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

by George on August 16, 2014 09:55

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

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

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

Two Primary Response Methods

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

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

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


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

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

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

How the R2TM response works

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


How Rescue Teams Function

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

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

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

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

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


Time matters

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

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

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

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


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

The "Unthinkable" in Boston was Predictable

by George on April 20, 2013 12:42

The April 15, 2013 bombing attack by Muslim Americans who were born in Chechnya has graphically awakened many Americans to the reality that most people in the world face:  terrorist bombs can suddenly shred their peace of mind anytime, any place.  In actuality, the US has been subject to terror attacks using Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) since at least May 4, 1886, when anarchists threw a bomb into a crowd at a labor rally at Haymarket Square in Chicago, killing seven police officers (officers firing into the crowd killed another four people).  In the 1970s, the US suffered 50-60 bombings per year, all of them politically inspired.1   Terrorists have operated since ancient history, and will continue to operate as long as one person or people believe they cannot defeat a larger, stronger enemy in confrontational warfare.  Terrorism is the tool of the weak and the motivated.

The terror-suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing are American citizens who were born in Chechnya.  Rather than the predicted al Qaeda “sleeper cells” so many of us expected, these two brothers represent what is becoming the norm, the independent operator with only loose or no ties to a greater jihadi network.  According to Brian Jenkins, senior advisor to the president of the RAND Corporation, those involved in attempted and completed terror attacks are men for whom Islam is less important than the search for adventure and a desire to be part of (the) ‘epic struggle’”2 of Islam against Christianity and the West.

Based on Mr. Jenkins’ research, there have been 41 Salafist-inspired2 plots involving 204 people since the 9/11 attacks in 2001.  The suspects tend to be “malleable males” averaging 32 years of age (with a median age of 27) who tend to be “loners.”  74% are US citizens, 49% are US born, and one-quarter were born with non-Muslim names, suggesting they converted to Islam prior to the plots.  Contrary to public expectations, most of these individuals are not of Arab descent—they are instead predominantly Somalis and Pakastanis.The Boston Marathon bombers fit this profile exactly:  Chechyn-born US citizens of Muslim faith, 26 and 19 year old (respectively) males who had little interaction and identification with American culture and society, and who posted Salafist messages and goals on their social websites.

These grassroots actors5 are individuals who have a romantic—and clearly earnest—belief in Islam’s historic struggle against the West—yet are not formally affiliated with any known group.  Rather than highly trained operatives with extensive combat experience, they are principally self-trained through the internet, and influenced by e-publications such as “Inspire.”6   This publication, with its sophisticated graphics, was the brainchild of US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, a Salafist militant who was killed by a drone strike on 9/30/2011.  This e-magazine sought to mobilize unsophisticated US citizens to commit low-technology terror attacks with high public impact.  The Fort Hood shooting (encouraged and celebrated by al-Awlaki), killing 13 and wounding 32 people was just such an attack that urged a simple plan rather than a complex plot.  The Boston Marathon might have had similar or even greater numbers had the suspects employed firearms rather than bombs.

The tools they employ, whether firearms, poison (e.g., ricin or anthrax), or IEDs are simply the mechanism of their acts of terror.  Terrorist looks for soft targets that are easy to access and give them the highest body count for the least cost to them.  Bombs make better sense, as pointed out in the “Inspire” magazine, because it does not lead to confrontation and permits the Salafist to continue his personal warfare on the unbelievers.  With the success of the Marathon bombers, it is likely that we will be subject to more of these attacks.  Learning how to minimize the chance of being one of the victims of terrorism simply makes sense. 

Change your thinking

The American public has grown complacent and unthinking about the threat of terror—primarily due to law enforcement’s success in disrupting these plots since 9/11, as well as the Main Stream Media’s suppression of news events that might cast Islam in a negative light.  The threat remains, and may, in fact, now be greater due to the success of the attack and the “blaze of glory” in which the first brother,7 was killed.  While terror attacks have continued since 2001, this is the first time that one event has penetrated the national consciousness to this extent since the attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.  This is likely due to the unpredictability of the attack and the targeting of a non-political, non-military event.

It’s time to change your individual mindset and take better control of your vulnerability to attack.  Whether it is an Active Shooter suspect, a Salafist suspect, an Occupy Movement extremist, a union thug, an anarchist, someone advocating violent change from the Left or the Right, it is unsafe to consider a terror attack as unlikely.  It is common place in many parts of the civilized world—and routine in less civilized countries—and we are now experiencing this same assault on our way of life and culture in a very public manner.  Beneficially, the more highly aware you become (without paranoia, which serves no one’s highest good), the less you will be susceptible to common criminal assault and robbery.

A change in thinking creates a change in actions and behavior.  Far from “bowing to terror,” this change represents a realistic response to a realistic threat.  While the likelihood of any individual being harmed by a terrorist attack (of the hundreds of thousands at the Boston Marathon, fewer than 1% were directly harmed by the blasts), it might be safe to say that 100% of those present and nearly all Americans were emotionally affected to some varying degree.  Knowing that one is statistically unlikely to be shot or disintegrated by a terrorist’s bomb does not mean it is time to sink back into the denial.  Rather, it is an opportunity to recognize that we as a society might take responsibility for our own safety as well as watching each other’s backs.

Essentially, a change in thinking creates a more tactical lifestyle, one where the blinders are lifted a bit.  Instead of walking through life with your iPod’s ear buds plugged in, your eyes down, and your mind a million miles away from your present circumstances, a habit of observing others’ behavior is created.  The upshot is that we all will make more eye contact with others, possibly facilitating more connection.  And you might make the difference between a foiled or successful plot.

Notice everyone

Creating habits of increased situational awareness is the goal.  While noticing everyone may not be possible, the goal is to maintain an “eyes-open” approach to being in public.  Who and what is around you?  Reportedly, one of the victims in the Marathon bombing (a double amputee) made eye contact with the bomber as he put his backpack with the IED down and walked away.  This is an example of the need for increased situational awareness.  Asking, “Why is this guy leaving his backpack on the sidewalk in the middle of a crowd?” may have saved this man’s legs and the lives of others.   This is a question he may be asking himself for the rest of his life.8  Rather than a criticism of him, this is something any of us might have done.  Instead, let’s change our timing and ask these questions pre-event—and then act upon the answers.  For example, the average time an unattended bag or package is reported in Israel is less than 40 seconds.  Israelis have learned the hard way to pay attention to potential threats.

Situational awareness is not about racial profiling.  Racial profiling is ineffective and does not further the goal of creating situational awareness.  Because any individual is ethnically a member of “X” race tells us nothing about his or her beliefs, intentions, or threat level.  An “Arab,” “Somali,” “Pakastani,” or even the fact that one is Muslim is not an indicator of threat.  While a suspect description of an individual of “X” ethnicity for a specific crime creates the need to critically examine others of that ethnicity, there is no jihadist “race.”  Extremely devout Muslims may wear a skullcap and their women wear hijabs (head scarf) and even burkas (a loose garment covering all of the body, including the face, leaving only the hands uncovered).  That they may be sympathetic to jihadist ideals and goals does not necessarily make them a terror threat.  Terrorists, both Salafist and secular, and Active Shooters as well, come in every ethnicity and country, including our own.

