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At home on the range

Officers face annual firearms qualification

Officers face annual firearms qualification

September 21, 2004|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

SMITHSBURG - Sitting in lawn chairs and tending a bonfire, members of the Washington County Sheriff's Department and Hagerstown Police Department showed no signs of stress as they waited their turns to take a shot at keeping their firearms.

During a few days this month, police from the two agencies met at a shooting range near Smithsburg to be tested on their shooting skills, the first time the departments have combined shooting courses for the annual test.

City Police Lt. Mike King said that combining the departments on a shooting course allows the forces to have more firearms instructors, who act as extra eyes on the range, and allows the departments to share information on tactics.

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To pass the test, city police, regardless of their rank, must make at least 70 percent of their shots within a targeted area.

Officers who don't make the mark lose their firearms, are placed on administrative leave and receive remedial training to help them refine their aim, said King, firearms coordinator for the Hagerstown Police Department.

"Almost every year we have someone who doesn't do it," he said. This year, four city police officers didn't qualify, he said. "They have since done what they needed to do," King said Monday.

They did remedial training and then shot the course three times in a row, each time getting at least 70 percent, he said.

If a member of the sheriff's department, regardless of rank, fails to make 70 percent of the shots within the target, the department tries to find the problem and correct it, said Cpl. Jay Rowland, a sheriff's department firearms instructor. He said that members of the sheriff's department then are allowed to take the test again within 30 days, but if they don't qualify on their second attempt, the Maryland Police Training Commission is notified, he said. He said that no one failed the test this year.

Officer Wayne Hose, who shot 98 percent with his handgun, said he's been shooting guns since he was 15 years old and is fortunate that he's never had a problem qualifying at the range.

Although Deputy Arnold Cerezo said he gets nervous on written tests, he said he likes shooting guns and doesn't see qualifying as a test.

Aside from the barrage of gunfire, the mood on the range was relaxed. Officers wearing bulletproof vests and protective earphones either sat in canvas lawn chairs or stood around talking, watching as others took aim at their targets or tending a bonfire that blew smoke above the officers standing in the course.

Deputy Matthew Bragunier, who improved his score from last year, said he practiced before coming to the range, noticed that he was oversqueezing the trigger and corrected the problem before being tested.

Scores are reported to the Maryland Police Training Commission, which dictates that officers get one try at the course, and do not get to practice at the range beforehand, King said. Some officers and deputies also were tested on their use of shotguns and off-duty weapons.

Under a gray sky, about six Hagerstown Police Department officers faced off three yards away from their targets - gray bowling pin-shaped images simulating torsos that were tacked on wooden frames. With their arms dangling at their sides as if they were interviewing a person standing in front of them, they unsnapped their holsters on command and fired twice within four seconds of allotted time.

All timed sequences, the officers fired with their weak hands at seven yards and then backed up to 15 yards and 25 yards, where they were required to perform such tasks as changing magazines between fire and firing from behind a wooden post that simulated a wall or barrier. If officers used more bullets than allotted or fired beyond a stop whistle, points were deducted from their scores, King said.

Although Hagerstown Officer Jeff Pepple's handgun's decock mechanism sometimes slipped when he fired, he said he "still managed to get the shots off" and scored 92 percent. He said he lost only a second or two each time that happened.

"It's always a relief" when the test is over, Pepple said.

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