Citizens Awareness Academy

Auburn police give academy a shot at their guns

Carrying a heavy weight of responsibility
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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Editor’s note: Journal Staff Reporter Jon Schultz is taking part in the Auburn Police Department’s Citizens’ Awareness Academy and will be writing about his weekly experiences in Sunday’s Journal.

When I laced up my running shoes to go to the shooting range for the Auburn Police Department’s Citizens Awareness Academy, I opted to go with them over my standard dress shoes, because those just would have felt wrong.

It turned out to be a good choice when range instructor Sgt. David Neher asked me if I run.

“A little, I guess?” I was hoping he wasn’t looking for a moving target.

Neher wanted to demonstrate the importance of officers being able to quickly draw their pistol and put two shots on target. Lined up even with him, he had me take off in a dead sprint in the opposite direction from the target he faced. How far could I get before he unholstered his Glock 42 semi-automatic pistol and fired two shots at the green paper man?

After a few strides, I hear two pops and stop in my tracks, surprised at how quickly he could act – and would have to if, for instance, someone had been charging at him with a knife.

“You were close to 40 feet, and I try to stay proficient with drawing with my duty weapon and being out here, and you saw how much ground you can cover,” Neher said. “So, obviously each situation is dynamic and different and it can pose different threats.”

Along with giving us some basic training on the duty firearms the Auburn Police Department uses and allowing us to fire them, Neher explained the importance of safety and the amount of training officers go through.

Since Neher joined the Auburn force in 2008, the department has not had an officer-involved shooting, so it constantly has to remain prepared for that potential situation, despite it not happening here for at least five years.

One way they do that is by conducting scenarios like Neher had done with me in the run-and-shoot drill.

“A lot of times what we’ll do is we’ll take the scenarios or local shootings from local agencies that they were involved with officer involved shootings, we’ll get with their range instructors and … kind of simulate that situation,” he said. “Like with what you and I did (or) … whether it’s a traffic stop with an individual shooting from inside the vehicle and you’re approaching, we want to replicate that so it gives officers an idea of what to expect, because an officer can’t shoot real bullets at them and there’s no real practice for a situation like that.”

Before Saturday’s day at the range, I had never fired a gun of any sort. As for the rest of the citizens’ group, several had been recreational experience, one man described himself as an avid shooter, and there had been a few rookies, like myself.

As Neher described the weapons, I admit I felt nerves in the pit of my stomach.

With all the national debates about gun control, I’ve followed the issue, but never felt the cold metal, the heavy weight of the firearm and the overwhelming sense of responsibility when one is placed in your hands for the first time.

Once I stepped to the range and loaded the ammunition, my mind set shifted to accuracy, and in that sense I could see how target shooting would be an engaging sport. I had the best luck with the pistol – maybe too much because Neher then gave me a skills challenge in front of the group.

With the AR 15 semi-automatic rifle, I was to fire seven rounds slowly and as precisely as I could, then shoot the other seven rapidly – resulting in a couple shots missing the mark and the others scattered as I struggled to maintain accuracy with the repeated recoil.

Then there was the Remington 870 shotgun. I had anticipated the strong kickback so much that I forgot to keep my eye on the sight, and had to ask the instructor whether it had been a hit or miss.

While my shotgun marksmanship had been suspect at best, the new rounds used by Auburn police are aimed at increased accuracy.

Neher explained that Auburn police switched to new shotgun ammo, called Federal Flight Control, around a year ago, one that produces a tighter grouping of pellets and less recoil than the past style of cartridge – resulting in greater accuracy.

He demonstrated the difference for us, shooting once from 25 feet with the new style, compared to a shot from the same distance with the old ammo.

The result: One hole about an inch and a half  in diameter for the new style compared to a loose spread of holes and two missing the target using the other type of cartridge.

Auburn is one of only a few police agencies statewide that has made that switch, Neher said.

I left with a greater appreciation for the training the officers undergo, as well as the sense of responsibility that comes with carrying a firearm.

“They call it perishable skill training because essentially that’s what firearms training is,” Neher said. “If you’re not out here and doing this on a consistent basis, you’re going to start noticing that your skills will diminish.

“It’s cliché, but practice makes perfect.”


Jon Schultz can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews