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How Not to Shoot Off-Duty Officers: The Other Side of the Coin

by George on July 14, 2014 07:28

In an earlier blog-entry, I wrote the article, "How Not to Get Shot Off-Duty by Other Officers” (pubished in "The Police Marksman", March/April 2014 issue).  This is the companion piece to that article, examining how patrol officers can maximize their own safety through tactical principles while decreasing the likelihood of shooting another officer.

You’re responding to a call of a man-with-a-gun with multiple 9-1-1 calls.  Out of your patrol car, you’re moving toward the reported location behind the house when you suddenly hear some shouting and then a series of gunshots and believe they’re from the alley just a few feet from the corner of the fence you are moving along.  Slicing around the corner, you see a male with a handgun in his hand, his back to you, shouting something you can’t understand.  Another male is down, holding his belly, slowly rocking back and forth as blood pools beneath him.  Just as you take in this information, out of the corner of your eye you see your uniformed backup officer step around the corner a few steps, directly into alley.  He’s wide-eyed with his rifle aimed at the armed subject’s back.  You’re about to tell him to get back behind cover when he calls out, “Police!  Freeze!  Drop the…!”  The armed subject turns his head and shoulders, his face hard with surprise, the handgun swinging in your general direction as he moves.  You and your backup officer don’t see the badge hanging around his neck…

The problem of uniformed on-duty officers intentionally shooting an armed subject who later turns out to be an off-duty or plainclothes cop continues to plague law enforcement.  A large responsibility for this problem falls on the armed off-duty officer by failing to recognize the peril he is in from responding officers, especially when he turns toward armed officers.  The responding officers believe that an unidentified individual is a criminal involved in a shooting in-progress or just-occurred.  A badge may be even visible, worn around the neck or clipped to their belt, or even held in their hand.  Even though visibly displayed, badges are not be seen because the officers’ attentional focus is locked on that firearm as it is moving or lifting toward the officer.  Problematically, there is nothing about that badge that is sufficiently salient or conspicuous enough to rip their attention away from the firearm that is now threatening them.  They fire in what they believe to be in defense of their lives, and, too often, two or more cops and their families are smothered in tragedy. 

Training programs have been developed focusing on the responding officer.  These programs revolve around recognizing badges and essentially slowing down the deadly force response to apparent threat.  This may be an ill-considered attempt to rectify a problem that probably should be directed more to training officers in safer off-duty conduct as well as how to more safely arrive at the scene of a shooting or the presence of a firearm.  Slowing an officer’s response to a perceived threat involving a visible handgun is counter to an officer’s safety. 

That said, there are steps that responding officers can to confidently respond to an apparent imminent deadly threat while providing them with a method making it less likely to fire upon an off-duty or plainclothes officer. 

 

CHANGE THE BASIS OF DEFENSIVE FIREARMS TRAINING 

As a trainer, it is a highly useful and beneficial goal to train officers to recognize a deadly force threat and to respond with little need for thinking about how to fire their weapon.  This is performed through stimulus-response training.  As the officer learns to associate an imminent threat with a proper response (fire accurately until the threat is over), that response starts out as, “Threat?  Yes—Shoot!’  As training progresses, the response becomes, “Threat-Shoot!”  A well-prepared officer will exhibit a “Thr-Shoot!” response.  In the split-second, high threat world of surviving the typical close range gunfight where the suspect is first to move and almost always gets the first shot (according to the FBI), an unconsciously competent, nearly automatic response to a perceived imminent deadly threat is a life-saver.

Many officer survival and firearms training programs emphasize recognition of the weapon as the trip-wire for response.  “If you see a gun, shoot him.”  “If you see a knife, shoot…”  It is also common in academies as well as in-service training to use the command, “Gun!” as the drill execution command (the military command of “Fire!” has no relevance to policing; neither does the current “cool-guy” command of “Up!”).  Upon hearing, “Gun!” officers initiate their string of fire.  This translates as “Gun = shoot.”  Problematically, this range execution command is the same as the street communication between officers of “Gun!”  In the street, this is a warning that there is a firearm present but should not be an initiation signal to begin firing.  The use of the same word for two incompatible purposes—to fire or to inform—creates internal and potentially fatal conflict within an officer. 

TRAINING POINT:  Deadly force should be a behavior-based response rather than a simple response to the hardware an individual possesses.

Training should provide what we call "Early Orientation Markers,"© providing threat pattern-matching capabilities for officers.  By training officers in what threatening behavior looks like, how the body moves when the suspect is obtaining a deadly weapon, the officer is likely to make better decisions. 

While this discussion is not intended to be a primer on deadly force standards, the individual officer’s reasonable belief the suspect’s actions, based on everything known to the officer at that moment, is creating an imminent (about to shoot) or actual (the subject is firing) danger of being killed or seriously injured is required. The mere possession of a deadly weapon absent any other indication of on-going or imminent threat is difficult to justify.  If the suspect is simply armed, the officer likely needs more information to shoot.

Training should emphasize the concept of “threatening behavior plus reasonable belief of capability equals deadly force response.”  While a suspected criminal subject with a firearm turning rapidly with the weapon would reasonably justify shooting that person in self-defense, there are other behaviors that might be evaluated if there is time.

For example, identifying expected criminal behavior after a shooting is valuable information.  There is a difference between criminal use of a firearm and police or legally armed citizens’ defensive use of a firearm.  Fleeing after a shooting (or quickly robbing the victim) is likely the most common reaction for a criminal suspect. 

Off-duty officers, on the other hand, will likely be acting, well, like cops:

  • Armed and holding someone at gunpoint with the suspect holding up his hands or putting his hands on his head.
  • Standing over someone who is proned out.
  • After shooting somebody, guarding that person until help arrives. 
  • After shooting someone, holding the suspect’s associates at bay by pointing his/her handgun and shouting at them to “Stay back!” or “Get on the ground!”

Another example of behavior-based response in very threatening circumstances is the first responding sergeant to the Trolley Square Mall shooting (an active shooter event on February 12, 2007).  An off-duty officer disrupted the suspect’s attack, exchanging gunfire with the suspect.  The sergeant stated he did not fire on the armed off-duty officer because of the officer’s behavior—though the plainclothes, off-duty officer was armed with a weapon in-hand and was maneuvering in a tactical manner—the sergeant instantly recognized that this armed individual was not a problem. Simply put, the off-duty officer was not acting in a criminal manner that prompted his needing to be shot.  That sergeant’s instant evaluation in a high-threat environment is the behavior-based decision-making that must be reinforced in training. Our job is to create in our officers a capability of evaluating threat behavior very quickly: “Is the behavior I see right now like a criminal (threatening) or like a cop (protective even though tactical)?

Fundamentally, it is not solely hardware that creates the justification and need to shoot, but the person’s actions, whether armed or not, that creates a reasonable and imminent fear of serious physical injury and provokes a police deadly force response.

 

TACTICS CREATE TIME, TIME EQUALS BETTER DECISIONS

Many tactically minded cops complain that many of their co-workers are not “tactical.”  Why is this so?  I would submit the reason lies in “prescriptive training” (a how-to list that is unique to each type of incident).  It’s impossible to remember every step in a unique list that is just one of dozens or hundreds of lists.  Eventually, many officers’ response becomes standard—they show up at a call.  And since no one has killed them yet, they keep doing what they do because they misinterpret luck for skill.  Pulling up to the reported location, stepping out into the open where people are or have just been shooting at each other, and letting everyone know that you have arrived before you have identified who the problem might be—or even what the problem is—affords little time to do anything other than react to a perceived threat.  And that may turn out to be an off-duty cop, forgetting that you have no idea who he is, who is justifiably shot because of his reaction to your presence.

Tactical response should not be reserved only for high-risk calls.  Training and peer-pressure should emphasize a tactical response to every call to create habits of behavior.  Habitually responding to every call in a tactical manner creates a beneficially automatic pattern of performance that, by definition, makes you safer on the street.  Employing tactical universally applied principles makes better sense than attempting to follow a prescriptive list. 

Employing a principle that is universal—it can be employed in a broad spectrum of incidents—creates a continuity of response that makes sense and becomes habitual.  Doing something the same way call after call, especially when it becomes reflexive and standardized behavior, automatically creates safer behavior.  Safer behavior can be defined as giving the officer more time to assess a subject’s compliance or threat levels and then to beneficially react to possible assault with less surprise. 

TRAINING POINT: Habitual tactical response employing the Universal Tactical Principles© creates time to make better, safer decisions.  In the case of responding to a shots-fired or man-with-a-gun call, some of the Universal Tactical Principles© are:

  • Superior Numbers: work in the “we” mode, not the “me” mode.  Employ backup routinely.  If more officers might be needed, call for help early rather than during an emergency. 
  • Surprise: invisible deployment. Officers deploy on-scene unobtrusively and reveal their presence at a time, place, and timing to their advantage. The subject(s) should be surprised to find an officer contacting them, rather than anticipating where and when the officer will appear.
  • Optimize distance.  Stay as far from the suspected problem as you can and still be able to conduct business. Distance equals time and, as Clint Smith says, “Time equals marksmanship.” While the “optimum” distance is a subjective matter that must balance efficiency and effectiveness with safety, generally the farther you can get from a weapon problem, more time will be available for you to make safer decisions.
  • Corners: minimize exposure.  Working from behind corners (a foundational tactical principle), become as small a target as possible. Cover stops bullets and the effects of bullets (ricochet and spall from the backside of the material) from harming you. Concealment prevents observation but permits bullets to pass through.  All approaches to high-risk, weapon-related calls should be from corners to corners.  All contact with armed/possibly armed-subjects should be from behind a corner.
  • Keep subjects in a narrow field of view.  If you are part of a multiple-officer response, your objective is to contact the subject(s) from positions providing a wide triangulation for you and your fellow officers, giving you intersecting fields of fire as well as a narrow target.  When combined with the Universal Tactical Principle of “invisible deployment,” this method of contact creates an instant, extreme vulnerability for the suspect.  Essentially, it “flanks” the suspect and gives him wide and diverging angles in order to get firing solutions on each officer—a very difficult and unlikely proposition.
  • Hands kill cops.  Hands operate weapons.  Visually clear the subject’s hands as quickly as possible as early as possible.
  • Communicate clearly.  One officer gives commands.  This prevents conflicting orders (“Don’t move!”  “Get down!”  “Come here!”).  Stop yelling at people.  This creates communication that can’t be understood.  Worse, it also projects fear, not only giving the perception of being emotionally out of control but contributing to it.  The rule is: one shout to get their attention (e.g., “Police!”); then speak to the subject loudly enough to be heard.
  • Make the subject come to you.  In all cases, call the subject to your position, even if it is a few steps.  This gives you several advantages: 1) You are able to gauge the subject’s compliance; 2) It establishes your authority over the subject; 3) You are able to take the subject away from his ground (with its possible advantages or weapons) and bring him to yours.
  • Put resisting or threatening subjects to the ground immediately.  When in doubt, everyone goes to the ground.  It is far safer to have one or more subjects on the ground, face down with their hands empty and placed where you want them than it is for them to be standing with their hands up.
  • Move your weapon quickly, aim certainly, hit and put the suspect down.  Survival in a gunfight should not be based on volume and rate of fire.  Surviving a gunfight is about hits.  Tactical response gives you time, and time permits a certainty in aiming.

While some may counter, “This is just another list to remember,” it is actually a practice of response that functions throughout widely diverse tactical circumstances.  Each is employed as needed.  Acting upon each principle provides you with more time to evaluate the situation and to react to the threat-based behavior rather than simply the hardware.

By basing your response to all calls (including those “routine” non-threatening calls that turn into scary-OMG-I’m gonna-die! calls) on threat recognition provided by Early Orientation Markers© gained through the habitually employing Universal Tactical Principles© and creating decision-making time, the likelihood of mistakenly shooting another officer decreases.

While the off-duty officer needs to adopt a safer mindset of assisting responding officers to identify his or her status, so, too, is there a need to respond to all calls for service through habituated tactical principles.  Force response is always behaviorally based.  Responding with deadly force is especially so.  Having the time afforded by habituated tactics to assess whether or not the armed subject is acting like a crook or a cop may save the life of an off-duty officer. 

Why Do We Teach? Punch/Draw Within Touching Distances

by George on March 16, 2013 03:41

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. 

The Punch/Draw is a technique designed to disrupt a sudden imminent threat who is within touching distance.  As you realize the suspect is reaching for a weapon, you simultaneously strike the suspect in the face or chest with your non-gun hand while drawing your weapon as you step back.  If the Threat remains within touching distance, employ a combat tuck and shoot him.  If not, extend your handgun out, interrupt the eye-target line, reference the sights and/or weapon, and shoot until the imminent deadly threat is stopped.  The strike disorients or delays his ability to shoot you while giving you time to get on target.

So it makes sense to teach this method when responding to close imminent threats, right? 

Well, no, not really as it is generally taught.  We taught this method in the 1980s before it was widely popularized, and continued until the mid-90s when force-on-force drills began to alert us to a problem—the Punch/Draw didn’t seem to work as advertised.  Then came the avalanche of in-car videos, and we began to see officers shoving or striking suspects with too little negative effect, confirming a problem with this method.

 

Reality is Problematic

As many as half of the officers being murdered by gunfire are from contact to three-feet away from the suspects, and suspects almost universally get the first shot off (“Violent Encounters,” FBI, 2006, page 49).  Trainers realize that officers need to even up the timelines in the shooting:  slowing or stopping the suspect from drawing while creating time for the officer to be able to shoot.  The Punch/Draw was developed in response to this perceived need. 

The strike is intended to disorient the Threat through actual injury or by distracting him sufficiently to enable the officer to draw his/her weapon.  The problem with the Punch/Draw is the nature of momentary effects of the strike (if the officer actually makes contact) and the realistic length of time it takes the officer to draw the handgun before the suspect can begin shooting.

 

The Punch

The “punch” is actually a quick palm-heel strike to the face, head, or body concurrent with drawing the handgun.  This strike is properly more a “stiff-arm” to the face, rocking the man’s head back or gaining distance from the suspect—either he moves back or the officer is propelled backward, gaining some distance. 

It is not unusual for any strike to the head to miss completely, or to get only partial contact.  Accuracy is important, but so is speed.  The moment you orient to his drawing a weapon, you must react.  If your hand is not instantly to his face or striking his chest upon orienting, you won’t beat his first shot. 

The expectation of the effect of the strike must be realistic.  Most punches in a fight miss.  This one just might miss as well.  If you manage to make contact, it will likely be ineffective at stopping his first shot.  He may stumble back if hit well, but that may not give you the added time you need.  It is highly unlikely to disbalance him and cause him to fall, and an instant knockout is very unlikely. 

 

The Draw

It is not unusual for a draw to take more than one-second from a duty holster in normal circumstances.  This means your strike must be effective enough to buy you the time you need to draw your handgun, target the Threat, and fire well enough with enough rounds to stop him from shooting you.  Failing that, you are simply in a gunfight.  Striking and pushing him back will not likely stop him from shooting.

 

Modifying the Punch/Draw

A modification combined with movement may be a better option in certain situations where you choose maneuver to your advantage.  The traditional straight palm-heel strike carries your bodyweight either forward into the Threat (resulting in a more effective strike) or, more likely, backward.  In either case, the linear movement keeps you anchored in front of the Threat.  A static target on his radar is a very dangerous place to be in a gunfight. 

Rather than a straight palm-heel strike to his nose, a quick lateral palm-strike has proven to be useful.  It is similar to a slapping motion and delivered horizontally to his jaw or ear in the same direction you are moving.  The strike is combined with the first step (if moving to the right, the right foot steps as the non-gun left hand strikes).  The striking surface is ideally the open-handed palm heel.  As you move you strike on the way by, draw, circling to keep to his flank or rear as you make your shoot/no-shoot decisions.  If you reasonably believe he is a deadly imminent threat, shoot him in the flank or back.

 

Other Options?

No one can decide pre-fight what is going to work in any given situation—which is one of the reasons techniques are a poor training choice.  Only you will be able to solve your problem.  The principles to abide by in any situation where you are in touching-proximity to a firearm are:

  • Target seek and Put weapons to targets©.  If there is an open target, reasonably strike, bite, knee, shove, or shoot with his weapon or with yours.
  • Move in angles and circles©.  Whether you are moving or you are physically moving him, all movement is at an angle to or from him, or in a circle.
  • Body parts to body mass©.  If you touch him, that body part is welded to your body, forcing him to deal with your body weight rather than just your strength.  If you touch his weapon, it gets welded on to him or to you (paying attention to the muzzle direction at all times).
  • Put the resisting suspect to the ground IMMEDIATELY!©  As soon as possible, get him to the ground—hard. This may involve takedowns or shooting until he is on the ground and no longer a threat.

