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LASD video on Active Shooter response by civilians: some comments

by George on February 5, 2015 07:31

The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department put out a very good video re: surviving an active shooter.  It has good information for those family members and friends of ours who are unarmed and facing this threat.  While it likely won’t happen to any individual person, one of these events happens about every 3 months in the US.  That means that it could happen to any one of us or our family members.  If you expect that it could happen, you are more likely to be able to react differently than those who sit or stand there in disbelief, staring like a deer in the headlights.

This video provides a blue print so that you/your family members/friends can PROBLEM-SOLVE YOUR WAY THROUGH IT.  The police will probably not get there in time to save you or anyone else—it will be up to you to save yourself, your loved ones, and others.  Get out if you can safely (try to put something between you and the bad guy as you move and don’t relax until there is no possibility of being harmed).  Barricade and hide if you must.  Prepare mentally and physically to fight if that is your opportunity to survive.

Whether it is an active shooter or a terrorist attack, whether we like it or not, this is our reality.  This is a good and short tutorial that will help you survive this vicious, deadly attack:

For armed professionals, some critical points about the response depicted in the video:
  • Each of the dramatized events takes place in a “gun-free zone.”  Firearms are the best way to stop a person with a firearm.  Carry your firearm off-duty so that you can protect yourself, your loved ones, and those who cannot or choose not to protect themselves.
  • The LASD is apparently still doing the discredited and ineffective team formation response of waiting for four deputies to cell up prior to entering--single officer initial entry is more effective.  It’s been estimated that for every 15 seconds of delay in the law enforcement response, one person is shot and murdered.  The movement of four officers will be incredibly slow and more innocents will be harmed as a result.  Officers must be permitted to make entry as soon as they arrive through multiple entrances—this gives them the ability to control hallways, and hallways control the entrance and exit to every door to that hall.  Firearms are distance weapons giving officers the ability to control the entire length of most hallways and deny mobility to the suspect.  Even a limited penetration to the mouth of each major corridor by an officer with a rifle will deny the suspect mobility and access to additional victims.  Depending upon the circumstances and the officer’s confidence, officers should move to the last reported location of the suspect (or to the sound of gunfire).  At the very most, teams of two officer moving through the structure provides mobility and a timely response. 
  • Yelling, “Gun, gun, gun!” is not helpful in making a decision to shoot or not—decisions should be based on threat behavior and not solely the presence of firearm.  Now that California’s illegal concealed weapons laws have been struck down, California joins most of the states where sane gun laws enable law abiding citizens to lawfully carry and defend against violent assault.  The presence of a gun is not the sole indicator of threat.  Off-duty officers and legally armed citizens may have their handguns in-hand.  Responding officers must be looking for “threat behavior.”  Watch the video again solely for the actions of the gunmen.  Videos of actual events and eye-witness accounts show the suspects calmly stalking their victims.  These suspects are insecure, bitter, and powerless people who are dominant for the first time in their lives.  They move as if they own the world, dictating the events according to their fantasies.  Many are unhurried, as if enjoying every moment of this newfound supremacy.  This is very different from an off-duty officer or legally armed citizen’s “tactical behavior.”  Tactical behavior is obvious in its careful approach, use of cover/concealment, and its caution.  A legally armed person carefully moving toward the sounds of shots being fired or holding a position of cover (a corner or some type of barricade) is likely not a person of interest.  Officers should safely challenge (from behind cover and preferably from a triangulated position) the armed person to determine their intentions, then quickly transition back to moving to the suspect’s location.
  • Stop yelling when you should be hitting the suspect.  In the video, the suspect is standing over a group of people and pointing his weapon at them.  This suspect is presenting an imminent threat to life.  In the time it takes to yell “Gun!” three times, he can fire three or more shots.  Then the officers’ (in this case, deputies’) reaction-response delay will likely allow the suspect one to two more shots before they can make a decision to shoot.  If there is an imminent threat to life, the suspect has crossed the “deadly force threshold” and is subject to being immediately shot.  In this case, given the carnage the deputies had walked through and all of the facts known to them at the time, the proper response for the first deputy would have been to shoot in defense of life rather than to yell.
  • Enter a room only if you have to: it is far more preferable and efficient to fight from the door.  Making entry gives the suspect an even chance to shoot you.  If you seek a fair fight with a murderer, you have already lost.  A fundamental tactical principle is to fight from a corner.  Fight from the corner (the door), stay as small as possible, and shoot the suspect surely enough to hit with every round—speed of fire is not the objective: only hits count. 
  • We see firefighters/EMS being escorted into the crime scene to treat the wounded: problematically, Rescue Task Force methods in this configuration are slow, impractical, and inefficient.  How much time has evolved between the onset of injury (the first through the last persons being shot) and the first EMS contact in this situation?  If one really considers that when the shooting is over, the dying continues as long as the wounded continue to bleed (actually, until the trauma surgeon has addressed the life-threatening wounds).  The Rescue Team concept follows the same discredited formation concept that has proven to be worthless in intervening actual events due to the time it takes to gather sufficient personnel and to move to the threat.  Numerous questions have not been resolved in the Rescue Team concept: (1) How do the firefighters and police escorts find each other in a timely manner within the chaos that eats up radio communications? (2) Who assigns and tracks the teams of officers and firefighters in the pandemonium early in an event when functional Command Posts often take more than 15-20 minutes to get set up and running? (3) Rescue Teams move into “hot zones,” not “warm zones.” This Rescue Task Force concept calls for fire/EMS to move into a “warm zone” that has been twice cleared and deemed to be warm by law enforcement, yet requires ballistic protection for the fire/EMS personnel.  If EMS personnel require ballistic vests and helmets to enter and first contact the wounded, they are moving in a “hot zone” and are by definition imminently “at risk.” (4) Rescue Teams require a “twice cleared entry corridor and victim scene prior to entering.” How long in this chaos will it take to verify that the scene where the victims are located has been twice cleared by officers before the Rescue Teams are permitted to make entry?  Who will verify it? How long does it take to set up a functioning Command Post in these situations? (5) If EMS personnel are expected to stabilize patients in place before transporting them to the Casualty Collection Point (CCP) where they will be triaged and transported to definitive treatment, the Mass Casualty Incident (MCI) protocols are bypassed and definitive treatment is delayed, resulting in salvageable wounded unnecessarily dying. (6) Where is all of this ballistic equipment stored on the trucks and who is accountable for its tracking and replacement? (7) Following initial training, how much training time per year will be required to maintain the firefighter/EMS personnel’s currency in efficiently linking and then moving with an armed team?  These and other questions have not been addressed regarding the Rescue Team concept (for a more thorough discussion of the problems of a Rescue Task Force protocol of this type, see  

The answer is an integrated approach to the response involving the police and fire/EMS staying in their own swim lanes of expertise.  Police respond to the shooter while fire/EMS stages.  The police set up an internal command post which will quickly evolve into a secure CCP.  The second wave of officers, typically within five minutes of the first response, respond to Fire Stage where a police field sergeant and a fire lieutenant or Battalion Chief establish the Unified Command Post.  At some point, the Internal Command Post will have sufficient personnel to handle suspect mitigation efforts.   Law enforcement resources are diverted to other tasks including force protection of firefighters.  Two engine companies combine personnel and MCI equipment on to one engine. Within minutes, a team of firefighter/EMS is escorted into the secure CCP by armed officers (a Rescue Task Force) without the need for ballistic protection.  Even before the Rescue Task Force begins moving to the CCP, officers on the interior have been performing basic life-saving and moving the wounded to the secure CCP while suspect mitigation operations by other officers are on-going.  Fire/EMS performs their MCI protocol and the wounded are transported to a definitive care facility by order of severity of their wounds.

Time and safety must dictate the manner of this response

Time in a Active Shooter event is the enemy of life-saving.  The more time a suspect is permitted unfettered access to victims, the more gunshot wounds he will be able to inflict.  There is a saying that is as harsh as it is the grim reality, "Every gunshot wounds eventually stops bleeding." The longer a gunshot victim is allowed to bleed, the less likely that life will be saved.  Every effort in this highly chaotic, highly threatening, and extremely complicated response must be weighed against the unforgiving taskmaster of time. Problematically, the need for an exigent response to the wounded must be reasonably weighed against the threat to the lives of those responding to this event.  Acceptable casualties are not a part of the police or fire mission.  Nothing about entering a building where one or more people are shooting other people is safe.  It must be a balanced response.

The multipl-officer contact team concept, seen being trained nationwide since 2000, is a failed tactic.  The FBI says that 160 Active shooter events occurred in the USbetween the years 2000-2013.  Many authorities believe that only one of these events (the LAWA airport shooting) was concluded by this tactic.  Others cite up to four events that were positively influenced in some manner by these events.  Taking the highest number, this means that in only 1.025% of Active Shooter events did this tactic make any difference in the outcome.  Something else must be done other than waiting for other officers to arrive, forming up into a four (or more) officer cell, ponderously moving down a hallway.  

The answer is a single, first arriving officer moving individually to an ingress point, then stop, look, and listen--then briefly communicate. If it is safe to enter, move to a corner permitting the officer to command a hallway.  If the officer hears or is told of the location of the suspect (e.g., gunshots, victims or witnesses pointing or yelling, dispatch communications from 9-1-1 reports, etc.).  The officer then makes the decision to hold and control the hallway, to penetrate deeper toward the suspect location moving from cover to cover, stopping to look, listen, and assess, or to wait until a second officer arrives and to move together, bounding toward the suspect's location.

Each officer's entry and movement is dictated by that officer's individual comfort dictated by his or her perception of individual skill, the context of the scene they see before them, and the individual's confidence that the situation can be addressed in a safe manner.  Some officers will move deeply into the structure by themselves while others will hold only at the initial ingress point.  Neither of these officers are superior to the other but, rather, reflects the differences in the aptitude and perceived capabilities of each individual.  

The point is, the only solution to the dilemma of time working against the victims of the suspect is leaving the decision to enter and move up to the individual officer.  With officers rapidly responding through different ingress points, dominating hallways by rifles, and moving toward the suspect's location, there will be natural linkups as officer continue moving to the (last reported or apparent) suspect location.  This provides a much greater likelihood of a rapid conclusion to this event. 

My Problem with Concealed Appendix Carry

by George on August 14, 2014 12:11

A recent argument for the advantages of the inside-the-waistband (IWB) Concealed Appendix Carry came across my virtual desk.  The author did a good job making his case for carrying a concealed handgun inside the belt at the belly.  There are several distinct advantages to carrying the weapon at the front of the waist rather than at the side or rear on the gun-side.  And I won’t carry my concealed handgun in front of my waistband.

My problem with the Concealed Appendix Carry involves the NRA’s Firearms Safety Rule #1: don’t point a firearm at anything you aren’t willing to destroy or kill.  Pointing your weapon at your nether region when you draw or holster your handgun is inviting tragedy.  And everyone I’ve ever seen when holstering or drawing from the front waistband, including me, directs their muzzles at their important parts.  So I don’t do it.  Maybe you might want to reconsider your carry options. 


Advantages of Concealed IWB Appendix Carry

As explained in the article, with some modifications, the immediate advantages of the Appendix Carry are:

  1. Greater protection of the weapon.  Whether it’s in a crowd or a suspect attacking your weapon, there are biomechanical advantages to protecting your handgun if carried in the front waistband.  In a crowd, you need not fear someone bumping into steel as is common when carried on your gun-side hip because people don’t normally collide at belly level face-to-face.  If there is a disarm attempt, you are stronger pressing the weapon into your body in front of you than you will be if it is at your side.  Additionally, your torso will fold forward during this effort, creating a mechanical block of both your hand(s) and your torso to removing the weapon.
  2. A more covert deployment.  Because there is less tell-tale physical motion in drawing the weapon—the gun-shoulder rising and/or the gun-elbow floating out to the side—it may be far safer to draw in a situation where the larger motion required to draw the handgun from a gun-side carry is likely to provoke fire.  Additionally, the non-gun hand’s effort to lift and clear the shirt is far less noticeable.
  3. Easier to deploy in a fight, either standing or on the ground.  If deadly force is needed when locked up with the suspect, either on your feet or, especially if grappling, the Appendix Carry permits safer and quicker draws than traditional gun-side carry positions.  Note: In this single point, I disagree.  Teaching defensive tactics for more than 30 years and Tactical Duty Knife classes since 2000 where officers are trained to draw weapons in deadly force situations during intense physical conflict, there is no real problem with drawing from a gun-side carry position (other than the suspect fouling the draw in some manner).  However drawing from an Appendix Carry can be problematic based on the context of the fight and the body position of the officer.  If the officer’s torso is curled forward from effort or simply by positioning, then the Appendix Carry is a much more difficult to draw for the same biomechanics that make it superior for weapon retention—the torso blocks the draw from the holster.  Additionally, if the suspect fouls the draw as or after the weapon leaves the holster and the weapon is pressed against the officer’s belly, the officer is now a five to eight pound trigger press from being disemboweled (Rule #1). 
  4. The Appendix Carry is faster than any other carry position.  There is no question of its speed compared to other concealed carry positions.  Because of its more central positioning, there is less travel time for both hands.  The non-gun hand lifts the shirt on the midline and the gun hand moves naturally forward to the grip.  It is much faster than gun-side carry where the non-gun hand must travel across the body to lift the shirt while the gun-hand (and shoulder) must make larger, longer moves to first reach the handgun, then lift it far enough for the muzzle to clear the holster.
  5. The Appendix Carry is easier to conceal.  Unless obese, the Appendix Carry is less likely to print through a shirt, especially if the shirt is untucked.  It’s not even close to other waist carry options for concealment.


Appendix Carry and the Possibility of Unintentional Discharges

The first firearms rule we all learn is to point the muzzle of a weapon in a safer direction.  That means that no matter if it fires either intentionally or unintentionally, no one—including the shooter—will be inadvertently injured.  I’ve learned this after a long life: having any firearm pointed at any part of me is not a good idea.  Pointing it at a region of my body that is critical to survival is worse.

When I was in 7th grade wood shop, the first day our teacher, Mr. Burroughs, told us to look at each of the machines in the shop.  He said each machine had an “automatic cut-off feature”: any part of our body that machine touched, it cut off automatically.  Having never matured beyond junior high school (so my loving wife tells me), I think of the muzzle of any weapon in the same fashion: any part of my body or anyone else’s it points at, it shoots off.

The IWB Appendix Carry puts the muzzle to an area that contains your femoral triangle as well as your…parts.  The femoral triangle is the area from your pubic bone (actually, inguinal line) down the inside front of the leg to approximately four inches below, and includes your femoral artery, vein, and nerve, as well as your great saphenous vein.  A gunshot wound to this area is extremely dangerous and a very real threat to life.  A contact wound to this area, where not only the bullet but the muzzle blast and gases enter into the wound, will likely blow this area apart (at least internally), creating an even greater survival challenge.

If an unintentional discharge occurs when holstering or drawing, it could result in a fatal wound.  If that round happened to miss the vital femoral triangle, it still will likely hit and destroy some or all of the shooter’s reproductive organs.  In either case, taking a self-inflicted round to the femoral region or to one’s package is not a good way to begin a gunfight—or end a day at the range or home or station.


Many Dismiss the Possibility of Their Having a UD

Dismissing the possibility of an unintentional discharge (UD) when pointing a firearm’s muzzle at your package or femoral triangle is disingenuous and arrogant.  Every time a handgun is handled, there is a possibility of a UD especially when drawing and holstering.  Discounting that, saying, "Just keep your finger off the trigger and it won’t go off," is absolutely, 100% correct.  It’s also prideful.  And wishful thinking gets people killed.  Arrogance, like alcohol, and firearms gets folks hurt.

Thinking that one is immune to UDs presupposes you will be perfect each and every time you handle a weapon.  Perfection: that quality of being free from all flaws or imperfections; completely faultless.  That means perfect awareness; perfect action; perfect control.  No mistake.  Ever.  There’s a real hitch in that get-along though:  we aren’t perfect, we’re human beings.  And that goes with our weapon-handling.  "It'll never happen to me.  I always keep my finger off the trigger," is betting your life you are just that good—every time, no matter what is about to, is currently, or has just happened.  That's why the first rule is about keeping the muzzle in a safer direction and is the most important failsafe.  If the weapon goes off unexpectedly/unintentionally, no one is injured.

I’ve watched experienced guys to include “operators” on the range—where everyone is supposed to be super safe—dig at their holsters with the muzzle of their weapons.  And not just once, but repeatedly poke and prod around with the weapon angled into the gut until they can finally get the handgun holstered.  One mistake and the contact shot would functionally eviscerate them.  A contact shot to the femoral would likely be non-survivable.  A contact shot to one's package might make one hope it was non-survivable.

Fundamentally, the IWB Appendix Carry automatically points at parts when holstering (and while drawing).  With guys I’ve brought this up to, they swear they never do that, that they actually suck in their gut and point the weapon forward as they holster.  They even demo their belly-dancing moves accompanying their holstering.  Yeah, that’s all good until they don’t, which is all the time except when they’re lying to themselves and explaining how they never do what I just saw them repeatedly do.  Video can be a great learning tool and irrefutable proof.



I’ll continue to carry on the waistband at 4 to 5 o’clock (or carry a snubbie .357 in my pocket holster), knowing full well that I will be slower to draw, that it is more difficult to conceal, that it is harder to retain (which is why I always carry my Benchmade Model 810 on my non-gun hand side), and all of the other reasons given as to why the Appendix Carry is superior.

And while I'd like to believe that I am conscious and on top of my game each and every time I handle a weapon, I refuse to assume that I will be perfect and absolutely focused each time I handle a handgun, especially in those times when I am under threat and have other things to do.  One of the very few benefits of being in my dotage is that my arrogance has taken a sufficient number of hits over the years.  I've acted unthinkingly enough times that I understand there can be fierce consequences to being intentionally blind through pride. Instead of thinking, "It'll never happen to me," I think, "If things go wrong, what’s likely to happen?"  After all, Murphy is a loyal friend that I’ve always tried to ditch, but he’s stuck by my side my whole life.  Since I've adopted this less arrogant thinking, I believe I've been safer with my weapons.  Now to work on the other areas of my life where arrogance is blinding me to the fierce consequences of my unthinking actions.

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.



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.



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. 



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.



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.

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. 


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.
3.    Clint Smith

“Looking for a Fight.” A mindset for service and survival

by George on February 6, 2012 11:29

“Since the dawn of time, men have taken up the sword in combat.  Some among them were so capable that they were considered to be in a class of their own—the mighty warrior class.  These men were revered as brave, heroic, and essential to life, for they were the guardians of their people.”   Ben Boos, “Swords”

We are undergoing a curious experiment in North American law enforcement, the effectiveness of which will not likely be known for century, perhaps even more.  The military and the police are our society’s warrior class.  The police (and increasingly the military) are being tasked with performing seemingly conflicting functions, that of being both warrior as well as servant.  Since the beginning of humans gathering into settlements and villages, there have always been people—historically men, and presently both genders—who have taken upon themselves the heavy burden of responsibility as society’s peacemakers, protectors, and guardians.

