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LASD video on Active Shooter response by civilians: some comments

by George on February 5, 2015 07:31

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

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

Whether it is an active shooter or a terrorist attack, whether we like it or not, this is our reality.  This is a good and short tutorial that will help you survive this vicious, deadly attack:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMf8SksLqkk.

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

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

Time and safety must dictate the manner of this response

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

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

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

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

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

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

by George on July 14, 2014 07:28

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

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

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

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

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

 

CHANGE THE BASIS OF DEFENSIVE FIREARMS TRAINING 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

TACTICS CREATE TIME, TIME EQUALS BETTER DECISIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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