This is an expanded version of the article that appeared in the October 2008 issue of Law Officer magazine.
Drew Bahry volunteered to take the call out of boredom more than anything else. Even here in the big city, where high call volume is the norm, Sundays could be slow, and this was one of those Sundays. A quiet laziness hung in the warm afternoon air, seeming to lull everyone into passive behavior and easy compliance with the law. Bahry, a 33 year old patrolman with about four years on the job, had enjoyed the unusual quiet at first, even finding time to watch some football while taking a leisurely dinner at a local sports bar. But he liked to stay busy and had soon grown tired of the inactivity, so he jumped on the chance when the dispatcher requested backup unit on a trespassing call.
After arriving at the scene, a nearly-vacant gym that had been heavily damaged by broken water pipes, Bahry and the primary officer, Jerry Hanley, met several repairmen who had been working inside. The workmen told them they had found a man loitering inside the business and asked him to leave, but he refused. When they insisted, he had become angry and even more obstinate, prompting them to make the call.
“Where is he?” Bahry asked.
He left,” one of the workmen said, “about five, ten minutes ago.”
“Can you describe ‘im?” Bahry asked
“What was he wearin’?”
There was a short pause, and then one of them said, “A green shirt, I think, and tan shorts.”
“O.K. Did you see what direction he went?”
“Yeah, that way,” another answered, pointing to the north.
“Thanks,” Bahry replied. Then, turning to Hanley, he said, “I’ll go look around. See if I can find ‘im.”
Bahry didn’t really expect to find anything. It had been too long since the man left, and he didn’t have much of a description to go on. But he wanted to give it a shot, and decided to check out a nearby strip mall first. It was located just north of them, less than a block from the scene. Seeing no one matching the suspect’s description out front, he headed for the paved alley behind the mall. He had just entered the alley when he spotted a lone man wearing a green t-shirt and khaki shorts, and carrying a plastic grocery bag. The man was walking toward Bahry, but hardly seemed to notice the cruiser coming toward him. Making no effort to stop or avoid the officer, he kept walking without changing course.
The man was a 42 year old mental patient named Stephen Dulin. He had been off his medication for some time, and like many people who suffer from mental illness was self-medicating with alcohol. His BAC was .30, and he was in no mood to cooperate with the police.
Although Bahry was alone (a nagging manpower shortage made it necessary to use solo units even in the city’s busiest zones), he didn’t call for backup. He generally didn’t ask for assistance unless he was reasonably sure he needed it. Besides, this seemed to be a relatively minor offense and he couldn’t even be sure he had the right man. As Bahry got closer, he rolled his window down all the way, came to stop just ahead of Dulin, leaned his head out the window, and said, “Sir, I need to talk to you.”
Dulin kept walking.
“I said I need to talk to you,” Bahry repeated, “Come here!”
The man refused even to acknowledge Bahry’s presence.
“Stop!” Bahry commanded as he jumped from the cruiser and trotted up behind Dulin.
He placed his left hand on the man’s shoulder and ordered him to stop again. Without breaking stride or even turning to look at Bahry, Dulin knocked Bahry’s hand away and kept walking. Bahry had had enough. He grabbed Dulin by the arm, cranked it up into the small of his back, and stated moving him toward the cruiser. Dulin twisted and tried to pull away, but didn’t say a word. Bahry held on, muscled the man to the car, and shoved him down onto the trunk lid as the grocery bag clunked down beside him.
Despite his ongoing silence, Dulin wasn’t about to submit without a fight. As he thrashed around in an effort to break free, he slipped his right hand under his body and pinned it there. Bahry tried to pull the hand free so he could cuff Dulin, but the man was unusually strong for his size, slippery with sweat, and determined to escape. Using his body weight to hold Dulin in place, he reached for his handcuffs. He wore the cuffs in the back and to the right, just behind his ASP, which was positioned just behind his holstered .40 caliber Smith and Wesson. This position necessitated that he remove the cuffs with his right hand, and caused him to shift his body weight slightly to the left in the process.
