Recruits take aim

May 06, 2002|BY JULIE E. GREENE

Editor's note: This is the sixth in a series of occasional Sunday stories about eight local recruits in the Western Maryland Police Training Academy. Leading up to graduation in June, The Herald-Mail will introduce readers to the recruits and the tasks they face on the road to earning badges.

As Ricky Whittington stood 3 feet in front of the silhouette target shooting .40-caliber bullets, he wasn't pretending the paper target was anything but paper.

Whittington, a Washington County Sheriff's Department recruit, was just trying to work on the improvements suggested by the firearms instructors with the Western Maryland Police Training Academy.

The 17 recruits began training last Tuesday with their service weapons at the shooting range east of Smithsburg and will continue this week.


A former military police officer, Whittington, 27, of Hagerstown, already knows what it is like to shoot at someone.

During a six-month assignment in Panama he fired his shotgun once into a crowd of rioting Cuban refugees from about 10 feet away to disperse the crowd. The refugees were throwing rocks 4 inches in diameter at MPs trying to lock the fence to the refugee camp.

"We were trying to secure the fence. Every time we tried to lock it, they hit us with poles," Whittington said.

Whittington doesn't know whether the buckshot he fired hit anyone.

He's never been shot.

On Wednesday, the firearms instructors taught recruits not only how to shoot, but how to avoid being shot. They yelled at the recruits to get behind the narrow plank being used as a barricade and told them to run for cover if their gun ever jammed.

"I think the main thing about shooting a gun is practice, practice, practice," Whittington said. "The more you practice, the better you're going to be."

Shoot to kill?

The recruits took turns firing at six bulls-eye or FBI Q targets from 3 and 7 feet and from 15 and 25 feet behind a wooden plank. An FBI Q target is a silhouette, shaped like a bowling pin with the letter Q in the center. The target gets recruits used to aiming at an area the size of someone's heart and lungs.

"Shoot to kill? No. We shoot until the threat is over," said firearms instructor Ernie Stoner with Hagerstown Police. That threat could be a suspect firing a gun or threatening with a knife or other weapon.

Once the threat is over, officers are to render aid and take the suspect into custody, Stoner said.

Whittington said he was taught that police and suspects are 3 to 7 feet from each other during most firefights.

If Whittington ever has to fire his weapon at a suspect close up, he knows it won't be easy. But, he wants to make sure he makes it home to his wife and three sons.

"Your ultimate goal, when you go to work, is to come home safely," Whittington said.

The recruits practiced shooting with their dominant hand and weak hand. They will shoot in a low-light dusk this week.

They took part in malfunction drills so they wouldn't panic if their gun jammed on the job. They practiced changing magazines at eye level so they could keep the suspect within view.

Round after round being fired off sounded like fireworks popping.

When Whittington fired his Beretta it had a slight kick, just enough to raise the wrist a little. It was nothing like the exaggerated recoils seen on television.

'Be aggressive'

Hagerstown Police Officer Todd Dunkle told the recruits they shouldn't lean back when firing their weapons because they could be in a potential combat situation.

"If you're drawing your gun, it's a combat situation," Dunkle said. "Be aggressive."

Whittington wasn't leaning back so much as he was leaning forward when firing.

He was anticipating his shots and slapping the trigger - the two most common problems the recruits were having, Hagerstown Police Sgt. Mike King said.

By anticipating his shots, Whittington was leaning forward slightly, causing him to shoot low.

If Whittington stood erect when firing, he would "be more accurate, and accuracy is what counts," King told him.

During Whittington's next round of firing his accuracy improved as he concentrated on not leaning forward.

To pass this Tuesday's qualification test, the recruits must score 210 out of 300 three consecutive times. Each time they will fire 60 rounds. Each round within the target is worth five points, and time will be a factor.

On Wednesday the recruits were encouraged to focus on their accuracy rather than quickness.

After scoring 215 his first day on the range, Whittington twice scored 190 on Wednesday. On Thursday, he fired 245, 245 and 265. His best score was Friday's 280.

The recruits used their service weapons, which for the Sheriff's Department is a Beretta Model 96D, Whittington said.

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