the department.

  5. Sir
    Thank for reading.

    The Llama was a 1911. Spanish steel was notoriously soft, did not hold up well at all in H P White lab testing.
    A 40 year old Colt isnt recommended but would have been of 100 per cent better steel.

    Yep, cops used to assassinate perps all the time, good story.

  6. So much to comment on. First, student brought in a 40 year old Llama. Would the writer object to a 40 year old 1911? 40 year old Spanish steel was well made, I use several. Kinda a gun snob. Secondly, a .22,.25 or .380 are mouse guns. When I started with LAPD in 1971, the most popular firearm in the south end was a .32 revolver and I saw more than one DB as a result of a shooting. Likewise .22s. Interestingly, a Policeman working 77th Division shot a suspect with a 12 gauge. Wayne Sats, investigative reporter for the LA Times, said that the officer riding in the ambulance assassinated him with a small caliber pistol. So much for buckshot. As for the, “Are cops good instructors”, are we talking combat shooting or combat shooting. Depending on the agency, cops are trained and trained on how to react to situations, and react quickly. These are the skills that should be taught to new shooters, or even good target shooters. Are all cops capable of 5his, certainly not, but I think, based on experience, a lot are

  7. @Wilburn, you state “The point is- one instructor may be as good as the other.
    But a cop with real experience has much more practical experience to add to the mix that is valuable for personal defense. His experience isnt theoretical it is real.
    For some it is simply a word salad to throw about concerning self-defense and little in the way of personal experience.”

    That is SO true, and not just in the world of cops and self-defense training. When I got out of the Army, I began working in ER while I went back to school to get my prereqs for nursing school. When I got into nursing school, I found that I had more clinical experience than some of my instructors. I had the sense to not tell them my background, unlike one of my classmates who had been an intermediate paramedic.

    During one of my clinicals, I had an instructor who failed to recognize an impending code and was surprised, even after I told her the patient was FTC (Fixing to Crash). After the code, (we saved the patient who went to ICU), she asked me how I knew what I did. She had missed a lot of what I considered to be red flags when I first saw the patient.

    Several of my instructors had book knowledge but NO clinical experience to speak of by which they could illustrate a practical application that was germane to the discussion. One thing that irritated me in nursing school was the instructors spouted facts, figures, etc, but precious few related their material to real cases they had seen, because they had almost no clinical experience.

    I began teaching while still working in ER, I became an instructor in ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support) and PALS (Pediatric Advanced Life Support). When I began teaching full time, I used as many real life examples, drawing from my experience to bring home the message, because I had learned years before that a picture painted in a student’s head would last longer in their memory than a collection of facts and figures. Drawing on 30 plus years in ER, I was able to provide innumerable scenarios from real life as to how/why things should be done in a certain way or not be done that way. I had a large number of students who returned after passing boards that they were stuck on a particular question when a lightbulb came on as they remembered one of my stories and they arrived at the answer and went on to pass boards. Just having head knowledge of any subject does not allow any instructor to pass on that kind of relevant hands-on information to their students, regardless of the material they are teaching.

    At one place, back in the 80’s, I had just started working (home health side job, not in an ER, didn’t stay there long), I had to take the American Red Cross CPR course. I was certified AHA (American Heart) but this place only wanted Red Cross (eye roll, sigh). During a demo, the instructor was telling me that she didn’t like my form and tried to get me to do it another way. I told her that I had done CPR more times than I could count and if I did it the way she wanted, I would not be able to continue for more than a few minutes. I added that I had done CPR for an hour without a break on one occasion and this was what worked for me. She was surprised and then asked me if doing CPR was different on a real person compared to a dummy. She had never done CPR on a real person. The difference is significant because every person is different and the dummy is great for learning technique, but so many people get caught up in teaching CPR on a dummy, they lose perspective as to what happens with a real person, not a dummy and it is hard for some people to translate that difference from the dummy to a real person. Seen that more times than I can count. Don’t get me wrong, I think everyone should be trained in CPR but even with “training” and “certification”, many people get it wrong and become offended when constructive redirection is offered. They do not know what they do not know. They teach to the dummy only.

    That being said, I have heard more than one gun instructor droning on and on about theory and trained technique when, for them, it was all theory and they had never walked the path that they were talking about. They could not see the difference between the dummy and a real person, only now it was guns and real life shooting. Having an instructor who has been there and walked the walk can talk the talk with far more authority than someone who has not. An instructor who does not know what he does not know is someone, in my experience, to best stay clear of, regardless of the material being taught.

