The Effectiveness of Simulated Firearms Training for Correctional Officer Recruits

Research Highlights: Simulated firearms training produces comparable outcomes to live fire training for Correctional Officer Recruits.


Why we did this study

Simulated firearms training has recently been piloted by the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) for Correctional Officer recruits. This innovative training method involves the use of laser-based technology in a simulated environment, and has effectively been utilized in military and law enforcement settings. Unlike live fire training, no ammunition is required and can result in increased safety, more efficient training and cost savings for organizations.

The purpose of this study was to determine the effectiveness of 9mm pistol training delivered in a simulated environment, in comparison to the traditional method of live fire training.

What we did

An experimental group of CSC Correctional Officer recruits who received only simulated firearms training were compared to a control group who received primarily live fire training. Outcomes related to theoretical understanding, accuracy, as well as safety and handling were compared between groups during benchmark sessions and final qualification examinations. Individual related characteristics and anxiety levels were also explored to determine their influence on qualification outcomes.

What we found

Recruits trained in a simulated environment had significantly lower scores on accuracy at the second benchmark session and final qualification. Despite these differences in scores, the overall pass/fail rates did not differ between training modalities. In other terms, there were no differences between the experimental or the control group in meeting the shooting standard. Ultimately, the proportion of recruits passing and failing training has more resource implications than scores on individual evaluation components.

Recruits trained using simulated firearms had higher scores on safety and handling at the final qualification examination, compared to their counterparts. For the simulated firearms group, additional classroom time was dedicated to teaching recruits the firearms manipulations required to meet safety and handling requirements. It appears that the modification made to classroom time was adequate to ensure that recruits gained a comprehensive understanding of firearms manipulations, and were able to apply this knowledge in a live fire setting.

The recruit’s gender and grip strength demonstrated the strongest correlations with most of the accuracy components of the evaluations. These variables often had more influence on qualification outcomes than the type of training. No differences were observed in Somatic Anxiety or Cognitive Anxiety between recruits who received simulated firearms training and recruits who received primarily live fire training. However, recruits trained in the simulated firearms environment reported lower levels of Self-Confidence at each of the evaluation sessions. Despite this, the recruits still met the qualification standard to pass each of the evaluations.

What it means

The findings of this study suggest that simulated firearms training may be an appropriate alternative or addition to existing training for correctional officer recruits. This training modality offers a viable option to facilitate and reduce costs for CSC’s firearms training program.

The ideal combination of simulated firearms and live fire training remains to be determined, as the opportunity exists to balance classroom time, simulated firearms and live fire training to optimize positive outcomes for recruits. Future research will also examine the extent to which firearms skills are retained one year after training and if skill retention differs between type of training received.

For more information

Hanby, L & Selvendren, L. (2018). The Effectiveness of Simulated Firearms Training for Correctional Officer Recruits (Research Report R-408). Ottawa, Ontario: Correctional Service of Canada.

To obtain a PDF version of the full report, or for other inquiries, please e-mail the Research Branch or contact us by phone at (613) 995-3975.

You can also visit the Research Publications section for a full list of reports and one-page summaries.

Date modified: