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Internal Casualty Collection Point or Rescue Teams? Integrating Police and Fire/EMS Within the Active Shooter Response

by George on August 16, 2014 09:55

Active Shooter events will likely be with us forever.  If it is not the mentally ill seeking a sense of aggrandizement or revenge, it will be the Salafist bent on the world caliphate (and, unfortunately, our Mumbai and Beslan experiences are coming) or some other form of terrorist act (or act of war).  In the past, the response has been seen solely as a law enforcement response.  It was law enforcement’s job to get to the scene as early as possible to stop the suspect from harming any additional victims.  After the scene was determined to be completely safe—often taking more one-hour—firefighters and/or their EMS counterparts were then permitted access to the victims who had been bleeding and dying from the moment of being shot.

Recognition is growing that the Fire Service with its Emergency Medical Services (EMS) capabilities brings life-saving skills that are just as necessary to preserve life as that of stopping the suspect’s rampage.  Active shooter incidents now become a “Public Safety” response, integrating the police and fire/EMS services into an efficient and highly effective reply to any criminal mass casualty incident.  How Public Safety responds to this high casualty incident means the difference between life and death for not only those victims who have not yet been shot or injured, but also for those who are wounded and facing life-threatening injuries.

In any response method, time has proven that the less complexity a method involves, the more likely it will work.  Simplicity equals reproducibility.  Complexity creates friction, and friction is the enemy of operational success.  Likewise, a system of response that is highly intuitive and requires personnel to operate within their existing skill and knowledge sets is more likely to be successful.  A response method should be selected based upon its initial degree of training difficulty and expense, as well as the intensity and cost of sustainment training necessary to maintain the capability of personnel to effectively respond.  

 
Two Primary Response Methods

There are two primary methods of integration being implemented across the country:  The use of a secure Internal Casualty Collection Point (CCP) in a “warm zone” inside the structure, or the use of Rescue Teams (RT, sometimes referred to as a “Rescue Task Force”) to bring the wounded out of the structure to a CCP in a cold zone.  

  •  Internal CCP:  This is a proven life-saving option where the wounded are quickly moved to a secure area within the structure for purposes of quickly assessing and categorizing (triage), rapid control of bleeding or clearing of air passages (treatment), and delivering that person to a definitive medical care facility (emergency surgery in an operating room) as quickly as possible (transport).  Fire personnel, escorted by armed police as security, enter the secure CCP and implement their Mass Casualty Incident (MCI) protocols to process and transport the most critically wounded as quickly as possible to life-saving care. 
  • RT:  The team consists of 2-4 police officers and 2 paramedics who are trained to move as a team into a cleared hot zone (although proponents of the RT state that the team operates in a warm zone, the requirement of ballistic armor and moving through cleared but unsecured areas argue against that assessment).  As the team encounters wounded individuals, the paramedics stabilize and then transport the injured person in a tactical manner to a CCP that is secure, generally outside of the structure.  The team then re-enters the structure, tactically clearing its way to the next victim where the team’s efforts are repeated until the structure is cleared of wounded. 

Time is the enemy of the Active Shooter response.  The more time the suspect has privacy and can safely hunt his victims, the greater number of casualties there will be.  And the longer it takes to get the wounded to definitive medical care, the more who will suffer a preventable death.  Both methods operate under the same time constraints:  some of the wounded will die no matter what type of medical intervention they receive.  Most of those who will inevitably die will expire within minutes of being shot.  Others who are seriously injured may die from uncontrolled blood loss even though they might be saved by early surgical intervention (e.g., the TSA agent who was murdered on November 1, 2013 at Los Angeles International Airport).  Others can tolerate delays of hours before their injuries are life-threatening.  It is the group of the seriously injured who will benefit most from life-saving represented by the efficient and effective integrated police-fire response.

 

Internal CCP, or Rapid Response & Treatment Method (R2TM) Dual Priorities

The R2TM response employs an integrated response of police and fire/EMS to achieve simultaneous dual life-saving priorities:

  • The rapid response by police to mitigate the imminent threat to life of the suspect(s).
  • The mitigation of the wounded through the safe and rapid introduction of fire/EMS personnel into the scene to begin early Mass Casualty Incident (MCI) protocols resulting in the rapid transport of the injured.

How the R2TM response works

The R2TM program operates under the concept of a time-limited response.  Upon notification of a criminal mass casualty incident in-progress, on-duty officers immediately respond and make entry, swarming the structure through multiple ingress points.  These officers, singly and in small teams of two or three (as officers begin arriving simultaneously) quickly move toward threat indicators (shots, victims fleeing, etc.), generally to the last reported position of the suspect.  The intent is to mitigate the threat of the suspect, to control corridors and key architectural access points, and limit the mobility of the suspect(s), denying access to additional victims.

Fire personnel simultaneously stage nearby.  Two crews merge into one apparatus with their MCI trauma gear.  The first arriving apparatus delivers two fire lieutenants and six to eight firefighter/EMTs/paramedics.  Depending upon the initial intelligence as to the number injured, this can expand to another—or even several—apparatus with combined crews. 

What is at first a very limited number of responding officers who are moving toward the indicators of threat or the last reported position of the suspect(s) typically becomes a wave of officers who are responding from more distant beats and nearby jurisdictions.  This typically occurs within 5-7 minutes of the first officer entry.  This late-arriving wave of officers transitions from suspect mitigation to victim life-saving tasks. 

  • A police supervisor takes and secures a Forward Operating Base (FOB) within the structure.  Security is established by up to three officers.  The FOB permits better utilization of interior resources prior to the establishment of the Unified Command (UC).  The FOB supervisor coordinates responding officers, directing responding officers to either make entry or, when there are sufficient numbers of officers involved in suspect mitigation efforts, to respond to Fire Staging.  It is likely the FOB will transition into the Casualty Collection Point (CCP).
  • Responding officers not already involved in suspect mitigation efforts now report to fire staging to act as “Fire Security Teams.”  These security teams will provide security during ingress of fire personnel into the CCP.
  • A hasty Unified Command is created by the linking up of a Battalion Chief and Watch Commander or shift supervisor.  This occurs at the Fire Stage location.

As the location of the suspect is narrowed down, some officers pursuing mitigation efforts will become redundant.  These as well as additional officers entering at this point transition their focus of efforts to life-saving efforts for the wounded.  As soon as the location of the CCP is declared by the FOB/CCP supervisor, they begin moving the wounded to the secured CCP in the warm zone.  If there is uncontrolled bleeding, the officers may tourniquet the wound before dragging or carrying the patient to the CCP.

Firefighters, escorted by armed officers, make entry into the CCP, ideally within 10-15 minutes of the first officer’s entry.  Ambulances are brought forward even as suspect mitigation efforts continue, protected by the officers on the security teams.  Fire implements its Mass Casualty Incident (MCI) Protocols, a process they are expert in and require no additional training to perform well.

The CCP concept is a functional option for many practical reasons:

  • Police and fire remain in their respective skill and experience swim lanes.  There is very little cross-training required.  Initial training focuses on a slight paradigm shift for officers.  While traditional police Active Shooter response training has solely focused on locating and stopping the threat, police are quickly trained on requirements for establishing an effective CCP for fire/EMS to conduct their MCI.  Other than this nod to extra-police duties, the disciplines—and their training—remain intact.  Police mitigate the suspect’s threat (verify he is down by suicide or third-party action, shoot him, verify he has barricaded or has fled).  Police conduct security efforts to protect fire personnel as they transition inside to the warm zone/CCP and as they conduct their MCI protocols.  As we’ve seen in incident after incident, officers carry and drag the wounded when EMS is delayed—the CCP concept formalizes this naturally occurring behavior, requiring armed officers to transition the wounded to the CCP.  While suspect mitigation efforts are on-going, firefighters enter the warm zone (without the need of ballistic protection) and conduct their MCI.  Protected by police security teams, ambulances pull up to the CCP entrance to receive the wounded ready for transport and are transported to a definitive care facility.
  • It is intuitive.  Once the concept is explained to line, supervisory, management, and command personnel, the concept becomes intuitive, lessening the degree of training perishability that is inherent in any response method.  As solutions become more complicated, perishability increases, creating a greater need for recurring training and greater budget expenditures.  There are no formations to learn and forget for either the police or fire.
  • The CCP concept is proven.  The early establishment of the CCP is a proven concept in military combat operations and permits rapid triage, treatment, and transport for the wounded.  If 18-year olds in combat can understand and function with this concept, police officers will easily function and make it work.  The 2011 shooting of Congresswoman Gabriel Giffords along with the six dead and 12 additional wounded is an example.  A married doctor and nurse already on-scene immediately set up triage, and because the location was in a parking lot, fire personnel and ambulances had immediate access to the wounded.  Congresswoman Giffords was operated on within 53 minutes of being shot, saving her life.The early establishment of the hasty UC is likely.  Unified Command between police and fire is facilitated and established as early as the two field command elements can respond to the Fire Stage location.  This is an established priority for this response method.
  • Unified Command is not required for suspect mitigation efforts, the CCP to be identified, or for patient transfer to the secure CCP.  While Unified Command is vital to the success of the overall response, it is not required for suspect mitigation efforts, the formation of Fire Security Teams, establishing a Fire Stage (where two fire companies merge with all of their MCI gear into one apparatus), or  establishing a secure CCP.  The UC is not critical to initial police life-saving efforts until the release point where fire is permitted to make entry into the CCP while protected by the security teams.  The UC gives fire permission to make entry, complying with fire protocols within the Incident Command System (ICS).
  • The Incident Command System becomes a function of facilitation rather than an obstacle to life-saving.  Initiall responding officers make independent entry into the structure singly or in twos or threes.  As additional officers arrive there becomes an obvious point where additional personnel are not necessary to suspect mitigation efforts.  Some who are inside the structure will turn to patient transfer to the CCP.  Others arriving at this point will become part of the Fire Security Teams.  Fire personnel have already staged and completed their integration of crews and equipment into the primary response apparatus.  It is only now that the ICS catches up with the incident and the need for command and control is exercised in releasing the security teams and fire personnel to make entry into the CCP.  By now the hasty UC, consisting of a Battalion Chief and a police supervisor or Watch Commander, is up and sufficiently oriented to make the call.

Where problems are experienced within the R2TM/Internal CCP method is primarily due to training scars from prior response methods requiring the thorough searching of every nook and cranny of a structure before concluding that is clear and "safe."  Training must stress to officers that their job is to create a reasonably secure "warm zone" rather than a safe "cold zone." 

 

How Rescue Teams Function

The Rescue Team (RT) functions under the concept of a time-limited response.  Officers make entry, either through rapid response (one or more officers interdicting the suspect(s)) or by formation.  Officers then locate the wounded and twice sweep a corridor leading to a CCP on the exterior of the structure, searching and clearing each room and access to the corridor.  The Unified Command Post (UCP) is notified that the corridor is clear and ready for patient extraction.

Officers and trained and equipped firefighters/EMS report to the UCP.  Teams of two firefighters who are specially trained in small unit movement and equipped with ballistic protection (helmets and vest) are assigned to a team of two to four officers.  Multiple teams are designated and prepare for entry.  As soon as the UCP is notified the corridor has been twice-cleared (now considered a “warm zone”), the RTs move to the structure and make entry.  Each RT moves as a team utilizing specific trained formations that change given the architectural layout, possible threat area, or some kind of obstacle.

RTs encounter patients and treat them in place, stabilizing them, and then drag or carry them while guarded by their law enforcement counterparts.  After moving the patient to the exterior CCP, the RT returns, moving in formation, to the next patient.  At the CCP, firefighters/EMS perform their Mass Casualty Incident protocols the patients are transported in order of the severity of their injuries.

While Rescue Teams may function once they are finally established and begin operating, however, there are a great deal of unanswered questions and problems surrounding this concept that has been tried and failed in the past:

  • RTs bring EMS skills to the point of wounding.  For a patient who is bleeding severely from multiple gunshot wounds (GSW), having two paramedics, each having an MCI backpack filled with medical equipment, is surpassed only by the patient already having arrived at the trauma center.  However, Mass Casualty Incident protocols were developed to efficiently process multiple trauma patients into the definitive care system as quickly as possible.  Delaying transport to a trauma center by two paramedics “staying and playing” causes other patients to be denied these EMS professionals’ help.  The critically wounded are best served in this instance by minimal EMS intervention and rapid transport to a trauma operating room.
  • A limited number of RT-qualified personnel will be available at any single incident.  A number of agencies boast they have at least one, and sometimes two qualified RT firefighters on every shift in their city.  Those personnel, first, must respond city or county-wide to the incident.  If there 20 patients, 8 immediate and 12 delayed, how long before all 20 are triaged with one or possibly two teams operating in the incident?  Triage cannot efficiently occur if patients are being encountered individually by EMS first responders.  The question should be, “How can we efficiently transition patients into the MCI process?”  The only answer is to get them quickly into the CCP for MCI processing into the Trauma Center. 
  • RTs serve no function that responding officers do not, and officers accomplish the same task much more quickly and with fewer resources.  Other than the control of arterial bleeding (which officers are capable of controlling with tourniquets), patients are best served by their rapid transfer to the CCP and into the MCI process.  Studies demonstrate that any delay in the arrival of a patient to definitive medical care results in a lower survival expectation.  Patient survival depends upon a systematic triaging and transport based on medical need rather than individual diagnosis of wounds and stabilization at the location of wounding.  Officers are already operating in the hot zone within the building.  Officers, singly or in pairs, can more easily and quickly transfer patients to the CCP than can a slow moving tactical formation.  This natural police behavior requires no direction by higher authority as evidenced in many incidents where officers take the initiative to move patients to EMS personnel rather than wait for fire and EMS to be released into the scene.  Every minute waiting for command direction is another minute the victims are bleeding out.
  • RT personnel linkup procedures are unclear.  In many RT scenarios, the team members are already in kit and linked up, and appear at the ingress point of a building.  Where did the eight teams of four officers and two paramedics each find each other, get assigned into teams, and who assigned them to make entry within minutes of the first officers entering?  In the midst of the chaos and urgency of an actual event, escort officers and RT firefighters must respond from their respective locations (their stations, the field, from home), have a rally point (the Command Post once it is set up), receive assignments, stage until the CP is informed that a particular corridor or area has been twice swept, and then make entry when released by command.  This is unlikely to happen in the early response stages.
  • Command Posts (CP) often require a prohibitively long delay in being set up.  How long does it take in the real world before the average CP is established and, importantly, functioning?  The CP not only must be established, but the personnel manning the CP must quickly get up to speed and orient to an overwhelming amount of information, enabling them to then process detailed intelligence from interior officers.  Someone in the CP must then divert their attention from gathering and analyzing the information to attend to forming and releasing the RT to respond.  This takes time the wounded do not have.  Without a functioning CP, the RT cannot come into existence and cannot be dispatched.
  • The RT model assumes there is clear and early communications between the interior units and the CP.  The RT model assumes RT personnel will be on-scene and linked up early in the incident response.  It also assumes that communications with interior units and the CP will be established early and will be clear regarding the status of the operating area in which the RTs will operate.  An RT will not get the go-ahead to proceed without clear communications regarding where they are needed and their route of travel.  If communications are confused or the radio repeaters shut down due to call volume (a common occurrence), insertion of the RT must be delayed.  The RT’s dependence upon early and clear communication from interior units is a major vulnerability to this concept.  Hinging this much on such a fragile variable is not tactically nor strategically wise.
  • When communications inevitably go down or are swamped, how are the RTs controlled?  These incidents typically put a heavy demand on available radio frequencies.  It is not unusual that radio repeaters shut down during the midst of suspect search operations for many seconds or even minutes.  Sometimes the structures themselves block radio communications and hamper operational tempo and coordination—especially in top-down management environments.  RTs require strict coordination from the CP while these incidents by their very nature subvert clear communications.
  • Command and Control of RTs may be impossible due to the confusion and information overwhelm experienced in these situations and problem with communications.  RT models permit teams to enter a section of a building only after the corridor(s) and adjacent rooms have been twice-swept.  Given the mass confusion as well as the contradictory reports and misinformation over the radio (“All units, reports of a second suspect, description to follow.”), as well as the information overwhelm that will initially be presented to the Command Post, how will the CP: 1) Be established in time to be a factor in the wounded’s survival?  2)  How will the CP assign team members to teams in a timely manner?  3) How will the CP determine what is a warm zone and what is not with any degree of accuracy?  In the interior of many buildings it is easy—and common—to become disoriented to the cardinal directions.  How will the officer be certain that the “west corridor” is properly identified?
  • It takes too much time to sweep and clear an area twice before permitting the RTs to enter.  From the moment the individual is wounded, he or she has been bleeding out.  Some of these people are running out of time.  They have no luxury for the time it takes to sweep and clear an entire hallway and each room leading to it, the same number of officers could have secured the hallway and transitioned all of the wounded to the CCP.
  • RTs are resource heavy.  Even the leanest RTs require two police officers and two RT-qualified EMTs/paramedics.  In an incident where five teams are needed due to the number of wounded, where will the ten equipped and trained firefighters come from?  How long will it take for them to report to the scene when off-duty?  It must be remembered that within 20 minutes of the first responding officer, it is not unusual for public safety traffic jams to lock up every surface street for blocks—late arriving firefighters/EMS may have to walk for blocks to the get to the UCP before being assigned—after they respond to their station for their turn-out gear.
  • RT members require ballistic Personal Protection Equipment (PPE).  This PPE represents a large budgetary expense:  minimally ballistic vests (sized to each individual), ballistic helmets, and ballistic eye protection.  Some teams are each being kitted out with TEMS backpacks.  Maintenance and storage issues soon arise.  Where on the truck is this PPE carried year round (especially when each vest and helmet is fit to an individual)?  Who maintains it?  Who tracks the expiration dates of the PPE for replacement?  Due to the lack of incidence, this PPE may be carted around for the duration of that firefighter’s career and never be used.  As promotions, injuries, and retirements occur, additional ballistic PPE will be required for the new RT fire members.
  • RTs are actually responding within a “hot zone,” not the advertised “warm zone.”  As in HazMat responses, the hot zone requires special PPE for the technicians to perform inside the affected area, while support personnel in the “warm zone” do not because they are not presently endangered by the environment.  The need for ballistic PPE for the firefighters in the RT argues against the classification of “warm zone.”
  • RT personnel must have frequent recurring training.  Fire personnel are not trained in police tactics and small unit movement.  This is a new skill involving very low-frequency, high-personal threat activities where the likelihood of an individual actually being called upon to perform these tactics is far less than the chance of any individual officer getting into a shooting on a particular shift.  Nothing in the firefighters’ daily work tasks will reinforce this training.  As such, it will require intensive initial training.  The perishability of this training is high and team members must maintain this skill for the duration of their career with frequent—and expensive—sustainment training.  Additionally, as interest wanes or promotions, injuries, and retirements occur, new team members are required to be trained and equipped.
  • Formations are slow and impractical.  Transitioning patients to the CCP for MCI processing is time-critical.  The more people needed to respond to a single location for assignment, be granted permission to enter a twice cleared area, move to the location of a wounded individual, stabilize that individual, and then move back to transfer that person to an external CCP, the more friction there will be, hampering rescue operations.  Four (or six) individuals moving in rigid formations and collecting one patient at a time to transition to a distant CCP is not only inefficient but is time consuming while people are bleeding unattended and in need of a surgeon.

 

Time matters

As Sgt. Craig Allen said, "US law enforcement wasted more than a decade training officers to respond to an Active Shooter in formation and have nothing to show for it.  It's time we move in the direction of life-saving and abandon formations."  This includes formations in any form. 

The concept of early interdiction of the suspect combined with the early establishment of the CCP and transitioning patients through the MCI protocols into definitive medical care as rapidly as is safely possible is a less complex, more intuitive method of response.  It is fast enough to mitigate the most common incident: the lone gunman in a gun-free zone with complete access to victims.  It is also flexible enough to respond to the threat of multiple suspects acting in multiple locations.  And it requires far less recurrent training because there is little cross-training—officer and firefighters are asked to perform their everyday tasks within the model:

  • Police:  Respond to a man with a gun/shots being fired call. 
  • Police:  Provide security against assault.
  • Fire/EMS:  Respond to a medical call with multiple trauma victims.
  • Police and Fire/EMS:  Help people who have been victimized and injured.
  • Police/SWAT:  Perform a final clearing of the structure.
  • Police:  Evacuate and reunification.
  • Police:  Investigate the crime(s).

Rather than recreate a failed tactic and instituting a complicated method requiring expensive equipment that might never be used as well demanding extensive recurrent sustainment training as well, success is more likely when employing a less-complex, more intuitive method.  The integration of police and fire is a life-saving concept that should be adopted and made as simple and as intuitive as possible.  This is best achieved when the police are tasked with police duties and fire with fire duties, and the two disciplines work together to achieve the overall goal of the Public Safety response:  life-saving.

 

My thanks to Jeff Gurske and Roberto DiGiulio for their contributing to the content of this article.

Emotionally Integrated Training

by George on August 5, 2014 13:46

Discipline must be a habit so ingrained that it is stronger than the excitement of battle or the fear of death.
—George S. Patton, General, US Army

 

The late Louis Awerbuck taught that surviving a gunfight is 95% luck.  You just can’t control the suspect’s skills, cunning, or the stray bullet that has your name on it.  You may react perfectly, tactically moving as you empty a magazine into the suspect’s vital areas, inflicting mortal wounds with each round.  But in his dying reflex, he may fire and fatally wound you—and, unfortunately, all ties in a gunfight go to the suspect.

Control in a gunfight is limited.  Within your purview of control are only the preparation of the skills and knowledge you bring to the fight, your decision-making within the law to respond early enough to make a difference, and your ability to control your emotional reaction to the attempt to murder you.

The mechanics of hitting a target is important.  Skill development involves a moderately reliable level of accuracy on a square range rather than focusing only on tight groups.  Teaching officers deadly force policy and the laws of defense of self and others should be a mandatory component of every training session—not just reading the policy or law but actually digging into what it means.  Ease in the application of the law and policy combined with the early recognition of the deadly force threshold can be gained by applying the gained through force-on-force drills and scenario training.  However, this preparation alone is apparently insufficient given the low rates of hits on suspects in many close-range shootings.

Fundamentally, the ability to reliably put bullets through a suspect who is attempting to murder the officer is as much about controlling emotions and overcoming fear as it is about skill alone.  Perhaps more.  All deadly force training and, indeed, all force and tactical training must address the emotional component of responding with force to prepare the officer to meet the combative needs of the job.  

 

Freeze, Flight, Fight

The survival strategy of "Freeze, flight, or fight" is inherent in all mammals.  Prey animals freeze because many predators key on movement.  Like our mammalian counterparts we, too, demonstrate the same survival strategies.  Everyone freezes to some degree when the unexpected happens—think meerkats at the first hint of alarm.  It takes time to orient to the new situation.  We tend to stop moving, hold perfectly still, and look in the direction of the alarm. 

The next natural response is flight, or fleeing from danger.  Fighting tends to be the last response of prey animals and is also the natural last response of untrained non-sociopaths.  Training can change this, but only if the training is relevant to its application in the real world of threat.  Effective police training creates the ability to quickly transition through the freeze state into the fight.  This rapid reaction is necessary for many of the threats that officers face in the street that are in-proximity and unexpected.

Highly experienced military operators say surviving a gunfight is more about controlling emotions than it is about raw shooting ability.  How we train officers through the entire range of skill responses, both on the range, in scenarios, and in the mat room creates the possibility of rapidly transitioning through the freeze and flight responses and into the fight stage where it becomes possible to prevent injury and death.  And it is not simply more reps or more rounds fired downrange that constitutes a trained individual.

 

Transitioning through the fear 

Having sufficient experience to automatically respond to imminent threat means you have had the good fortune to have lived through enough threatening situations that your dominant survival response is to fight.  For the rest of us mere mortals or the inexperienced, training must assist us in transitioning through that fear response to a functional level of skill competency. 

First, recognize that freezing in the face of sudden danger is not a character issue.  It is an emotional issue that must be over-written by a more positive or, put better, a more effective emotional response.  A tiny portion of the brain, the amygdala, acts as the first filter of external stimulus entering the brain.  Even before we consciously recognize something, say, a thin, long, coiled shape on the ground as we turn a corner, the filter of our amygdala causes us to jump back and away well before our rational brain recognizes it to be a coiled hose rather than a dangerous snake. 

The amygdala is the first filter we have to quickly alert us to danger.  It is not reasonable nor is it rational.  It simply interprets a possible danger and sends an alarm to which the body reacts.  It creates emotional integration and learning through association (associative learning)—it is a key part of how our memories embed and are retrieved from long-term memory.  It is able to learn through reward (pleasure or not being injured) and punishment (injury or unpleasant consequences).  In the training environment, the training of our officers’ amygdala response prepares them to transition through the fear and better apply their skills when responding to sudden threat.

 

Mimicking:  training the transition from freezing to fighting

In the training environment, it would be immoral to place officers into a situation where they might actually die to retrain the amygdala.  All training, including the best scenario experience, has some degree of falsity—everyone knows they are not actually going to be shot or stabbed by the suspect/role-player.  How can we override the emotionally-based fear response that degrades actual performance if we are unable to duplicate the fear they must face in real life?  Pushups and running sprints don’t do it.  Being yelled at by up-range instructors won’t either.

We do this by mimicking the body’s fear response.  Emotional responses (via the amygdala) create changes to the body’s systems.  Fear causes physical alterations to cortisol levels in the blood, heart and breathing rates, blood distribution, vision and hearing, muscle tone, and ability to digest food.  It can result in the bladder and/or bowels involuntarily voiding.  It also creates psychological changes in pain tolerance, attentional focus, cognitive flexibility and adaptation, as well as memory and perceptual distortions.  When we become truly fearful, our emotional response changes our physical body and mind, affecting our ability to apply the skills we have so carefully built.  

What does sudden fright—the type that officers experience when they’re suddenly assaulted by a suspect who is close to them—look like?  It looks like a “startle reaction,” simultaneously eliciting the following:

  • Your eyes go wide and your pupils dilate to gain as much light as possible and jerk your head to face the source or direction of that surprise or threat.
  • You gasp, taking in a sharp intake of air.  This is the body preparing for flight or fight.  Most people will hold their breath following the initial gasp (remember: stillness).
  • Your body moves, orienting your chest to that threat as you take an athletic stance (much like a linebacker, with your dominant-side foot back a bit), your body has a slight lean forward from the waist.  Your body actually drops a bit, lowering your center of gravity.
  • Your hands tend to come up to face level, palms out, your non-dominant hand slightly forward.  
  • Your shoulders rise, moving up and forward while your chin sinks a bit to better protect your extremely vulnerable throat and neck.

 The reciprocal of that process also holds true: mimicking the physical response to sudden threat—the startle response—activates to some degree the amygdala’s emotional fear response.  Emotional reprogramming can take place by mimicking the body’s reactions to fear.  By taking in a sharp gasp, suddenly opening your eyes wide, while jerking your shoulders up and forward and quickly lowering your center of gravity, most people experience a slight to moderate cortisol (adrenaline) reaction.  While some officers are too salty to try this, the large percentage quickly identify that there is an element of validity to the concept of duplicating in training the emotional environment where skills application intersects with the existential fear experienced in the street.

For example, in our range training, we ask you to close your eyes and imagine the face of the last person you thought was going to kill you.  Every cop with a few weeks of street experience can conjure up this person's face.  Rather than paper targets, this is the person the shooter is shooting in response to their imminently threatening actions.  We then ask each person to explain or demonstrate what that imminent threat is doing to cause him/her to shoot the suspect.  Upon every initiation command of "Threat!" (short for "imminent threat," or that action by the suspect to which the officer is legally justified to respond with deadly force), the officer is directed to take a quick, sharp intake of breath, jerk his shoulders up and lower his center of gravity.  This physical action creates an emotional tie (and a small adrenaline cocktail dump) to the response (hit the threat).  The mind associates sudden threat with moving, drawing, and hitting the suspect rather than freezing as a survival strategy.

Same-same in Defensive Tactics.  During some of our drills, we will have the coach (not the "suspect") begin a monologue in a low, menacing voice of how this coach wants to kill the officer and how they're going to do it.  At first, many officers react with fear (strange how in a safe environment with someone that officer KNOWS won't harm them, yet the brain reacts with a degree of survival emotions and fear).  Just this monologue often causes the officer to speed up or become inappropriately intense.  So instructors begin to coach these officers to calm down, to breathe, to focus on their skills as the coach continues his/her threats.  Soon the officer is able to over-write previous programming and work comfortably with the coach.  Then we change coaches’ instructions to produce a low, menacing, animal-like growl.  We see officers instantly ratchet up in intensity, eyes-wide, breathing faster than the physical requirements demand even though there's no change in the intensity of the coach working with that officer.  Again, instructors coach them to breathe, to work at speed, to continue to problem-solve and function effectively.  When the officer is able to calm down and work through the growling, we then have the coaches begin shrieking insanely.  Officers often instantly seize up emotionally and physically, and are again coached back to effective emotional response—and reasonable physical response.

 

Scenario “failures”

Incorporating this emotional integration into all aspects of training pays off in scenario training where, if the officer hitches up, we hit the pause button, and talk privately about not only what that officer is seeing but, as importantly, what he/she is feeling.  If the officer is unable to identify his or her emotional response (or unwilling to share it), the instructor then describes what it looked like from the outside, how that emotion is negatively affecting the officer’s performance, and how to take the steps to counter it.  We then rewind and continue to replay the event where the emotionally charged hitch occurred, with the officer taking that sharp intake of breath and bodily reaction to simulate being startled, until the officer signals that he/she can continue on without undue or negative emotional reactions.  We then rewind and play forward toward success. 

Sometimes we are forced to go back to our force-on-force exercises or even back to our drills to get the proper emotional reprogramming.  For instance, one very experienced officer from a very busy large city was excellent in DT and fearless in contact simulations.  On the range, he was very competent, handling his live-fire weapon competently while gaining solid hits.  However, during force-on-force drills using Airsoft pellet weapons (face/eye protection with long-sleeve t-shirts only) prior to scenario exercises, he literally melted down.  The first time the “suspect” drew his weapon, the officer literally pirouetted, non-gun hand curled around his head, and emptied the magazine by blindly shooting behind him in the general direction of the suspect while being pelted by the suspect’s “bullets.” 

The exercise was halted and he removed his protective mask.  He was breathing as if he’d run a world record mile up stairs.  His face was pale and he really couldn’t articulate what had just happened to him.  We removed him from the exercise and talked about what he experienced.  Embarrassed, he literally had a blank spot in his memory.  Other than he knew he had been hit a lot, it hurt, and that meant he was dead—he had no clue what his physical response was.

Helping him to emotionally reprogram is the key.  This officer’s response was not due to a lack of skills or deficiency of character.  It was due to an overwhelming and inappropriate emotional programming.  So we went back to the foundations of programming a positive physical response within his emotional experience.

  • Intellectual foundation.  This is a combination of reinforcing his understanding of "Early Orientation Markers,"© or what threatening behavior looks like and how the body moves when the suspect is obtaining a deadly weapon or about to initiate an assault.  It covered in depth the legal/policy basis for response.  It also provided tactical suggestions such as movement and why that is often beneficial.  Emotional reprogramming also included a discussion about mimicking the body’s startle response in training and why that was important. 
  • Drills.  Drills including seeing a “suspect”/coach access a hidden firearm dozens of times with the officer mimicking the startle response and moving appropriately.  As soon as the officer was successful, the next step was to have the coach draw and fire where the officer had been standing just a moment ago.  That was sped up until it was “at speed.” 
  • Force-on-force drills.  With the coach self-initiating a hidden draw, the officer gasped and moved.  At first, the coach was tasked with firing around the officer (behind or in front) as the officer successfully moved and hit the coach.  At one point, the officer became lackadaisical and arrogant in his movement because he wasn’t being hit.  The coach was quietly directed to hit the officer twice if it happened again.  Two sharp hits to the officer reinforced the need to remain focused.  After that happened, the officer was properly motivated and continued to move and hit.  Finally, the two combatants were directed to work “at speed.” 
  • Scenario exercise.  The officer was able to complete the scenario satisfactorily. 

Cops aren’t machines, even though most of the training they undergo treats them as if we just need to give them the correct number of parts in a specific sequence and all will come together in a combative environment.  Human beings are far more subject to their emotional programming than many care to admit.  Every person has some aspect of his or her life where their emotional fluency hampers their effectiveness.  When this negative emotional programming intersects their ability to competently respond with their skills on the street, it endangers their lives and the lives of officers and citizens.

Creating a training environment where each officer is able to condition themselves to operate competently through drills where the normal emotional response is tied to the proper physical reaction assists them in responding competently in dangerous, high-risk situations.  By simulating the physical response to overwhelming emotions, officers are better able to function and win.

 

Cover? It’s All About Context

by George on June 24, 2014 07:49

We all should use cover in a gunfight.  Problematically, rather than routinely contacting subjects from cover, most don’t use it until there is a real possibility of shots fired or a gunfight actually erupts.  When there is an exchange of rounds and you’re not initially hit, especially if there is a chance gunshots will continue, you will likely seek to put something to stop the bullets between your soft body (along with all of its parts) and the shooter’s muzzle.  How you might best employ cover to save your life is dependent upon the context of your gunfight.

When discussing what actually constitutes cover, we’d have to go into a discussion of a second topic that requires context:  bullet caliber, weapon and distance from which it is fired, bullet design, and the material type and thickness of the cover being used, not to mention the difference in material thickness to protect against one round hitting the cover or several bullets striking the same material within a small area.  For our purposes, let’s just agree that cover is any material and thickness that protects against fire and the effects of fire (backface spalling, or fragments that chip off the cover at the same speed the bullet strikes the face of the cover and can be lethal for up to three feet or more) from a particular weapon at a particular distance.  Because there are so many factors in what constitutes actual cover, we are probably better served by considering everything to be concealment (a material that hides one from observation but has little to no ballistic protection, e.g., a wooden fence or car door) and tailoring our tactics to it. 

The use of cover is one of those tactics that everyone has an opinion about.  Their way is the only way.  “Always keep back from the corner.”  “Never move up to cover.”  “Always…”  “Never…”  The truth is, every method ever demonstrated on how to use cover is probably “the right way” within a specific context dictated by the situation.  Too often, tactics trainers attempt to force the situation to the tactic rather than the tactic being determined by the situational necessities of the moment.  Tactics are always based upon the context of the fight.

 

BASICS OF COVER

Whether you treat everything you hide behind as concealment or you have faith that the material you are presently hiding behind can actually stop the bullets being fired at you, there are some universal principles that boil down to understanding angles and corners that can be applied:

  • Plane of cover.  This is the imaginary plane established by the suspect’s position and ability to see beyond the corner of your cover (both vertically, e.g., the side of a fence, wall, or tree, and horizontally, e.g., over a wall, a hood of a patrol car, or under the undercarriage of the car at your feet).  The angle of that plane of cover establishes your “safe zone” and the “kill zone.”  If any part of you is in the kill zone, it can be shot.  Keeping your feet inside the safe zone is foundational to the proper use of cover.  
  • A particular piece of cover’s value can be negated by threat movement.  The value of every piece of cover is dictated by the relative positioning of each of the shooters.  Since the suspect’s position dictates the plane of cover, any lateral (or vertical) movement by the suspect will drastically change that plane—and your vulnerability.  Let’s assume you’re a step and a half behind cover and in a gunfight with a suspect 15 feet away and 90 degrees from the left corner of a vertical cover.  Your plane of cover is 90 degrees and we’ll assume you are properly protected by that barricade.  If he takes four steps to his right (your left) and you don’t move, the plane of cover shifts so dramatically that you are probably fully exposed, negating any advantage of cover.  If he takes four steps to his left (your right), the plane of cover is changed to the point where he is using your cover to mask your fire and observation of him.  In order to more safely re-engage, you will have to reestablish the plane of cover—against an aware and prepared threat.  The same problems occur on a horizontal piece of cover: the suspect’s fore and aft movement, or vertical modifications up and down, will change that plane of cover drastically.  BOTTOM LINE: the farther you are away from cover, the more the suspect’s lateral or vertical movement will affect the protective value of that barricade.
  • Threat elevation negates the value of cover.  The higher the position of the suspect shooting at you, the more it tends to expose your position.  For example, you take cover behind a thick rock and earth wall three feet tall, fifty feet away from a suspect on the roof of a three story building.  Unless you are lying along the wall at its base, most of your body will be exposed to the shooter’s fire.
  • The effectiveness of angle of incidence movement is affected by suspect distance from the corner.  It is a rare officer who has not been taught how to “slice the pie” of a corner.  Formally, this is called “angle of incidence,” extrapolated from Snell’s Law of Light Refraction.  Essentially, by moving past a horizontal or vertical corner of cover employing small degrees or angles of movement, you should be able to glean some indication of the suspect’s position (shadow or reflection) or body part (shoulder, elbow, foot, hair, etc.) before he can locate you.  However, this works well only when the suspect is relatively close to the cover.  The farther the suspect is away from the barricade, the greater the likelihood that he will be able to see you as or just before you can see him.
  • If you can shoot him, he can shoot you.  Aside from simply sticking a weapon around a corner and spraying the countryside, if you are behind your weapon shooting at him, even though everything else is protected, he can still shoot your hands, arms, and head.  To lessen this danger, if the suspect is “shootable” (meeting deadly force standards of behavior) and you find him, seeing his elbow or foot, there is no reason to move farther into the kill zone to shoot him “center mass” as this movement will signal to him to respond with fire.  Instead, shoot that which you can see—the elbow or foot.  Then, if still justified, move to targets that are better suited in stopping him—being hit unexpectedly by bullets is often distracting and possibly disabling the suspect attempting to murder you before he can shoot you is a good goal.
  • Corners are dangerous places.  All corners of cover represent danger: from beyond the corner you can be shot.  When employing cover, another danger is in the form of ricochet off of a hard surface.  This threat is lessened by moving back and away from the cover to allow the ricochet’s angle to miss you) or it may consist of the bullet being able to penetrate the corner of the material that is thinner than the body of the piece of cover (e.g., the diameter of a live 30-inch tree is impervious to almost any .30 caliber rifle round, but the edge of the tree where you operate in a gunfight may not be thick enough to stop a round).
  •  Most individuals without military training will tend to shoot at what they can see rather than through the barricade or object the officer is using.  So it makes sense to stay as small as possible behind cover and to expose as little as possible while shooting or observing.  Problematically, suspects aren’t necessarily good shots.  They will likely hit the cover you’re using, so it’s nice to have real cover rather than concealment.

 

TWO NEEDS, TWO TACTICAL CONTEXTS

All tactics are contextual and how you maneuver to employ the tactic is situationally dependent.  Employing cover is not a one-size fits all exercise.  Contextually, officers tend to employ cover in two situations:  deliberate and hasty.

Deliberate.  The officer employs the cover as a means of protection prior to contacting an individual, in anticipation of gunfire, or as a result of gunfire.  This includes searching for a suspect or attempting to locate the threat’s position employing deliberate angle of incidence movement.  Generally, it is safer and more effective to remain minimally at least one arm’s length from the cover and often up to several steps back from cover while searching.  This makes the danger of corner ricochet much less likely.  Because it is deliberate, the officer is able to maintain a more disciplined posture and avoid giving away his or her location by inadvertently crossing the plane of cover. 

When the context changes and the suspected location of the threat is unknown, for example, “The gunshot came from the west!” it is not a good idea to camp out a distance from the cover until you know exactly where that threat is positioned.  The location of the source of a single gunshot is often confusing.  Any movement must now be predicated upon clearing every angle of incidence of the corner in order to work to the point where the plane of cover can be established.  This clearing will begin at the wall and, as possible threat areas are visually cleared, you then move away from the wall until the suspect is located and plane of cover is established. 

Hasty.  The officer unexpectedly comes under fire from a known location at typical police gunfight distances.  The officer moves while firing toward the cover.  Because there is no time to determine the actual plane of cover by slowly creeping up to it (angle of incidence movement or pie-slicing), the officer instead protects as much of his body as possible by moving directly up on the barricade and concealing as much of his body as possible behind the corner of cover while maintaining fire on the suspect, reaching to or past the corner with the muzzle of the weapon.  This permits the officer to maintain the initiative in the gunfight while hurriedly placing as much of his body behind cover as possible. 

 

BUT WAIT…!

Now is the time dogma begins to rear its head and bark.  Bringing up the hasty barricade position often generates mild to outraged protests:  “We always have to remain at least one arm’s length from cover!  This will prevent us from getting hit by ricochets and prevent someone from disarming us who might be standing on the other side of the barricade!” 

Not really.  Remember the context in which it is employed: you are actively exchanging rounds with a suspect.  Because movement is life—it’s harder to hit you—and cover is a good thing to have in a gunfight, you move abruptly as you respond with fire.  As you get to the corner of the cover, you shove your torso and feet behind the protective material but remain engaged with the suspect as long as you are not taking any wounds.  That also includes any round that is so close that you need to duck behind cover to protect yourself.  Your rate of accurate fire—shooting only as fast as you can hit (which is generally a lot slower than most people practice)—is also of equal value in protecting you.

If we accept that both accurate fire combined with the use of cover are desirable components in surviving a shooting, moving to a barricade while continuing to accurately fire on an imminent threat makes sense.  What does not make sense, absent taking wounds or accurate fire that drives you back from the corner, is to voluntarily move away from the corner of cover and cease firing, losing the initiative.  Stopping your fire gives the suspect respite, a chance to reload, or adjust his position.  He’s no longer under any pressure.  Now to reengage, you will have to pie-slice in angles of incidence against a suspect who knows where you are, has demonstrated willingness to murder you, and will likely be waiting for you to show any sign of your body in the kill zone.  Not a good scenario in typical police shooting distances.  Relinquishing the initiative in any fight gives the other guy the opportunity to bring the fight to you.

Regarding ricochets, while there is always a chance that a bullet may hit the edge and ricochet into you, the difference between it hitting the corner of whatever you are using for cover and directly impacting you is often tenths of an inch.  While that may happen, there is a benefit to the certainty that almost all of your body is behind cover and that only your hands and weapon and as little of your head as possible is vulnerable.  The advantage of this confidence may offset the small possibility of ricochet threats.