Some solutions in the past to a weapon being drawn in proximity have included:

  • Don’t fight over a weapon in his waistband or pocket.  If you get a hand on his handgun or over his hand holding a handgun in either his pocket or waistband, don’t fight for it—press the weapon into him and just pull the trigger (making sure your leg(s) is not in the line of fire).  It’s a deadly force situation, so employ deadly force.
  • Divert the muzzle and bring the weapon to you.  Slap at in-hand weapons to divert the muzzle, then press the weapon and his gun-elbow to your body…then fight.  If a weapon is within touching distance, slap it, don’t grab.  Grabbing is muscular and slow, slapping is quick and uses the weight of your hand (average:  three pounds) to move the muzzle.  Close rapidly and pull that weapon sideways into your chest, pressing it as hard as possible.  Keep the muzzle away from your body parts and toward his.  If safe, press the trigger, hitting him or creating a malfunction (and be prepared for the muzzle blast).  Strikes can include your forehead to any part of his lower face and nose, and knee strikes to his soft lower parts (groin and thighs), setting him up for you to shoot him or take him down.  If safe, draw your weapon and shoot him (proximity shots to the femoral triangle, armpit, or supraclavicular triangle are best, as are shots to the side and rear of the head, neck, or back.
  • Divert the muzzle and shove the weapon into hm.  Slap at in-hand weapons to divert the muzzle, then press the weapon into his body…then fight.  After slapping it, he may pull the handgun back toward him.  Wherever the weapon goes, you must immediately follow and divert that muzzle from you.  People are just not prepared to deal with someone shoving something into their body.  Drive into him, push that weapon against him, and press the trigger as soon as you can (and not be hit yourself—again, prepare for the muzzle blast).  Target seek, draw your weapon when it is safe, and make proximity shots safely.
  • Shove the muzzle into your vest, and press the trigger.  A deputy lost his handgun to a suspect and losing the fight, grabbed the suspect’s wrist and pulled the muzzle directly into his ballistic vest, then fired the weapon.  The vest contained the bullet.  The deputy, expecting the hit, continued to fight and saved his life.  Last ditch?  Yes, but good to have in your tool box.

 

Conclusion

Instead of the traditionally taught Punch/Draw, we teach to strike, move and hit (with bullets).  It makes better tactical sense and is more realistic in the real world where someone is actually attempting to murder you within touching distance.  If the Threat is drawing his handgun, it makes better sense to go at him, pin the weapon against his body when it is still in the waistband or pocket, and press the trigger rather than fighting over a handgun.  If the weapon is clear of the clothing and in-hand, slapping to divert the weapon, pressing it against something while maintaining awareness of the muzzle’s direction, fighting to gain some type of advantage, and then either taking him to the ground (safer) or standing, draw your weapon and make proximity shots to less defensible targets makes sense. 

The traditional Punch-Draw technique is problematic, not serving the very real need for which it was designed.  Modifying it, striking and moving at an angle to create a distraction while maneuvering to his flanks or back, or dispensing with it altogether in favor of aggressing the suspect’s weapon and using it against him, or immobilizing it while you access your own has proven to be the way to go. 

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.

 

 

Defensive Tactics / Combatives: MMA or Fighting Like a Cop?

by Tom on June 4, 2009 08:52

As your agency’s defensive tactics or force response trainer, you are undoubtedly the “go-to”-guy or gal on all things pertaining to force.  For this reason, it is vital that you are completely clear that the program of training for your cops can actually be applied by your cops.  Training your officers in the latest, most popular program out there must not be based on something because it is cool.  Everything you teach must have relevancy on the street--where it is going to matter the most.

With the growing popularity and mainstreaming of events like the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), Pride Fighting Championship, and similar events, there has been a large movement in DT circles to adopt the training approach from Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) as a realistic way to train officers.  At first glance this approach may make sense, but a more careful analysis of the needs of the police officer on the street reveals serious weaknesses in using MMA training as a foundation for training officers.

There is no question that when watching MMA events, one is presented with some of the most talented and dangerous people on the planet.  The level of toughness, technical skill, and determination that makes these fighters who they are is something to behold with the utmost respect.  Because these athletes compete in a sport mimicking a level of violence that is kindred to the violence facing our uniformed warriors, the MMA approach to training for combat is highly touted as a truly viable method for training our police officers (and even our soldiers) as a response to the level of violence that they may face while performing their duties. 

Because of the sport’s growing popularity, officers are now finding themselves with the unhappy task of arresting better trained, physically talented combatants.  This leads well-meaning trainers to believe that by training the officers in MMA, it gives the officer a better chance of prevailing if he/she knows what the fighter knows. 