These movements gave Dulin the chance to pull his right hand free, twist away, and grab the bag next to him. Inside the bag were three bottles of wine, any one of which was capable of inflicting severe injury if smashed against Bahry’s head. As Dulin snatched the bag up and started to swing it at Bahry, the officer countered by spinning Dulin over his left leg, driving him to the ground, and dropping down on top of him.
Again, Dulin’s right hand was pinned under his body and again Bahry reached for his cuffs. Dulin twisted and turned with cat-like agility, grabbed for the bottles again, and flipped over to face Bahry. But this time the bottles were broken and Dulin had his hand around the neck of one of them, its jagged, broken body extended out about four inches from his fist.
Bahry managed to grab hold of the hand holding the now-lethal bottle, but wine had mixed with sweat, making for a slippery mess that made his wiry adversary even harder to handle. He held on tight, using his body weight and every fiber of muscle to keep Dulin from cutting him. He thought of the OC spray on his belt and reached for it. The flap on the carrier came unsnapped easily enough, but Bahry was bent at the waist, causing the bottom edge of his body armor to slip over the flap and trap the canister inside the carrier. He gave up on the OC, and thought about using deadly force. “Do I have a good enough reason to shoot this guy?” he wondered, but the thought quickly slipped away as he focused on the fight.
As the combination of sweat, wine, heat, and Dulin’s extraordinary strength began to take its toll, Bahry realized that he would soon lose his grip on the hand wielding the bottle. He would have to break contact, create distance, and go on the offensive. Without giving Dulin any forewarning of his intentions, he suddenly pushed himself away from the man, scrambled to his feet, and drew his ASP.
Dulin was just a second or two behind him. He rose, his face expressionless as he stared right through Bahry. He moved forward, whipping the jagged bottle from side to side in quick, dangerous slashing movements. Although unaware of having done so, Bahry had already extended the baton. He countered with crushing strikes to any available target, including a couple to Dulin’s head, but nothing seemed to faze Dulin as he kept pressing forward. Then another solid blow to the head, and Dulin paused for an instant. Although he displayed no pain or other outward signs of injury, Dulin’s next move showed that Bahry had gotten his attention. Without a word, he turned and ran.
Earlier, Bahry had noticed that he was bleeding, but he had been too busy to give it much thought at the time. Now, as he drew his gun and started after his assailant, he glanced down and saw blood gushing from a gaping wound in his right forearm. No spurting indicative of arterial bleeding, but the blood flowed steadily like water from a garden hose. The notion that he might bleed out crossed his mind and the idea frightened him, but he refused to dwell on it. He would let nothing deter him from his goal. He had no intention of letting Dulin get away.
“Stop!” he commanded as he chased close behind his fleeing adversary.
Surprisingly, Dulin complied. He stopped, then turned to face Bahry, that faraway look still in his eyes and the broken bottle tightly gripped in the hand at his side.
Bahry raised the Smith and Wesson, and ordered Dulin to drop the bottle and get down on the ground. Dulin just stood there. Bahry repeated the command, “Drop the bottle, I said, and get down!”
Still no response. “I said, drop the …”
Dulin whipped the bottle up and thrust it forward as he started toward Bahry.
Bahry wasn’t about to face the razor edge of that broken bottle again. He fired. The scene shifted into slow motion as Dulin looked down at his midsection and then up again. He wasn’t stopping. Bahry fire a second round, sending another hollow point crashing into the center of the man’s chest. Dulin’s knees buckled, and he slipped down onto the warm pavement.
Bahry remembered calling for help on his shoulder mic during the fight, but there were sirens, no excited voices on the radio to indicate that anyone had heard him. He pressed the mic button with deliberate firmness this time, and asked for assistance again. Then, while keeping his eyes focused on Dulin’s motionless form, he took care of his wounded arm the best he could. He raised the arm over his head, squeezed down hard over the brachial artery to slow the bleeding, and waited for help to arrive….