  8. Steve

    You missed a point.
    It isnt about weapons it is about life training and reality.

    If anyone goes through instructors school they have been exposed to a variety of different firearms types.


  9. Thanks to all who read.

    For some the denouement escaped them.

    The point is- one instructor may be as good as the other.

    But a cop with real experience has much more practical experience to add to the mix that is valuable for personal defense. His experience isnt theoretical it is real.

    For some it is simply a word salad to throw about concerning self defense and little in the way of personal experience.

    That said I do apologize that this story did wander about and the primary focus was sometimes obscure. I let myself get caught up in memories on this one.

    Thanks for getting through the work hope you found something worthwhile.


  10. Maybe I mis it but this have nothing about a police man getting or have the training to teach. Anyone convert commands to a person. I don’t consider that an instructor. Instructors take time to instruct the person on doing the test is in front of them that is an instructor. I have 41 years in a Martial Arts 15 years and being an instructor for firearms.

  11. Wilburn,
    Haven graduated from the ranks of hard work and ole school too, your writing is spot on.
    Today it’s become a world of instant gratification, video games that make you “think” you are good. Not to say a professional simulator can’t add to one’s mind-set, but you cannot replace skill, muscle memory, technique and utmost, a solid understanding of the law. After you run twelve thousand rounds a year down range, along with teaching – yes, some cops make great instructors. Lately, I feel the pool is drying up. Too many agencies push to get vacancies filled and do not prioritize training, only mandatory qualifications. Effort Equals Results.
    If you want to be the best, you will need to do alot outside of work to make it happen. It takes years to gain the legal knowledge and mind-set to then be able to be on a range and instruct others.
    God bless those that will continue to do so, because the weight of vicarious liability rest on your shoulders.

  12. Yeah, I sorta agree. It does depend on experience. Wilburn and Bo. Things… and you don’t know what you don’t know. I’m paying for it now physically as former instructor/teacher being hit with LTL buckshot, beanbags, the PR24, expandable batons, 40mm canisters of CS, 12oz OC. Taser X26.
    But that was the norm in the day. S*** sucks however that’s what was required. It certainly ain’t no video game, if ya think it is, go play with one.

  13. Cops are not teachers and teachers are not cops.

    However, in the course of their daily duties, a cop may get an opportunity to teach and a teacher may get an opportunity to police.

    The best firearm instruction I’ve ever had was by a cop who knew how to teach. The second best instruction I’ve personally had was by a teacher who knew how to shoot, and shoot well.

    Everyone has different styles of learning and it is the intuitive teacher side of anyone doing instruction that makes the difference. I would imagine a Monday-Friday 9-5 insurance salesman may give good instruction if their communication, tactical and cognitive skills are honed well.

    Then, there are also the purposes of shooting. A great speed shooter may be awesome at teaching speed shooting, but, ineffective as a tactical instructor.

    My advice to ANYONE who wants to learn to shoot better, or shoot at all, must first decide their purpose. Target? Hunting? Self-Defense? Sport? Competition? Next, find an instructor that is best qualified to teach that skillset. Internet reviews are great, examining the instructors qualifications are great, but, most important is having a one-on-one conversation with the instructor. Is this a person that you feel confident in? Can you place your trust in that person to transfer knowledge effectively?

    I’ve walked out of training before. I’ll do it again. Not because I disagree with an instructor, but, because if I feel the trainer is ineffective in transferring knowledge, it’s a waste of my time and money.

    Before I take any class, I ask if they have a 15 or 30 minute rule. If I get an uncomfortable vibe in the first 15-30 minutes of a class, can I leave and get a full, or even a partial refund? A good instructor will honor this, almost every time. I did take a class from a former military guy who said he honors a 15 minute rule, and he spent the first 15 minutes pumping up his achievements to a point of talking down to everyone and exalting himself to god-like level. I walked out. Later, I called him to ask for my refund and he said that I was in the room for exactly 16 minutes and 20 seconds. No refund. I learned a valuable lesson that day, so I guess he wasn’t completely ineffective in his teaching. He taught me he was not an honorable man. I did get a chance to tell him he did not appear to be anything close to Colonel Jeff Cooper during my conversation, so, that alone was worth the frustration of the loss of my admission money.

    Only you know how you learn. Only you know if you’re comfortable in someone’s instruction. I stress that you should leave a pubic review of an instructor, good, bad or ugly, in articulate detail. “He’s an ass****” is not going to help others evaluate. I encourage everyone not to be afraid to ask questions. To request additional information. To discuss remediation. And to see if they offer a 15 or 30 minute rule, and if they do, and you’re not confident or comfortable, stand up, politely excuse yourself, and exit-stage right (away!)

