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While still a young patrol officer with Norman, Sheriff Todd Gibson remembers responding to a call where a man was wielding a knife. Gibson had recently undergone a high level of firearms training and qualified for the SWAT Team. A potentially deadly encounter resulted in the man putting down the knife because Gibson stayed calm, assessed the situation, and de-escalated the potential conflict.
“That night, I realized the confidence that comes from appropriate training saves lives,” Gibson said. “When I became sheriff, I knew that training was key to keeping our deputies and members of the public safe. Confidence and proficiency resulting from training lead to good choices.”
Now the deputies under his leadership are benefitting from Gibson’s experience as they are trained on new state of the art Gen 5 Glock handguns. The Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office is the first agency in the state to implement this particular weapon system with the Trijicon Ruggedized Miniature Reflex (RMR) sight and the results have been telling.
This cutting-edge technology employing the RMR which uses a red dot for sighting, freeing deputies from the need to focus through traditional iron sights which can be more limiting.
Deputy Rafael Hernandez recently tested as one of CCSO’s top shooters, but in 2017 when Hernandez was promoted from detention officer to deputy, he struggled with the firearms requirements.
“I didn’t qualify [with firearms] at CLEET,” he said. “I had to get remedial training and then go back and qualify.”
There were also financial challenges.
“We were required to purchase our own firearm, ammo and holster,” Hernandez said. “I spent about $500 on the firearm and everything the firearm entails.”
Gibson took over as sheriff shortly after Hernandez received his commission. In 2019, Gibson hired retired Norman Police Rangemaster Shon Elroy to train CCSO employees, and, by November, Gibson also purchased firearms and gear for the deputies.
“I was nervous and I was concerned about qualifying with the new handgun because it had that new RMR system on it,” Hernandez said.
Deputies were given special transitional training to qualify them on the new handguns and make them comfortable with the new holsters and equipment. The sighting method is very different because a red dot appears on the target, and the deputy stays focused on that target instead of focusing through iron sights.
“The red dot allows our deputies to keep their focus on a suspect and the field of view in front of them,” Gibson said. “With that focus, they can see how the suspect is behaving and if anyone, such as an innocent bystander, is approaching. That focus is safer for the deputy because it increases accuracy, but it is also safer for the public.”
Hernandez and others discovered that the red dot methodology and training increased accuracy making it easier for deputies to hit their marks and qualify.
“Prior to the training, Shon [Elroy] gave us homework,” Hernandez said. “I was worried it would be even more difficult, but it was actually helpful.”
That homework included readings and watching video.
“By using multiple platforms — reading, video, and a variety of challenges on the firing range — we are able to tap into a wide span of learning styles,” Elroy said. “It’s important that training focuses on skills that will enable the deputy to be successful. The more confident a deputy is in his or her skills, the less likely the deputy will overcompensate and use excessive force or fail to engage.”
Elroy said while Hernandez’ improvement was more dramatic than some, he’s not surprised at the results.
“One of the biggest frustrations teaching firearms is trying to get students to understand is the basic concept of trigger control,” Elroy said. “It can be especially difficult under the old system where they had to concentrate on sight alignment and sight picture as well as trigger control.” Elroy said the new weapon system allows students to pay more attention to improving trigger control.
“The student can actually see what we mean about trigger control through dry fire and live fire drills” Elroy said.
With the RMR sights, deputies are able to see whether the suspect is giving up at the last second or continuing to be a threat.
“One of the benefits of the new firearm and sighting system is the ability to maintain focus on the target,” Elroy said. “On the street that translates to being able to focus on the suspect and allows deputies to make better decisions. This simple ability to stay focused on the suspect has the potential to save lives whether of the deputy, the public or the suspect.”
On the gun range, Hernandez and 69 other deputies got the full impact of the new technology combined with training.
“I was pleasantly surprised that it was way easier than I had anticipated,” Hernandez said. “The holster was not an issue, and the red dot made it easier to qualify. The training given by Shon and the others was one of the most pleasant training courses that I’ve been in.”
That success boosted Hernandez’s confidence with his weapon and that’s a good thing, Gibson said.
“When deputies feel confident with their ability, their training and their weapons, they are less likely to make mistakes that cost lives,” Gibson said. “The result is better overall safety for the deputy and the public.”
Not only did Hernandez qualify, he shot well enough to earn a marksmanship pin as one of the agency’s top shooters. To earn that, a deputy must shoot a 92 or above in multiple qualifying courses which also includes a night fire course.
“I didn’t shoot anything under a 96,” Hernandez said. “This whole course was not one of those deals where they throw you in, yell at you and expect you to qualify. It was actual training.”
Check out our You Tube video on the new handguns. Just click on the photo.