Dulin had died almost instantly. One of Bahry’s rounds had struck him just below the sternum, and the other had hit dead center, penetrating his heart. The subsequent autopsy also revealed that the blows to his head had caused severe skull fractures that probably would have killed him if Bahry’s gunfire had not.
Officer Bahry recovered quickly from his wound, and returned to full duty less than two weeks later. But he had also been lucky. His uniform shirt had been sliced open from its left shoulder epaulet to the center of the chest. Dulin had barely missed slashing his throat.
Drew Bahry is still with the same department, where he now serves as a detective.
- What, if any, danger signs were present in this case?
- Would you have asked for backup when you first spotted Dulin? What criteria do you use to determine when to request assistance?
- What does this case have to say about the importance of separating suspects from potential improvised weapons before approaching them?
- What affect would an Electronic Control Device have had on the outcome of this encounter? At what point would it have been appropriate to deploy an ECD? Would its use have been legally justified under the circumstances?
- ECDs can be hard to use effectively at extreme close quarters. How can their effectiveness be improved in such situations?
- Officer Bahry had a very hard time trying to handcuff Dulin. One option for handcuffing an offender in such cases is to deliver hard sinking blows to the suprascapular nerve motor points on the shoulders in order to temporarily paralyze the arms for cuffing. Is this an effective technique? Why?
- Officer Bahry chose not to use deadly force until late in the encounter, apparently because of concern over civil liability. Is this a concern for you? If so, what can you do to alleviate this concern and improve your decision-making capability in use-of-force situations?
- Officer Bahry was in good physical condition. What part did this play in the outcome? Why is physical fitness so crucial to officer safety?
- Officer Bahry used self-applied first aid to deal with his wound. Considering the fact that backup and/or emergency medical assistance are sometimes delayed, how important is this skill to your safety?
- In what ways did Officer Bahry’s attitudes and actions exemplify winning mindset?
- Discuss other factors that contribute to winning mindset.
Like many officers who are hurt while responding to seemingly low-risk calls, Officer Bahry fell victim to complacency. Although he worked in a high crime area, he was responding to what appeared to be a minor offense with a low potential for violence. He had handled his share of dangerous calls without serious incident, which had desensitized him to danger. When combined with Dulin’s small stature and the sense of quiet that had permeated his shift before took the call, Bahry was drawn into close quarters lethal combat with little forewarning.
However, this is not to say that there was nothing about Dulin’s behavior to indicate that he might be dangerous. His failure to stop on command or to even acknowledge Bahry’s presence was a significant, though rather subtle danger sign. Although many officers fail to realize the significance of such behavior, it is important to recognize that any behavior that indicates unwillingness to submit to an officer’s authority is a strong indicator of potential violence. Inasmuch as refusal to obey an officer is likely to lead to arrest or other unpleasant consequences, most people don’t disobey the police unless they are desperate, angry, irrational or otherwise willing to risk the consequences, any of which makes them dangerous. The same holds true when someone ignores an officer. In fact, refusal to acknowledge an officer’s presence shows a higher level of disrespect, anger, fear or desperation than most kinds of verbal resistance.
Later, Dulin further demonstrated his dangerous state of mind when he reacted to Bahry’s hand on his shoulder by brushing it off and continuing to walk away. Furthermore, this threat was magnified by the fact that Dulin had access to the bottles in the grocery bag.
Unfortunately, like most officers in similar situations, Officer Bahry understandably reacted to Dulin’s actions with some anger, and immediately became focused on arresting Dulin as quickly as possible. This is a natural response for determined, goal-oriented people like police officers, and there is certainly nothing wrong with being strong willed when making an arrest. However, it can also lead to a rushed approach with too little thought given to threat assessment. In this case, for example, if Officer Bahry had slowed down, it might have encouraged him to maintain a safe reactionary gap while he further assessed the risks and planned his next move. And, although it is unlikely that he would have had time to wait for assistance before approaching Dulin, he could have called for backup and had it on the way before he made initial contact.
The best way to combat the tendency to rush ahead is to make a commitment to focus on officer safety first, putting it before the desire to make the arrest, anger and all other emotions. This does not mean that we should be any less aggressive in fighting crime or confronting violent offenders. To the contrary, it is our duty to confront violence with an unswerving commitment to public safety, but our focus must always be centered on officer safety.
We must always be on the lookout for danger signs; always asking ourselves the question: “What is there about this situation that can make me vulnerable, and what can I do about it?” When we detect areas of vulnerability, we must then adapt by seeking cover, drawing the appropriate weapon, calling for backup, or taking other appropriate action to improve our situation. It is not always possible, or even advisable, to shift to high-profile tactics, but we can at least respond by raising our level of awareness and starting to plan a response in case something goes wrong.
Like physical behaviors, thoughts can also become habits, and habits are developed through repetition. Make a conscious effort to think safety first on every call, even those that appear to be low risk, and it will eventually become a habit that crowds out less desirable thoughts and emotions, like anger and the desire to rush ahead. It takes commitment and a little work, but safety awareness will eventually become an integral part of everything you do, thereby significantly enhancing your ability to detect and respond to danger.
Officer Bahry is quick to point out that, with the exception of obviously high-risk calls, he seldom called for backup until it became evident that he needed it. In this case, the offense appeared to be a simple trespassing and minor disturbance, and Bahry wasn’t even sure if Dulin was the suspect. Furthermore, at 5’9″ and 160 pounds, Dulin was considerably smaller than Bahry, who was 6’1″, 200 pounds and in very good physical condition. This last point is especially important, because it caused Bahry to underestimate his opponent. Like many smaller people. Dulin was wiry, agile and hard to control. This made him very dangerous, especially with the bottles within easy reach. Officer Bahry now has a much greater respect for the fact that anyone can be dangerous, regardless of size and apparent physical condition.
He is also much quicker to call for assistance. Although it may not always be possible to call for backup immediately, or to wait for it to arrive before taking action, far too many officers are reluctant to ask for help unless it is obvious they need it. This may come from overconfidence, the strong sense of self-reliance possessed by most officers, and/or fear of being stigmatized as overly cautious. Although understandable, such motives are at odds with law enforcement’s primary mission. Police work is not about ego it’s about control. A peace officer’s highest duty is to control violence, to prevent it when possible and to end it when necessary. The idea is to win, whatever it takes, even if it means asking for help at the risk of looking overly cautious. Not every call requires backup, but don’t hesitate to ask for it when appropriate. This includes any contact that involves an arrest or suspicious circumstances.
Dealing with Potential Improvised Weapons
When Dulin pushed Officer Bahry’s hand off his shoulder and started to walk away, Bahry immediately grabbed him and escorted him to the patrol car before separating him from the bag. Police officers are always concerned about the possible presence of guns and knives, but they tend to be much less concerned about improvised weapons. Bahry didn’t know the bag contained bottles, of course, and plastic bags don’t look very menacing. They seem too flimsy to hold anything heavy enough to cause much harm, but they are actually much sturdier than they look. In fact, they can hold several pounds and not tear even when swung vigorously*. If used to deliver a blow to Officer Bahry’s head, the bag of bottles could have easily rendered him unconscious, or stunned him to the point that he would have been vulnerable to a disarming or other follow-up attack. Fortunately, that didn’t happen, but the bottles nevertheless played a crucial role in the encounter later when Dulin used one of them in his attack.
This case should serve as a reminder of how important it is to treat potential improvised weapons with a great deal of respect. When making contact with any offender who is carrying anything that could be used as an improvised weapon, you should order him to put it down before approaching him, just as you would if he were carrying a gun. Even if he refuses, you will at least have a better idea of what you are up against, and be able to adjust your tactics accordingly, including calling for backup and, in many instances, drawing your gun.
