The Arizona Republic 15 Feb 2017 JENNA MILLER
Help for police: Smart Firearms, a Tempe-based company, designs and manufactures police training weapons that are growing in popularity.  The goal is to cut down on accidental firings.

Kevin McCullar (left) and Tyler Pappas use Smart Firearms training weapons in a “clear the room” drill at
Chandler Gilbert Community College.

When under stress, people react in predictable ways. Pulses rise. Adrenaline spikes. And, fists clench.
It’s that last response that concerns Mike Farrell and is the reason why four years ago he created a new product with safety in mind.  Farrell is the founder of Smart Firearms, a Tempe-based company that designs and manufactures police training weapons. These training weapons are growing in popularity, with 300 weapons sold in just January of this year, already more than half the total sales last year.  Costing between $150 and $400, Smart Firearms are used in many of the police training programs in Phoenix, from college law enforcement programs to the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department.  The goal is to cut down on accidental firings, a harmful and costly problem in police departments. Accidental firings can occur when an officer’s hand accidently clenches with their finger on the trigger, either due to stress or sympathetic reflex. The latter is a natural tendency for both hands to do the same thing. If an officer makes a fist or grabs an offender with one hand, the other hand will want to close as well.  The simple solution is to train officers to keep their fingers along the side of the gun until they are ready to shoot. But it’s not as easy as it sounds.
“From the time you were five years old and you looked up at a James Bond poster, or anything like that, where does everyone have their finger on a firearm?” explained Farrell. “It’s never where it should be, it’s always right on the trigger.”  So Smart Firearms react with a beeping sound when the user rests his or her finger on the trigger without the intention to shoot. This is a sharp and immediate notice to trainee and supervisor that something is wrong.
Like many products, Smart Firearms was born out of a gap in the marketplace. Officers practiced beginning gun-handling using hard plastic molded into the general shape of a gun. Many still train this way, but it isn’t very precise. And John Terpay, Director of Chandler Gilbert Community College Law Enforcement Academy, says it doesn’t teach important gun-handling habits.
“What you do in the real world is what you’ve done based on the training,” said Terpay, who uses 30 Smart Firearms in his training program with each class of recruits. “It doesn’t make sense for us to have molded guns . ... It’s unrealistic.”
Maricopa Sheriff’s Department deputies Rod Jackson and Jeff Hall believe that molded plastic guns have a place in training. They are cheap and can take a lot of daily abuse.
However, in combination with these plastic models they use Smart Firearms, as well as other training devices. They say the department is focusing on more than just how well recruits can hit the target.
“The thing always discussed when you think of firearms is, ‘how well can I shoot?’” Jackson said. “Our philosophy here at the Sheriff’s Office is that the mind-set, the gun-handling skills and the marksmanship all carry the same weight.”
Learning police department needs was imperative as Farrell began his new business. Without a background in gun manufacturing, he relied on feedback from customers.
“What we found is from a manufacturing point of view you really don’t need a whole lot of expertise in the field to do well,” Farrell said. “You really just need to figure out a way to get them to tell you their problems.”
Smart Firearm’s first big break was getting a contract with the New York Police Department. Farrell said the guns were so new, he worried they weren’t up for the task. But the NYPD loved the idea, and had plenty of suggestions to make it better.

The stories below are presented not to point out any individual officers or departments. The fact is we all know someone who has been involved in a negligent discharge. You will read of rookies and veteran SWAT Officers, military recruits and Special Forces. The circumstances are varied but the last crucial link in the chain of all these events was an unwanted trigger pull.

Police departments throughout the country are using a unique training tool that was invented by a Tempe man. He calls it the Smart Firearm. "It's extremely important that our weapons are molded exactly like the live weapons," Mike Farrell, president of Smart Firearms Training Devices, explained He created the training weapon, which looks and feels comparable to a real gun, for law enforcement after seeing a need for a better tool. "What we do is have a weapon with a sensor suite built into that trigger guard, so people are forced to keep their finger indexed along the side of the weapon until they're ready to discharge that weapon," Farrell said. Those sensors provide immediate feedback. If a cadet moves his or her finger off the frame of the gun and onto the trigger before he or she is ready to fire, an alarm sounds signaling that a correction is needed. The idea, Farrell says, is to build proper muscle memory. "So, when they transition to live weapons, they're basically good to go; they're a safe shooter at that time," said Farrell, himself a firearms instructor. The smart gun is a huge improvement over the other simulated guns that police academies have used or still use. Those guns are simply plastic molded into the shape of a firearm, but there are no trigger and no sound effects. In fact, in various training scenarios, when cadets want to simulate firing, they have to make their own sound effect, saying, "Bang, bang," something Farrell calls shocking. "This is real training, 21st century, happening at police departments all over America," he said. He firmly believes poor training tools contribute to accidental shootings by officers. "If we count just law enforcement, we're looking at two accidents a day, and a lot of it goes back to the plastic training weapons that are being used in most training institutions, civilian and law enforcement that don't do anything," Farrell said his company is looking to change that. Farrell's training guns, each of which has a movable trigger, removable magazine, warning sensor and laser, are being used by nearly 100 departments across the country and locally, too. Instructors at Chandler-Gilbert Community College's Law Enforcement Training Academy were among Farrell's first customers. "It's very nice having this tool," Lt. Mike Bellows, a class supervisor, said. Bellows, who in addition to teaching at the academy works at the Mesa Police Department, says not only does it reinforce proper training for cadets but it also helps instructors be more effective. "In a place where I can't get a good eye on what my recruit is doing, this gives me that immediate response on whether he's doing his job or not," Bellows explained. Smart Firearms is still a young company, but Farrell, who has been a volunteer law enforcement officer since 2005, says he and his team have already seen an impact at departments that use the smart gun. "I use Smart Firearm weapons in my concealed carry class," NRA instructor Julianna Crowder said in a testimonial on Smart Firearms' website. "I start every class by laying the training pistols and wait to hear the alarm go off. From there it is a great transition into a discussion on the importance of trigger finger discipline." That "'trigger finger discipline" is exactly what Farrell created the Smart Firearm to teach. "On our count, based on what we've tracked, we've probably averted over 600 accidental discharges everywhere in the country with law enforcement," he said. Smart Firearms also is constantly improving the gun, too. Farrell says that's due largely to feedback provided by top-notch department instructors. With their input, Smart Firearms is on its third generation of the training gun.