When I entered law enforcement in 1976, my first assignment was the county jail. Corrections officers didn’t exist at the time and every deputy was expected to “walk the jail floors” until a spot opened up on patrol. In fact, I spent seven years at various times working the jail and another year in the courts, where guarding prisoners was routine. I hated corrections then and I’m still less than enthused about it now. However, looking back on it, I realize it was good for me. I’ve come to believe that every cop in America should spend some time in corrections—maybe in their first year. I know, you’re thinking, “You’re nuts!” But to know your enemy is of great importance. Set aside functions like DARE, Community Policing, PAL, Public Relations and focus on the primary function of every police officer in America: To find and apprehend those who prey upon the citizens we’re sworn to protect. Cops must place themselves in harm’s way in order to do this—there’s no way around it.
We gather intelligence to better understand the enemies we face. Knowing how criminals think, act, fight, worship, behave and perform allows us to create a battle plan that increases mission success. Sun Tzu, author of the The Art of War, wrote “If you know your enemy and you know yourself, you need not fear the result of one hundred battles. If you know yourself but not your enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
Do you truly understand the individual you hunt? Violence is part of law enforcement and if you stay in this job for any length of time, you will have to fight with a desperate suspect, regardless of whether you serve in a small town or big city. Do you understand how they think? Do you consider what they might do when confronted? If you take nothing else away from this column, understand this: They don’t think like you do! They aren’t reasonable, compassionate, kind or misunderstood. They’re predators with only one goal in mind: to commit and complete the act they started—and get away. Nothing more, nothing less.
Cops have been murdered trying to reason with criminals. In a Midwestern city, an officer got on her knees and put her gun down to talk with an active shooter, wanting to quell the situation without bloodshed. The suspect was so impressed with her compassion that he shot her through the throat. Her major mistake was taking how she thought about the situation and applying it to him. With this in mind, we need to ask ourselves, “How do police officers prepare for armed conflict with criminals?”
Hopefully you’re well trained, but it’s doubtful that your in-service training will give you all the skills needed to win in armed conflict. Most police firearms programs are directed at qualification, not preparation. It’s very likely that you’ll have to invest your own time and money acquiring the skills you’ll need to go home in the same condition—both physically and mentally—as when you left. Most American LEOs are minimally to moderately trained in firearms. How about you? If you don’t know, then you’re probably lacking.
Keep in mind: Although terrorism is our nation’s primary security concern these days, it’s far more likely you’ll confront an armed robber than Al Qaeda. Sure, it depends on your job and location, but I’m willing to bet most officers confront street thugs more often than radical Islamic killers. Do you train for such a confrontation under their rules or yours? Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. This is going to irritate some of you—especially trainers. It may affect your training doctrine and what you know to be true about preparation for armed conflict. But sometimes reality bites and change comes hard.
Bad Guys Don’t Have Rules
I’ve taken the opportunity to talk with felons every time I get the chance. Most cops avoid this, but I’ve found it to be a real asset over the years. A while back, I sat down with a prisoner who was headed to court on a racketeering charge. The arresting officers knew he was suspected of several contract murders but evidence was lacking, so they went with what they could. I initiated a conversation with him (you don’t talk about their case) and worked my way to guns and his thoughts on them. He started laughing and stated he’d recently seen “a funny show” on cable TV about firearms training. As most of you know, jails are required to offer so many hours of recreation to each inmate and cable TV is a way to help meet this standard.
On the show in question, an instructor was demonstrating movement during a gunfight to avoid being shot. After all, a moving target is harder to hit, right? The instructor showed how to step sideways while drawing, and to move back and forth in a figure eight while reloading. This sounded OK to me but the prisoner didn’t agree.
While telling me about the show, he started laughing and said, “It was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen!” Confused, I asked him why. He replied, “Because that’s training for your rules, not mine. Cops worry about where they shoot, street guys don’t. If a cop is dancing back and forth in front of a bad guy, he’s just going to shoot a bunch in the direction of the cop. He’ll hit something; he doesn’t care. Dancing around won’t confuse him long. He’ll just shoot because all he wants to do is get away.” Realizing he was telling the truth, I had nothing to say. Cops train to be the good guys and seldom consider that bad guys don’t have rules.
Don’t believe this? Talk to any of the officers involved in the North Hollywood bank robbery during which rapid and unrelenting fire from the suspects overwhelmed the cops. The suspects didn’t care what they hit, they just fired rounds in order to quell the response and get away. Of course, these suspects relished the gunfight, which certainly makes them far more deadly. Check out surveillance videos of robberies gone bad and watch to see if the suspects care where or what they shoot. You’ll soon see that they don’t and we do. And that’s where we differ in our threat response.
I’ve thought long and hard about what this suspect told me and I’ve relayed it to a number of trainers. Surprisingly, instead of taking the information into account, they’ve dismissed it. The information doesn’t jibe with what they know to be true.
For example: I recently played the suspect in a convenience store robbery during a force-on-force scenario. When confronted by a role-playing officer who told me to put down my gun, I instead launched into an explosive counter-attack, shooting in all directions, doing anything I could to make my escape. I quickly overwhelmed the officer while hitting numerous bystanders. The instructor stopped the scenario, yelling, “What do you think you’re doing?!”
I told the instructor and the officers in the class, “Who do you think you’ll fight? An armed robber won’t always give up, and if he fights, it won’t be based on your agency’s force guidelines. He also won’t care who he hits. He’ll just want to complete his act and get away.” Now, how do you conduct interactive training? Is it reality or just a time to feel good about yourself? Is it training or entertainment?
Recently, I was teaching a class in Florida and we discussed the possible downside of a single lateral step while drawing. One student (a local instructor trying to be impressive) objected and stated, “It [the move] might keep me from taking a vital hit.” True, but you might also be moving into a shot that would have missed you. How do you know? The truth is you don’t and you never will.
Am I saying not to move in a fight? Of course not! Gunfights are fluid and movement to gain advantage, seek cover, flank or get a better shot is a good tactic. But, is movement for the sake of movement a good idea? The suspect I spoke with didn’t think so and the truth is, like all things in combat, it will be situationally dependent. If you do move, it needs to be aggressive—explosive really—as far as the environment will allow. If you can keep moving, do so because minimal movement won’t interrupt your opponent’s response loop. A single step to the side at 20 feet is a fraction of an inch to the muzzle you’re trying to avoid.
The Bottom Line
In the end, it’s a good idea to better understand how your opponent thinks and build a training regimen accordingly. It doesn’t matter if the tactic or technique is the latest trend or is taught by a cool instructor. Instead, you should ask yourself, “Will it help defeat an opponent who doesn’t think and act like I do?”