Position of Equipment on the Belt
It appears that the position of Officer Bahry’s handcuff case played a substantial part in this incident. Twice, once when he was trying the break free on the trunk and again during the fight on the ground, Dulin was able to gain an advantage when Bahry reached for his handcuffs. Bahry’s cuff case was positioned in the rear on the right side, which made it necessary for him to shift his weight slightly while reaching behind his back with his right hand. Besides forcing Bahry to release his grip on Dulin with his right hand, this slight shift in Bahry’s body weight allowed Dulin to gain some mobility and free one hand. To prevent similar problems in the future, Officer Bahry now carries a second pair of cuffs in a case on the front of his belt. It’s a good idea to carry two pairs of handcuffs anyway, and placing the second pair in front allows for easier access to them during a struggle.
It is also worth noting that Officer Bahry had to contend with another problem related to the equipment on his belt. He carried his OC spray in front, in a full sized canister that extended well above his belt. This caused the pouch to slip up under the bottom edge of his vest when he bent over, trapping the canister inside. This probably didn’t matter much under the circumstances, because Dulin’s mental state made it very unlikely that he would have been affected much by the OC. However, it might make a significant difference to officers in similar situations against less determined assailants. OC is a very effective non-lethal weapon against most people who resist, but it is useless if you can’t draw it. To alleviate this problem, the carrier should be placed more to one side, where it is less likely to get caught under the vest when bending over. It is also a good idea to carry a smaller canister, as Officer Bahry is now in the habit of doing, because the shorter carrier doesn’t extend as far above the belt as the longer carrier does. This leaves more clearance between the top of the carrier and the vest.
Electronic Control Devices (ECDs)
Dulin’s reactions to Bahry’s efforts to subdue him made it clear that he was oblivious to pain. Something more was needed, and there is a good possibility that an electronic control device would have done the trick. Although not 100 percent effective, these devices have a very good track record against highly determined assailants like Dulin. If armed with one, Bahry could have stayed on his feet and drawn it instead of dropping down on top of Dulin after taking him to the ground. This would have made it much harder for Dulin to attack him with the broken bottle from the ground, and the increased distance would also have boosted the effectiveness of the ECD if needed. This is because the spread of the darts increases with distance, which allows the current to travel over a larger area of the body to cause more widespread incapacitation.
Ideally, it would have been best for Officer Bahry to remain on his feet while deploying the ECD, but these weapons can also be effective in a ground fight if used properly. When used at extreme close quarters, it is important to apply the current over as large an area of the attacker’s body as possible. This can be accomplished by firing the ECD just as you would at greater range, and then moving it as far away from the darts’ impact point as possible and applying a drive stun there.
However, this option assumes the officer is able to draw the ECD while engaged at extreme close quarters. Before an ECD can be used effectively under such circumstances, it must be carried where it can be drawn quickly and with minimal risk of anything getting in the way. Moreover, since it is likely that the officer will have to use his dominant hand to fend off a weapon (as happened in this case), protect his own gun, or simply hold onto his assailant, it is a good idea to make sure the ECD can be draw with the support hand. Therefore, it is recommended that officers carry their ECDs in support-side rather than cross-draw holsters. Besides facilitating the use of ECDs at close quarters, this option also makes it harder to disarm the officer of the device during a frontal attack. This is because cross draw holsters position the weapons they carry butt forward, and within easy reach of anyone attacking from the front. The support-side carry requires more training to ensure a smooth draw and good accuracy under stress, but the advantages are well worth the effort.
It is also important to note that the use of an ECD to subdue a resistive subject may not be justified in all cases. It depends upon department policy, local laws, and the totality of the circumstances, but this case was no ordinary resisting. Even during the initial struggle, the bag of bottles presented a serious threat, especially if swung at the head. Then later, after the bottles were broken, they became even more dangerous, thereby removing any remaining doubt that this was a lethal attack. Clearly, this was a very dangerous situation that justified a high level of force almost from the very beginning. It is hard to imagine a use-of-force policy that would not permit the use of an ECD at any point after Dulin made it clear that he intended to use the bottles as a weapon.