    But, most importantly, it is paramount that you train regularly. Shooting of any kind is a perishable skill. However, because money is harder to come by these days, do good research on any trainer or training you seek, and keep training!

  14. Some of them are not good instructor n I feel like this to military people too. They was not taught how to teach they was told how to shoot.

  15. You wrote: <>. Respectfully, though, you have not presented an actual assessment. You have presented a collection of personal opinions. They may or may not be valid, but they can’t stand as fact without being supported.

  16. “So, if the cop has some gray in his hair and a few scars, he just may have some experience worth sharing.”

    Reminds me of “The Magnificent Seven” (1960). Yul Bryner and Steve McQueen were watching customers coming through the saloon doors, looking for prospective guns-for-hire for their Mexican farmer “clients”. One of the latter remarked of a rough-looking cowboy coming through: “Look at his scars!”

    The farmer’s compadre replied: “We want the man who gave him those scars.”

    As for the paragraph about edged weapons, I am reminded of the best reason to bring a gun to a knife fight: The loser of a knife fight goes to the morgue. The winner goes to the hospital.

    BTW: In the movie, James Coburn won a gunfight with his knife. Go figure.

  17. Grateful I ran across this piece. It seems the authors and my career are very much in parallel. I heartily agree with what information they have put forth. Very rare, as I find too many internet gun talkers I will be kind here, just don’t get it. Thanks to the author for this well written article.

  18. By and large cops are not the best people to instruct the general public in defensive shooting particularly once they get beyond their familiar duty weapons. The weapons they carry everyday and train with are likely well understood and most cops are proficient in their use of them. If you ever watch the TV show COPS there are plenty of examples where it’s pretty obvious the officer has just disarmed a suspect and fumbles around trying to unload the gun because he/she has obviously never seen one and/or is totally unfamiliar with it. I remember one episode where a cop was outraged over a single barrel shotgun that had a few inches cut off the barrel but was still well within the legal limit for barrel and overall length. The point being police should know the law and be well versed in a large variety of firearms if they are going teach firearms use. The same is true of former military people. Many of our great veterans never see a firearm after basic training and prior military service does not necessarily qualify them for firearms instruction. Organizations like the NRA, GOA and many others provide excellent programs to train the trainers and produce great instructors.

  19. There ARE police officers who are both excellent shots and great instructors – no doubt of that; I’ve met a few. But based on my own observations, when it comes to the general rank and file, many – perhaps most – of today’s cops are terrible shots and would make poor instructors.

  20. Wilburn, you said a mouthful when you stated, “Cops with any type of experience realize how useless small caliber (.22, .32, .380) pistols can be.” Very well said, indeed. Thank you for your voice of experience in this matter.

    And I have to add that it is not just cops, but old ER nurses who were Army medics before they became nurses, also realize how worthless those small calibers are. In more than 30 years in ER, I saw many of the failures of those rounds play out when the shooter would try to take out an assailant and were unfortunate enough to only piss off the guy sufficiently that the shootee killed the shooter, sometimes by taking the gun away from the shooter and emptying it into the original shooter before the shootee collapsed or was taken into custody where he was brought to us and we saved his life so he could spend the rest of his life in prison.

    Some of the local LEOs called those calibers The Last Bad Choice of Dead People Everywhere because in their experience (and mine) by and large, most people who used those calibers for self-defense died as a result of shooting someone with those calibers only to be killed by the shootee. As I have said, before I was an ER nurse, I was a medic on a SAR/Recon team someplace overseas some 50 years ago, and I have seen more GSW victims than anyone I know, along with many other injuries that anyone without my experience cannot begin to imagine. And no matter what anyone says, movies and television cannot begin to convey the personal trauma one experiences when faced with those situations.

    I have taken no small amount of flak from people, who not only have never seen anyone with a real GSW, but they have NEVER been fired upon or have never been forced to draw a weapon on another human being and have no clue as to the emotional impact that situation has on one’s psyche or the long term effects but they want to believe it is not as I have portrayed it. And they have told me that I just don’t understand and that is just my perspective, anecdotal as it were. Those people have never awakened in the middle of the night with their heart racing, sweat dripping from every pore because they were back there in hell and it was so real they could smell the smells of gunpowder, det cord, grenades, and hear the sounds they so wanted to forget. BT, DT. Was not a fan.

    What do I know? To them, I am just an old man who walked in places and did things they cannot imagine and they must dismiss what I say so they can live in their fantasy world where those small calibers will afford protection.

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