Everything in tactics is a compromise.  If, in this context, you were to move toward cover while accurately firing and stop where you think the plane of cover might be while remaining well back of the barricade, in practice, we generally find you, like most officers, will be mostly or even wholly exposed.  It is nearly impossible to concentrate on hitting the suspect, move while hitting, and to precisely determine your position relative to the suspect and your piece of cover.  If this proper alignment happens, it only happens in training on a one-way range.  We see officers in force-on-force training disappear behind cover, losing the initiative and advantage, and then have to fight their way back into the gunfight from a position disadvantage.

As far as a suspect grabbing your weapon if it extends beyond the corner, we must remember context and not base our tactics on unknown ninjas and boogey-men.  This is not a slow incident of angle search where the suspect’s location is unknown and may be immediately on the other side of the door frame within hand’s reach of your weapon.  This is a gunfight.  You know the imminent threat(s), his position, and you are keeping him under observation as you shoot at him.

While it is theoretically possible that someone might remain on the other side of your barricade near the corner you are using as the suspect is shooting at you (with the bullets striking where the ninja/boogeyman is standing), it is unlikely.  Besides, we must train for the usual threat, and not the unusual or possible but improbable threat.  If I’m shooting at a suspect who is shooting at me, and I’m at the corner of cover, I’m not going to worry about a guy on the other side of the concrete block wall grabbing my weapon and disarming me.  If that happens, it will be a combatives problem to solve before resolving my present problem of someone attempting to shoot and murder me.

 

CONCLUSION

The “proper” use of cover is context-dependent.  How it is employed as a protective device is dependent upon many factors, including the type of fight you are in.  If the gunfight begins with you behind cover, remaining back from the cover at least an arm’s distance, employing strict discipline in your posture, leaning into barricade to get your weapon and eyes into the kill zone to shoot rather than stepping into it and fighting from there makes complete tactical sense. 

However, if you are not behind cover when a sudden gunfight begins and you are moving toward cover while hitting the suspect as you reach cover, it makes no sense to disappear behind cover, halting your fire, and then being forced to work your way back into the kill zone as safely as possible to reengage.  Stay in the fight by putting your legs and torso behind the cover and remain at the corner of cover to fight and win.  

Context is all-important in tactics.  It is always the first question that must be answered when someone is introducing a new tactic or skill.  Context is the first consideration in all things, for without it, we are unable to determine if the skill or tactic has any validity at all.  Because so many gunfights begin with the officer away from cover, we must consider how to most efficiently employ it when cover is a hasty tactic.  Moving, hitting, and remaining in the gunfight while almost all of your body is covered and close to the barricade makes sense…in this context.

DT as OJT Rather Than High-Intensity Recurring Training

by George on February 17, 2014 16:18

There is always a lot of complaining by police defensive tactics instructors that officers don't like to train and there is not enough time to train to gain a high level of competency in DT.  They argue that these skills are highly perishable and without frequent and recurrent training, there is no way to build capability in the average officer. 

There are two ways of gaining expertise and overcoming the problem of perishability in high skill training. Sufficient training time and commitment to instill in the schema those highly evolved movements and skills is but one way.  Training time is expensive and many agencies struggle to meet minimum staffing for their shifts.  Intensive, recurring training requires either high budgetary commitment, high personal effort and time commitment, or both.

The other way, within current budgetary constraints (and reality), is to provide training the officers will use every day, thereby gaining OJT (on the job training). If principle-based training is indeed primally hardwired into our human blueprint, then EVERY TIME a police officer puts hands on a subject, that principle-based training is reinforced (in essence, practiced). 

For a simple example, a not-yet resistive but nominally non-compliant subject is not going along with the program and the officer is legally justified to put hands on him.  The officer step in at an angle (Principle of Combatives: Step in angles and circles), takes hold of the subject’s elbow (Principles of Combatives:  Constantly target seek and Always put reasonable weapons to reasonable open targets), and then likely presses the elbow against the officer’s torso (Principle of Combatives: Put body parts to body mass—or closer-stronger).  Now the officer moves his/her body and the suspect must contend with his elbow being affected by not only the officer’s strength but also the officer’s weight.  Greater level of success and effectiveness.

How did the officer know do to this?  Because the officer learned through Universal Principles of Combatives drills that they gain success through grabbing the elbow with both hands and pulling the elbow into their body rather than playing wrist games and control holds with suspect which is generally ineffective against someone of similar size and strength who doesn’t want to play with the nice officer holding his arm.  Soon, everything the officer touches is pulled into their bodies (or their bodies go to the object/limb/suspect body part) as a matter of habit with little or no thought because the officer is stronger and more effective, gaining a history of success that pays off when one day the suspect draws a gun and shoves it into the officer’s chest. The officer immediately defends by slapping and then does what?  Grabs the gun-arm and pulls it into his chest (paying attention to the muzzle direction).  Then the cop solves the problem however that looks for them. 

So every time the officer puts hands on someone to arrest, to control (a false concept, BTW), or gets into a small tussle or big fight, the primal blueprint is reinforced and solved through the Universal Principle of Combatives. OJT serves as a primary training vehicle as each officer problem-solves through the day, discovering what works and what does not for THAT OFFICER.  Work becomes the repetitions necessary for greater mastery and a source for unconscious competence because there’s little to “remember” and perform other than just doing what my body does before big, strong, athletic, uninjured, well-trained men taught me how to fight like them.

Our experience in those agencies adopting the principle-based problem-solving concept is that officers begin to enjoy DT training because it becomes relevant and not a source of failure to them.  Think about your own reaction to classes where the instructor is busy telling you about all of the virtues of his/her program and it just not relevant or practical to your job.  Except you are now forced to make a physical effort where you will be put in pain, be exposed to injury, and be forced to practice complicated procedures you can’t remember how to do within hours or days and will never try against someone trying to injure you. If you failed at something every time, how excited would you be about going to training, getting sweaty and sore and possibly injured?  You’d become a “slug,” a “whiner,” and a “complainer.” 

Instead, when it is relevant and you can gain success that fits your physical, mental, and emotional needs in that very scary situation where not only can you be injured or killed, but your personal reputation as a cop is on the line, then training becomes something you can look forward to. 

If your cops are avoiding DT training or showing little enthusiasm while on the floor, maybe look at the program you are teaching and not at them.  Not a single cop I’ve ever met in 33+ years went into LE not wanting to be well-trained.  We, instructors, turned them away from training.  When we provide relevant training they can be successful with, that changes their enthusiasm.  They actually look forward to training and become willing to make efforts during instruction because they know it will work on the street for them.   

It’s About Saving Lives, Not Running Down Martial Arts

by George on December 4, 2013 14:52

“The sad truth is that it often takes a wilderness experience (if you survive) to cement the truth that games can get you killed.”  Thomas V. Benge

 

When we talk with other police trainers about the need for a less-complex, principal-based training program for combative skills (defensive tactics, firearms, impact weapons, tactics, etc.), and especially defensive tactics instructors, we are often accused of not liking a particular “style” of martial arts.  For the last several years, with the Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) form made popular by the Gracie family and the UFC, we have been vocal about avoiding the use of BJJ, western wrestling, boxing, or any other martial art for police training.  We believe that sports have no place in police training, whether they are so-called fighting sports in defensive tactics or shooting sports in firearms training.  This is because the manner in which they are taught encompasses numerous “techniques.”  Techniques, unless mastery is gained, require intense cognitive effort, making it nearly impossible to apply against a combative foe.  Suspects just don’t cooperate and wait for the multi-part techniques to unfold.  We believe that a principle-based concept of combatives is fundamentally more functional and applicable for everyone, especially for the police where extensive training is rarely afforded to officers.

Full disclosure

We have been martial artists for most of our lives.

  • Our Director holds a 5th dan (black belt), Master Instructor in Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan with additional training, in some cases extensive, in Kuk Sool Hapki, Aikido, judo, Western wrestling, jiu-jitsu, and Arnis, as well as various martial weaponry (including knives and bladed weapons).
  • Our International Master Trainer is a 2nd degree black belt in Kune Tao, with additional training, in some cases extensive, in Jeet Kune Do, Kali, Brazilian jui jitsu and Boxing as well as various martial weaponry (including knives and bladed weapons).
  • Each of our staff or adjunct DT instructors have had some form of extensive formal training in martial arts, wrestling, boxing, etc. prior to training and employing principle-based problem-solving in their professional and training lives.

Our most knowledgeable and competent staff trainers, like most, were initially taught through the vehicle of myriad techniques in how to fight.  Through extensive training, we eventually gained a deeper understanding of the limits of technical, or prescriptive training, and began recognizing fundamental principles underlying the techniques.  It was a long and, at times, extremely frustrating process of realizing the futility of applying techniques and then beginning to question the very foundation of techniques and technical training.  We understood that our prior training only touched the surface of combatives and was incredibly limiting.  Once one digs below techniques to discover the universal lessons they were meant to teach, it becomes impossible to look back to the mundane, complicated, and impractical world of teaching and learning techniques as a means of fighting or defensive tactics. 

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu:  A World-Class Martial Sport

We’ve been accused of being “anti-Gracie.”  We believe any form of Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) to be superior for the limited context of a fighting sport on the ground, and the Gracies have certainly had well-deserved success and very good press.  We purposely never refer or imply criticism of any particular sport style of BJJ.  We have nothing but respect for the Gracies as jiu-jitsu players.

On a mat in a controlled environment with strict rules, BJJ (or wrestling or boxing or any martial art) teaches many valuable lessons.  Dedicated jiu-jitsu players certainly gain some combative skills from their many, many hours on the mat rolling with other dedicated individuals.  It is important to remember, however, combatives skills do not necessarily translate to “fighting skills.”  Fighting skills have contextual application to combat.

No form of BJJ is a "combatives system."  It's a sport employing strict rules and restrictions that are not applicable to the street.  Even one of the Gracies said that in an interview with a reporter.  In a fight, all targets are open (groin, eyes, biting, striking, etc.) and many techniques that work on the mat change in combat (PLEASE put me in your "guard" on the street).  Open up the UFC to "combat" and the whole thing changes—and few fights would last more than a few minutes and the results so brutal it would be quickly outlawed.  Now add police tools and anything else you can pick up and use to harm another person, and you have what officers face, except for one thing: cops have strict rules that only occasionally permits them to fight without restriction (deadly force) whereas criminals always fight with no rules and often with concealed deadly weapons. That's the police world of fighting and one we must prepare our officers for as instructors.  And we don't believe BJJ or any martial art should be the basis of police training.

We are not anti-BJJ or anti-martial arts. Far from it. But recognizing that playing "Nerf gun wars" with my herd of grandkids is not the same as being in a gunfight or a real war.  So, too, martials arts is a sterile environment that so many within martial arts—including many in BJJ—fail to recognize is not fighting or suitable for fighting because of the rigid habit of following the rules—rules having nothing to do with actual combatives.  BJJ (or any martial art) is combatives-like, but it is not fighting or combat.

The Essence of Techniques

"Techniques" are a complete series of independent and sequential movements, each dependent upon the last being completed before the next can begin, and each must be performed exactly as prescribed before the next move can be attempted. Once the complete sequence of techniques is properly executed, the technique is complete.  Whether BJJ or Aikido—or any other martial art—techniques and counter-techniques and counters to counters to counters is technique intensive.  Each technique is an exclusive answer to a highly specific and exact problem.  Any technique is one of dozens or hundreds that must be remembered and selected while the suspect is fighting against that technique’s completion.

Techniques are suspect dependent.  That is, the suspect must wait for the sequence of moves to be completed before the technique can be successful—any interruption in the technique’s exact series of sequential steps causes the technique to fail.  So techniques require the time it takes to decide which technique to use and then to employ each step successfully in order to be successful.  Suspects must cooperate or the technique fails.  The series of movements must be remembered and then applied in time before the situation changes.  This requires not only mastery of the technique to create the neural pathways that permit the technique to be executed, but also a deeper mastery of the concepts of why the series of sequential movements work during application against a combative opponent.

What’s Beneath the Technique?

The question for us is not which technique to use, but what are the techniques fundamentally—and foundationally—teaching us about a greater and perhaps more universal combatives method of preparing and employing force against a combative person?  After all, those of us who have "mastered techniques" can employ them in a fight even though we have the same limitations (time to select and employ a correct sequence, etc.) as the academy-trained officer.  For our purposes, there are a couple of reasons for this.

First, pattern matching. Our brains work by filtering all perception a mental map, or model of our external world (called a "schema").  How we actually "see" the world is the result of our perceptions first being sieved through the schema prior to any conscious thought.  This filter is constantly amended by our experiences, fears, and expectations.  The more we see a pattern of movement(s), a pattern for anatomical angle(s), or a pattern of proxemics (where bodies or objects are in space relative to the other), the more quickly we can recognize a pattern of movement/body position/situation and match it to a probable solution, or action script (based on an experienced pattern, the action script tells us how to solve the problem).  Patterns give us a sense of our situation (Gary Klein, 2003).

The process of matching the solution to the recognized pattern is through the concept of “satisficing” (Gary Klein popularized this term, meaning the selection of a probable solution to a problem that is both sufficient and satisfactory).  Through sufficient training and experience that permits us to immediately recognize when certain behavioral, emotional, and physical cues (specific constellations of cues triggering a decision based on an intuitive recognition of the situation) are present:  we react.  When under pressure in a time-sensitive situation (coupled with the perception of personal danger), humans select the first available solution that will probably work sufficiently to obtain a satisfactory solution—if they have experience and are able to recognize a pattern.  This is achieved through experience.  The trial and error of gaining experience (learning what works and what does not) in fighting can be lethal until sufficient capability in recognizing patterns quickly enough to be utilized in a time-compressed event is gained.

What begins to emerge through sufficient repetition and problem-solving is a heuristic (i.e., a rule of thumb) that can be applied to a recognized pattern quickly.  When an officer must later problem-solve in the middle of a danger-filled fight, that officer relies upon a heuristic that is easily recalled (formally, an “availability heuristic—Daniel Kahneman, 2011) that has worked successfully in the past.  An availability heuristic does not depend upon a time consuming memory search.  Rather, a particular rule of thumb that satisfices is instantly selected based on the pattern-recognition and matching a probable solution to the recognized problem.  Generally in combative situations, this “good enough” approach is good enough to win the fight.  Universal principles of combatives work best and are more easily recalled when under threat, especially because those principles mirror natural and instinctive reactions to threatening situations.