Effective observation notes the differences in behavior and affect from “normal” social conduct.  Affect defined as the outwardly observable appearance of an individual indicating mood or psychological demeanor.  We see other people moving through their days, some in good moods, many not.  Our brains are hardwired to recognize anger, threat, and fear in others.  We first need to observe their affect before we can recognize it for what it might be.  How is this person’s behavior or demeanor different from those around him or her?

Some observations that lead to questions about an individual and their potential threat level:

  • Whose affect is different from the rest of the crowd?  He or she may just be having a bad day.  Or it might be his/her last day.  Suicide bombers have been noted to have a range of affect from beatific to mournfully crying.  Active shooters have ranged from arrogant to euphoric.
  • Is he or she hyper-vigilant?  Is this person in a state of intense “startle reaction,” appearing wide-eyed or giving the impression he or she is about to be caught doing something wrong?
  • With this difference in affect from those around him/her, is there a disconnect between that person’s dress and everyone else’s?  The well-used example is wearing an overcoat on a warm day.
  • Is he or she carrying a backpack or duffel?  These objects are so common in our culture that they are unnoticed except by loss-control security personnel in retail stores.  The presence of a backpack is unexceptional except when coupled with unusual behavior or affect. 
  • Why is that property abandoned?  Observation of abandoned property is useless without the willingness to take action.  While a person leaving a bag or package in a public place may be absent-minded or careless with their property, that person may later count on someone perhaps noticing and reporting the package or bag to prevent its theft.  If you discover abandoned property  in an area where people are expected or are gathering, first gain distance from the bag, and then report it to police or security.  If possible, it is best to report it while behind cover, out of the path of the blast effects (overpressure, heat, and shrapnel).  Do not investigate the package unless you have the training to do so.
  • Is his/her chest/waist weirdly bulky for the overall body size—are the legs/arms to torso consistent or inconsistent with normal proportions?  Someone who is strangely bulky might be wearing an explosive vest.  Strangely, some suicide bombers have had wires hanging out of their clothing (this has been seen several times in Israel and helped to save countless people).  Does this person have a rifle or shotgun barrel extending below his jacket?

Remember:  observation of behavior and affect that is out of the ordinary is the goal of situational awareness.  The early warning and ability to report in sufficient time to permit law enforcement to intervene and evacuate the blast area is key to preventing multiple injuries and deaths should it be the real deal.  At worst, someone’s abandoned or forgotten property is recovered by authorities and will not be stolen. 

Be legally armed

While legally carrying a handgun will do nothing to prevent a terrorist bombing, armed individuals can positively influence and sometimes end an Active Shooter event.  According to Ron Borsch, of those events that are interrupted or stopped by someone other than the suspect, armed civilians shoot the suspect twice as often as responding police officers.  Nothing is able to confront an armed bad man as efficiently and effectively as an armed good man or woman.

Unlike terrorists, active shooter spree shooting perpetrators (as opposed to workplace shooters who then might take hostages or attempt to flee) tend to be shallow, emotionally frail individuals who are not willing to fight with a capable adversary, and they tend to fold immediately.  90% of spree shooters (those who attempt to murder as many unarmed strangers as possible in the shortest possible time) commit suicide at the first sign of resistance.  For example, in the December, 2012, mass shooting in the Clackamas County Mall (Oregon), the suspect immediately committed suicide when a man with a concealed weapon permit pointed his handgun at him.

Your tactics will include finding a corner to fight from, and firing at the shooter at the earliest possible moment.  Even if he is too far for you to effectively hit, firing at him will let him know that he is not the only one with a gun in the location.  If you cannot fire directly at him for fear of hitting innocents behind or around him, fire into a wall near him, or even the ceiling above him.  Statistically, this tends to end the event.  If he begins to target you, this has two benefits:  1) he’s no longer murdering the unarmed innocents, giving the police more time to effectively respond; and 2) you’re fighting from a corner and he has to hit a small target.

Also, be prepared to be met by anxious, fearful police officers.  Do what they tell you to do immediately.  Realize that they don’t know you are the “good guy,” and they want to make it out of this situation alive as well.

Have a plan

While one would ideally avoid crowds during terrorist times, it is not practical.  This threat is with us for the duration of Islam versus the West, and there is no way to avoid crowds in shopping for food, celebrations, watching a game—your child’s or the pros—or watching the end of a marathon.  Whether an attack by terrorists consists of one or more IEDs as seen in Boston, or it is a direct assault with firearms, having an idea of what you might do should something happen will be vital.  Additionally, knowing areas to avoid can create a safer situation.

Active Shooters, like terrorists and criminals in general, love “gun-free zones.”  If you are in one of these high-danger zones, make sure your situational awareness is in over-drive.  The early observation of unusual affect and threat behavior is essential to increasing your safety from all types of threat.

With family members, planning is key to increasing everyone’s safety.  My wife and I have an explicit agreement if something happens and we are with our grandchildren:

  • If we can get out as a family, we move immediately away from the threat.
  • If the family is threatened, she takes the grandchildren as I address the threat.
  • If we are without the grandchildren, we play it by ear.

With this planning explicitly agreed upon, there are fewer decisions, which means less time is spent in neutral while the events play out around us.  Having a plan permits quick modification rather than figuring something out in the middle of someone shooting at you, in the midst of an explosion, or criminal assault.


Americans are joining the rest of the world in being forced to have an awareness of vulnerability to a threat.  While “gun-free zones” assist Active Shooters in their targeting and execution of their mass murders, terrorists strike soft targets where maximum infliction of severe injury is possible for the least amount of effort.  We will never be able to prevent individuals and groups who believe their grievances justify the murder of anonymous innocents.  Even in a police state like Russia (even when it was the Soviet Union) and China there are still terrorist attacks and mass casualties. 

We can, however, make it more difficult for the terrorist and Active Shooter suspects to operate.  Early observation and reporting, as well as avoidance of items typically used to transport or hold IEDs can make a difference.  Legally carrying a handgun (and being able to use it) will stop an Active Shooter, or, at least, slow him down.

It’s time to pay attention and change how we do business as a people to make us safer while preserving the freedom we cherish.  As our good friend Gordon Graham says, “If it’s predictable, it’s preventable.”  It is predictable that we will remain the target of terror attacks.  While law enforcement may not be able to prevent or interdict every terrorist act, we as individuals and a society are able to better observe and act to upon the indicators of threats to protect ourselves and others from the results of these attacks.


1.     “A Desire To Be Part Of An 'Epic Struggle' -- A New Profile Of Jihadis” by Judith Miller, 4/19/2013,

2.     Ibid.

3.     “Salafism”’ is a militant segment of Sunni Islam.  Salafists believe only they are the correct interpreters of Islam and the teachings of the Qu’ran.  In their view, all non-Salafists Muslims are infidels who must be converted, and the entire world will someday be dominated by their fundamentalist beliefs.  The Wahabi tribe’s strict interpretation of living one’s life only through the Qu’ran and the Hadith Qudsi ("Sacred Hadith," a recording of the sayings and actions of Muhammad) are the basis of the militant Salafist movement.