Despite the bad press generated by our poorly informed and biased media, ECDs can be life savers, not only for police officers but for suspects as well. By putting a stop to violent encounters before they can escalate out of control, they often prevent rather than create serious harm to everyone involved. Every officer should be equipped with an ECD and properly trained in its use.
Hands Pinned under Resistive Subject’s Body
Officer Bahry could have ended the fight much sooner if he had been able to pull Dulin’s hands out from under his body for handcuffing. Although he had received some training in how to deal with this problem, it was minimal. Considering how often suspects resist in this manner, and the fact that they may be able to access a weapon in their waistband while doing so, it is very important for officers to be adequately trained to quickly and effectively get the hands under control. One very effective way to do this is to deliver hand strikes to the suspect’s suprascapular nerve motor points, or the nerve clusters in the upper rear shoulders along each side of the neck. To familiarize yourself with this point, place one hand, palm down, on your upper shoulder next to the base of your neck. Press around the area with the tips of your fingers until you feel the spot with a high sensitivity to pain. If you are not particularly sensitive to pain applied to the suprascapular nerve, ask someone else to show you where it is after he finds it on his own shoulder. A blow to this spot will temporarily paralyze the entire arm below it, and give you the opportunity to more easily remove the suspect’s hand from under him. Moreover, it is unlikely that he will be able to maintain a grip on any weapon that he may be holding, because the blow will usually cause the hand to flinch open. Another advantage of this technique is that it is very effective on impaired and mentally disturbed individuals, because strikes to motor points rely on disruptions of the nerve signals rather than pain compliance for control
The proper strike to the suprascapular motor point (or any other motor point for that matter) is a full power, hammer-like blow with the side of the fist. If the suspect is lying on his hands, press down on him to keep him pinned down while you deliver a blow to the suprascapular motor points on either side of the neck, and then withdraw his hands for cuffing.
It is also important to let the blows “sink in” whenever possible in order to allow their shock waves to permeate the affected nerves for maximum effect. However, there is a chance that you may miss the motor point or forget to let the blow sink in under stress, and even a perfectly delivered blow may not be enough to achieve the desired effect in some cases. Therefore, you may have to follow up with additional strikes in order to bring his arms under control. Four or five hard blows should do the trick, even if not particularly well executed.
As is the case with ECDs, the use of hand strikes to handcuff a suspect may not always be justified, but in this case it would have been because of the presence of the bottles and Dulin’s high level of resistance.
Reluctance to Use Deadly Force
After Dulin attacked him with the broken bottle, Officer Bahry briefly considered the use of deadly force, but chose not to draw his gun when he got the chance. He doesn’t remember making a conscious decision not to draw the weapon, nor does he remember why he made that choice, but he believes it was because of civil liability concerns. Legal issues are certainly a valid concern, and we also have a moral obligation to be reasonable in our use of force, but there is no legal requirement to use minimal force. Nor are officers obliged to put themselves into deadly peril in order to make it a fair fight. In fact, the courts recognize that police officers must make snap decisions in rapidly developing, high stress situations, and their only requirement is that the officer’s action be reasonable.
Unfortunately, in today’s litigious society, liability tends to be over emphasized by many police academies, trainers and administrators. When coupled with the intense scrutiny given to police use of force by the liberal media, it is no wonder that many officers are dangerously hesitant about using deadly force.
This is seldom a concern when the attack comes suddenly, because the officer doesn’t have time to think about the consequences of his actions at such times. However, legal concerns can become very problematic when the threat develops over time. Any delay in the development of the threat, no matter how short, can give the officer time to think. This can cause him to hesitate if there is anything about the situation that makes him doubt the need for deadly force. In this case, for example, Officer Bahry was threatened with a broken bottle. We are conditioned to view improvised weapons as implement that are somehow less dangerous than other weapons. In addition, shooting someone who is armed with an improvised weapon tends to draw excessive scrutiny and criticism from the media and others. Since Officer Bahry had time to think as the threat developed, these thoughts probably weighed heavily into his decision not to use deadly force. Would he have made the same decision if Dulin had been armed with a knife or gun, or if the attack had come so suddenly that he didn’t have time to think?
One of the biggest reasons why this problem exists is because many officers are poorly informed about the legal issues related to the use of force. It is frightening how often the author encounters officers who are unable to articulate their own department policy on the use of force, let alone the law. How can officers be expected to make crucial decisions under the stress of combat if they cannot explain reasonable use of force when asked in a safe environment?
To combat this problem, it is imperative that trainers make it clear that deadly force is justified against any implement with deadly potential, including edged weapons, most impact weapons, many improvised weapons, and, in some cases, even personal weapons. It depends upon the totality of the circumstances of course, but the key is whether the officer or someone else is threatened with death or serious bodily harm. Trainers must emphasize that it is the not the weapon used but the severity of the threat that determines the appropriateness of the level of force used against the assailant. This concept, as well as all the other key elements of the law and department policy related to the use of force, should be clarified and reinforced regularly in training. Ideally, officers should also be tested on this information to ensure that they fully understand it and can apply it to real-world situations.
Moreover, the knowledge gained in the classroom should be further developed and reinforced through computer firearms simulations and reality based training. This last point is especially important, because interactive training is one of the best ways to help officers develop, refine and test their mental flexibility and other essential decision‑making skills.
Finally, it is important to ensure that department policy is not only in line with the law, but that it is not overly restrictive. Policy should be flexible enough to allow officers to use their discretion, within the limits of the law of course, in unusual or extreme situations. For example, many departments forbid officers from shooting into moving vehicles. This is a reasonable restriction as a general rule, but it is unreasonable and dangerous to demand that officers restrain from shooting into a moving vehicle under any circumstances. The real world doesn’t work that way, and officers should not have to deal with such a dangerous restriction when faced with a ton of hard steel racing toward them in a real-life lethal confrontation.
Officer Bahry’s high level of physical fitness played a significant role in enabling him to win the fight. Although not an avid physical fitness enthusiast, he took good care of himself with regular cardio exercise and weight training. Still, despite Dulin’s smaller stature and greater age, Bahry had a hard time controlling him. Like many smaller people, Dulin was wiry, agile and quick, and his mental condition made him even more dangerous and hard to handle. Had Bahry been any less physically fit, he might not have had the strength, quick reflexes or endurance to stay in the fight and win. A high level of physical fitness builds strength, increases endurance, improves performance under stress, and increases the body’s ability to resist and recover from wounds. It is an essential ingredient in winning on the street.
Self-Applied First Aid
By remaining calm and focusing on what he knew about first aid, Officer Bahry was able to help himself by quickly applying first aid to his wound. He stayed focused on the fight until the threat was terminated, and then applied common sense and his knowledge of first aid to care for his wounded arm. He did nothing that required any advanced training, but simply elevated the arm over his head and applied pressure to the pressure point above the wound. Besides helping to stem the flow of blood, this action helped reduce the fear and stress associated with his injury, which in turn reduced the shock and other negative effects of the wound on his body.
Granted, self-applied first aid was not a major factor in this case because medical assistance was nearby, but it can be a life saver when help is delayed. Although this is particularly important for rural officers, even officers on large urban departments can find themselves in situations where they must wait a long time for medical help to arrive. It is also important o note that, like most skills, self-applied first aid can be counterproductive and even dangerous if the person applying it is not adequately informed. Therefore, proper training by a competent, well-informed instructor is crucial. Self-applied first aid is a critical officer safety skill, and every officer should be properly trained in it.
Officer Bahry suffered no emotional trauma as a result of the shooting. His first thought was concern that he might be in trouble, but he also knew that Dulin had left him no choice. This is a very healthy attitude that can go a long way in helping to avoid unnecessary emotional trauma in the aftermath of a lethal force incident. It is important for officers to recognize that it is the assailant, not the officer who is responsible for the outcome when an officer is forced to shoot. This is true even when, as often happens, the officer later decides that he there was something he could have done that might have changed the outcome. The reality is that officers must react under incredible stress, and they must do so very quickly, without the luxury of hindsight or time to consider other alternatives. Moreover, the assailant always has the option of submitting. If he refuses to take that option and chooses to attack instead, he has no one to blame but himself.
Officer Bahry’s concern about getting into trouble was a very common one. Fear of legal consequences does not indicate any lack of sympathy for the suspect. It is only natural to view critical events from the perspective of how they might affect us personally. We all worry about the possible legal repercussions of taking a life, and it would be unusual not to be concerned after doing so.
Officer Bahry fought back with dogged determination in spite of the fact that things continually went from bad to worse as time went on. Despite his best efforts, nothing seemed to be working against Dulin, but he did never gave up. He kept thinking, continually adapting to each new problem as it occurred, and ultimately persevered. He also responded very well to the sight of the blood gushing from his arm. Although he became concerned that he might bleed out, he didn’t dwell on it. Instead, he stayed focused on the only thing that really mattered—stopping Dulin. This is what winners do. They ignore fear, injuries, frustration, and anything else that may detract from the goal, and focus all their attention and resources on winning. Nothing else matters. Officer Bahry’s actions and persistence provide a fine example of this fighting spirit.
- Remain alert for danger signs at all times; continually ask yourself the question, “What is there about this situation that can make me vulnerable and what can I do about it?”
- Don’t hesitate to request backup if there is any indication that you may need it.
- Separate offenders from anything in their possession that may harm you before approaching them.
- It is always a good idea to carry an extra pair of handcuffs. Consider carrying them on the front of your belt.
- The presence of potential or actual improvised weapons significantly raises the threat level, thereby necessitating a shift to a higher level of force to counter them. ECDs are a very effective option for dealing with such threats.
- When using an ECD at extreme close quarters, consider discharging it at one point on the body, and then moving it to another location and drive stunning that spot. This technique allows the current to travel over a larger area of the body to maximize its affects.
- A very effective way to handcuff an offender who has his hands pinned under his body is to deliver hard sinking blows to the suprascapular nerve motor points on his shoulders. This should paralyze his arms temporarily so you can handcuff them with greater ease and safety.
- A thorough understanding of the legal issues related to the use of force is crucial to proper decision-making in stressful, rapidly developing confrontations on the street. Make sure you fully understand both the law and your department policy regarding use of force.
- A high level of physical fitness is crucial to winning on the street. Stay in shape.
- If your agency doesn’t provided self-applied first aid training, seek it out elsewhere. It can save your life, especially if emergency medical assistance is delayed.
- The offender always has the option of submitting. It is he, not the officer, who is responsible for the outcome when an officer is forced to shoot. Recognizing this fact can help officers avoid unnecessary emotional trauma in the aftermath of lethal force incidents.
- Ignore your injuries if wounded; instead, focus on what you can do to win.
- Always fight back!
*In an informal experiment, the author was able to vigorously swing a plastic grocery bag containing over seven pounds of goods, including a large bottle of liquor, more than ten times without rupturing the bag.
Brian McKenna is the owner of WINNING EDGE TRAINING and its sole instructor. He recently retired after 30 years with the Hazelwood (MO) Police Department. At the time of his retirement, he was assigned to the patrol division as a shift supervisor (lieutenant), and also served as an in-service trainer and lead firearms instructor. He is a state certified police instructor and former academy instructor, and holds a Master’s Degree in human resource development.
Brian writes extensively on officer safety topics, and authors Law Officer Magazine’s Officer Down column, a regular feature that analyzes officer-involved shootings for key learning points.