Second, and more importantly, techniques are actually intended to teach the underlying combatives principles.  Every “technique” functions through universal principles that have worked since Cain smote Abel.  These highlight manners of efficiently moving the body in relation to the opponent to create success.  Those of us who are successful as fighters actually understand the underlying principles (at least, our schema does) and then apply them as availability heuristics within our pattern-matching.  We are able to use and even modify "techniques" to counter the suspect's efforts to counter ours.  This is only possible after years of intensive and dedicated technical training which is why we see the top-tier UFC fighters able to instantly react to their opponents.  Problematically, few officers are provided the time by their agencies or are willing to work on their own time for years to the point of transitioning beyond techniques.

This is why technique-based training fails the police and we routinely see schoolyard solutions that instructors and plaintiffs' attorneys (and their expert witnesses) complain so bitterly about.  100% of officers are taught to a level of cognitive familiarity with the techniques, yet only a small percentage eventually train to mastery sufficient to pattern-match and apply the technique.  This means that cops have to somehow remember how to do a technique under extreme time constraints in a threatening environment while afraid and experiencing the mental and physical responses to fear.

A buddy attended an 80-hour "police instructor" course in police BJJ.  For two weeks, he rolled and learned.  He was injured at hour 79, and was told to sit out the last hour. This included a free-style between the training pairs.  The instruction: "use what you've learned this week to submit your partner.  Tap out early."  So this experienced and skilled martial artist sat and watched 38 police instructors rolling for 30 minutes, each trying hard to use what they'd learned.  At the conclusion, he said he didn't see a single trained technique.  Not one.  He decided he would not include any of this training in his agency's yearly DT updates.

If 80-hours of intensive training does not yield a change in behavior in DT instructors, it is safe to say there’s a problem with how we're teaching officers when it comes to technical training of the police.

If we teach fighting through the vehicle of the underlying principles of combatives that are encoded within the myriad techniques, then officers, regardless of their training and experience, learn to fight more efficiently and more effectively.  The training makes sense to them.  And it translates to success on the street.

What We Need When Under Threat

When people are under physical or emotional threat, especially in time-compressed events that are personally threatening, their ability to achieve complex tasks requiring a high level of memory recall, contemplation, and physical dexterity and coordination.  The well-known deleterious effects on the human body when within the adrenalized state is widely known.  For that reason, humans need methods of combatives resolution that are:

  • Simple.  Simple does not mean “ineffective.”  Instead, it is synonymous with “non-complex.”  Complexity is the enemy.  Anyone can design something complicated, and complicated mechanisms, systems, and techniques fail with predictable frequency.  Simplicity of design and function is requisite for efficient and effective response.
  • Dumb.  A solution should not require intensive efforts at higher analysis.  Complex thinking is generally not possible during high-threat time-compressed events.  Instead, once the pattern of threat is recognized, the solution should be instantly apparent. 
  • Easy.  Easy is not “without effort.”  Easy, instead, requires a lack of complexity as well as an absence of the need for highly evolved and intensively honed skills requiring exact angles or timing for success.  The greater degree of difficulty in executing a defense skill or movement, the more likely it will fail when the suspect is working against the officer.
  • Natural.  There are options within human response to threat that must be worked with.  This means we must limit what we’d like to in training officers to training them in what they can do given the time we are provided.  Those options are naturally occurring and can be useful in responding with force.
  • Instinctual.  Humans have hard-wired responses to perceived threat.  The Universal Principles of Combatives© are based on these.  We also adopt methods of delivering force based on these natural and instinctual reactions.  The startle reaction, for example, causes us to face the suddenly perceived threat, body lean forward, shoulders square with shoulders raised (to protect the neck and jaw) and hands up between the threat and our face.  The legs are bent athletically, enabling us to move (after freezing, flight or fight).  This is one of the main reasons we teach using an Isosceles upper body when firing a handgun or shoulder weapon—because this is how we react to sudden danger. 

We know there are many opportunities in the police defensive tactics world to train with champions in their respective sports.  These top athletes, with attributes of athleticism that only a handful of humans possess and tens of thousands of hours of training bolstered by hundreds of hours of experience in the ring/mat/octagon, are more than willing to share their methods with those who are lesser mortals.  These professionals are able to dominate other professionals through complex methods and layered strategies only they can actually employ against a resisting opponent.  How does that apply to your own—and more importantly—your officers’ training background and attributes?

Complexity is the enemy of success.  In combat, it is often the simple solution that carries the day with the fewest injuries.

A Few Universal Principles of Combatives©

Principle-based problem-solving provides the simple, dumb, easy, natural, and instinctual method of applying something that works.  Anyone who has ever attempted a complicated technique or multi-faceted plan with split-second timings against a resisting suspect can understand that a simple solution is generally much more effective than some grandly evolving plan with many moving parts.  Simple, dumb, easy, natural, and instinctual solutions through the universal principles permit the officer to pattern-match much more quickly through availability heuristics than by attempting to sort through and then apply one of dozens or more specific techniques. 

Let’s take a look at the application of just two Universal Principles of Combatives©.  Two 3-year olds, Roy and Bill, both want the same toy and both grab it.  Both pull back and forth until Roy pulls the toy, pressing it against his chest.  Roy then rips it out of the other's hands by spinning away while saying, "Mine!"  Billy lost the toy and begins crying.  What happened to make this three-year old function efficiently in this particular, limited instance?

Two principles of combatives, hard-wired into human neurology and physiology, are working here:

  • Body parts to body mass, or, closer-stronger.  I am stronger if I press something I am holding hard against me (or the ground, or push against the suspect's body).  The corollary to this is the farther away from my body I attempt to control something, the stronger and more skilled I need to be.  Distance from my body creates weakness in my joints, whereas the closer the object is to my body, the stronger my joints become.  Against another human, he now must work not only against my maximized strength, but my joints are better protected by increased strength and he must now contend with my entire body weight affecting his ability to take the object away from me. 
  • Move in angles and circles.  Moving in circles (Small-circle, big-circle theory; Point within a circle theory) can overwhelm the suspect. Moving in angles creates tracking problems.  This also relates to the anatomical placement of limbs and the spine (especially the head in relation to the spine affecting the body's balance—another Principle of Combatives©: Control the Head).  As an example, let’s examine a well-known submission:  the Kimura from the guard.  Once the elbow, shoulder, and hips are locked into correct angles, the suspect complies or his humerus spiral fractures.  However, and one of the fundamental drawbacks to the effectiveness of “techniques,” is the requirement of complete and total perfection, e.g., if the suspect’s hips are not locked during the application of the Kimura, he can roll out of the hold and the hold is ineffective.  Locking the hips is mandatory to stop the suspect from seeking vacuum (or an escape route) or the Kimura submission fails.  This is another Principle of Combatives©: Seek Vacuum:  move or flow to the point least resistance.

By locking the toy into the chest, Roy is able to use not only his upper body strength, but his entire body weight to control the disputed toy.  The toy is pressed against his body, essentially welding it to himself, making him much stronger at this particular time relative to the strength of only his arms if wrestling for the toy a foot away from his body.  Billy is still employing only his upper body strength to retain the toy.  His success now depends only upon his ability to deliver superior brute force to overwhelm Roy’s strength.  Success now is possible only if the Billy is far stronger than Roy.

When we take a hold of a suspect’s head, his arm, his firearm, whatever, we pull it to our body (or our body to his) and press it hard against our body.  If reasonable, we may look for targets and strike, poke, shoot, stab, drive over or through, push, or pull an open target (two additional Universal Principles of Combatives©:  Target Seek;  Put Weapons to Targets).  If we are grabbing something, it is anchored against our body rather than wrestling over it in a contest of strength away from our body.  Devon Larratt, the number one right-handed arm-wrestler in the world, described why he is so successful against much bigger and potentially stronger opponents, “I bring things into my center where they become part of me.  It’s much easier to move me than anything outside of me.”  This, in effect, requires Billy to contend with the other boy’s body weight as well as his strength.

To keep the toy and remove Billy’s hands, Roy spins hard in a clockwise direction (either direction is possible and dictated only by the terrain and situation).  He also steps hard to the rear with his foot in the direction he wants to go.

  • Small-Circle, Big-Circle Theory.  This puts Billy into a “small-circle, big-circle” situation.  When Roy moves his body, spinning quickly in one direction and stepping in that direction, the toy in both boys’ hands travels in a small circle with Roy’s chest.  Billy’s body must now move to keep up with Roy’s spinning movement.  Problematically for the Billy, his body must travel around the other boy’s body to keep up with the toy in both of their hands.  However, Billy must travel farther and faster than Roy because Billy has a larger circle he must traverse to get to the same point.  Think of the orbit of the planets around the sun.  If two planets, one closer to the sun and the other farther away begin and end in the same position in their orbit after one rotation, it will require the farther planet to travel in its orbit at a much greater speed to keep up with the planet in the inner orbit.  Small-circle, big-circle.  When Roy spins while pressing the toy they both are holding against his chest, he will spin faster than the other boy can keep up.  Because Billy must move around Roy’s body to keep up, his grip will become untenable.
  • Point Within a Circle Theory.  It also demonstrates the “point within a circle theory.”  Like the game of Crack the Whip, three children hold hands and Child A stays in one place and pivots, anchoring the line.  The other two pivot around Child A.  As Child A spins faster and faster, it becomes impossible for Child C at the end of the “whip” to maintain her footing because she cannot possibly cover the same arc of movement at the speeds necessary to keep up with Child A’s arc of movement.  Child C is flung away or falls.  In the same manner, Billy cannot possibly maintain the same speed as Roy and maintaining his grip will quickly become impossible.

Because Billy cannot keep up with Roy’s speed while spinning, Billy’s wrists are stressed to the point where they must release the toy or suffer injury.  Regardless of how strong the Billy is, his wrists are just not strong enough to maintain the grip against the weight of the boy in red’s body. 

Once we understand these principles, formal techniques are no longer needed.  We begin to fight the way we are hardwired to fight:  if I grab something (a head, arm, weapon, etc.), I bring it to my body and press it hard against my chest;  if I move, I move in angles and circles.  This is, in a nutshell, how principle-based, no-technique training works successfully with both well-trained and lesser trained officers.

Outcome Versus Process

Getting away from cognitive teaching (techniques) and into experiential problem-solving through the principles of combatives, we find that officers begin to solve their own DT problems with their solutions AND QUICKLY REPROGRAM THEIR SCHEMAS.  This is the essence of adult learning.  Problematically, learning to fight through the rote memorization of techniques and their sequential, mandatory steps is exactly opposite to how adults learn.  Prescriptive learning, or learning by a prescribed method where the solution is provided to a specific problem, reliably works only when there is time to contemplate and remember the sequential steps of the particular technique.  Problematically, one technique is the solution to one problem.  If the problem looks different, then a different solution, or technique, is necessary.  The greater number of problems, the greater the number and variety of unique solutions.

Could we teach 20—or 40 or more—techniques to take something from someone else’s hands?  Absolutely.  There is, unfortunately, no shortage of techniques.  However, this results from a misunderstanding about the path necessary for success.

  • Techniques:  Outcome-based.  A successful technique is outcome-based.  Each step of the technique must be positively attained in order for the technique to work and the failure at any stage of the technique results in the failure of the fight.  This generally leaves the officer goal directed (continuing to attempt to force the failed technique to work) and target-focused (focused exclusively on the stage of the failed technique to the exclusion of other external cues and threats).  Outcome dependency is fragile, and failure is always just a moment away.
  • Problem-Solving Through Principles:  Process-based.  Problem-solving is a process of accepting that everything one attempts cannot possibly work.  It requires continually finding or creating a way around an obstacle or defense.  It is not dependent upon anything but perseverance of effort.  By employing the Principles of Combatives©, problem-solving is facilitated.  This is a robust methodology that is less subject to suspect disruption.  When the suspect defends or an effort is unsuccessful for any reason, the fighter transitions to the next method of applying the Principles of Combatives© to satisfice the situation.  This training mirrors our actual process of fighting and trains the individual in solution-oriented combatives.

We're NOT Anti-Anything--We're FOR Contextually Correct Training Concepts and Methods

No one at Cutting Edge Training is anti-BJJ or anti-martial arts.  Rolling is a blast and we’ve spent much of our adult lives training in sport combatives.  We are FOR training that is contextually correct.  That is, we believe that training must be relevant to the task.  Cops need to fight and win like police officers, not like UFC fighters.  They need to train for police  solutions rather than "mat solutions."  We mean it that our training is from the street in, not the mat out.  Context is the key to success and surviving.   

We are pro-officers lawfully winning and remaining healthy, alive, and employed.  We’ve each been through a few wilderness experiences and understand that we were let down by the technical, sport-based training we’d been given—and to which we had been dedicated.  That’s why we train officers in relevant universal principle training they can actually apply.  Because unlike BJJ’ers and martial artists on the mat and in the training halls, cops walk the wilderness each day.  They need a training concept facilitating their weathering the various storms.  They need to come home in one piece, and their combatives training affords them a better chance of doing just that.  Games just don’t cut it when lives are on the line.

Why Do We Teach: “Sul” Position

by George on February 11, 2013 08:36

This is one in a series of "Why Do We Teach?" articles focusing on training subjects in police academies, in-service training. Not just police related, these concepts and methods are often commonly taught. The series details why we either teach that concept, modify it, or reject in favor of a more practical solution. If you teach it, it must be defensible, pragmatic, applicable to real-life combat and survival, and lawfully justifiable.

Many handgun shooters use the “Sul” Position” as a “combat ready” position, both on the range and in the street.  The Sul Position is characterized by the weapon hand being held close to the torso approximately at solar plexus level, muzzle down, with the support-hand in various positions as needed or trained.  The muzzle is intended to be directed just to the side of the lead leg to comply with safety rules of never allowing the muzzle to cover anything you are not willing to destroy or kill.  It is also presently fashionable as seen in many magazines and training videos.  So it makes sense to train cops or responsible citizens to use the Sul Position as a safe combat ready position, right?  Handgun in the "Sul Position"

Well, no, not really.  The Sul Position is not suitable as a combatives ready position, and was never intended for that purpose.  Often, when something becomes a “position” or “technique”—especially when someone gives something everyone does a name—it becomes both fashionable and misunderstood.  Doing anything because someone else does it without knowing why they are doing it that way can lead to wasted years of training, or worse, tragedy, injury, and sometimes loss of life.  The Sul as a ready stance decreases efficiency of the weapon’s presentation and can create a safety problem.