4.     Op.cit.

5.     Stratfor Global Intelligence, “Boston Bombing Suspects: Grassroots Militants from Chechnya,”


7.     Please note, Cutting Edge Training never refers to terror and active shooter suspects by name.  We will not participate in the process of generating copycats by glorifying these individuals.  These individuals deserve the ignominy of anonymity and being ignored by history.

8.     This is a teaching point only and not a criticism of this individual who was maimed.  I have great compassion for the victims of this attack and their families and loved ones.  We must learn from events such as these to help mitigate these senseless losses.

Why Do We Teach? Move: Proximity and Distance Shootings

by George on November 26, 2012 07:22

Time “…is like a fire—it could either destroy us or keep us warm…we live or we die by the clock…We never turn our backs on it and we never allow ourselves the sin of losing track of time…That’s how much time we have before this pulsating, accursed, relentless taskmaster tries to put us out of business.

—Chuck Nolan in the movie, “Castaway”, 2000

While most think that bullets are their enemy in a shooting, the real enemy is time—not enough of it to effectively respond to a Threat (a person who is an actual or imminent threat to your life, or the life of another) by putting bullets through him while avoiding bullets sent their way.  Not seeing a Threat in time, not recognizing the threat in time, not reacting in time, or not hitting him in time can be fatal.  Your job in a gunfight is save or create sufficient time for you to safely move beyond the Threat’s initial assault by controlling his perception of the time he has in the gunfight.  The goal in your tactical response is to destroy his accurate perception of current time and the actual unfolding of events.  Oh yeah.  And you have to hit him with enough bullets to finish the job.

We teach that when in proximity to the Threat, move and hit the Threat.  When at distance or forced to take a technical shot, move to cover, then hit the Threat.  The inevitable question is asked, “Why move?  Why not just stand, get a solid shooting stance, and get your accurate hits?” 

These questions generally come from a misunderstanding of the basic context of how police and responsibly-armed civilians get involved in shootings.  Because we aren’t bad guys who get the drop on a targeted person and shoot him/her down, our force response is generally to an actual or imminent deadly threat—the Threat is approaching with a knife, is reaching for a gun, or has begun firing before we realize we are in a deadly force event.  That we know we need to respond means we used up time recognizing and identifying a specific threatening act, orienting to the need to physically respond.  And even more time is required to reach for and draw our handgun, present and fire our first bullet as several of his rounds are already in the air.

Let’s use an example of a Threat drawing a handgun from his waist with the intent of shooting you down and killing you.  Responding takes time—a lot of time, often measured in a second or more of actual time before you meaningfully react.  This is time you just don’t have.

Inescapably, it takes time to observe the Threat’s action, orient to the change of status, decide what to do, and then react to the new environment.  Just because you see a movement does not mean you understand what the movement means.  Orienting, or contextualizing the subject’s actions takes time.  Once you understand the threatening intent of that movement, that person becomes a Threat requiring a response. 

Until you are able to identify that movement as threatening, it’s just a guy who is moving his hand.  The actual time for a subject to become a Threat may be less than a tenth of a second as his hand moves to his waistband, grasps the handgun, points the weapon at you and fires his first round.  Untrained trigger fingers are able to easily fire four rounds per second, or one every quarter of a second. 

Many people, generally due to improper training concepts, operate from the misconception that they can actually perceive reality the moment something is happening and instantly react.  It just ain’t true.  No matter how switched on you are—or think you are—instant reaction is simply impossible.  It takes time to recognize and react to changes in the status quo.

Lots of things slow down our putting into context his threatening actions.  If you are not looking in the right place, you won’t notice the unfolding threat.  If your attention set is absorbed elsewhere, thinking about something else, you may observe his action but not take note.  If you have to make decisions based on your moral beliefs, uncertainty about the law, or fear of legal repercussions, it will increase the time you need to mount your defense. 

Expectations play a huge role in slowing our response to threat.  If your expectations are that he is doing something benign, it will take longer for you to recognize a threat.  If you expect a specific result, such as movement and are rewarded with movement different from that expected, it will take you much longer to recognize that something different from your expectations is occurring, and then what that difference is.  If you are not expecting someone to draw a handgun at that moment, it will take you longer to recognize that you are under threat than if you anticipated there might be a problem. 

If you are anticipating a very simple action, and are fully prepared and mentally ready, your reaction time will be approximately 0.1-0.2 seconds—that is, the time for you make a simple decision that a physical response should be made.  Once the decision is made, it will take a unit of time for your response to be initiated.  Human reaction-response time is the time it takes to observe, orient, and decide what that response might be plus the time it takes to physically respond.  If that is shooting, you then have the time for the bullets to hit him.  And it will depend upon the percentage of bullets you fire actually hitting him to take effect and cause a change in him before it begins to save your life. 

When it takes an average of three-quarters of a second up to a second and a half to draw and fire when you anticipate the command, how much longer is it going to take when you are surprised?  And even if you are Johnny-on-the-spot, rough-and-ready to go, how many bullets are being sent your way during that three-fourths to one and a half seconds you are drawing and getting ready to fire? 

Time equals bullets in the air.  Surviving being shot at is both a question of luck at surviving the initial assault and creating enough time to respond well enough to stop the Threat from harming you.  While luck is not a skill set, movement has been used for millennia to manipulate the relative perception of time between combatants.  The reason why we advocate movement is to manufacture the perception of increased time on the mover's part, and to decrease the perception of time on the attacker's part.

Manipulating Perceptual Time in Proximity Shootings—Contact to 10 yards, or 80% of shootings in the US 

When you are up close on the Threat and he is suddenly attempting to take your life, you need to change the situation:  MOVE!  Sudden, hard movement in any direction is intended to confuse the Threat and create time for you to react and take the fight to him.  While some angles are more advantageous than others, any abrupt movement will be beneficial to your surviving his initial burst of gunfire.

Looking at his mindset, he has made a decision to murder you and has taken action—this is a life-changing decision for both people, and the consequences of his failing are huge: if he fails to shoot you, it’s very likely he will be shot and perhaps killed.  The Threat acts with the expectation of success—his weapon is brought up and pointed where he perceives you to be at the time his decision to act was made—tenths of a second ago.  Whether you move or not, he is pressing the trigger at the position he saw you in when he made the decision to shoot.  He’ll be pressing the trigger as fast as he can because most people believe in volume of fire as a life-saving—or taking—strategy.  His hard intent—to shoot and kill you—is acted upon, and will continue to be acted upon until he receives feedback that the status quo has changed.

If you stand there while drawing your weapon, you will be negatively affected by his time manipulation:  you will be shocked (requiring time to recover), then you draw your weapon (taking time), and then return fire (taking time for the bullets to strike and affect his ability to shoot you).  That's a lot of time when bullets are burning at you at a rate of 4 or 5 per second before you have your first round out.  You have not changed the status quo by standing there absorbing bullets.  If you are lucky, you were missed by his bullets.  Either way, you have done nothing in the first critical half-second or more to alter the situation.  He has no reason to change his program, and he’ll keep shooting until he puts you down, he runs out of rounds, or you are able to weather the storm and finally shoot him. 

The relative perception of time is affected by each individual’s expectation of events.  If the event continues as expected, the perception of time continues smoothly, and even pleasantly slows relative to actual time—you are operating “in the zone,” where everyone but you seems to be moving in slow motion.  If the event is surprising or veers radically from the expected path, perceived time slows to the point where every moment is a desperate struggle against the tide, with the increasing and certain knowledge that your are helpless to change the looming and ominous outcome.  You feel as if you are moving through an impossibly thick gel preventing you from acting in time. 

In this close range shooting situation, his expectation is driving his perception of events, working against him if you move suddenly.  It will take him time—tenths of a second—to realize he's shooting at empty air.  He will be shocked because his expectation is that you will stand there and be shot or fall to the ground.  His confusion continues as he presses the trigger, realizing that he desperately needs to reorient to this unexpected change.  Your moving bought you time to draw your weapon.  He knows he has to quickly find you, move his weapon, and finish you—he started this gunfight but his target somehow disappeared.  He’s now the one who is threatened.  Desperation and confusion decreases his efficiency.

 You continue to move and now begin hitting him.  He becomes very aware that your bullets are now inbound, increasing his desperation making him even less efficient in finding and hitting you.  He may quit the gunfight.  He may be hit and quit the gunfight or be unwilling to quit the gunfight.  He may be hit but not realize he’s been hit, continuing to shoot.  In any case, you continue to move and continually hit him until you reach cover, he goes down, you get hit and go down, or you run out of rounds, move to cover to reload or keep running. 

Moving manufactures relative perceived time because by displacing, you take yourself temporarily out of the line of fire.  Movement is the primary survival mechanism in any proxemic gunfight.  Move and make yourself a more difficult target.  Displacing hard off the line, drawing your handgun while moving, creates the time you need to draw, time you would not have had if you had remained where you were when he started firing.  While you may draw your weapon in the same amount of time whether standing or moving, there is a huge survival difference:  standing and drawing while three to five bullets are fired at you from a couple of steps away may mean you will not be able to respond, whereas moving and confusing him, causing him to fire those three to five bullets where you were standing when he made the decision to fire, may allow you to draw your weapon without being injured. 

Standing and fighting it out when you are waaaay behind is an attritional mindset.  Attrition is defined as a reduction or decrease in resources or personnel.  In this case, it is the willingness to take injury to give injury.  Attrition is about outlasting him.  In an attrition-based gunfight, you may win the gunfight and be killed as well (I guess in this case winning would be knowing you killed him before you die).  Standing and taking unanswered rounds is an attritional mindset.  You may never get the chance to get to your gun. 

Moving and hitting in proximity is a method of negatively multi-tasking the bad guy.  By creating a problem requiring him to deal with more than he can mentally handle, by confusing him, by dividing his attention, by making him more concerned for his welfare than he is in hurting you, you negatively multi-task the Threat and increase your survival odds.  For more on negatively multi-tasking the bad guy, see the article, "Fighting Smart: Negatively Multi-Tasking the Suspect."

While moving and shooting is not necessarily limited to distances of contact-to-ten-yards and can be performed at any distance, moving fast and hard enough to confuse the subject while simultaneously having the real likelihood of hitting the subject is an up-close-and-personal situation.  As the distance between you and the threat increases, the benefits to moving and shooting to hit decrease, although there are times it is justified to fire in the Threat’s general direction while moving for distraction purposes.  At some point, the probability of hitting the Threat is so low that the benefit of simply moving as fast as you can is greater.  At what distance does this cost versus benefit analysis tip to simply running to cover before fighting back?  That will be up to the individual in that particular fight to determine. 

Affecting Perceptual Time At Distance

As the distance increases between you and the Threat, the benefits of moving and hitting will lessen, and will make movement to cover your primary concern.  If you have a choice, not being there would be first on the list, with fighting from cover a very close second.

Hitting at distance is a matter of precise marksmanship.  Technical shooting takes time —think using a handgun to hit a hostage taker who is giving you only his right-eye and part of his forehead at 15 yards, or a life-and-death head shot with a carbine and iron sights at 125 yards.  Movement confounds marksmanship because it decreases the time available to the shooter to obtain a solid firing solution.  If a very good shooter with a rifle at 70 yards takes a minimum of one and a half seconds to acquire, aim, and hit a man-sized target, sudden movement increases the difficulty of getting that hit.  Sharp, abrupt, irregular (as well as short, unpredictable) movements will be your best bet at preventing your being shot because he has less time to make the adjustments he needs to hit you. 

The farther you are away from his muzzle, the more time he’ll need to make the hit.  A 5.56mm bullet takes just over 0.2 seconds to travel 200 meters, and nearly 0.4 seconds to 300 meters.  At distances from 100 meters and beyond, the shooter must not only observe and acquire the target, but understand the trajectory of his round, accurately estimate the distance, and understand the time-on-target delay from trigger press to hit for the bullet’s travel time.  This takes time, making it possible for the bullet to leave the muzzle directly on target and still miss because the target moved casually out of the way.  Unpredictable movement dramatically increases the difficulty.

At distance, movement to cover and then fighting from there makes better sense than standing and fighting.  If you must, go to ground and use the irregularities and depressions in the terrain to shield you.  Avoid going to ground on asphalt and concrete due to ricochet problems which decrease the time necessary for a firing solution—as long as the shot is lined up, dropping a round anywhere within the space of 30 feet in front of you to any part of your body means getting a hit.  Getting a hit on a 30 foot tall target is really not that tough from realistic shooting distances. 

If you have something that will stop bullets very close by, immediately move to cover.  The option of going to the ground or getting behind cover permits you to make yourself a small target.  Being a small target gives you the perception of increased time, providing you time to precisely aim and hit him.  At the same time it negatively increases the time he has to aim and hit you. 

Tactics still count when at distance.  Be as small as possible, keeping those body parts not needed for hitting him behind cover.  Shoot around, not over the cover if you can.  And remember, shooting repeatedly from the same piece of cover or hole gives him time to locate and walk rounds into you.  Shoot and scoot if that is the gunfight you find yourself in.  Be sneaky and expose yourself only for the limited purposes of locating and hitting him.


The reason for moving is all about the context of your gunfight.  If you have put solid cover between you and the Threat, stay there and fight from the corner while staying small.  It becomes a technical shooting problem through precise marksmanship to win that fight.  If you don’t have cover, move, then hit.  Moving creates actual time for you by affecting the Threat’s perceptual time.  Both proximity as well as distance shootings are about manipulating the time the bad guy has to harm you—decreasing his perception of the time he has while increasing the time you perceive you have to effectively respond.

Time is the “relentless, accursed taskmaster” that will put you out of business if you get behind and remain there.  When the Threat acts first, he is able to dominate your perception of time with his bullets (or his knife, his club, and/or his fists) and your fear and confusion, eliminating your effective response.  Movement changes the equation by disrupting his expectations, decreasing the time he has to problem-solve by confusing him while increasing his survival pressure in the gunfight.  Sudden displacement negatively multitasks him, forcing him to find and retarget you while you are shooting him.  It manipulates his relative perception of time in your favor, forcing him into having to perform more than he may be capable of while under fire.  The key is to make time your friend and to use it to control the fight in your favor.  Move.

Not Here

by George on May 4, 2012 05:24

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Fighting Smart: Negatively Multitasking the Suspect

by George on April 18, 2012 14:20

“Hence that general is skillful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend; and he is skillful in defense whose opponent does not know what to attack.”   Sun Tzu


Any type of fighting carries a risk of injury and death—people have fallen after being simply shoved backward, struck their heads, and died.  So you prepare:  you lift weights, you work your cardio, you keep your weight down, you go to the range on your own time, and you train with other motivated cops in defensive tactics, you attend training paid for on your own dime, and are tactically aware in the street.  Despite your own individual skill development, physical conditioning, and aptitude for dealing with the violence you are faced with, nothing can be taken for granted in any combatives environment.  You may be the toughest guy on the block, but there is always someone on any given day who is more prepared, more capable, and more willing to engage in violence than you—thinking otherwise is foolhardy.  Whether it is hand to hand, hand to knife, or a gunfight, it is vital to make use of every advantage, and not assume that your high level of personal abilities, your size and strength, or any other skill factor is going to mean you will automatically win the fight.

Going head-to-head, muscle-to-muscle is often effective when you are dealing with an unprepared, weaker, smaller offender.  It is also the method most fraught with risk, and is unsophisticated in a situation where a sophisticated fighting strategy disadvantaging the suspect combined with your on-going pre-conflict preparations is the best strategy to win the fight.  Please note that “sophisticated” is not synonymous with “complex” or “complicated.”  Complexity in any fight or tactical response is a sure recipe for failure in the real world of combatives (see the article “Abandon Techniques All Ye Who Train Combatives” on this blog).

For purposes of discussion, assume you have contacted a subject who is on the verge of assaulting you.  He is equal in every way to you physically, intellectually, as well as in his skill development and physical conditioning.  Without considering the “luck factor” that is present in every combatives environment (which may also include the “Murphy-factor”—anything that can go wrong, will go wrong, at the worst possible time), your chance of making it through this fight is no better than 50/50.  How do you change these odds in this fight to your favor?

Change your orientation to solving combatives problems from fighting to fighting smart.  When one is equal to or less than his opponent in physical capabilities and skill, the only available strategy must incorporate deliberately affecting the ability of the suspect to act upon current reality.  All conflict is about time.  It is about taking time away from the Threat and using the time you have efficiently to deprive him of even more time.  Time is a luxury permitting you to understand the current reality of your relative positions and physical actions.  Ultimately, the purpose of every fight is to control his perception of time, hence his ability to make effective decisions leading to relevant physical actions.  This is done most simply by multitasking the subject so that he cannot catch up with the action and make those precious decisions he needs so desperately in order to destroy you.

Multitasking is the concurrent performance of multiple tasks.  We all want to believe we can do it, and we want to believe that we can do it well.  However, if we get honest with ourselves, we really don’t do it very well at all.  Even non-critical tasks such as simultaneously watching TV, reading, and talking to our spouse will demonstrate the fallacy of any type of multitasking capabilities.  As an experiment, try it to see how it works for you (hint:  pay attention to your spouse and forget those other activities if you want to survive this little experiment with any degree of marital harmony).  Similarly, being multitasked by a Threat during combatives can be fatal.  It is a very good strategy to deliberately employ multitasking against the suspect in every physical conflict.  It should be one of your primary tactics for success.


Attentional Load

To understand multitasking, research is proving that our ability to focus our attention, or “attentional focus” is limited.  Attention is a basic component of thinking, cognition, and of orienting to relevant change.  To note something in our environment, to have any chance of taking that information into consideration, we must pay some level of attention to it.  Attentional focus is defined as, “The ability to focus attention on cues in the environment that are relevant to the task in hand” (Oxford Dictionary of Sports Science & Medicine).  When someone says, “The knife came out of nowhere,” or, “I had no warning that he was going to attack me,” the hard reality is that the victim’s brain either did not receive the numerous pieces of information signaling the impending threat, or did not interpret the numerous clues because the victim’s attentional focus was elsewhere.  Whether it is because the victim is ignorant of the threatening behavioral cues, or deliberately or innocently distracted, his or her attention was elsewhere, leaving that person unable to apprehend the changes in the behavior, positioning, and/or demeanor of the person about to assault them.

Our ability to focus or concentrate on anything can be compared to a very bright, narrow, very focused, spotlight in a very dark room filled with dozens of pieces of a puzzle, each constantly moving independently of the others, changing position, or modifying its shape and color.  As the spotlight of our conscious mind is placed on a particular puzzle piece in that black room, we are able to utilize our attention to gain information on the specific puzzle piece illuminated by narrow bright beam of light, considering changes in status of that puzzle piece solely based on what we are seeing at that moment.  All of the changes occurring in the other puzzle pieces in that dark room are unavailable to us until we focus on each individually.  The problem is we can only ascertain the status of a particular piece when we are focused directly on it.

The moment the spotlight moves to another puzzle piece, we no longer are able to monitor what is happening to the last puzzle piece.  Our ability to focus on multiple puzzle pieces is serial rather than global; that is, we must move the spotlight of attention from one piece to another to another to another before moving back to the first in order to monitor what all of the pieces are doing, how they’re changing, and what all of this means to us in the real world of violence, pain, and death.  Attentional focus on multiple areas or problems, therefore, is a cycling of attention where one’s full attention cannot rest upon any single piece of the puzzle long enough to ponder its significance.  This attentional cycling permits only snap-shots of information without the ability to deeply consider its relational meaning.  Significance is fundamental to relevance, and determining relevance is a function of orientation.  This means that unless a particular puzzle piece among many is not immediately and obviously significant, it is unlikely that you will be able to orient to its meaning, and its significant information and relevance will be lost to you. It may also be that you are focusing your spotlight on a particular puzzle piece that is changing its status in a very important and meaningful manner while your thoughts are elsewhere, perhaps thinking about that puzzle piece you saw moments or minutes ago, or even something completely unrelated to solving the puzzle at all.  Your eyes may be looking directly at the puzzle piece but your focus of attention is elsewhere, making it impossible to “orient” to the important information that is right in front of your eyes.  We have all experienced looking directly at a person speaking to us and not hearing a word he or she said because our mind was “a million miles away.”

A limiting factor of the ability to focus on threatening suspect behavioral cues is the amount of information you can work with at any one time.  There is a maximum capacity limiting the information you can process or focus upon at any moment in time.  As the demands to your attentional focus increase, your ability to focus on multiple tasks will rapidly become limited as your attentional load is maxed out.  Irrelevant information is filtered out as the attentional load increases, permitting attentional focus on whatever has captured your attention.  The greater the “task load,” or for our purposes, as your perception of personal threat increases, so, too, does the narrowing and filtering of available information available for your attention.

  • Tunnel vision is the result of an intense perception of threat where the attentional (or in this case, perceptual) load of the central focus is primary, and the “irrelevant” information is excluded as being unnecessary to survival at this moment. 
  • Auditory exclusion occurs when the attentional load in attempting to resolve the perceived threat is so great that visual processing of environmental cues takes precedence and what the subject is saying, or even that anything is being said (or yelled or screamed) at all is not available to be processed.

As more information is received and considered, older information is lost from your working memory, or “cognitive load” (“The total amount of mental activity imposed on working memory at any instance of time.”  As you experience a deluge of more and more data through the senses, your ability to understand, categorize, and utilize the info is quickly overwhelmed.  Once overwhelmed, your mental filtering systems begins shutting down data (perceptual) streams to attempt to manage the situation, and give you the ability to make sense of the data to produce useful information.  Being increasingly pressured by time and the perception of threat, the more and more overwhelmed your cognitive processes will be, and the less effective your ability to discern and synthesize useful information from irrelevant data.  Injuries, overwhelming frustration, and fatigue begin to compound, increasing the sense of being overwhelmed. At some point, the attempt to sort out the valuable from the worthless stops, and the individual is incapable of problem-solving his way out of the fight.


Negatively Multitask the Threat

In a physical conflict, the least sophisticated method of fighting is head-to-head, muscle-to-muscle attritional conflict—“I’ll be able to inflict more injury and disable you before you can inflict injury and disable me.”  Inherent within the “victory through attrition” is universal injury; even the victor is bloody and walks away with a limp.

To avoid this high-risk method of combatives, it makes better sense to fight the Threat on both the physical and the mental planes.  Negatively multitask him.  To "negatively multitask a suspect, you intentionally give him two or more tasks, each of which is threatening, and each of which demands his full attention.  If he stops one of your efforts, he pays dearly at failing to stop the other(s).  Negatively mutlitask him to get into his head and confuse his decision-cycles by misdirecting his attentional focus.  Creating confusion provides openings and opportunities to exploit that are less risk to you while creating more confusion and injury for him.  Events begin moving too fast for him to react and understand—he just won’t be able to put everything that is happening into context in time.

Negatively multitasking the suspect is achieved by physical or psychological means.  It requires you to divert his attention from what he wants to focus upon, and deliberately engage his attention on multiple tasks, none of which he can afford to solely focus upon.  It may be necessary to focus his attention on an irrelevant factor leading to his sufficiently being distracted so that he cannot orient to your actual intent, preparations, or movement.  This requires you to fight smart rather than through attrition.  For example, the following examples compare commonly trained attritional solutions with a possible solution that negatively multitasks the Threat.


  • Attritional Solution: Pin your weapon into your holster with your gun-hand and strike the suspect repeatedly with your free hand or elbow, head strikes, knee strikes, bite, put your free hand’s fingers into his eyes, etc.  If possible, take him to the ground, landing on him to ensure additional disability so it does not turn into a groundfight.  When he is sufficiently injured and incapable of continuing to fight, remove his hand from your handgun and force him into handcuffs.
  • Negatively Multitasking Solution:  Pin your weapon into your holster with your gun-hand.  Strike, hit, bite, etc.  When he begins to focus on defending against your strikes, he will necessarily lessen his focus on your weapon (attention being serial, he cannot help but lose focus on your weapon), and his grip will relax to a degree.  Move to small targets:  grab a finger as hard and pry it suddenly and viciously back while maintaining pressure on the grip of the weapon into your body.  If he is not immune to pain because he’s mentally ill, diabetic, or under the influence, he will likely focus on you twisting and pulling on his broken finger.  Transition back to your strikes with the other hand.  Continue twisting the finger until you judge he no longer wants to disarm you.  Peel his hand from your weapon and shove him away.  Note:  a Parole Officer in Pennsylvania was forced to break four fingers, one at a time, to protect his weapon against a psychotic offender who first attempted to kill the officer by hitting him in the head with an ax.  Once the four fingers were broken, the suspect could no longer physically grip the weapon and was eventually taken into custody.


  • Attritional Solution:  You draw your weapon in response, depending upon your vest and volume of fire to save your life as he fires as quickly as he can at you.
  • Negatively Multitasking Solution:  The moment you perceive he is drawing a weapon, you move hard and suddenly at an angle toward his flank.  As you’re moving you draw your own handgun.  By now you are just a few feet from his flank, punching your handgun at him, firing as soon as it interrupts your eye-target line.  You continue to move to his back as he frantically attempts to target you through the bullets punching through him and the muzzle blast thumping his body.  Your movement and fire continues as he spins in pursuit of you, and finally corkscrews, falling to the ground.


  • Attritional Solution:  This subject needs to be on the ground right now!  You have a hold of his elbow, pin it to your body, and attempt a takedown.  However, he’s a prepared offender and skilled enough to prevent the takedown, you both begin moving in circles.  As you attempt harder and harder to put him down, the action speeds up.  At this point, you’re a bit frustrated and getting scared he might get loose, and that would not be a good thing for you with this guy.  You use brute force to muscle him to the ground, shoving him quickly and with as much strength as you can.
  • Negatively Multitasking Solution:  This subject needs to be on the ground right now!  You have a hold of his elbow, pin it to your body, and attempt a takedown.  However, he’s a prepared offender and skilled enough to prevent the takedown, you both begin moving in circles.  As soon as you orient to this fact,  you quickly slap at his upper inner thigh with one hand, striking sharply just under his groin before locking your hand back to his arm.  His body reacts defensively to the slap as if it actually struck his groin and you hear a quick grunt of anticipated pain.  This puts him off-balance, enabling you to complete the takedown without extraordinary effort.


  • Attritional Solution:  Upon orienting to his grabbing and pulling something out of his waistband, you focus on his hand, grabbing his wrist as you attempt to prevent him from being able to draw the weapon.  You begin to strike him with your forehead, free elbow and hand, and attempt to prevent him from getting that weapon out of his waistband until he is sufficiently debilitated, permitting you to safely remove it, and then throw him to the ground.
  • Negatively Multitasking Solution:  Upon orienting to his grabbing and pulling something out of his waistband, you focus on his hand, and suddenly reach out with your closest hand to press his hand and wrist as well as the handgun against his body as you surge to his flank, wrapping his head with your free hand in a slapping motion.  Pulling his head sharply backward against your shoulder, with your fingers abruptly dig into his face.  With your hand pressing on his and his weapon at the waistband, your fingers, while still pressing the handgun to his belly, reach for and press the trigger.  The weapon fires as he is still worried about being off-balance and your fingers digging into his face.  The shock of the contact shot to his groin/pelvic/femoral area permits you to take him to the ground (if he isn’t already falling).


  • Attritional Solution:  You and your team line up, give the announcement, and after a sufficient time for his response, your breacher rams the door successfully.  Your team flows through the door, taking possession of the living room and access points to the whole house.
  • Negatively Multitasking Solution:  You and your team line up, give the announcement, and after a sufficient time for his response, your team leader radios the initiation command, signaling the window to the room where the suspect is expected to be ported and flash-banged while the back door is simultaneously breached and held.  Upon hearing the report of the flash-bang, the front door is then breached successfully, and your team flows through the door, taking possession of the living room and access points to the whole house.

As can be seen in each of the above solutions, every fighting problem can be solved in multiple ways.*  How you deal with the specific combatives event involves your orientation to the solving this particular problem.  In each of the “negatively multitasking” solutions, you took advantage of a momentary distraction, purposefully redirecting his attention from his main effort and intention in order to capitalize on his inability to track and react to every counter of yours.  Once his attentional focus is diverted, he is unable to keep up with the events as you are directing them.  He just doesn’t have time to focus on all of the information he is receiving, and becomes confused and less effective.  That decrease in efficiency and effectiveness translates into an immediate advantage in the ability to process information, orienting more closely to the current physical reality of the conflict, and the resultant control of the direction of the fight.

It is through the multitasking of the Threat that you can defeat a superior athlete with superior skills.  It is said that “Deception is the art of the master.”  If you are someone who cannot expect your attributes (your size, strength, skills, endurance, etc.) to permit you to quickly win through an attritional solution in every instance, learn to negatively multitask the Threat to negate his advantages over you.  If you are someone who has superior attributes, never discount the role of luck in a fight.  Increase your odds of winning by learning to negatively multitask the Threat so that he is confused and overwhelmed first in his mind, and then physically.  It is better to learn it and not need it, than to need it and not to have learned it.

If being successful in a combatives situation is the result of controlling the perception of time, negatively multitasking the subject decreases the time available to him.  The net effect is that you have more time to make better decisions in the fight.  Time is the greatest luxury on a battlefield.  Treat yourself luxuriously in your next fight—negatively multitask him—and you may very likely limit the amount of bleeding and limping you will do after the fight.


*    Note:  None of these “solutions” are offered as "trained techniques.”  They are a result of the “Universal Rules and Principles of Combatives”© within the “Effective Combatives Problem-Solving”© system of “Integrated Force Combatives”© available only through Cutting Edge Training, LLC.



by George on November 20, 2011 11:29

Another in a series of never-ending shootings of officers on traffic stops just landed in my e-mail box.  In this one, gratefully, the officer was uninjured--not because of what the officer did, but because of what the suspect did not do.  A brief review of this particular incident, and the catalyst for this discussion, is the following:

  • The officer, after having made a traffic stop, walks up and contacts the driver at the driver's window.
  • The driver, in this case, engages the officer with a lie, to which the officer bluntly responds, "No.  I was right behind.  I saw you..." (slowing his perception-reaction time to anything the suspect might do). 
  • The officer asks how much the driver’s had to drink, whereby the driver petulantly answers, “Plenty.” 
  • As the officer says, "Plenty, huh?" the suspect produces a handgun (“out of nowhere”).  

This video is, thankfully, different than most of its kind—the suspect is A) too drunk to realize he has not chambered a round; B) is incompetent; or, C) both.  The loud “click” is the officer not being murdered from the muzzle 12 inches away from his face.

The officer’s reaction to the muzzle in his face and the very loud click (which is the second loudest sound in the world from that side of the muzzle) is similar to every officer who has survived this type of event:

  • Hands go up to his face as his body crouches in a startle reaction.
  • Expletive uttered.
  • Change of balance to the rear (directly in-line with the trajectory of the round). 
  • Amazement he isn’t dead.
  • Realization that he is not finished with the gunfight and must take action occurs when the suspect fires a round at him.
  • Response with deadly force. 

It is also similar to every officer who is unexpectedly shot and injured or murdered:  hands go up at the sudden movement of a handgun shoved at the officer, the expletive if there is time, and the change of balance in response to the fright and muzzle blast.

It's been common knowledge for decades that traffic stops are extremely dangerous.  That this type of shooting unfolds as it does is typical.  This is because we now have so many in-car video systems and recordings of these terrible, violent events.   We know the process and what happens during this shootings--officers walk up to contact the driver, and are shot before they can react.  Every officer, regardless of his age, fitness, tactical awareness, experience, or any other factor any officer believes exempts him from the limits of being in a human body and the attentional capabilities it posseses, is at the mercy of the driver upon approach for approximately one second of the contact.  And if the suspect decides to put a gun through the window and shoot the officer, it cannot be stopped because there just isn't time to observe the weapon, orient to the fact that a muzzle is now pointing at the officer, and to decide to do anything while acting in time to make a difference.  Typically, the suspect gets off two or more shots before the officer reacts with anything other than an instinctive flinch. 

This repeats itself over and over and over, the same way, year in and year out.  And still, trainers in academies keep teaching their recruits to walk up on unknown suspects in situations that commonly cause officers to be murdered.

So, as trained, cops keep walking up, and continue getting shot and murdered.  Even when an officer is hit in the vest, we see the suspect minimally get 2 rounds off before the officer reacts with anything other than shock and surprise.  The end result of every one of these is that the officer is either shot at and hit, or shot at and missed through no counter-assault action on the part of the officer.  If the officer walks up on an occupied vehicle, the suspect either does not shoot or he does—there is nothing the officer can do that changes this variable:  it is a roll of the dice.

To emphasize this, a State Trooper teaching a traffic stop class at a state academy put his recruits through a simunition/FX cartridge scenario.  The recruits were being graded on their approach and positioning as well as their contacting the driver appropriately.  Each recruit knew there was a gun involved, and knew the subject was going to attempt to shoot the recruit-officer contacting him.  Regardless of the efforts to properly position themselves, 100% of the recruits were shot.  Now, the purpose of this exercise (other than wrongly training the recruits to purposely walk up on a man-with-a-gun) was not, as I thought it was going to be, a caution against walking up on a traffic stop to contact the driver.  Instead, the Trooper, straight-faced and intense, told the recruits, “That’s the risk you take being a cop.” 

Uh…what?  So we teach officers to walk into a no-win situation; a crap shoot that could mean they are shot and murdered every time they walk up on a traffic stop?  Yup. Some well-known "tactics" instructors advocate that as officers approach the violator's vehicle, that they touch the brake light cover in order to have the officer's finger prints on the suspect vehicle for identification purposes should the officer be shot and killed!  Really?

BOTTOM LINE:  The walk-up (a.k.a. “I-have-no-idea-who-I’m-stopping-and-I-cannot protect-myself-so-please-don’t-shoot-me”) traffic stop presents an indefensible tactical problem for which the only safe option is to stop using it.  It is a violation of every officer safety principle there is, and is solely performed because “That’s how we’ve always done it.”  HOW MANY MORE MURDERED COPS DO WE HAVE TO BURY BEFORE WE STOP THE INSANITY?

There is no defense to a driver or passenger shooting the officer from either a driver’s side approach, or a passenger side approach.  It is time to get consistent with the tactical principles we teach to officers for every other citizen contact other than traffic stops:  Make the subject come to you. 

The "Call-back Traffic Stop"

Call the driver back to the side of the road with their documents, and make it a “Ped stop.”  Conduct business where the suspect is not in his environment where his hands and what is within reach cannot be seen by the officer until it is too late.  This gives the officer the advantage of noting the subject's compliance and apparent armed status prior to gaining proximity where time-distance factors mitigate against any effective response.

The usual objections to this much safer practice?

  • “I’ll get complaints.”  Umm, not so much.  In fact, people will do what you tell them to do, and the courts have permitted getting the driver out of vehicles for years.  Officers who are practicing the call-back T-stop for two decades report no increase in the number of complaints related to their conduct of a traffic stop.
  • “I won’t get my ‘plain-view’ arrests.”  Umm, again, not so much.  Nothing stops an officer from conducting the interview, issuing the cite, and then following the subject back to the car to get a look inside at anything that might be in plain view.  The question might be asked of these officers, “If you are up at the driver’s window or front passenger window and are busy looking around the interior of the vehicle, then who is monitoring the driver’s/passengers’ hands?”  We know that humans can focus on one task at a time, and the visual focal area is very small.  Attentional loads being what they are, if the officer is looking at the interior for drugs or guns, he’s not looking at the suspect’s hands, and (let’s say it together) “Hands kill.”
  • “He could attack me just as he steps out of the driver’s door.”  Yes.  He could.  And he is 25+ feet away.  And the officer is back at his vehicle, with much more time to react, with a greater likelihood of being missed at that distance rather than 6-18 inches.  The suspect is also in the officer’s primary field of vision, where the officer’s attentional focus is.  As Clint Smith says, "Distance is time, time is marksmanship, and marksmanship is hits.")  Micro-threat cues should be alerting the officer’s spidey-senses that something is wrong simply by the way the subject is exiting the car, giving the officer a jump on his perception-reaction time.  This is a good time to focus on the driver’s hands (although EVERYONE first focuses on the subject’s face) because…well, you know why focusing on the subject's hands is a very good idea. 
  • “He could physically assault me at the side of the road.”  Yes.  He could.  So could every person you contacted on your last shift.  Physical assault, like deadly assault, does not exist in a vacuum.  Violence is a process.©  Assaults (punches and kicks and being tackled), guns, and knives do not “come out of nowhere.”  There are threat cues in every assault.  And having this person walk up to you gives you an opportunity to assess their compliance and glean something of their intent.  
  • “I’m not going to have 80-year old grandmas and soccer moms get out of their car.”  Good.  Don’t.  It is always your choice to intentionally violate the safety principles IF you believe it is in your best interest and furthers your mission.  Think about this:  if you feel it is safe to approach because you don’t want to get grandma or mom out of the vehicle in the rain, take the conscious risk and approach the vehicle.  However, a routine unconscious violation of safe Universal Tactical Principles© doctrine (approaching an unknown, unsearched, and unidentified subject, and dealing with him in his environment) is an invitation to be assaulted and/or murdered, like that of the officer in the video, and every video of a police officer being shot on a traffic stop. 

There is simply no excuse for continuing to conduct the unsafe and dangerous traditional "walk-up-please-don't-shoot-me traffic stop."  I've been teaching the call-back traffic stop since 1996. Others have been teaching it well before that. It is time to stop this insanity of doing the same thing the same way and expecting a different result.  Just because you spent 30 years walking up on cars and weren’t shot, only means that you didn’t walk up on someone who wanted to shoot you.  If you had, he would have shot you without warning in spite of anything you did or didn’t do.  That is not “safe” or “tactical.”  That’s luck, and luck should not be considered to be a skill set.

Fear in the Warrior’s Life

by Tom on May 2, 2011 05:20

“…the hero and the coward live just a decision away from the other.”

A recent discussion of fear caused me to think about the part that “fear” plays in the warrior’s response to the need to act in dangerous circumstances, where that danger is life threatening and a real possibility. 

The discussion started with a bashing of fear citing how debilitating and horrible having fear is to the human existence.  I believe that fear, in and of itself, is neutral…it’s really neither good nor bad.  It just is.  Fear is a part of being human.  It is our response to fear—our decisions and resulting behavior—that is the real issue.  In fact, there are times when fear is good and justifies threatening and even deadly responses (e.g., pointing a gun at someone whose behavior has placed others in imminent fear.  This creates a fear response from the antagonist—he stops his threatening behavior because he fears he is going to be shot, and injured or killed).  So fear has a place that can be healthy when it motivates people to behave appropriately.

Fear as a motivator is the mechanism by which many people achieve great riches, or why they get up and go to work every day even though they would rather sit in the sun and relax, or why they behave in socially acceptable ways.  Fear can be a co-motivator with healthy pride in achievement, causing warriors to perfect and maintain their skills, as well as to seek out new and different ideas, methods, and knowledge.  Warriors understand that no matter how prepared they are at this moment, they cannot prepare for everything, but they can be better prepared to meet the unexpected through a greater and more diverse skill and knowledge base.

Fear is a problem when we experience a degree or level of fear that paralyzes and causes us to do nothing when we should be doing something (even running is sometimes the appropriate response to fear).  Paralyzing fear is created when we let our imagination to overwhelm us, focusing on “what if,” and fixating on our mortal vulnerabilities.  When the mind has not been disciplined through difficult, arduous training, the mind can spin helplessly out of control, and the paralysis is complete unless something greater shocks us out of our stupor.

Fear can become debilitating when we deny it for too long.  The fear may be so great that we believe we cannot face it, so we consciously stuff it down.  Eventually, however, the fear will make itself known through negative psychological or physical manifestations such as mental or physical paralysis, numbness, and disease.

If we really get down to it, fear seldom occurs in a vacuum.  It is generally the companion of something more sinister (despair, anger, hopelessness, danger etc.).  So really fear is just the messenger of something that is already present or something that is coming.  Healthy fear does not generally happen by accident.  Perhaps the old adage of “Don’t shoot the messenger” is appropriate here.  Whether you see fear as a good or bad thing, as a stand-alone plague or a tag-along to a much bigger issue, fear will be present in a warrior’s life.  It is in our response or lack of response to this universal emotion that truly tests and forges who we are.

As Gavin DeBecker suggests, “fear is a gift,” and not a curse.  I don’t believe that fear is a “monster.”  It is what we do in the presence of fear that is telling about the individual.  In the presence of fear, our character is revealed.  Having been a police officer, I will tell you that there were times when I was definitely afraid, but I chose to do what needed to be done.  And in life there are still times when I am afraid, but I step forward anyway, through that fear. 

Am I schizophrenic because I feel the fear yet continue my life in a positive way?  Should I kid myself, deny that I feel fear, and live in pseudo-humility asserting all the while that I am not really scared at all?  I say NO to both.  I think that the hero and the coward live just a decision away from the other.  I think that the myth of the never-nervous, always calm, going forth and conquering warrior is just that…a fantasy.  Lt. Col. David Hackworth (US Army, deceased) once said, “Being brave on a battlefield is not letting anyone know you’re afraid.”  Fearlessness before and during battle is simply a perception by others, not something that is experienced except by the foolish or mentally ill…it is not reality.

I believe we should recognize our human fear and accept its capacity to motivate or cripple us.  As a warrior and trainer of warriors, I offer this to our students:  ”feel the fear and do what is required of you.”  Courage is not about the absence of fear, but what you do in the presence of fear, while under the influence of fear.  We train to respond in times of danger.  Imagine what your response is going to be—believe it, taste it, smell it—and then work your skills and tactics until your response is automatic.

The bottom line is that each of us must accept the fact that as a human, you and I will die one day—maybe today.  Also accept the fact that, as a warrior, you and I invite the possibility of death because we choose to run to the sound of gunfire.  Because it doesn’t matter that I am going to die.  What matters is that I die as a warrior if that is what God demands of me, stepping into my fear and not hiding from it.  If I can accept that, I need never fear being afraid—I will simply be whatever I am despite my state of fear.