Every law enforcement officer has to go through a daytime firearms qualification at least once a year. Some agencies even conduct a nighttime, or low light, qualification either because they think they should or because they are required to by a higher governing authority, such as a Peace Officer Standards & Training Commission. Some police academies require recruits to pass a nighttime qualification to graduate the academy.
If a governing authority does not require an agency to conduct nighttime qualifications, then should an agency be doing it? Some instructors and administrators may look at a nighttime qualification as a shield from liability, or a way to measure proficiency after their low light training. But I would argue that the liability shield is already in place from having a daytime qualification … and you can measure a LEO’s low light skills without having a nighttime qualification.
Nighttime qualifications are not important because they measure a minimum level of proficiency with a firearm and illumination tool. Qualifications are not a measure or representation of how well an officer will perform in a gunfight because there are too many factors in a gunfight that can not be replicated in a qualification.
Here are two reasons why an agency should NOT conduct nighttime qualifications, if the option is available …
- Qualification is not training, it’s a test. Therefore instructors can not provide coaching to improve shooters during the qualification … that would be cheating. It’s a waste of valuable training time where instructors could be coaching to improve shooters.
- If a LEO fails the nighttime qualification, is the agency prepared to pull them from enforcement duties until they can pass? What if the LEO passed the daytime qualification? Having two different firearms qualifications with different standards can complicate these issues.
Agencies with an indoor range can create a low light environment any time of the day year-round. So completing low light training every year is relatively easy. However, agencies with an outdoor range are often restricted to conducting low light training during winter months when it gets darker earlier in the evening. And, many agencies have time frame restrictions on how late they can shoot at night out of courtesy to surrounding communities. So, when an agency is limited on how much low light training they can accomplish in a year the last thing they should be doing with their precious training time is conducting nighttime qualifications.
Is a nighttime qualification really a liability shield? Let’s look at a large agency over a 20-year period that averaged approximately 20 officer involved shootings (OIS) per year. I graduated the Arizona Law Enforcement Academy in 1994. I had to pass a handgun nighttime qualification to graduate. That is still the standard today. However, AZ POST does NOT require an officer to complete a nighttime qualification every year to maintain their peace officer status. So, during my 22 year career with Phoenix PD I was never required to complete a nighttime qualification with a pistol. In addition, the agency’s shotgun program never had a nighttime qualification … only a daytime qualification. And, after doing some research and consulting our legal unit and my chain of command, I eliminated the nighttime qualification from the patrol rifle program. If we didn’t need it for pistols or shotguns, then we were not going to waste precious training time doing nighttime qualifications with rifles.
As I mentioned before, Phoenix PD averaged approximately 20 officer involved shootings per year during my career (and a record of 44 shootings in 2018). Many of the shootings occurred at night and involved pistols, shotguns, and/or rifles. So, if the lack of a nighttime qualification ever came up as a “sticking point” in a civil litigation, then Phoenix PD would have changed policy and require a nighttime qualification on these weapon systems … but that never happened over a 22 year period. Why is that? I suspect it’s because lawyers only care if the officers are currently qualified on the weapon system … not whether it’s a daytime or a nighttime qualification … but that’s my opinion. I encourage firearms instructor and administrators to do their own research and consult their legal unit.
Remember, case law only addresses the need for low light training … not a nighttime qualification. The need to conduct a nighttime qualification is something our community has imposed on ourselves for decades … because that’s the way it’s always been. Training time is precious and valuable … it’s often an outcry by firearms instructors that they don’t get enough of it. Well, don’t waste it doing something that’s not needed.
Train hard and stay safe!
Jason Wuestenberg is the executive director of the National Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors Association (NLEFIA). Jason retired as a sergeant from the Phoenix Police Dept (AZ) in 2017 after 22+ years of service. Jason has been a firearms instructor since 1997 and has obtained over 20 LE instructor certifications over his career. Jason served as a full time firearms instructor for over 10 years with the last six years as a rangemaster. Jason was a firearms subject matter expert (SME) for Arizona POST and has conducted firearms instructor development training at the state, national, and international level. Jason can be contacted at [email protected]