Engaging at Bad-Breath Distance

We’ve all been made aware of this statement: The vast majority of police shootings take place inside 10 feet. Statistical analysis of police gunfights have confirmed that this is true, and although some appear to be shocked by this, I can’t help but think, How could it  be any other way?

Most readers of Law Officer have several years of law enforcement experience, so we know what the real job entails. Although DARE, PAL and community policing are worthwhile functions, the primary goal of the street cop is to seek out predators of the citizens we’re sworn to protect, and place ourselves between the predators and the prey. Dave Grossman has it right when he discusses sheep, wolves and the sheep dog: Cops are the protector—the sheepdog. It’s what we do, and it’s one of the most noble of professions.

At the same time, cops aren’t the military. Don’t misunderstand, I’m by no means a softy when it comes to conflict. When appropriate, there are people who need to be shot, and the police should shoot them without feeling bad about it. However, the primary task of law enforcement is to seek and apprehend criminals, and deliver them to the courts for adjudication. Bottom line: Cops are going to confront and arrest far more suspects than they’ll shoot. They must approach, secure and handcuff these predators in close proximity.

I once read a study that claimed the single most hazardous moment in police work is when the handcuffs are being applied. I believe this. The suspect realizes his freedom is gone and attempts to escape. The suspect may use a concealed gun or try to take the officer’s gun. After all, every interaction is a potential armed conflict because the officer brings a gun to the event.

Close contact is part of the street cop’s routine. Traffic stops, field interrogations, witness questioning are all close-range affairs. Can you imagine the officer complaints that would develop if a cop tried to keep a true reactionary gap during a citizen contact? I can just see the honest citizen who’s stopped for whatever reason while the officer stands back 10 yards and yells, “Throw me your driver’s license and stay back for my safety!” Yep, that would go over well, and the chief would be hearing about it soon. Thus, close contact always has and always will be part of policing, and shootings will continue to be close-quarters affairs.


Close-Contact Shooting

How does law enforcement train for extreme close-quarters shooting? Answer: Very carefully! First, we must ask ourselves: Do we really want to introduce a gun to a close-quarters fight? Our gun could become their gun rather quickly. If a gun is needed, then specific training and techniques will be needed. However, it’s not a quick or easy task to introduce specific training and techniques into an in-service program. Truthfully, close-quarters shooting techniques, if not already part of a regular program, should be a lesson all on their own.

For starters, begin with dry-fire training. Unless your agency has a large number of red/blue guns, you’ll need to render each officer’s service weapon inert to ensure student safety.

At double arm’s length, little time or distance is available. Shooting is going to be fast and furious, with the gun discharging very close to the torso. Although increasing distance between the officer and adversary is the goal, open-hand combat will likely be needed to achieve it. This means you’ll need contact-distance fighting and shooting skills. Combining these are very dangerous, hence the reason to start with empty and safe guns.

The first thing that should be addressed is the draw of the gun—or the lack there of. Why? With a safe gun, it’s difficult to draw and use a sidearm with someone trying to interfere by striking, slapping or applying a bear hug. You’ll quickly realize that counter-action is needed by some type of combative. An attacker isn’t going to allow a draw-and-shoot so be prepared to fight while drawing—blitz, swarm, overwhelm.

Many years ago, an old WWI veteran told me the secret to winning a fight was to “affect their ability to see and/or breathe” because either of which makes it difficult to fight. Although this may sound cruel, if someone grabs your gun, poke them in the eyes. I did this once when a large mental patient tried to disarm me in the back of a moving ambulance, and it worked well.

Once the gun is out, a close-body contact shot is required. How this is accomplished depends on where the attacker is in relation to the officer. If the suspect is to the rear, the officer may have to shoot between their own legs to hit the attacker’s legs/feet, or bring the gun around and shoot under the off-side arm. If the attack is coming from the side, a shot fired with the gun flat to the officer’s chest might be appropriate. How about a shot fired from over the shoulder? Determining possible positions isn’t rocket science. It’s easy to see how varied possible close-quarters shooting positions can be. None will be aimed shots like what’s normal on the square range.


Progression Training

Preparing for a close spontaneous attack is the key. Use dry fire to get the student use to discharging their sidearm close to their body. Progress to live fire slowly! Using airsoft guns as an intermediate step is an excellent idea. When getting started, fire from a frontal, close-retention position and allow each shooter to get ready by looking to make sure that nothing other than the target will get shot. Have them create a felt index so they know how it feels to have the gun in the proper position. This will allow them to recreate the position by feel as training progresses.

This type of slow progression will allow the shooters to get used to shooting in close, unorthodox positions while maintaining a safe range environment. As the students and instructor gain confidence in ability, the pace can be accelerated.


In Sum

The end goal isn’t to try and shoot in every possible position. Instead, the goal is to introduce the officer to shooting in close confines and to build up their confidence. They must know when to do it, how to do it and then have the confidence in their skill to know how to adapt what they’ve learned to the situation they face.

Again, there’s no way to practice for every potential situation. We must all be able to improvise and adapt our skills to the needed task. Close-quarters shooting will be disconcerting, but if you’re only training for the square range at 20 feet, you’re not preparing for the reality of the street. 


How to Render Guns Inert

• Insert specially designed rods into the chamber and barrel;

• Replace the barrel with a dummy version; or

• If your agency’s budget is tight, simply “rope” each gun: Insert a piece of thin cord (I recommend a bright orange weed-wacker cord) through the barrel and out the magazine well. By doing this, a live round can’t be introduced to the weapon and the gun can still be holstered.


Step-by-Step Progression Training

If doing this type of training with a string of shooters standing side by side, the progression could look something like this.

Step 1Facing the target, draw the gun to a close retention position and shoot one or more rounds into the target.

Step 2While keeping the gun pointed toward the target, turn the body sideways to the target with the gun pointing in front of the shooter’s chest. Fire one round and then reholster.

Step 3Face away from the target with the gun holstered. Draw the pistol and travel around the feet until the gun can be pointed between the legs. Fire one round into the foot/legs of the target. Make sure that the impact area below and behind the target at this low elevation can absorb bullets.

Step 4Face away from the target while bending at the waist. Remove the gun from the holster, and bring it along the side of your body without muzzling the person next to you. Fire one round upside down while turning around to face your target while keeping your gun pointed at the threat.         


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