Sul:  a little history and reasoning

“Sul” is Portugese for “south,” and was originally developed in Brazil.  The original intent was to provide a safer way to move with a handgun in-hand through a crowd or past a person without muzzling anyone. 

How it works:  From a practical ready position with the handgun in a one- or two-hand hold, muzzle directed toward the threat area, the Sul is performed by bringing the weapon to the torso with the muzzle directed downward, or south, and pointed off to the side of the support-hand’s leg (if in the right-hand, the muzzle is directed down and just to the side of the left-leg).  As the muzzle moves downward into the Sul, the support-hand either comes off the grip and flattens naturally, palm down on the torso (ready to quickly move into a two-hand grip), or it comes up over the weapon, covering it.

The support-hand is available to reach out and grab a subject if the situation demands (never the first choice with a firearm in-hand, but being forced to go hands-on with a threatening or resistive subject happens far too often to be ignored or simply dismissed by saying, “Never touch anyone with a gun in your hand”).  Your support-hand may reach out and touch a person you are moving past, ensuring you know their position, to let him know you are moving past, and making sure he doesn’t move unexpectedly.

If moving through a crowd, the weapon moves into a safer muzzle position against the body, and the support-hand moves to cover the weapon as the first line of defense against weapon retention threats.  The support-hand comes off the handgun as needed to guide others, creating a path to quickly move through the crowd while still having the handgun in-hand.  As quickly as the support-hand moves from the weapon to reach out, it comes back, covering the weapon as the shooter continues to move. 

When the shooter is past the individual or through the crowd, the muzzle comes up and the weapon again floats away from the mid-torso, pointing wherever the shooter needs it for quick response to imminent threat. 

The Sul as a Ready Position is Problematic

Because so many lawful shootings in defense of life are an immediate response to a reasonable perception of imminent threat behavior, everything the shooter does must be efficient to obtain first rounds hits on target—as well as each subsequent round.  Hits are the only thing that counts in a gunfight, and looking good in a cool stance or weapon hold just before you die doesn’t. 

Neural pathways (muscle-memory) are created by doing the same efficient movement the same way, getting the same consistent results.  The Sul cannot support habits of efficient weapon presentation because it was never intended to be a “Ready Position,” and its fundamental presentation mechanics are faulty.

Flipping the muzzle.  A “ready position” facilitates the weapon smoothly—and rapidly—interrupting the eye-target line with the muzzle (actually, the bore-axis) aligned with the threat and with minimal disturbance to that critical alignment, ready to put a bullet into the target.  The handgun in the Sul Position is both flat against the body and the muzzle is down.  As the handgun is brought up and punched out, the shooter must accomplish a lot more than just presenting the weapon to the target.  The handgun must rotate in two directions—laterally and vertically—while speeding to get on target.  While a three-pound weight held in your hand(s) at the end of your arm(s) doesn’t seem like much, the rotational forces while punching out all combine to create the critical problem of precisely controlling muzzle flip.  Flipping the muzzle creates muzzle over-travel and inconsistent first round hits. 

Rigidity in the body, shoulders, and arms.  Creating a technique creates mental mind-games in many shooters.  It is not unusual to see shooters on the line, handgun in-hand in the Sul Position, waiting for the execute command, their entire body rigid, elbows held out at their sides and sometimes unnaturally forward.  This becomes a variation of a position of attention, locked both mentally and physically.  Brain studies show that if we are “doing something,” the brain must first tell the body to stop “doing this,” and then find the neural pathways to tell the body to begin “doing that.”  This is measured in tenths of a second for each command—first to stop, and then to begin.  Ready stances should be relaxed and as natural as possible. 

Muzzling one’s body parts.  There are safety issues with this position as it is normally practiced.  It is not unusual for a shooter using the Sul to muzzle body parts, whether a foot, leg, or, um…other highly valued body parts.  When the Sul Position becomes a ready position, it is easy to lose track of the muzzle because the eyes are downrange watching the threat target or searching for one.  The most common safety violation we see on the range is from those trained in the Sul pointing their weapon at their own bodies. 

What Should be Taught?

There is nothing wrong with moving the muzzle in any direction safety demands.  On the range, that’s easy—downrange where the backstop is located.  On the street, that can be problematic.  Cutting Edge Training’s Master Trainer, Thomas V. Benge, developed the idea that the weapon should be pointed in the “safer” direction—the area where the least amount of injury or damage will occur if the weapon is discharged.  Sometimes that direction will be downward depending upon the context of the situation.  Sometimes its safest pointing at that person you might be forced to shoot.

With a weapon in-hand, there is an anticipated need for a possible immediate response or the handgun would still be holstered.  The muzzle of any in-hand handgun (or firearm) should be pointed in a safer direction toward the possible Threat.  Whether or not the weapon should be leveled at the individual depends upon his behavior and your reasonable perception of imminent danger of death or serious physical injury.  For more about when and when not to point a firearm at a person, see our blog article: “Pointing Firearms: Range Safety vs. Reality.”

We suggest a “floating” ready position, that is, the weapon floats to and away from your body as the situation demands, pointing at the Threat or possible threat location until it is safer to point somewhere else. 

  • With the weapon lightly gripped in your dominant-hand while traveling from one point to another toward the suspect’s threat’s location, both hands on the weapon, your upper body is loose and relaxed.  Loose muscles move faster than tense muscles (fewer neural commands seeking pathways to achieve movement).
  • As your perception of threat increases, your grip will tighten as the weapon naturally floats out farther from your body toward the threat.  We also see the weapon getting higher, nearer to the eye-target line.
  • Upon challenging a possible threat, your arms move to near maximum extension below the eye-target line, generally in the crotch/belt buckle area as you make shoot/no-shoot decisions.  The muzzle is on the subject.  This allows you to see his hands and waistband.  This is a deadly force warning that, if the circumstances permit, will likely be accompanied by an oral warning to comply.
  • If the perception of imminent threat to life is sudden, the weapon is quickly pushed forward and brought up, interrupting the eye-target line well before the arms are extended, and the trigger depressed as the weapon is slowing to a stop. 

Rather than a fixed position, the ready position moves as the situation changes.  The weapon moves up and down, left and right, away and back until it is punched out as a warning or a deadly force response to a reasonably perceived imminent threat. 

The concept of the Sul is absolutely valid—it just is not useful as a “ready position.”  If crossing, either an uninvolved person, a teammate, or through a crowd, the weapon moves against your body, muzzle pointing down and away from body parts, with the support-hand either touching, grabbing, or moving someone, or covering the weapon.  The Sul is useful until it is again time to point the weapon in a safer direction—the suspected or actual position of the Threat. 

Why Do We Teach? Martial Arts Rolls

by George on January 3, 2013 08:38

This is one in a series of "Why Do We Teach?" articles focusing on training subjects in police academies, in-service training. Not just police related, these concepts and methods are often commonly taught. The series details why we either teach that concept, modify it, or reject in favor of a more practical solution. If you teach it, it must be defensible, pragmatic, applicable to real-life combat and survival, and lawfully justifiable.

Cops fall, especially when working in the dark.  Everyone’s been injured to some degree at some point in their career from falling.  Stepping off a curb you didn’t know was there, finding a hole in the ground while walking across grass, being pushed over a coffee table, walking on ice or slippery surfaces, or falling up or down stairs, doing anything in the dark, being taken down during training—all can result in your going down hard to ground.  So it makes sense to train cops in martial arts rolls and breakfalls, right? 

Well, no, not really.  It is actually a waste of very valuable training time.

The training of recruits as well as in-service officers in defensive tactics involves a great deal of material that must be mastered in very little time.  Unless a recruit or officer already possesses an athletic background involving rolling or tumbling, or is an experienced martial artist, training time devoted to rolling and breakfalls cannot achieve the desired goal of inoculating these individuals from injuries from falls.  The limited time available to create minimal competence in defensive tactics and arrest and control is simply insufficient to gain mastery—or even competency—in the ability to prevent fall injuries later in their career.  Absent their own independent training and practice, the typical officer will never again practice rolls and breakfalls to the point where it becomes unconsciously automatic during an unexpected fall.  Spending ten hours in the academy learning how to roll and breakfall without continuing practice is ten hours that might be spent learning a skill or tactic that might later benefit the officer’s survival. 

Martial Arts Training as the Basis of Police Training is Problematic

In the martial arts, “how to safely fall” is routinely taught to decrease the injuries from training as well as to provide a safety mechanism when the student is sparring.  Training often begins with basic shoulder rolls, and then to break falls until the student is capable of safely falling from a hard throw on to a mat or even on to an unprotected surface.  As the training progresses to increasingly more difficult and dangerous throws, different and more effective breakfalls are needed, practiced, and mastered.  Martial arts training involves years of consistent and regular training to achieve competency in fundamental tasks that also involve rolling and falling.  Dedicated personal training effort creates an unconscious mastery.  This permits an individual to automatically roll or break their fall when they unexpectedly lose balance.  Absent this type of intensive and extended training, no one can be considered to be skilled in safely falling from the number of hours and repetitions received solely from academy or in-service training.

Martial arts training involves years of consistent and regular training to achieve competency in fundamental tasks that also involve rolling and falling.  Dedicated personal training effort creates an unconscious mastery.  This permits an individual to automatically roll or break their fall when they unexpectedly lose balance.  Absent this type of intensive and extended training, no one can be considered to be skilled in safely falling from the number of hours and repetitions received solely from academy or in-service training.

Defending the Curriculum

Because Defensive Tactics training seems to be a natural result of martial arts training, almost all academy curriculum contains varying amounts of time dedicated to teaching recruits how to fall.  For example, a new DT curriculum for police recruit academy training was being developed by a Defensive Tactics Subject Matter Expert who asked for my review.  The first subject was “Rolls and Breakfalls.”  When asked why the recruits would be spending eight per cent of the course on developing this skill, this highly experienced police officer and very accomplished martial artist answered that every cop needs to know how to protect themselves from falls on the job.  For him, the need for this training content was automatic, something intrinsic to his deep experience in martial arts.  This brought on a line of questioning that became increasingly more difficult to justify.  When finally asked if he thought, absent previous training, the recruits would gain automatic, unconscious competency from this time spent in this activity, he thought, and then admitted that it was very unlikely.  His assumption, that every officer must be able to protect from fall injuries whenever and however they might occur may be valid.  When faced with the reality of the limitations inherent to recruit and police training, that standard is not achievable. 

Officers leave the academy and are instantly in the big leagues--officers have been murdered on their first day of patrol.  The non-martial artists, representing most recruits and officers, have little time to prepare to face every manner and threat of suspect.  Cops are many times more likely to become involved in a physical fight than a shooting, and much more likely to be sued for the simple application of control holds than they are for shootings.  Defensive tactics training, regardless of how much time is allotted to it, is by definition less than desirable for any officer.  There just isn’t sufficient training time in any agency’s budget or schedule to commit the personnel to gaining anything more than minimal competency. 

Every topic in any defensive tactics program must be scrutinized for its realistic value to the officer on the street.  This is measured by the average officer’s ability to successfully apply the skill or tactic on-time, in-time against an unwilling suspect.  This requires the training to provide sufficient time and repetitions to minimally acquire a level of at least conscious competency (although this is not “mastery,” officers can perform the skill or tactic but must think about how to do it).  Will an officer who is three years out of the academy, being assaulted in the dark and shoved off-balance, be able to remember and perform that skill?  Frankly, the typical officer will not be able to execute a safe fall or roll during an unexpected fall.  If that is the case, why teach this topic in training?

Teaching martial arts rolls and breakfalls are a poor use of time when they are viewed from the officer’s very real need for functional knowledge at some distant time.  There simply is not enough time or the availability of frequent, recurrent training to gain even a minimum level of competency when reacting to suddenly falling or being thrown in a fight.  Even if that time and training budget were provided, there are other skills that would be more beneficial to an officer’s survival than rolls and breakfalls.

What Should be Taught?

Simple breakfalls should be covered to assist in maintaining the safety of the recruit or officer being taken down in training.  Explanations and practice of a simple PLF (Parachute Landing Fall) where the goal is to sequentially collapse the body without striking bony projections (knees, hips, elbows, shoulders, and especially the head) against the hard surface of the ground, will be better incorporated into training.  Through this, training is simplified and made safer. 

A level of competency might then be gained during the repetition afforded by takedowns in practice.  The recruit should receive several hundred repetitions of the same or similar fall during the course of the training.  The simple fact of hundreds of repetitions of more safely falling increases an individual’s expertise, and may lead to a behavior change in the future. 

However, more advanced breakfalls from throws, as well as martial arts rolls require an intensity and duration of practice that will never be provided by police training.  They are too varied and specialized, and this limits the number of reps that recruit or officer receives.  That time can be better spent elsewhere during this precious training time to develop their expertise on something that might actually later be useful. 

Expecting THE Fight

by George on December 5, 2012 08:28

There are three types of hands-on fights that officers must prepare for.  While every cop has lots of experience going “hands-on” with resisting subjects, you may or may not have experienced all three levels of unarmed suspect resistance.  And this may cost you your life or your health.  The three levels of “fights” officers experience are the scuffle, the determined escape, and THE Fight.  Each varies in intensity, has its own perils and consequences, and each category requires you to quickly orient to your present reality.

The scuffle occurs when a suspect panics at the sudden realization of being under arrest.  Scuffles involve very low-level resistance where the suspect often negotiates or pleads while pushing and/or pulling in a disorganized effort to get away.  The certainty of jail creates a mindless type of flight behavior consisting solely of muscular effort as he frantically seeks to somehow delay the inevitable.  However, panic is not an effective fighting strategy and officers are very familiar with this behavior.  In fact, they are expert in overcoming this type of physical conflict.  Officer injuries in this common force incident are typically strains, sprains, and falls. 