While much can be learned from the mixed martial arts as currently practiced in the highest levels, the  all-around, comprehensive nature of MMA skills that makes it seemingly desirable, actually makes it impractical for training the “average” cop to survive.  For the “average” cop, police training program development has to consider things that the “average” MMA fighter would never face.  Limitations such as minimal training time, limited attributes (“attributes” are everything the officer physically and mentally brings to the fight) and most importantly…is it going to work when they are tired, injured and scared—and haven’t had any DT training for a year?  These are not concepts the MMA’er ever thinks about, but police trainers must. 

When the cop’s reality of “This has to work or I may die” is compared to the training requirements needed to be just an average MMA competitor where nothing is on the line other than pride, it is easy to find they are two different worlds that share very little context.  The question of training officers to “fight like the MMA-fighter or to fight like a cop” takes on a whole new meaning.

Minimal Training Time

As a defensive tactics instructor, wouldn’t it be great if you had 40…60…or even 80-hours of in-service training time with each officer just for DT?  Reality check:  you are lucky you have 4 to 8-hours of DT training annually.  A really forward thinking agency may permit 16-hours a year.  Most competitive MMA fighters train 2-3 hours daily, and top level fighters often train 4-6 hours daily.  This is required to hone their proficiency in every skill domain they need to compete.  Even at these training levels, we see fighters who are destroyed in the ring by other fighters.  Do the math.  Competitive MMA fighters put in your yearly allotment of training time in less than a week.  Those who just train “for fun” three times per week will have the equivalent of your agency’s training time within two to three weeks.

 So then how does an officer who may train once a year for 4-16 hours expect to fare against a better trained athlete using the same approach?  MMA by design is a technically-based skill set that often takes an athlete months of intensive practice to even begin to solidify the basics.  Officers, unless training on their own, just can’t develop the skills to even begin to match amateur fighters mano a mano, using the same approach to fighting.  Training your officers to match skill sets with those who have superior training is a recipe for disaster.

Limited Attributes

The thing that is overlooked when watching a highly competitive MMA fighter is that you are not just witnessing a “skilled” fighter, but also an exceptional athlete.  The men and women (females are doing it too...and are good at it) that participate in these fighting exhibitions have attributes that many people in the general population do not have.  They have inherent traits of agility, balance, and coordination.  These natural traits have been further developed and honed to razor sharp perfection.  Most cops on the other hand are not physically gifted athletes—they are just average folk with average athletic abilities.

This is not to say that there are not cops who are physically gifted or are not or could not be great fighters.  If most were gifted with the attributes to be great fighters, they would probably be professional fighters and not the great cops they are.  Our reality as trainers is that most cops view physical skills training as something that they are required to do, and not something that they want to do.  Without a great desire to train in complex skills, MMA-based training for the police makes their already limited “attribute set” a further hindrance to effective employment.

So what is the solution for the officer who must survive when all is on the line, although training time and attributes are far from ideal?  We say “Train to Fight like a Cop.”

Fighting Like a Cop

Your job as a trainer of cops is to prepare them for the street.  It is not a contest; there are no trophies for “winning.”  Winning means they go home or don’t—they live or die.  They might also do a great job in the fight and still get sued.  That’s the game cops play.

It is your job to teach your officers to utilize every reasonable means within the law to get done what they need to do in the fight.  Fighting like a cop first means knowing the law.  The better they know the law, the more they are intimately familiar with what they can do and when they can do it.  This knowledge permits them to respond immediately to threat with reasonable tools.  It may mean that shooting someone who is attempting to “submit” an officer and putting them in reasonable fear of being seriously injured would be a reasonable response. 

The tools your cops carry(handgun, knife, OC, baton and taser) are not just stuff to be carried around.  The law permits, given a reasonable perception of threat based on suspect behavior, officers to employ those tools to protect themselves and others, and to take offenders into custody.  Thinking that officers should be trained to meet a trained threat with a similarly trained response is a misunderstanding and a misapplication of the mission and force law governing these contacts.  All defensive tactics problems cannot be solved with defensive tactics.

While the practice of MMA has a place, as trainers we have to be careful that we give our warriors training that is within the context of their job needs.  It lies in providing them with the right tool box filled with achievable skills for the right situation.  Because of the institutional limitations we have as trainers, every moment we spend with our people has to be relevant to their immediate survival needs.  All training must result in a defensible response by the officer.  It must also be simple enough to be effective over a long period of time.  This is what fighting like a cop is all about...Simple...Legal...Effective.  MMA-style training is simply not appropriate for general police training programs.