Until recently (historically), and especially prior to the 1970s, these individuals acting in the name of the law have been fairly unrestrained in their violence.  Law breakers, especially violent criminals could expect “frontier justice,” and, later, “street justice,” as a result of their behavior.  It was “understood” by both parties that if you were arrested, there was oftentimes a beating due before you went to jail.  When I was a child, I grew up in a county where the jail would not accept a prisoner who was not bleeding.

Thankfully, times have changed.  In our maturing society, officers are now expected to be “peace officers.”  This experiment continues to unfold into a combination of roles, that of “public servant” and “officer” (keeper of the peace, or warrior).  These roles sometimes appear to be at odds especially in the brutal laboratory of the street where policing actually takes place.  As public servants under the US Constitution, officers are first tasked with preserving the civil rights of the individuals with whom they come into official contact, and then to assist those in need. 

This has evolved into even greater demands for professional courtesy when interacting with the public.  As the responsibilities of policing expand well beyond simply enforcing the law, there are greater expectations by at least some segments of society for officers to “help” individuals—even those who are violent and may harm the officers. 

This evolving role is mirrored in the character of those individuals wearing the badge:  officers generally become cops because they want to be of service, and this quality is indispensable in the mindset of a police officer.  In recent years, however, this message of “service” has become misunderstood by many officers to be their primary mission.  When these officers arrive “on-scene,” their first instinct is “to help” rather than to ensure their safety and the safety of all through enforcement efforts first, and service when all are safe.

If you are this officer, this primary attitude of being "helpful" can get youand others—murdered.


“Looking for a Fight”

These competing roles can be resolved through a mindset reflecting the reality of current policing requirements:  “always look for a fight.”

The phrase, “looking for a fight” can be construed many ways.  Warriors in past ages constantly sought every opportunity for combat as a means to prove their valor and skill.  Those warriors without a commitment to higher ideals of service and integrity were dangerous to anyone on whom they focused as a threat or challenger, creating the need for a competing class of warriors who sought to protect.  Today, in the civilian world, the phrase can mean that a particular person wants to engage in violence and is simply looking for any excuse, often creating the opportunity where none existed.  However, neither of these interpretations are the context for modern day law enforcement.  

Properly understood, the officer today would embody the following phrase and underlying mindset in his or her awareness of suspect behavior and signaled intentions:

“I always look for a fight.  Don’t get me wrong.  While I’m willing, I don’t want to get into a fight.  But I’m always looking for signs that someone on-scene wants to fight.  It’s the only way I can be ready to respond when the fight comes while still doing my job of helping people.”

This modern concept of “looking for a fight” is key to not only every officer’s safety on the street, but also to protecting the citizens the officer serves.  It does NOT conflict with the function of the police as both protector and servant, rather it enhances the service function and safety of all.  “Relaxing” may mean letting one’s guard down and is not useful.  “Looking for a fight,” however, permits the officer to act “in service” with professionalism and appropriate courtesy until a subject’s behavior or the circumstances necessitate enforcement, defensive, or protective responses. 

Officers properly should “look for a fight” so that they can be ready to respond to sudden assault or flight.  “Looking for a fight” simply means that from minutes prior to arrival on-scene to the moment after you have cleared the call, you are consciously looking for those behaviors and clues signaling impending attack or flight.  Like it or not, officer injury and murder statistics demonstrate that officers have a real need to capably respond with lawful violence to any level of assault.  Understanding your proper role as an officer, looking for a fight is the difference between being:

  • Ready to respond early with effective and reasonable force, or 
  • Being surprised and being forced to “come from behind”—or even forced to “go primitive” to save your life.

 When consciously looking for a fight, an officer is not heavy-handed, rude, or badge heavy.  This proper mindset is not a predator’s world-view—it is that of a public servant who has a warrior’s mindset.  It is based in a thorough understanding of law and agency policy, and the understanding that violence is a process rather than a simple, contained event.

Your job as a cop carries with it the inherent and lawful threat of violence.  For your safety (and that of the citizens you serve), you must embrace this warrior function.  Developing your skills with weapons (less-lethal and deadly) and with empty hands is only part of the equation.  Looking for a fight means recognizing the process of violence as it cycles up to an attack (or attempt to flee) early enough to prevent injury.


Violence is a Process

Violence does not just happen.  All violence is a process.  It moves from the beginning of an idea through to its final execution up to the conclusion of the violent act(s).  Aside from planned ambushes where officers have no inkling of prior threat (which still involved the suspect initiating a process of decision-making, implementation, and initiation), there are generally many indicators of a growing likelihood of assault or an attempt to flee.  Any officer who says the suspect “just attacked me without any warning” probably missed a cascading number of indicators that the offender made a decision, initiated preparations (either subtle or gross), and then executed his plan.  

The decision to assault may have taken place prior to the police contact (a “prepared offender”), or it may be a spur of the moment decision based on panic (an “opportunistic offender”).  In the case of the prepared offender, the threat indicators as he maneuvers into his assault preparatory position are likely to be more subtle than the opportunistic offender’s desperate spur of the moment realization that he needs to attack the officer or he’ll go to jail.  Subtle or not, there are indicators exhibited that, if recognized early enough, will provide the officer with a justifiable basis for a pre-emptive force response.  The early recognition, early enough to make a difference is a direct benefit of the mindset of “looking for a fight.”

Because violence doesn’t just happen, officer safety is dramatically enhanced through vigilance and the early recognition of threat indicators; this is what it means to be "looking for a fight."  This includes the totality of the facts before arriving in the area, as well as those observed upon arrival, and individual or group signals of impending threat.


Totality of the Facts:  Before Arriving On-Scene

Upon any dispatch to an incident, begin “looking for a fight.”

Violence in the initial dispatched report, or the presence of weapons may very well indicate there will be a “fight.”  The same can be said in any contact involving a subject who is a member of a gang, or a history of violence, especially against the police.  Certain types of behavior indicating out of control mental illness or being under the influence of drugs such as methamphetamine or PCP may indicate unpredictable violence.

The initial call for service initiates the “best-worst game.”  The “best-worst game” assists you in keeping an open mind, permitting the appropriate function (warrior or public servant) to present as needed and as reasonable for the circumstances.  Ask yourself while en-route, “What’s the best thing that can happen, and what’s the worst?”  Play the game each time you are dispatched or are backing an officer to get your head in the game well before you near the scene.

Make up your own scenarios.  Do you know the players in this call?  Whatever the scenario, develop a “when-then” response.  “When ‘this’ happens, I’ll respond by…”  Notice it is not “if,” but “when.”  Feel the difference in your mind and body between the two following phrases:

  • “If the suspect has a gun, I’ll…”
  • “When the suspect has a gun, I’ll”

For most people, “when” makes it more real, more likely to occur, and provides a better “go-switch” should some assault take place.  “If” seems more remote, and feels much less likely to occur.  “When” tells us it is going to happen at some point; “If” is the lottery that will probably pass us by.  “When” is inevitable; “If” will likely never happen.

Taking into account your knowledge (or lack of knowledge) of the location, the reported participants, and the “known” circumstances (accounting for the fact that what is reported to Dispatch may or may not resemble what actually occurred), begin looking for a fight.  What is the safest way to respond to this location given the threat (and what can go wrong before I get there)? 

Determine the safest method of approach to the location to achieve “invisible deployment” and surprise.  Coordinating with other responding officers to arrive simultaneously from different directions, or meeting at a rally point and moving together are options that can be applied for safer responses.  It is during these beginning stages of responding to a call for service that “looking for a fight” begins.


Totality of the Facts:  Arriving On-Scene

As you approach the location, look for a fight.  Is there anything out of the ordinary?  Is the street deserted where it is normally busy?  Is there an angry crowd milling about, or is there fear showing in individuals’ physical or emotional behavior?  Are people urgently attempting to get your attention, pointing at an individual or to a location?  Is a person or group of persons exhibiting guilty, threatening, defiant, under-the-influence or mentally ill behavior focusing your attention on them?

Whether it is appropriate to employ stealth or not in your approach is situation-dependent; looking for a fight is not.  What is the entire scene telling you?  Even if there is an obvious victim, your first instinct should be to look for a fight—you have no idea who harmed the victim, where that subject is, and what the victim’s intention is toward the police.  

LOCK DOWN THE SCENE as quickly as possible to ensure the safety of all.  Rushing up to “help” the victim may put you into proximity with an opportunistic offender who may use this lapse in officer safety practices to harm you to ensure his escape, or put you directly into a kill zone.  The best way to “help” this victim is to ensure that no one else, and especially you and other officers, are harmed in the attempt.  

Individual Contacts

When contacting any individual, suspect, witness, uninvolved party, or victim, look for a fight.  You know what cooperative behavior looks like, having seen it constantly since you were first in uniform, knowing what people who comply act like.  You also know how evasive or uncooperative behavior looks.  While evasiveness or a lack of cooperation does not equal assault, it IS an indicator that should not be dismissed and is almost always a component in any forensic analysis of an assault on an officer.  It is part of looking for a fight, narrowing down your focus to the evasive or non-cooperative individual, identifying someone who may want to harm you.

Threat indicators are generally based on behavior that has in the past been observed prior to assault.  These are divided into four main groups:  Motor Activity, Attitude Patterns, Posture, and Speech, or M.A.P.S.  An extremely limited examination of components within the various threat indicators of the M.A.P.S. model are:

Motor Activity:

  • Clenching jaw and fists, flexing arm, chest, and shoulder muscles repeatedly.
  • Striking objects in the officer’s presence.
  • Rapid, out-of-control breathing.

 Attitude Pattern:

  • Extreme distrust.
  • Controlled anger.
  • Repeatedly failing to comply with simple instructions.


  • Excessive eye-contact or "mad-dogging."
  • Maneuvering into a bladed stance or overt “fighting stance.”
  • Maneuvering to “protect” his dominant side from the officer. 


Speech Patterns:

  • Quiet but “pushed” speech, or talking through his clenched teeth. 
  • Answering questions with questions, or repeating back the officer’s words.
  • Statements of “losing control” or past violence.

An almost universal signal the suspect has elected to engage in violence is what is described as a look of “disgust” immediately prior to the assault.  Injuring or murdering another who the individual perceives as a fellow “human being” is difficult.  He therefore enters into a process of “othering” the officer, making that person other than human in his mind, as if that person is simply an object to be used.  Disgust exhibited at this time in this confrontation is a physical manifestation of his being disgusted, offended, and concluding an internal mental process of dehumanizing the officer.  It is at that moment the suspect has decided to initiate the now imminent attack.

While one of these behaviors may mean nothing in and of itself (the look of disgust is the exception), it is generally a cluster of M.A.P.S. threat indicators combined with the totality of the events that should signal a tactical or force response.  Looking at your own experience with resistive or assaultive behavior, list mentally the four M.A.P.S. threat indicator categories exhibited by the last five suspects who forced you to respond with force.  While the concept of “threat indicators” may not be new to you, utilizing the MAPS model and breaking each observed behavior into its category not only makes you more likely to notice the behavior on the street, but better enables your articulation during any justification following a force response. 


Looking for Predatory Behavior

Predatory behavior in humans matches anything seen by lions, tigers, and bears on the Animal Planet channel.  These are easy to see if you are looking for a fight:

  • One or more people intercepting your path. 
  • Two or more people intentionally spreading out in a flanking move, widening the angle between them.
  • Knowing glances or subtle agreement between two or more people that seems to initiate movement or some action. 
  • “Flooding” by multiple suspects seeking to suddenly surround you.  This is seen when a car full of subjects suddenly exits as if upon agreement, seemingly a swarm of bodies, or like a flood that will overwhelm you.

Whether or not you were looking for a fight, any single factor or a combination of these predatory behaviors means you just found one. 


Non-Compliance to Simple Orders

Any non-compliance by any suspect is threat indicator.  An indicator that an individual is near to completing the decision process to physically engage (or flee) is the direct refusal to comply with simple directions to “Step over here to me;” “Keep your hands where I can see them;” “Sit down on the curb,” or any order directly related to your safety.

Asking yourself, “Why isn’t he complying?” is a waste of limited attentional focus.  Why he isn’t cooperating is secondary to what he is doing while he is not complying.  Wondering "why?" rather than "what?" can get you murdered.  Is he:

  • Seemingly looking for escape routes?
  • Subconsciously guarding his dominant side, touching the outside of his pocket(s) or waistband? 
  • Glancing repeatedly at your holstered handgun or other weapon(s) rather than cooperate?
  • Seeming to be attempting to maneuver to gain some type of positional advantage despite orders to the contrary?
  • Subtly blading his body or transferring his body weight to the balls of his feet (which can appear as if he’s crouching a bit)?
  • Rocking his body weight to his back foot so he can step forward with his other to initiate the assault (punch, tackle, takedown, etc.)?
  • A subject who will not comply with police orders is engaged in a risk-benefit evaluation process:  “Is it worth the risk to me to fight or run from the cop versus the dope/weapon/ warrant/crime I just committed he’ll find if I cooperate with him?” 

Be Safe:  Look for a Fight

Far from being an abusive mindset and a recipe for excessive force, constantly “looking for a fight” permits an officer to safely do his (or her) job while being of service to those who need the police.  Approaching any call with a social worker’s mentality is unsafe for everyone on-scene.  Yes, officers are there to assist, to protect those who cannot protect themselves, and to act as a shield against those who criminally harm others.  Part of that function is intrinsically violent because some criminals just won’t listen to reason and will respond only to threats of or actual violence.

When and how that force is employed, as a reasonable response to suspect behavior, will be determinant of your ability to protect yourself and others.  Officers who are suddenly overwhelmed by sudden, unexpected violence have little chance to defend themselves from harm or murder.  The mindset begins at the first moment of being notified of a call for service.  The “looking for a fight” mentality is carried through early orientation to suspect threat cues, predatory behavior, and non-compliance to simple, direct orders to prevent you from being assaulted.

As the civil guardian of our society, the police officer has sworn an oath, picked up the sword, and has become essential to our society.   We expect more of our officers than ever before, more than the "rough men who stand ready in the night willing to do violence to those who would do us harm" of George Orwell, more than we expected of the officers in our father's generation.  Within the course of your business day, you will encounter few who are actually willing to harm you--they may not like the job you do, but they are not willing to do the deed.  Among everyone you meet on your shift, you may recognize those few, the one or two on that particular call who are willing to engage in the Process of Violence.  That recognition early enough, gives you the opportunity to foul their plans, and hopefully to bypass the violence through your own tactical movement and early intervention.   If you are among those who are most capable at their profession, your mindset is to simply, consistently, and constantly “look for a fight” as you protect the public and yourself from injury or murder. 

Off-Duty Officers: How not to get shot by responding officers

by George on January 9, 2012 15:36

Off-duty officers being shot by responding patrol officers continues unabated despite extensive prevention training.  The uniformed officer mistakenly perceives the off-duty officer’s actions and behavior as that of a threat.  The result is the off-duty officer is unnecessarily injured or killed.

Taking police action while off-duty and intervening to disrupt a violent crime is a topic that has been addressed in training and literature for decades.  The traditional focus of this training has been the centered on how the to take safer enforcement action when off-duty.  Recent training is now focusing on training responding officers to attempt to better identify armed individuals before firing.  And, still, off-duty officers continue to be shot and sometimes killed.  Is it just inevitable, or is there an answer to this? 

Are Off-Duty Officers More Likely to be Mistakenly Shot Than Civilians?

While there are no available statistics on the number of times officers are mistakenly shot by responding officers, national news sources recount with grim regularity the circumstances of an off-duty officer being shot by responding officers.  In a recent week, there were three shootings of off-duty officers nationally.

Given the number of off-duty officers who are shot and/or killed, a question arises:  are legally-armed civilians also being shot in corresponding frequency by responding police?  Responsible citizens licensed to carry concealed handguns also intervene in deadly assaults and violent acts with their firearms.  According to researcher John Lott, there are approximately 72,000 self-defense or defense of others shootings by civilians annually—far more than the number of incidents where officers fire their weapons at offenders.

A search of the internet reveals almost no mention of police officers mistakenly shooting civilians as a result of lawful interventions.  There is an apparent difference between off-duty officers and legally armed civilians.  Both are in civilian clothes and armed with a firearm while similarly intervening, yet it is the officer who is more likely to be fired upon by uniformed officers. 

Is there a solution to be found within these differences?

Changing Your Off-Duty Mindset

Doing the same thing the same way and expecting a different result is an accepted definition of insanity.  Off-duty conduct has been addressed in training for thirty-plus years, but does not apparently result in success.  The following tactics have been offered as the solution to off-duty friendly fire deaths.

  • Take enforcement action only in defense of life situations.
  • Be a good wit.
  • Have your police ID visible.
  • When the officers arrive, DO WHAT THEY TELL YOU TO DO.

There is a problem with this laundry list of suggested actions.  It fails to address the underlying problem:  the “cop mindset” the off-duty or plainclothes officer brings to the situation.  When on-duty, you are normally in uniform or a raid jacket.  When you need help and your team members arrive, some part of you is reassured.  You relax a bit.  You now begin to think—and act—like a part of the team.  You are not alone and your perception of danger just decreased.

This is 180 degrees from your off-duty reality—the arriving officer sees you as a man with a gun and thinks, "Suspect.”  Normally, when that man-with-a-gun (actor) is shooting at the other individual (victim) or is pointing a gun at the other subject (victim), the uniformed officer responds per his or her training or experience.  Minimally, at gunpoint, the uniform begins shouting repeated orders to drop the gun, to get on the ground, to show hands, etc.  Someone pointing a gun while loudly shouting at you is, by definition, dangerous.  And the officer may fire in defense of life based on your actions.

If you are snapped into your “cop-mindset,” you will gratefully hear these same orders you have heard—and yourself shouted—on-duty hundreds of times.  It feels normal as your teammates simply act out their roles along with you.  You now turn to greet the team, with no thought of them perceiving you, an off-duty officer, as a threat.  The stress and fear from the event as well as the continuing danger from the actual suspect are still on your face as you turn to look at them.  Your weapon moves toward the arriving officers because your head moves toward the arriving officer(s).

Knowing only the original call of unknown violence or that a shooting has taken place, the on-duty, uniformed officer sees the man-with-a-gun turning at him.  He responds to a reasonably perceived threat.  And we lose two good cops, two families are broken, and the profession is diminished yet again by needless loss.

“Off-Duty Officer Safety” Training Suggestions

Arriving officers are going to act like cops:  you need to act like a responsible civilian.  The fundamental cause of off-duty blue-on-blue shootings is the off-duty cop thinking like he’s part of the team as officers arrive.  Not being readily identifiable as law enforcement, the off-duty officer is shot down because of the same human factors you experience in similar dangerous situations:  heightened awareness of vulnerability fostering a body alarm reaction of narrowly focused visual field (tunnel vision), decreased auditory capabilities (cannot hear normally), and highly focused attentional processes oriented to the early discovery of threat indicators by an armed suspect.  The police mindset of looking for threat indicators is intentionally trained into officers from the academy and throughout their career.  These perception-response behaviors are normally beneficial to officers who perceive a suspect’s intentional imminent deadly threat behavior.  Quickly reacting to a suspect threatening you with a gun means the difference between life and death.

Nothing changes when it’s your jurisdiction.  Just because you are in your jurisdiction—where you are well known and know every officer in the agency—do not assume they will recognize you.  Attentional focus under stress cannot be switched on and off.  If there is a high degree of perceived threat, the likelihood of being recognized by someone you have worked with for years is low to non-existent.  This means arriving officers may not be able to recognize you even if they work with you every day, and are likely to react with deadly force given any indication you are an imminent threat.  The law recognizes an officer’s disadvantages in this deadly time-competitive struggle.  An officer is necessarily permitted to be mistaken when acting in self-defense and defense of others in any “time is life” situation.  Best friends have mistakenly killed best friends in broad daylight.

Your best survival strategy is to act the way you want a completely compliant suspect to act.  Recognize your role in the arriving officer’s mindset, knowing that the human inside that uniform is attempting to survive this dangerous call.  He will protect himself from what he perceives as a deadly threat.  Even if you know the officer well, your lack of a uniform or raid jacket may prevent that officer from identifying you in time to stop his shooting you. 

TRAINING POINT:  Your off-duty tactical and survival strategies are different than when you are on-duty and easily identifiable.  Think of the first responding officer as the most excitable and impulsive officer you've ever worked with.  How is s/he going to be processing high-threat, time-compressed events when you are shooting at someone or standing over someone with a handgun in-hand?  That ought to make you fairly concerned about your safety as the cavalry arrives, and VERY compliant to any orders.

Take enforcement action only in defense of life, and be a good witness.  The common arguments for not taking routine enforcement actions remain viable:  you are not equipped like you are on-duty; you do not have communications capabilities like you do on-duty; you have no backup; no one is checking on you if you don’t report in; and no one knows where or who you are. 

TRAINING POINT:  As an off-duty officer, there is no reason to get involved in thefts, arguments, simple assaults, strong-arm robberies, etc., without extenuating circumstances (purse snatch: no;  beat down or armed robbery:  perhaps).  Absent a threat-to-life-assault, with or without weapons, become the best witness you can.  Some officers believe they have a moral “duty” to intervene under any circumstances involving any infraction or crime.  A more mature view is that being a witness and safely tracking the suspect’s flight, permitting on-duty uniformed officers to converge and apprehend the offender(s) is still performing your duty without needlessly endangering your life.

If you draw a weapon, make your police ID safely visible.  Your badge will protect you only to the degree the responding officer is able to see it.  Heightened fear and focus on threat areas—your hands holding a firearm—will decrease the likelihood of the badge being seen at all.  Thrusting a badge at the officer is the same motion as thrusting a handgun at him.

TRAINING POINT:  An arriving officer’s attentional focus will likely be locked onto the handgun, perceiving only the threatening object.  Absent a uniform or raid jacket, the arriving officer’s attention set (what s/he expects to see) drives the officer to see a criminal with a gun.  Officers are properly trained to have this mindset and expectation.  Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department found targets with belt badges were shot six times more often than neck badges, and the neck badge targets to be shot quite often.  NEVER RELY ON A BADGE TO PROTECT YOU FROM MISIDENTIFICATION BY OFFICERS EXPECTING A CRIMINAL.  With that said, always, if practicable, have your badge visible, but don’t depend upon an officer seeing it in time.

One suggestion is to hold the badge directly over your head while yelling, “Police officer!” as officers arrive.  This is an unnatural position.  The non-threatening behavior perhaps permits the officer to focus on the badge in your hand.

When the officers arrive, do what they tell you to do.  See the situation from the perspective of the arriving officers.  When you hear orders, follow them.  If you are highly adrenalized, you may not be capable of hearing the orders.  Still, you are intimately familiar with police procedure.  It is critical to understand that the officer shouting and pointing a weapon at you is focused on you as a suspect.  Your life now depends upon a pressure-filled decision whether or not to depress the trigger.

TRAINING POINT:  Follow any police commands as if the orders were directed at you.  If ordered to the ground, move slowly.  If ordered to drop your weapon, do it (don’t carry a gun that you don’t want to drop on the ground—carrying a customized handgun that you don’t want to ding is stupid:  everyday carry will ding and rub the finish anyway, so either don’t carry it or drop it when commanded so you don’t get shot).  DO yell that you are a cop.  DO have your badge/ID visible above your head.  Then comply with every command until someone says, “No, not you.”  And you may be cuffed—comply, even if you wouldn’t handcuff someone who said he was a cop.  Now is the time to thank the nice police officer for not shooting you rather than getting in his face because “You treated me like a crook!”  Save your moral outrage and comply like you hope another professional would if it was your turn to figure out “who’s-who in the zoo.”


The shooting of off-duty or plainclothes officers is, largely, avoidable.  Off-duty safety in the past has centered on training the off-duty officer to act like a police officer.  When intervening in a criminal act, training suggested the off-duty officer to “clearly” identify himself, take action, and then cooperate with responding officers to take the subject into custody.  But this universally trained strategy continues to end in tragedy.  Solutions to this problem need to focus on the off-duty officer’s behavior, rather than the responding officer’s. 

While not empirical by any means, the contrast between police and civilian response to arriving officers is illustrative.  The probable root of the problem is the off-duty officer operating within his regular enforcement mindset.  For the armed civilian, the arrival of uniformed police shouting and pointing weapons is threatening.  When the civilian draws his weapon and fires on a suspect, he knows he is not on the cops’ team.  For that civilian, while there is likely a level of relief, the police arriving on-scene is another survival hurdle to overcome.  The officers don’t know him at all, and may treat him like a threat.  Paying attention, complying, and showing themselves to be as non-threatening as possible is the best path.

Acting like a cop when not clearly and immediately identifiable as the police is a poor tactical choice when officers are arriving on-scene.  Instead, make a conscious decision to act the same way you hope a suspect will act when you get the drop on him, and don’t force another cop to live through the tragedy of killing you.  This chain of events is ultimately very preventable, but actually depends more upon your off-duty mindset and actions than the responding officer’s ability to recognize you as an officer.  Attempts to change the responding officer’s response will likely result in more hesitation by officers, and more law enforcement deaths from criminal assaults.  If you initiate a police action while off-duty, your safety during the police response to this event will be largely dependent upon your actions and your behavior.  That means changing your mindset.

Active Shooter: Dealing With “Street Reality”

by George on April 25, 2011 09:06

So much has been written, talked about, and trained about the subject of police response to the “Active Shooter” (AS).  For years advocates of the “formation” have brooked no dissent and have held that the formation (whatever particular formation they have emotionally bought into) is the only method of training and responding because nothing else is “safe.”  These formations are complicated affairs with strict fields of fire that must be maintained while moving in a chaotic environment.  So little has actually been proven regarding this training in the real world that these claims—and the training that has resulted in the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of personnel hours—must be considered extravagant and ultimately wasteful.

I believe, as we have seen in the real-world of police responses to AS events, that the limited-number officer response is fundamentally the most successful doctrine we have available.  Solo officers have isolated the AS and limited additional carnage to innocents, ending the event either through their own gunfire or by motivating the suspect to initiate his/her end-game of suicide-in-place.  There has not, as yet, been a lot of room clearing during the event while it is still evolving.  There has been a lot of running to the sound of gunfire and then maneuvering for a shot.  None, that I know of, has involved a response by formation to an active event where there has been interdiction to a suspect who was currently engaged in murdering others.

Formations?  Not-so-much.

A little history of the various formations is important before moving into a discussion of street reality.  All of the various formations—the diamond, the “T,” the “Inverted V,” and others—are modifications or directly taken from the military.  The proponents point to the fact that if the military continues to teach these formations, they have intrinsic value.

The context in which these “formations” are valuable should be the only interest for those evaluating how to respond to an Active Shooter (a term Jeff Martin and I coined in 1999).  Each of these formations were developed and useful for crossing a large open area where it is unknown if there are hostile forces, and a large number of personnel are involved in the movement.  Dispersion (distance between personnel) is maintained to minimize casualties, and sectors of fire are established to increase the detection of the enemy and to prevent blue-on-blue (friendly fire) shootings.

The current requirement of a “tail-gunner” is a recent law enforcement development that resulted not from a real event, but from the creative imagination of two SWAT cops during a training scenario.  These two “suspects” hatched plans about how “they would do it.”  While one of the “suspects” kept the formation’s attention, the other circled around by climbing through the ceiling and duct work, and took the officers in the formation by surprise from behind.  The boogey-man was created, and thus was born the need for a tail-gunner.

The misapplication of these formations—inside a building with officers bunched up—has now been taught to most officers.  This formation training, with its needless, theoretical, and historically redundant tail-gunner, is too slow and inefficient to deal with the real-world demands of an AS event.  The theory is that the officers wait until a sufficient number arrive on-scene.  Quickly forming up, they move as a group with each member maintaining his/her field of fire.  As they pass a room, the formation collapses to permit clearing of that room through entry by two or more personnel.  Clearing that room, the formation is reformed and moves to the next doorway, where it is then cleared.  Meanwhile, the gunfire continues, and more innocents are butchered.

Bunching up creates a bigger target.  Believing that “firepower” will protect the members of formation only shows that this concept has not been thought through.  Officers will mask other officer's weapons, creating "friendly fire" problems or preventing officers from being able to fire.  While more personnel have more weapons and theoretically more “firepower,” each weapon (actually, each pair of eyes controlling a weapon) in the formation is not immediately pointing at the suspect’s position as he emerges from his position.  Each officer will require many long tenths of a second to orient that he is under fire, where that fire is coming from, overcome their surprise and fright, decide that a response is needed, what that response looks like, how not to shoot his/her partner, and then execute that response to the threat.  Meanwhile, the suspect is able to immediately shoot (he has no target discrimination requirements, so he doesn’t take a half-second determining “if” he should shoot or not), and then able to put out one round every two-tenths of a second into the group of the officers standing in a bunch just yards away.  So a more realistic timeline is:

  • If an officer is looking at the suspect as he emerges and levels the weapon at the group of officers and fires; and,
  • If that first officer is switched on and extremely well-trained, that first officer will return fire within approximately one-half second due to target discrimination requirements and natural human time requirements in processing changes in the status quo of his environment.  In the meanwhile, the suspect is firing an average of five rounds per second at the officers; and,
  • If the other officers are able to overcome their surprise and have not yet been seriously injured by the suspect’s fire, they will likely return fire within three-quarters to one-second of the suspect’s first firing—after four to five rounds fired by the suspect into the group of officers; and,
  • If the suspect is hit by the first officer’s round and if the suspect is unable or unwilling to continue firing, then he will have likely fired only two or three rounds into the group of officers; but,
  • If the first officer misses and the suspect is able to continue to fire for a second-and-a-half to two-seconds, he will have fired seven to ten rounds into the group of officers standing in a group.

A key factor of actual Active Shooter (non-hostage) shootings: it has been estimated that from the first shot until the last shot in any of these events, one person is murdered for every fifteen seconds that the shooter is permitted the freedom to continue hunting and killing his victims.  We now have a tragic track record, with a sufficient number of events having taken place to gain some insight as to how they unfold.  In an average event, if responding officers wait for a sufficient number of officers (four to five), organize and form up, and then move in formation toward the suspect, the murders of innocents will already be well under way or over, well before any of these officers can intervene.

Formation training is a waste of time and expense.  It unproven in the real world, and is unlikely to perform as advertised.  It is an unsafe and misapplied technique in an environment that requires speed, agility and flexibility of tactics, as well as aggressive action to limit the rapidly accumulating loss of life experienced in these events.

Immediate Response to the Active Shooter

Ideally, two officers will respond within seconds of each other to the scene, permitting them to team up and move to the sound of gunfire.  Ideally they will employ “traveling overwatch” until they believe they are close to the shooter, and then transition to bounding overwatch as they get closer to the danger, bypassing any open or closed doors.  As soon as one of the officers sees the shooter, and if it is apparent that individual is intent on continuing to murder others, the officer should immediately shoot the suspect without warning.  The second officer should maneuver into position to provide cover for the first officer from any unknown threat (a possible second shooter)—“Contact and Cover” principles always apply. The officers should, if possible, contact the shooter while separated as widely as possible, providing interlocking fields of fire. 

However, upon arrival of the first officer to the scene of an Active Shooter, an extended ETA for a second officer of even 30 seconds is unacceptable and signals the need for a “Solo Response.”

The initial responding officer (for the balance of this discussion, I will use the male pronoun, with no disrespect intended for female officers) should deploy from his vehicle parked as close to the entry point as possible (while guarding against as many lines of threat as possible) and will approach from the most protected path of ingress.  Armed with a shoulder weapon (ideally a red dot-equipped rifle) and as much ammo as possible (three magazines in a Mumbai/Beslan event will last about one-minute), ballistic vest (should be already worn), a ballistic helmet, clear protective eye-wear (e.g. ESS ballistic eye-wear), and breaching equipment (bolt cutters and some type of hooligan tool, e.g., Benchmade’s Model 172 “Tomahawk”), entry should be made.

If the sound of gunfire can be heard, the officer should carefully and swiftly move toward it—run to the sound of gunfire—keeping cover and concealment options between him and the apparent origin of fire.  There will be the dead and dying.  All injured or dead should be bypassed—they will be cared for by follow-on assets.  There is one mission:  safely interdict the suspect(s) and stop the killing.  As the officer perceives he is nearing the suspect’s location, rapid movement is replaced with cautious aggression.  By this time, it is likely that nearly everyone without a gun has gone to ground and is attempting to get very, very small and hidden.  People are going to be cowering, and taking the chance to exit only if it seems safe to do so.  Parents will be desperately shushing their children.  A crowded area may initially seem almost deserted.

Communicate your position and progress as it is safe to do so.  The radio can be your friend, but your weapons and tactics will save your life.  Stay off the radio unless you have something you need others to know about the situation that will help you survive and prevail over the shooter.

Open doors or store fronts should be bypassed quickly while moving and shots are still being fired.  This is a variation of the “Forget the Boogey-man” Theory.  While many authorities insist that each room or area must be searched and cleared to prevent being attacked from behind, the responding solo officer should forget about the boogey-men that could possibly be hidden along his path of approach and focus on the identified threat(s) in front of him.

Being mindful of the background at all times—if that is possible in this situation—the officer should fire upon the gunman as quickly and early as possible.  Many of the AS suspects almost immediately commit suicide upon the realization of police presence.  If all it does is succeed in getting the suspect to engage the officer, it has at least diverted him from the murder of innocents.  A 150 yard shot with a pistol is not out of the question--and should be taken--given the goal of diverting his attention stopping the killing.

If the suspect is inside a room (as in a school) or inside a shop (in a mall), attempt to engage the suspect from the outside in.  Don’t make entry unless it is absolutely needed.  A dynamic pie slice or slide across the entrance while engaging the shooter is safer than making entry.  If the shooter has apparently posted in a hard corner, a limited entry (eyes and weapon only) is often the best option.  Hit him, and withdraw.  If entry is a necessity due to circumstance, enter along the path least likely to be obstructed and fire on the move.  Do not stop.  Entering, posting up, and shooting from a static position is the last option, and the least safe.

If he retreats because of your presence, be aggressively cautious in following him.  Sprint from cover to cover, keeping as concealed as possible.  Be constantly ready for any attack.  Shoot at him (and hit him) as soon as possible, and continue shooting until he is down to prevent his gaining access to more victims and/or potential hostages.

Once the suspect is down, be prepared to defend yourself against a possible second suspect.  Never handcuff the suspect alone.  That is a two-officer task at minimum.


It is time to give up the misguided notion of formation techniques in the response to an Active Shooter.  Not only are they misapplied, but they are dangerous to the officers attempting to respond to this dangerous situation.  They are less than useful because they are slow, giving the shooter much more access to victims.  Additionally, consider this:

  • How frequently are officers trained in these formations?  Once a year in forward thinking agencies, but generally once or twice in a lifetime for most officers.  With dearth of frequent training, how well will officers perform this complicated technique under real-time pressures, hearing gunfire, and moving toward the shooter?
  • What is the quality of that training?  Training cannot duplicate real-life.  However, training can sometimes approximate it, and the closer to real-life this training is, the more likely it will be that the formation fails and falls apart.

Instead, the response should be contextually-correct:  time is of the essence in saving lives;  a solo-officer response early is better than a multi-officer response too late to save lives.  The officer should be armed with a shoulder weapon and breaching equipment.  Running to the sound of gunfire, and being cautiously aggressive when close, the suspect should be fired upon without warning upon first being observed.  This should disrupt the shooter’s murder spree and get him to focus on the officer.  Hopefully the suspect will be like most who engage in this type of mass murder, and will immediately turn the weapon on himself.  If not, he just might engage the officer, giving the civilians a possible break.  Backup officers will then assist in stopping the suspect, and take him into custody (in whatever manner that manifests).  Following officers can then respond, set up a Casualty Collection Point, assist in a thorough search for additional suspects and victims, and secure the scene.

It is time for tactics to change to fit the real-world realities of the Active Shooter incident, and increase the likelihood of interdicting these murders of innocents.  A solo officer, or, if there is near simultaneous response, two-officer teams moving aggressively and tactically to the sound of gunfire and immediately shooting the gunman/gunmen is, to date, the only real response that can be expected to save lives.  Time to update training programs, drop the archaic and impractical formation concept, and deal with the real world as it is, not how we’d like it to be.

Equipment Note:  Every officer should be equipped with breaching equipment as standard gear carried in every patrol (burdening the sergeant's car with even more equipment than is required now doesn't make sense as the supervisor may not arrive for the first ten minutes of a call--cops who need the equipment should have it available to them).  The equipment should consist of:

  1. Bolt cutters.  This should be standard equipment presently in every officer's car.  If your agency won't purchase it, shell out the $35.00 for one of your're the one who will be listening to people dying and not able to enter, not your Chief.
  2. Benchmade Model 172 Tomahawk.  Designed for military breaching requirements (not as an antipersonnel weapon), it is perfectly suited to breaching obstacles preventing access and ingress.  Easily portable, it is part hooligan tool and part breaching axe.  Its small size belies big capabilities.  For a 40% discount on all Benchmade products, contact us at and request a "Benchmade Discount Form" (law enforcement, military, Fire, and EMS only).
  3. ESS professional eyewear is available for a 40% discount through Cutting Edge Training.  Contact us at and request an "ESS DepRep Discount Code."

Be safe.  Shoot straight.

Pointing Firearms: Range Safety vs. Reality

by George on August 29, 2010 02:50

Police officers have been armed with firearms almost since the inception of law enforcement in the US.  Since equipping officers with handguns, shotguns, submachineguns, and rifles, officers have pointed those weapons at suspects whom those officers believed to be a reasonable threat.  Many shootings have been prevented as a result.

Is that practice wrong? 

In the last few years, some well-known gun writers and police trainers have been urging officers, agencies, and law enforcement in general to consider the pointing of a firearm at a suspect that the officer does not intend to immediately shoot as a “violation” of safety rules.  The basis of their beliefs?  Number 2 of the Range Safety Rules as codified by Jeff Cooper and taught at Gunsite Ranch:  “Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.”

One trainer wrote that “while not a violation of law,” pointing a gun at a suspect and not shooting is a violation of the safety rules of gunhandling.  This, he reasoned, should subject the officer to discipline by his agency, and “could” cause the officer and agency to be civilly liable.

It is vitally important to understand why these well-intentioned individuals are mistaken in their beliefs, and how to argue against the inevitable accusations by plaintiffs and the media (as well as those in your own agency) who claim that any pointing of a firearm at a suspect without firing it is a violation and should be subject to sanction and/or civil judgment. 

Bottom line:  When an officer has a reasonable belief that a suspect or situation might be dangerous or threatening, he or she may point a firearm at a suspect in order to ensure their safety.  It is lawful to do so.  And it is NOT in any way a safety violation of “range” safety rules in many situations to point a gun at a suspect who may be armed, violent, or outnumber officers.

As trainers, there are consequences to everything we do and say—often resulting in life-or-death.  If this misunderstanding of range rules in the street is permitted to grow and become “normalized” as part of training doctrine, the courts will sooner rather than later incorporate it into their understanding of “proper” police work.  From that moment on, any officer who points his or her weapon at a suspect and fails to fire will be guilty of excessive force.  The result?  More officers hesitating to draw guns, more police shootings with suspects who thought they could beat the cop to the draw or that the officer was not serious about the threat to shoot because the gun isn't pointing at him/her.  And more officers shot down.

Be careful what you wish for—you may get it.


Officers can be subject to discipline and liability when they point their weapons at individuals or groups when the officer is then unable to articulate the threat he or she believed existed at the time.  The latest case where a federal court stated that pointing a firearm (in this case, a handgun) at a subject is “excessive force” when there is no legal reason to do so is Baird v. Renbarger (7th Cir., 576 F.3d 346, January, 2010).  From the facts of the case it would be apparent to any reasonable officer that pointing a gun in this situation might be unreasonable:

  • An officer who was verifying a VIN during a visit to an auto shop reasonably believed the VIN had been tampered with.
  • Returning the next day with a search warrant, the officer pointed a 9mm subgun at the occupants of the business, forcing them at gunpoint to sit on the floor together.
  • The officer then detained the occupants of other businesses at gunpoint, including a group of Amish men, requiring them to sit with the others who were detained.

The federal district court determined that it was not “objectively unreasonable” in these circumstances to aim a submachinegun at wholly compliant and non-threatening subjects.  The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals used the factors within the totality of the facts known to the officer at the time of Graham v. Connor in its analysis:

  • The severity of the crime at issue:  The crime of altering a VIN is one that is not associated with violence.  The court remarked, “…this is a far cry from crimes that contain the use of force as an element, crimes involving the possession of illegal weapons, or drug crimes, all of which are associated with violence.”
  • The threat of the subject to officers or others:  This officer had been to the auto shop the day before, but articulated no belief that the occupants were threatening in any way.  On the day of the warrant service, all of them immediately complied with his and other officers’ orders.
  • The active resistance or attempt at flight:  None of the detained subjects resisted or attempted to escape.

Other courts have ruled that an officer pointing a gun at a suspect absent indications of threat is excessive force, including the 9th Circuit in Robinson v. County of Solano (2002) and 3rd Circuit in Baker v. Monroe Township (2005).  Some of the facts in these and other cases leading to a finding of excessive force are:

  • Even though they were investigating a crime of illegally shooting dogs, it was excessive force to point a gun at a handcuffed, searched prisoner for an extended period of time.
  • Detaining a child/children at gunpoint. 
  • Pointing a gun at the head of an elderly man after he had been handcuffed.

Generally it is not justified to point any firearm at a compliant individual when the circumstances are not threatening.  Even if the circumstances were threatening a few moments ago, as soon as that changes, officers must reflect those changes in their behavior and stop pointing guns at people. 

Another bottom line:  Point a firearm at a person only when you can articulate the danger this person poses to you, whether it is through their acts or their connection to the dangerous circumstances you are investigating.  Failing to explain why you needed to point your weapon at someone can create huge problems for you. 


The US Supreme Court has always held that it is permissible for the police to point guns at people suspected of violent or weapon-related crimes.  This includes those who are suspected of a non-violent crime but who are known to have carried weapons in the past.  Federal Circuit Courts routinely have ruled that officers may hold people at gunpoint when the circumstances reasonably create the fear of violence.  Even the 9th Circuit in 2002, in the case, Duran v. City of Maywood stated that two officers moving toward the location of a shots-fired call with their handguns drawn did not increase the likelihood of a shooting. 

When an officer believes the circumstances could be possibly threatening or violent, especially those involving drugs, weapons, or violent individuals, the drawing and pointing of a weapon is not prohibited. 


There can be little question that a firearm is a dangerous tool.  It is designed and intended to harm a living being in defense of life (or hunting for meat).  Its carry and display must be regulated and training imposed upon officers in order to reasonably minimize the chance for needless tragedy by preventing unintentional discharge.

Range rules were developed through hard won wisdom.  A moment’s inattention or distraction and someone is injured or killed.  As these range rules have been promulgated and enforced, injuries from firearms accidents have steadily decreased.  Firing ranges are generally safe places to be as a result.

The National Rifle Association’s “Gun Safety Rules” include only three components:  1. Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction;  2. Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot;  3.  Always keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.  This is a good start for gun safety, especially while hunting non-dangerous game, or while shooting recreationally on a cold range where weapons remain unloaded until directed otherwise by a range safety officer.  However, a hot range is more suitable for law enforcement training purposes.

Jeff Cooper of the American Pistol Institute at Gunsite Ranch in Arizona developed a version of these rules, one that most officers have been trained in.  The four “inviolate” Firearms Safety Rules are:  1.  All guns are always loaded;  2.  Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy;  3.  Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target;  4.  Always be sure of your target.  This article is not intended to discuss the efficacy of these range rules as they are stated (which should certainly be up for discussion).  Rather, their application and intention, especially where Safety Rule Number Two is concerned will be discussed.


The trainers and writers who are promulgating the “Rule 2 Standard” (essentially, “Never point a firearm at a suspect unless you intend to immediately shoot”) explain that while it is legal to point a firearm at a person in limited cases, it is a “violation” of the safety rules.  It is therefore unsafe and should be prohibited.  They say that while having your handgun (or shoulder weapon) in your hands early in dangerous circumstances is a good thing (because, as we all know, the fastest drawn gun is the one that is already in your hand), actually pointing it without the immediate intention to shoot is not.  The in-hand weapon should be held in a low-ready or off the line of the suspect until the decision to shoot is made.  Additionally they note that there is little difference in reaction-response times between a properly positioned weapon that is held off-target and one that is held on-target.  This, they reason, will reduce or eliminate the possibility of injury due to unintentional discharge and resulting civil liability.

While some or all of their reasoning for why they believe an officer should not point guns at people they do not intend to shoot may be true, the purpose of an officer possessing a firearm is not about civil liability prevention.  It is, rather, about defense of life and creating compliance.  The “Rule 2 Standard” is a misapplication of something that is true in one context but is wholly incorrect in another.  Officers carry handguns, and are permitted to employ shoulder weapons for the following reasons:

Defense of life.  The main purpose for carrying a firearm is to shoot another person to save life.  Stopping a suspect’s imminent or actual threat to life by shooting bullets through their body is the only proven method of quickly stopping life-threatening behavior.

Shooting a person necessarily requires the muzzle to be pointed at him.  Proponents of the “Don’t Violate the Rule” are not against officers shooting people who earn getting shot.  Their concerns are how and when that muzzle is brought on target.  Their focus is on unintentional discharges.  That is the center of this discussion, and a misunderstanding of the second purpose for pointing weapons at people who are just about to be shot if they don’t change their behavior NOW.  

Creating Compliance.  Many, if not most, have had the experience of a non-compliant suspect in a dangerous situation, or possibly armed, suddenly become compliant when confronted by the muzzle of a weapon held by a very determined and focused officer.  While many suspects know that an officer isn’t going to shoot them even when a gun is pointed at them, all but the mentally ill and those under-the-influence understand there is a fine line between a gun being pointed at you and that gun being fired at you. 

What creates compliance when muzzling a suspect?  The immediate fear of being shot.  The mere presence of a handgun in a police confrontation is universal—officers carry handguns at all times.  The presence of a handgun on the officer’s hip does not stop fights or gunfights.  Even when that gun is in an officer’s hand, it is still simply present in the situation—it is only a matter of degree of the threat that all officers carry with them. 

This changes when the officer points his handgun directly at the suspect.  Confrontations with armed suspects result in compliance because that suspect knows that if he tries to outdraw a handgun pointing at him, he will lose—and non-suicidal suspects know that “ties go to the cops.”  Simply put, many, many shootings are prevented because officers muzzle suspects. 


So let’s say we do adopt the “Rule 2 Standard,” and declare that pointing a gun without shooting is a violation of policy, tactics, safety, and law.  What will be the result?

Slower response to deadly threats.  Most will agree that officers today are much slower to respond with force than their forbearers.  This reflects our society today.  I submit that officers will be slower to draw and fire their weapons than they are even today.  Due to more sophisticated offenders who already take advantage of the system, the allegations (both true and false) of “the officer pointed his weapon at me” will increase.  This will especially be true in court, both criminal and civil.  The He said/She said nature of many of these complaints will cast a pall across law enforcement, causing many to leave their handguns in their holsters until the last possible moment before shooting for fear of being falsely accused of brandishing their weapons.

In certain circumstances, officers will point their guns anyway due to their own fear and desire to stop a shooting from occurring.  Many officers, if not most, have had the experience of facing a suspect whose actions were so intense and threatening that the officer could have legally shot them, but didn’t for some reason.  Universally, these incidents were emotionally startling in their intensity and focus.  I would submit that having a weapon in one’s hand and not threatening a dangerous person with it before shooting, if given time, would be a very difficult training issue and one that cannot be prevented.

Yes, many instances could be modified to be “Rule 2 Standard” compliant where officers believe there to be “reasonably threatening” circumstances in which officers now legally point guns at people.  Of course, there will be an attendant increase of shootings, and the resultant increase in suspect and officer injuries and death.

However, in those immediately threatening instances not yet meeting the imminent threat to life or safety threshold demanded for deadly force, where an officer is frightened by the suspect’s behavior, and desperately wanting to avoid being forced to shoot the suspect, I would submit that it is natural to point a gun at a perceived threat, and is something we cannot “train out of officers.”

Pointing a gun is the highest level of threat—short of actually shooting—an officer has.

Humans who feel threatened and are, in turn, threatening the other person, tend to naturally point the most dangerous weapon at their adversary before any blows are exchanged.  This intimidation is designed to avoid physical conflict.  When posturing, unarmed combatants will point with their fingers or shake their fist(s).  If armed with a knife, the knife will be displayed as a warning.  A club will be ominously swung in the direction of the threat.  Guns are pointed as a display of warning and threat. 

How is something this instinctive trained out of an officer?  It can’t be.  The result of “Rule 2 Standard” requirements will be that many officers will be disciplined and lose their jobs as a result of their natural and instinctive responses to great danger.  Citizen complaints will increase.  False accusations of brandishing by criminal defendants and civil plaintiffs will become the norm, forcing officers to argue in the negative (arguing about something they didn’t do).  The civil liability exposure for “excessive force” will dramatically increase, resulting in more lawsuits and increased litigation costs.


There is no “violation” of range safety rules when pointing a weapon at a suspect when the situation is sufficiently threatening.  Rule #2 states:  “Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.”  It says, “…willing to destroy,” not going to destroy.  This is a paper target-only rule when taken literally. 

A police officer who muzzles a suspect is conveying his willingness to shoot that person.  However, that officer is communicating to that individual that he simply has not made the decision to shoot him yet, but is close:  that decision is now up to the suspect and his actions.

The law as interpreted by the courts permits officers to point guns at suspects in justified circumstances.  An officer who points a gun at a suspect is blatantly telling that suspect to change his behavior immediately or he’ll be shot.  As Clint Smith says, “The muzzle of a .45 pretty much means ‘go away’ in any language.” 

It is a misunderstanding of the gun safety rules intended to increase range safety and safer gun-handling.  Officers have a context of not only shooting to protect life, but to attempt to protect life by reasonably intimidating a threatening suspect by pointing a weapon at him in hopes of preventing a shooting.

By following the “Shall not point guns unless shooting” concept, it will likely be sooner rather than later that officers will be prohibited by the courts from this important safety practice.  Yes, unintentional discharges occur, but not at a greater frequency than before.  And when they happen, agencies will settle with the plaintiff to compensate for the loss.  But the shooting of more suspects who will attempt to fight their way out of an arrest when confronted by an officer hamstrung in his ability will be out of proportion to the limited number of injuries from unintentional discharges.  Often, this is the only chance an officer has to prevent a shooting is to point a gun at the subject and convince that suspect that the only way out alive is to comply.

Adopting this misinterpretation of “Rule 2” will increase civil liability beyond anything now seen from the few unintentional discharges that occur in US law enforcement.  Many more suspects will be shot and injured and killed.  More to the point will be the needless loss of police officers in the line of duty because of a misinterpretation of something that was originally designed to keep them and all gun owners safer. 

Let’s really think about the very real consequences of this before incorporating it into our legal and tactical doctrine.

OFFICER SAFETY: The "Prison Crouch"

by George on January 11, 2010 06:08

The situation is familiar to patrol officers:  a parolee “hanging” on the street, sitting on one heel, leaning back against a wall, forearms resting on his knees, talking to his associates.  Every officer has seen this.  Is this simply a “comfy” way to relax while talking to friends rather than standing or sitting on the concrete?  Or could there be something more.

While there are individuals in whose cultures this is a common way to relax, the possibility that this is a parolee or gangster requires officers to be cautious and appreciate the threat this position can pose to safety.  Officers must take precautions during any subject contact with an individual who is in or assumes this position.  Even though “it feels” like the officer standing has the advantage, the person in the “prison crouch” or squat (the term, “prison squat” seems to be perceived by jurors as more vulgar in court, although that is more accurate) has many tactical advantages.

All State Corrections Officers can tell you that parolees assume this position for two reasons:

  1. Prisons are made of concrete.  Concrete is cold.  Sitting on cold concrete for years, according to convicts, will give the person hemorrhoids. 
  2. Sitting flat on your butt in prison prevents effective response to sudden attack.  Sitting on your butt on the floor or ground is an invitation to attack.

This “prison crouch”—sitting on one heel with the other foot flat and forward—is an indicator of a subject who may be a threat to an officer.  Even when the individual has not been to prison, this behavior is often seen in youngsters emulating the “OGs” who have. 

Sitting or squatting in this position is not the sole indicator of any individual having spent time in prison.  This position is seen, too, in Latin American immigrants, especially farm workers or those of the peasant class in their home countries.  These cultures continue to work the fields as they have for centuries.  When in the fields, there is no place to sit but on the dirt.  Instead, these immigrants (legal and illegal) will squat or crouch down like this as an alternative to standing.  However, when combined with other threat-cues, the prison crouch is a position an officer should approach with caution, being aware of the position’s capabilities.


While to the lay-person the Prison Crouch seems to be a “submissive” position, it actually has inherent offensive and defensive capabilities that must be addressed in the field if an officer is to safely handle the situation.  The lay person often believes that since the individual is lower than the officer and sitting back, that the subject is therefore at a disadvantage. 

Not true: 

Lower than the officer.  With the officer standing over him while the subject is sitting on his heel, it appears the officer has an advantage of being “bigger” and “higher.”  However, the closer the officer gets to the subject, the more vulnerable his legs are to the suspect suddenly springing at the officer for a leg takedown.  Any wrestler or jujitsu-player will see this relative positioning as an opportunity to “shoot” for the leg(s) and take the officer down.  Even with extensive wrestling/jujitsu training, once someone is in the officer’s legs, it is very difficult to prevent that party from taking the officer down.  The subject’s being lower does not prevent his springing at the officer, and is therefore a danger signal that may result in serious assault.

Sitting back.  The lay person sees an individual “sitting” with his back against a wall.  This, they wrongly reason, will make it more difficult to move suddenly and attack anyone by surprise—especially an officer who is paying attention.  While opposing attorney’s may characterize the standard Prison Crouch as “a guy sitting ‘back’ on his heels,” the reality is that this position is defensive as well as offensive, and used by individuals in a predatory environment (prison) to prevent their being attacked without defense by other predators (fellow prisoners).  Kicks are easily deflected, punches to the head are extremely difficult, and tackling the individual results in an opponent who has all of his physical weapons (hands, feet, and head) available for groundfighting.  He’s low to the ground, and less likely to be injured when tackled, negating much of the value the tackle provides against a standing opponent.  And as officers who have experienced combative or resistive suspects in position know, individuals can stand up surprisingly fast when they want to. 

Submissive.  The lay person will see this prison crouch as a submissive position, and will often judge the situation to be one of dominance by the officer who is standing over the subject.  Actually, this is a position where one can lure the unwary individual easily into range for an almost indefensible takedown (without extensive and current training) on to a hard surface (concrete or asphalt) where elbows, wrists, and heads are vulnerable to possibly severe injury from striking the ground. 

There is a temptation to use the standing position and a louder, harsher voice from a closer position to attempt to convince the subject to comply.  Remember:  this position is designed as a defensive position.  An officer wandering into the subject’s range because of a natural perception that standing is advantageous and dominant can be a mistake that can cost an officer his health and possibly his life.


Is there a foolproof way to predict whether any individual is simply sitting versus a threat from a “prison crouch?”  No.  Are there indicators that should alert the officer to the threat of an individual who takes this position either as a defensive posture or as an attempt to lure the officer into range?  Of course. 

Failure to comply with orders to get on the ground or on his knees.  All non-compliance is, of course, a key threat indicator.  Taking a position contrary to that ordered, or remaining in a position after being told to move calls for caution and distance solutions (Taser or OC spray) rather than hands-on efforts or getting closer to exert one’s will.  By giving orders in Spanish (“Boca abajo,” literally, “mouth down,” but translated as “Get face down,” or “A tierra se,” or “Get on the ground”), future Criminal Defense and Plaintiffs attempts to portray the subject as unable to understand the officer’s intentions will be short circuited.

Changing orientation.  An individual who changes his orientation to the officer’s latest position is clearly maneuvering to engage the officer.  As the officer moves laterally, he rotates to remain oriented to the officer’s position, thereby protecting his flank.

Eyes remain on the officer.  The subject maintains eye-contact with the officer, tracking his or her movement.  Cultural indicators are submissive, and not looking authorities in the eye.  In their country of origin, the police are not someone whom a citizen safely confronts—even with sustained direct eye contact.  Anyone visually tracking the officer from the crouch or squat position and remaining alert to the officer’s position or actions should be treated as a threat to officer safety. 

Indicia of gang association.   Knowledge of gang involvement, gang-style clothing, and identifying tattoos transform this seated position into a “prison-crouch,” with all of the safety ramifications that entails.

Identifying and remaining aware of the threat-cues that a “prison crouch” or squat signifies will permit a safer contact.  This position alone may not justify a higher profile response.  However, its inherent strengths combined with one or more threat indicators call for a moderate distance response.  The first non-compliance indicator, failure to respond to legal commands, routinely justifies a distance response (the threat or use, as justified, of OC spray or Taser).  As the threat-cues compound and multiply, a higher profile response to someone in the prison crouch is needed. 


Be safe.  Wear your vest.  Know your policies, especially your force response, deadly force response, and pursuit policies by heart.  And thank you for taking care of me and mine, and us all.