The “determined escape” is less familiar but not altogether surprising.  This involves a suspect who is willing to injure you in order to escape.  This suspect often begins by attempting to pull or push, but unexpectedly escalates to punches, elbows, head-butts, and knees in order to create an opening.  Once you are stunned or injured, this suspect flees.  His purpose for fighting is to escape.  The usual strains, sprains, and falls occur, but the sharp violence from this suspect also brings with it contusions, lacerations, and possible brain injuries ranging from mild to severe concussions.  While not as common as the scuffle, this is a combative experience that is also universal to the police experience.  Too often, as you are struggling to contain the resisting suspect, your first indication of a determined escape is a sudden flash of light accompanied by the pain of being struck.  Surprised, you are knocked back or just lose your grip, and you realize the suspect is already sprinting away.

If you are able, you chase and physically engage him again.  Even though he struck you, you remain reactive as you attempt to overcome his resistance.  At some point you expect him to submit, become fatigued, or be injured sufficiently from your efforts to finally comply.  You understand you are in a fight with someone who will hurt you to get away. 

There is another type of fight that is less common, although, unfortunately, not rare.  The infrequency of this event, in itself, creates a problem for you.  Some officers retire having never been in this fight, while others face it early in their careers.  An arrest goes sideways and you orient to the suspect tensing, pulling, and pushing.  You begin to respond through your usual methods when the suspect suddenly strikes you.  That flash of white, surprise, and loss of grip on the suspect create the space he needs to flee. 

There is another type of fight that is less common, although, unfortunately, not rare.  The infrequency of this event, in itself, creates a problem for you.  Some officers retire having never been in this fight, while others face it early in their careers.  An arrest goes sideways and you orient to the suspect tensing, pulling, and pushing.  You begin to respond through your usual methods when the suspect suddenly strikes you.  That flash of white, surprise, and loss of grip on the suspect create the space he needs to flee. 

Except this time he doesn’t run.  He stays and closes the gap, renewing his assault.

If this is the first time you’ve seen this, you may, like other officers, become confused and disoriented by the suspect’s actions.  Officers are typically stunned, sometimes for critical seconds at this unexpected event.  There is a desperate effort to orient to this change from what should be a familiar pattern, to make sense of this strange situation.  Every other suspect fled the moment there was an opportunity, but this guy is not only staying, he is intent on injuring you.  Frantically attempting to orient to this abrupt difference between the expectation of flight and the unexpected continuation of violence, officers become shocked, mentally locked in place while attempting to make sense of it.  The suspect has achieved two of the three tactical goals:  surprise and violence of action.

Officers in this situation finally recognize the danger and fight back with renewed ferocity in time…or they do not. 

If you are able to fight back, there will likely be a new and unfamiliar determination in your effort—where generally your force is restrained, your response is now definitive.  You may realize the suspect is attempting to cause serious injury, and quickly transition to deadly force.  Or you resort to your own sudden physical violence to overcome this suspect’s murderous intent, employing strikes, throwing the suspect to the ground, or transitioning to a reasonable force tool.

Unfortunately, some officers are unable to orient to this unexpected change.  This is where serious injury is likely to occur.  It is during these seconds of confusion and inability to quickly adapt that officers lose their handguns, are beaten to unconsciousness, or are mortally injured.  The inability to swiftly shift from expected suspect behavior to what is actually happening can fatally delay an effective force response. 

If you have been in this situation, you remember the exact moment.  You remember the suspect’s face, the look of hatred, the confusion you felt when he had an advantage and rather than using it to flee, he stayed to injure you.  And you remember the difference the next time you went hands-on.  While still responding with reasonable force based on the totality of the facts known to you, you no longer played wristy-twisty games.  Instead, your efforts were definitive and designed to gain swift compliance.  You no longer expected the suspect to simply flee after attempting to injure you.  You now take measures not only to stop his flight, but to prevent his ability to harm you because “you’ve been there” and know it was a close call. 

Preparing for THE Fight

A sound survival strategy does not depend upon the luck of the draw, hoping not to be confronted with a suspect who is intent on continuing the fight when he could leave.  There are steps you can take to ensure you are better able to respond.  Enrolling in a quality Mixed Martial Art school, attending more DT classes, and/or getting some one-on-one instruction from your agency instructors can’t hurt.  However, there are other, more valuable preparations you can make.

Expect THE Fight.  If you haven’t experienced THE Fight yet, expect it.  Just knowing about the probability of being surprised by unexpected aggression will provide you with better context for the suspect’s actions when it finally happens.  Humans decisionize under threat through pattern-matching with likely solutions, settling upon the first solution that seems to fit the problem.1   If you someday expect the suspect to remain and fight, even though every suspect you’ve dealt with has turned and run, it creates an expectation that will help you to more quickly pattern-match and orient to the suspect’s behavior.  You will say, “Oh.  I thought this might happen,” rather than, “What’s going on…what’s he doing?  This never happened before.”  Expecting THE Fight prepares you for that possibility, opening your decision-making options and rapidly recognizing the change in circumstances.  The faster you orient to any fight, especially THE Fight, the more likely you will positively influence the outcome.

Know your force policy and force law.  It is unfortunate that many officers are unsure of when they are permitted to respond with force, including deadly force.  Having been taught only techniques—and sometimes only pressure points to poke at—many officers have never been trained that lawful violence is intrinsic to policing.  Some have been incorrectly trained that punches to the head are either deadly force or excessive force.  Under certain circumstances, deadly force may be lawfully employed against an unarmed suspect given the intensity of a suspect’s threat if that officer can articulate his reasoning. 

There are too many accounts of officers who have been involved in extended fights with suspects, some well-beyond five-minutes, where the officer’s fatigue was so great that defense was no longer possible.  Research shows that officers are functionally unable to continue fighting after just 45-seconds to one-minute of full muscular effort.2   Officers should be trained that deadly force is an option early in this type of incident based on injuries and a high level of fatigue.  Articulating the suspect’s clear determination combined with continuing efforts to seriously harm the officer while having ample opportunity to flee is key to justifying a deadly force response in these circumstances. 

The thorough knowledge of force law and your policies, as well as the ability to articulate your reasonable perceptions and belief of the suspect’s threat, provides you with a confident understanding of the permissions and limits to force.  The question, “Everyone will fight, but will they fight on time?”3  is valid during THE Fight.  “When” is answered in policy and law, and is just as important as “how” in winning any force event. 

Put resisting subjects to the ground immediately!  One of the Universal Rules of Combatives© taught by CUTTING EDGE TRAINING is, “Put resisting subjects to the ground immediately.”©  Suspects who are on their feet retain their systemic body strength as well as their mobility.  Both are threatening to you.  The moment a suspect resists, he should be taken to the ground.  This gives you options, based on the Universal Rule of GroundCombatives©: “Stay if you’re winning, leave if you are losing.”©  Dealing with a suspect on the ground is not a contest.  He is unsearched and his intent unknown.  If you feel you are holding your own and dominating him, by all means stay until he is secured.  But if you believe you are about to be injured, or he is about to gain advantage, it is time to tactically retreat, select the reasonable force tool, and make the decisions you were trained to make based on the law and your policy.  By intentionally taking a suspect to the ground immediately upon the first sign of resistance, it is possible to short cut many suspect’s intentions to harm you.  For those suspects choosing to continue to fight, an intentional takedown will generally leave you standing with the suspect on the ground.  If the fight continues, make your tactical and force decisions from there. 

Conclusion

While every incident where you’ve resorted to DT or experienced a failed Taser discharge has the ability to become THE Fight, a suspect who is willing to stay and fight  when escape may be possible may be a once or twice in a career event.  It’s important to rapidly recognize the unexpected behavior of the suspect.  In all officer safety situations, anything out of the norm means a critical decision-point, and a suspect who is fighting back and can escape but chooses to stay and continue fighting, signals a radical change in normal suspect behavior.  Why he is not fleeing doesn’t matter right now.  The fact that he is still attempting to hurt you does.  Knowing force law gives you permission to respond with reasonable force that will take care of the problem before you are too fatigued to protect yourself.  Putting him to the ground as soon as possible helps to limit his strength and mobility.  Expect THE Fight so you won’t be surprised when it finds you.

-------------------------------

1.    Klein, Gary, Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions, MIT Press, 1998.
2.   
http://www.forcescience.org/fsinews/2011/04/force-science-news-176-final-findings-from-force-science-exhaustion-study/
3.    Clint Smith

A Question of Leadership

by George on August 16, 2012 23:25

You're a commander within a police agency, having the experience, education, and the effort to have achieved your rank.  You have an important job, and the decisions you make affect not only the environment of the police department your officers work in, but also the lives of the citizens you serve.  If you were again a patrol officer and were asked to follow orders and to accept discipline from a command staff officer, would the following make any difference in the quality of your attitude and decision-making at work? 

  • A major police agency changes it firearms qualification policy, ending the requirement for any command staff officer (Deputy Chief and above) to qualify, even though each is an armed commissioned officer.
  • In another large agency, the command staff has a qualification day separate from that of their officers.  That way, commanders and the Chief are “not embarrassed” by poor shooting scores.
  • In defensive tactics training, seeing anyone above the rank of sergeant is rare, even though lieutenants and above are responsible for evaluating their officer’s force response.
  • In one agency with 180+ sworn officers, no command staff officer above the rank of lieutenant has ever attended EVOC and PIT training, even though lieutenants and above evaluate their officer’s pursuit actions and PIT techniques.
  • Command officers designate the closest parking spaces to the station entrance for their convenience while citing, “Rank has its privileges," requiring first responder officers to run a longer distance to run to their patrol cars when responding from the station parking lot.
  • Command officers rarely attend training subjects involving officer safety and tactical response, even though they are responsible for evaluating their officer’s tactics and safety responses.

Chief law enforcement executives and their command staff occupy a unique niche in this world.  They are responsible for managing multi-million dollar budgets in a high profile, high liability business.  They are also police officers who are responsible for enforcing the law and leading officers in their public safety duties.  Command officers cannot be simple “cops” because of their management responsibilities—time and their position simply cannot support the time away from the office and the day-to-day workload that comes with it by answering calls, making arrests, and the resulting court testimony that follows.

Conversely, police officers are not typical “workers.”  Because of the nature of the job, police work is a necessarily curious mix of public servant and warrior.  Officers must treat the citizens they serve with professional respect, providing a protective and investigative resource to the community and individuals at times of great stress and duress.  At the same time, officers must approach their duties tactically, and be prepared for life-and-death struggles when responding to any call for service.  It is a rare officer who makes it through a career without life-and-death decisions being forced upon him or her.  The fundamental warrior quality needed within law enforcement cannot be denied.  It is the balance of service and warrior that makes the job of a police officer unique.

Because of this warrior quality, officers require a unique style of management.  That style has a direct bearing on the command staff officers’ effectiveness as a leader and manager, and the agency’s officers’ morale.  The command officer’s bearing and manner of approach to that important job has a direct effect on the quality of the officers’ work product in serving the public. 

Officers expect executive and command staff members to “lead” them.  The culture of policing resists “management” and the latest seminar “technique.”  This culture embraces “leadership.”  It is safe to say that any command officer who considers him- or herself solely to be a “manager” is probably less than successful at his or her job, and may be a dismaying failure.  Instead, those who command the respect of the officers they serve are those command officers are those who are “leaders.” 

Think about the qualities of leadership that you admire.  Volumes have been produced about what those qualities are and what it takes to be a leader.  One important quality is courage--standing up for what is right, not what is politically correct or good for you.  An unbending sense of integrity--walking your talk, and not finding the easy way out of a problem--is another.  Still another is the sense of service to others, especially to subordinates--instead of thinking that only you have all the answers and are in your position because you are "anointed of God."  Perhaps the most important quality is that of understanding that rank does NOT have privilege, but rather responsibility.  Looking out for the welfare of your cops, holding them to high but reasonable standards of conduct, and rewarding good honest cop work regardless of the outcome, despite public or media sentiment and outcry, will create a police department that will retain good cops with high morale and good policing ethics.

Questions of leadership are often centered around the relevance of command’s knowledge of their officers’ training and day-to-day tasks.  It is about making an effort and setting an example.  Leadership involves putting your officers first, and pulling them forward, rather than pushing them from behind or crushing them from above.  It is about personal and professional accountability.  While a command officer may have pushed a patrol car fifteen or more years ago, the street and the equipment have changed in the last year.  It’s different than it was ten or fifteen years ago.  Suspects are more aggressive and challenging, while technology adds to the attention demands of officers.  Your officers know this, and they know who the leaders are in their agency who have current job knowledge.  They also know who are simply managers and who covet rank and career more than responsibility.  In fine, officers believe that leaders understand, and managers have no clue.

One way for a command officer to demonstrate a level of commitment and understanding to officers—and something that every officer looks for in their command staff—is having current knowledge of their day-to-day job tasks and a sense of understanding of what they face on the street.  Command is not be expected to do everything required of a young cop, but command officers should understand and be intimately familiar with what their officers deal with daily.

There is one area of police work where gaining respect while maintaining the relevancy every command officer needs is readily available:  attending your own agency’s training.  It means putting yourself on the line in front of your officers, doing what they do, learning what they are taught, sharing your experience, and learning about theirs—and them as individuals rather than as personnel evaluations.  While safety and skills training may not seem to be “relevant” to your daily job needs, it is vital to your own credibility as well as the currency of your job knowledge.  It may well be a significant part of your ability to provide meaningful direction to your officers as well as reasonably evaluate their job actions.

ATTENDING TRAINING

Anyone familiar with any administrator’s job knows the volume of your workload.  Any single day away from the desk means you are a day behind stacks of papers and missed meetings.  At the same time, your effectiveness at your rank lies within your ability to command officers’ respect—they don’t need to like you, but they should respect you because of your integrity and devotion to duty.  Respect is borne of shared experiences and the knowledge that the other person is willing to put themselves on the line for you.  Even a couple of hours in the classroom, range, mat room, training area, or EVOC track will pay huge dividends to any command officer who makes a consistent attempt.

What message is sent to the line officers when command officers (regardless of their administrative skills) are no longer expected to qualify with their weapons?  Minimally, your officers may believe:

  • Command is incompetent.  Incompetence in any profession is fatal, but none more so than in policing. 
  • There is a double-standard working within the agency, with an underlying problems of a sense of “unfairness.”  Officers tend to have a well-defined sense of justice and belief in fair play.  This perception of a double-standard can only foster and exacerbate a labor-versus-management atmosphere where confrontation is the norm and not the exception.
  • Any negative evaluation of an officer-involved shooting is immediately suspect.  The belief, right or wrong is, after all, “they shoot so poorly they can’t qualify with us, so what gives them the right to judge us?”
  • All discipline for low or failing firearms qualification scores is hypocritical. 

Defensive tactics/use of force is the most commonly employed “trained” skill an officer is likely to use on a daily basis.  It is not uncommon for an officer to respond with force, causing some type of injury to the resisting or assaultive suspect—this can be expected, on average, three to five times per year per officer.  This force response can generate a complaint.  The officer becomes the subject of an investigation.  While not common, is also not rare that this investigation results in an outraged administrator demanding the officer be disciplined for something the officer was trained to do in that situation by the agency’s own DT instructors.  Huge credibility problems result and anger in the ranks increases, undermining any command officer’s effectiveness.

THE SOLUTION?

A possible solution to this problem of a perceived problem of a lack of leadership is simple:  Lead, don’t manage.  Share their experiences as much as your schedule permits.

  • Share your officers’ training.  Make it a point of attending training, especially those training courses involving core police skills:  defensive tactics, shooting, driving, and arrest & control, officer safety.  While you may have past injuries that limit or prevent your fully participating, no one but the most sour officer will hold it against you for not wrestling around on the floor with the youngsters.  But you will get a huge measure of respect for just showing up and “flying the flag” of command.  Participate where you can, even if your skills are inferior or you have to struggle.  It is better to be known as someone who is not well skilled but tries, than a hypocrite or “non-hacker” who doesn’t even show up.  Even if you sit in a chair, or discuss the training points with your officers while on break, you get credit for being there and learning what your officers are being taught.   They get to know you, and, more importantly, you get to know them.  Personal interconnection counts most during high pressure situations where lives are at stake and trust in command’s judgment determines the outcome of an incident.  That is Team Building 101, and is worth a thousand very expensive team building “retreats.”  For example, a 58-year old female Commander (3rd in command in a 200 officer agency) routinely attended defensive tactics training.  She worked where she could despite injuries and her age, she got sweaty with the troops, and exhibited a willingness to risk failing while making the effort to succeed.  No one in that agency thought she was skilled.  She also fired her qualification scores every shoot with a different groups so she could fly the flag at the range as well.  And every cop in that agency gave her credit for her effort to put herself in front of them and making the effort.
  • Put yourself on the line in testing in front of the troops.  A huge credibility factor for every officer is whether or not a command officer will risk his ego in front of the officers.  Command officers who avoid firearms qualification shoots, or suddenly disappear when written examinations are required in training undermine their credibility.  While every officer would love his or her chief to be “super-cop,” the reality is that they want their command officers to demonstrate their willingness to put it on the line, just like the officers do every shift.  It is part of the camaraderie that develops between humans who share the same experience and risk.  While the risk taken during testing is not the same as sharing the same small piece of cover in a firefight, it is still a risking of ego and stature, and that counts in the warrior mind of officers.

If your skills are truly unsatisfactory in any area, and this is the cause of your avoiding training, there is nothing wrong with requesting assistance from your training staff.  You are a police officer, and agency trainers are tasked with assisting every officer to meet standards.  Attend the training, and then get extra training time in—this often only means a few extra hours spread over time.  The important thing is to be out there for your officers, rather than being perceived as your being for you only and the “privileges” of your rank. 

CONCLUSION

It can be easily argued that training is a vital aspect of law enforcement.  It can also be argued that every officer regardless of rank benefits from attendance.  When an officer fails to participate in training, it is likely that officer will perform at less than an optimum level.  When command staff consistently fails to attend, it is likely that command officer will fail in leading their officers, will have labor problems, and all decisions relating to discipline or tactical resolution of incidents will be seen as suspect—or be met with near-rebellion.

Attendance at all training involving high-liability activities and skill development should be mandatory for all command officers.  Ideally, at least one command officer will be present and participate in every class for a significant portion of the training during the multiple iterations required to cover an entire agency.  In this manner, the command staff officer better knows his or her officers, and, more importantly, his officers know their commander.  Each is more familiar and less foreign to the other.

While this action alone will never create a “beloved” leader, that shouldn’t be the goal of any administrator.  A leader, because of the position, is not necessarily popular, due to making the unpopular decisions that all commanders must make from time to time.  But he is more highly respected because he takes the time to show his officers that they and their training matter—and he understands that rank does not have privileges.  Instead, with rank comes a greater responsibility to the officers he or she serves.

Changing requirements for, or segregating command staff during training is a corruption of power and privilege.  If command personnel are police officers with police powers, they are legally required to be trained, and should attend the same training their officers do.  Yes, they are extremely busy.  But a vital part of their job is maintaining their job skills and demonstrating leadership.  If a commander is embarrassed by his or her scores, then practice should be undertaken in order to meet standards.  If you are older and the miles of life prevent you from participating in the physical training, then be an interested observer and participate where you can--show a willingness to train and learn, and share your experience. 

It is a question of leadership.  If you are a command officer, be the leader you wanted when you were an officer.  Take those responsibilities seriously enough to maintain your skills and currency with what your officers are being taught.  This is a simple step that will pay huge dividends.

Not Here

by George on May 4, 2012 05:24

There's courage involved if you want
to become truth.  There is a broken

open place in a lover.  Where are
those qualities of bravery and sharp

compassion in this group?  What's the
use of old and frozen thought?  I want

a howling hurt.  This is not a treasury
where gold is stored;  this is for copper.

We alchemists look for talent that 
can heat up and change.  Lukewarm

won't do.  Half-hearted holding-back,
well-enough, getting-by?  Not here.

                                            —Rumi

How does anything that Rumi wrote apply to tactics, combatives, the brutal struggle to overcome assault and to accomplish the mission you have laid out for yourself, even at the cost of your own life?  Perhaps you might wish to read it again from a different perspective.

To find the tactical truth, or the combatives truth, or the shooting truth—any warrior truth—you must have courage to question your cherished beliefs about your tactics and combatives skills, as well as the limits to your capabilities you have accepted as truth.  Without insight into why the tactics you choose function, how they developed and what problem they were intended to solve, you have no idea of the context of that tactic.  The combative system you dutifully work out in—sweating and twisting and thumping and being thrown and striking and pressing triggers by rote, all without understanding the underlying principles that will actually permit you to employ it in combat—will fail you unless you have the courage to question and validate everything you do within the context of pain, blood, death, loss, defeat, and victory, for that is the only context in which combatives should be considered.

Are you playing a sport and thinking it is applicable to combat?

  • Training scars are created that may be fatal:  Jujitsu players and wrestlers routinely leave their groins wide open while “fighting” in training—there are many in the profession at arms who think putting someone in the “guard” in a real life and death fight is a good idea.
  • Aikido is a highly instructional method of learning balance during movement and a stylized response to someone striking at you with a sword, but is universally void of practicality for almost everyone in real life physical conflict.  Actual Aikido techniques applied to real life combatives problems universally fail all but the most accomplished practitioners.
  • Shooters playing shooting games use “barricades” by resting their weapon on the edge of the object, with most of their body in full view of the paper target, never thinking about a "two-way range."

Are you willing to break open your accepted tactical and technical truths until hurts?  There must be a willingness to examine every minute detail of the system you love, holding it up against the contextually-correct situation it will be tested in during combat.

          “The event can in some ways be considered as an abrupt and brutal audit at a moment’s notice, (where) everything
           that was left unprepared becomes a complex problem, and every weakness comes rushing to the forefront…(The)
           brutal audit uncovers unforeseen weakness in resilience—the capability to recover.  Resilient action that enhances
           recovery from setback is built out of a broad repertoire of action and experience, the ability to recombine 
           fragments of past experience into novel responses, emotional control…”
 
                                                                                                      --(Pat Lagadec, “Preventing Chaos in a Crisis”).

Combat is the most brutal audit there is for anyone’s combatives training.  The “broken open place in a lover” Rumi writes of is that searing, haunting drivenness to find that which is not truth, which will not survive the reality of one or more men attempting to take your life without politely and patiently waiting until you are ready or are finished with your series of complicated moves.  It takes bravery to question the very foundation of your beliefs in what works and what does not.  As a trainer, people prevail —or they get hurt and killed—based on what I share with their instructors.  As an instructor, you are ultimately responsible for every word, move, tactic, and skill you teach.  As a warrior, you live or die based on what you accept from your instructors, and consequently, so do other people because of your actions or lack of them, your effectiveness or lack thereof.  Choose well, for your life and the lives of others rest upon that decision.

How can it be that any trainer or instructor does not have the sharp compassion in their heart to break down everything, working from the fight backward, deconstructing the needs of the warrior to ensure he or she can actually apply it in an unforgiving environment where people suffer horrible injuries and die?  Teaching a skill, technique, or tactic because you like it or you have a vested interest in it, that looks good on the mat or on the range but is impossible for your warriors to perform in that fierce crucible of conflict is immoral at best, and not worthy of the trust others have in you.  As an instructor, you may have ninja quality reflexes and Greek god-like skills and attributes.  However, there must be compassion in the decision of what survival and combative skills to teach for those of us who are mere mortals, those humans in the uniform with all of the limitations and weaknesses and, yes, strength of heart and mind and the ability to overcome all odds that God put into us if only we would use it?

I cannot fight like you, because you are unique.  So, too, you cannot fight like me because my approach to fighting is necessarily and universally individual.  We have different abilities, experiences, schemas, strength, flexibility, mental and intellectual capability, emotional stability under threat, injury and health levels, and training.  When I try to fight like you, I fail.  This is something one discovers only through the pain and humiliation of failing—if allowed to survive the event by the victor.  While you may be exceptional in all areas of combatives, there must be compassion for those of us who are “average.”  For while most people consider themselves above average, it just ain’t so.  There are far more average people in uniform than exceptional or above average, and for every person who is above average, there is one or more who is below average and struggling just to stay in the game.

While training need not—and should not—be “dumbed down,” it must be achievable by each person you teach.  And within that sharp compassion for those you train, it takes courage to find that place inside your precious beliefs to question the content of your lesson plan.  What you teach may work for you because you are stronger than most people—but that cannot work for me.  It may well be that you are extraordinarily calm under pressure—the “Ice Man” incarnate—but that, too, cannot work for me in the midst of that weird adrenaline haze and crystalline clarity of combat.  It may work for you because you love it and you train incessantly, fascinated by the complexity and the special feeling it gives you to know how to counter the counter of the counter to the first technique, but that cannot work for me because, well, I’m not you, and I may not be that fascinated and it may be that I would love to know and even equal your skill level but I don’t train that often, if at all, even when you nag at me for my own good that I need to practice.

In this deconstruction and microscopic examination of your combatives training system, is there any frozen or old thinking you still accept as truth?  Wisdom is often old, because what is wise is ageless in its applicability to any age—every generation either continues to prove its validity or is forced to relearn its lessons.  Frozen thinking, however, results when we either do not think to question our dogma because “we have always done it this way,” or because it is easier to just accept what the latest expert says rather than to take the responsibility to think on our own, or we are lazy because we are comfortable and no longer feel the need to explore and grow in our skills and knowledge base.  You may be frozen in your thinking if think that:

  • Martial arts is “fighting” and prepares you to win in a fight.
  • MMA and fighting in the octagon is preparation for combat on the street and suitable as training for anyone in uniform.
  • Shooting games are preparation for winning gunfights.
  • You teach a “technique” that takes more than two-tenths of a second to complete or has more than two steps to accomplish, because anything costing more time or requiring more movements in a fight depends upon the other guy’s cooperation to be successful—and not many people are interested in giving you that opportunity.
  • You teach 45, 145, or 1,145 techniques in your defensive tactics or CQC program, and think any technique will work in combat (within that overwhelming swirl of fear and rage and frustration and dread and excitement) without 10,000 to 25,000 conscious and contextually-correct repetitions of each technique that must be recalled instantly given the fluid and dangerous nature of the fight and exactly executed in-time, on-time to effective.
  • Teaching the law or ROE is something lawyers do, and is not necessary for a survival skills instructor to be a Subject Matter Expert.   Why do my students need to know the context of the application of force?
  • Defensive tactics problems can be solved exclusively through DT solutions, that firearms problems can only be resolved through firearms solutions, that tactics are for SWAT or the classroom or the field, and not part of the mat or range.

The first time a cop I knew was murdered I was pierced by a “howling hurt.”  That howling hurt came again the first time a police officer I had trained was murdered.  There’s a place inside of me where those howling hurts live still—as well as the other howling hurts suffered over the years of murders and medical retirements and discharges of good, honest heroes—and I touch that terrible place each time I stand in front of a class realizing that the warriors sitting or standing before me may actually listen, believe, and use what I teach in an attempt to keep their lives and in the defense of other peoples’ lives.  So teaching is a place to offer everything and hold nothing back, and to realize there is no silver bullet, that all the glitters is not gold, and every assumption about how to keep myself and others alive is just that, and must be examined and turned inside-out, then examined again and again.

Because change is life.  Life is growth, and any system upon which I depend for my safety and my family’s, and that I teach other people who will depend upon it for their life and their family’s, must grow and change and improve as we understand more deeply what constitutes effective training and efficient action during chaos and blood and pain.  Science is helping us learn what is valid, and helping to disprove what is myth.  A growing body of experience, born of pain and effort gives us still more information.  Do we have the fire in our bellies and the commitment to excellence to make the effort to grow and to change and to challenge those cherished beliefs we all hold about “my” system and the way “it should be done”?

Fighting isn’t about gold—it is about copper and steel and lead and bone and sinew and guts.  It is about purifying the lessons, distilling them down to the underlying principles that are easy to grasp, universal in their application, and functional when needed, especially when you are hurt, tired, and very scared and need them to work.

Half-hearted holding-back, well-enough getting-by?  When I read this piece by Rumi I see in the wisdom of his words the truth that I believe all trainers and instructors of combatives—and the warriors who employ those methods—must take to heart.  When lives are on the line, when any person's rights are in question, when any person trusts what we teach, how can we someday stand before God without having had stood in the white-hot furnace of self-critique and contextual relevance when not doing so fills caskets of those willing to risk their lives in service to others? Lukewarm in the lessons and skills being taught, learned, and employed just won’t do.  Not here.