Appropriate Use of Cover

On a shots fired call, an officer sees the gunman and jumps from his squad car in pursuit. The bad guy approaches a corner building and disappears. The officer reaches the corner and … What would you do? Run around the corner in hot pursuit or stop and check that the gunman is not waiting to ambush you? What use would you make of the building edge to protect yourself? How does an officer make effective use of cover?

Many a hard lesson has been learned on the street. Has that information, paid for in blood, truly made its way into law enforcement training? Where do we stand today?

My first training in the use of cover was instruction to place my support side hand against the edge of the barricade for stability during the 25-yard string of fire. The barricade was to simulate a wall and as I stood on the edge of the “wall,” most of my body was exposed. In that time period, being exposed was not a part of the thought process—getting the highest score was the point. This was the order of the day and revolved around competition. I took it as the way it was and went forth with what I found later to be a lack of understanding as to what the true value of cover was and how to make best use of it. Where there was discussion of cover, it often focused on how to take a cover position behind and around the squad car. There was no force-on-force training to determine if the training had real value, or if we were developing actions that in a true fight could be dangerous.

On perimeter around a reported bank robbery in progress, I rested my rifle on the edge of the building wall; on high risk traffic stops, I stood in the A-frame of the driver’s door, over the top of the car or across the hood or trunk. Actions we know today put an officer in the line of fire from direct penetrating rounds or projectiles skipped off the wall, vehicle sheet metal or the ground.

With this past history in mind, I have to ask you: Are we doing any better in training our officers to understand and properly make use of cover? By the term cover, I am referring to a surface or object that defeats the through and through penetration of bullets. And the short answer is that in a number of locations I continue to see the same old concepts being taught and allowed without discussion or correction in training. We need to get our officers into the mindset that the use of cover is not simply an afterthought during training but should be a primary focus.

In our close quarter handgun fighting skills classes, we break down the skills needed in different situations and distances. Master trainer and fighter Henk Iverson, who trained us in his fight resolution system explained early on that trying to combine too many skills in one big information and training dump simply does not work. It is too much to take in and effectively replicate. He developed a multi-level system that we incorporated into our law enforcement training classes and have used for a number of years. We start our close quarters gun fight training with an arm’s length street fight that requires the officer to finish the fight with no cover in play. Fast movement off the line of force is the key in close quarters. The next training block is on fast and effective use of cover.

Our fight around cover training requires recognition of valuable cover points/locations combined with fast movement to gain protection from incoming rounds. We start the class with a review of what cover is and is not. Using our red training guns, we have officers line up in front of a simulated building edge; a cover point used by both police and bad guys. One of our instructors steps outside the corner and uses the edge as a support for his handgun. The student officers downrange get to see how much of the instructor is exposed to their return fire. Seeing it makes the point. In force-on-force, getting hit in the exposed body areas makes the danger much clearer. Pain is a fast teacher, and a marker round to the inside of the thigh or knee is worth a daylong repeated verbal warning.

The instructor then demonstrates a protected cover position from behind the building edge. He steps back from the cover position at least an arm’s length or more. Keeping his feet inside the cover line or building edge, he simply rolls his body sideways and out far enough for his eye and muzzle to clear the cover line. What we see in our classes is that officers continue to be trained to use the side of cover, extend their hands and arms outside of cover and expose vital areas of the body to incoming gunfire. Hugging cover prevents the officer from being able to effectively cut the corner. The gun hand and arm will be exposed before the corner is cleared.

In the first demonstration, over half the body of the instructor is exposed; in the second, only a very small sliver of the gun side is. Before rolling out sideways from cover, noted firearms trainer John Farnam long ago taught us to line up our sights on the edge of cover to gain a vital time advantage. We slightly lower the pistol below eye level. This allows us to be ready to immediately address any threats, but the pistol does not block our view of the forward area. Without having the pistol ready, the officer must locate the threat and then raise the pistol to firing position—a loss of vital time—or roll back into cover and have to come out again to find the offender. Do not come out at the same spot; the bad guy is waiting for you. Either a different height or a different side of cover is required.

Cover training includes the use of long guns. Using patrol rifles with optics such as a red dot scope, we show that if the officer fails to roll out far enough, the scope may be clear cover but the muzzle remains just inside the cover edge. When shouldering the patrol rifle or shotgun, the gun side elbow should not extend dangerously exposed in a chicken wing to the side. Tuck it in close to the body or risk a shot to the exposed arm.

A note on safety in training: We use red or blue plastic training firearms for the times we are going over the cover training and pointing weapons at each other. We cannot do the training effectively without a view of what the action and danger looks like from both sides. Additionally, where we have force-onforce training with marker projectile weapons, a strict safety protocol is in place and enforced. All live fire firearms are secured during such training. The training disasters of the past are a warning that where a live round can get into a chamber, it will. Where no loaded firearms is the rule, someone has put one into the scenario. I urge you to take this seriously and make training safety the starting point of your training effort. Ken Murray’s book, Training at the Speed of Life, is well worth reading and provides a lot of good information on safety and set up.

This course was designed by Iverson. The purpose of this course of fire is to train the officer to make effective use of protective cover and enhance his or her weapon handling skills. The gunman target is positioned in three different locations forward of cover where the officer must clear the edge of cover to make identification and to engage this deadly force threat. By using three targets—one left, one right, one center—the officer is required to shoot with both right and left hand, clear a malfunction and make a reload to complete the exercise.

Nine rounds are fired from behind cover, including a failure to fire/clearance, a reload and use of cover where the officer does not appear at the same point each time he breaks the cover edge. Time limit: 24 seconds. Scoring 4×6 card at the base of the neck. All nine rounds must be on the card.

Safety issues cannot be violated. The muzzle must remain forward and cannot be directed backward or sideways during the draw from holster, clearance of bad/dummy round, reloading or movement from side to side of cover. When not firing, trigger finger is off trigger in a “bent C” position.

The “bent C” trigger finger position has the tip of the trigger finger pulled backward on the pistol frame forward of the trigger guard in an arched position and pressed into the frame. An easy reference point for Glock users is the serrated take down bar. The idea is that the trigger finger held flat alongside the frame will drive into the trigger guard and strike the trigger with enough force to fire under several different conditions, such as a trip and fall, a startle response or an interlimb interaction event such as the grabbing and pulling/pushing of an offender with the support hand while armed with a pistol in the gunside hand. It is not a guarantee but it is a big safety upgrade that costs nothing but the effort to train it and use it.

A cover point is set up on the range. It consists of two target stands covered in cardboard about 5 feet wide. The officer standing in the open faces the threat of a gunman located downrange in three different positions. From 10 feet to the side of the cover point standing in the open, the officer must run to the cover point and engage the gunman who may be located to the left, right or directly ahead of the cover point five to seven yards away. The officer must not crowd cover and cut the corner to get a visual of the danger with the muzzle forward and ready to fire. Each threat must be engaged by three rounds. The officer can engage one offender to the side and then continue to cut the corner to find the center threat. For safety and training purposes, the officer must then move to the opposite side, cut the corner to locate the remaining threat and engage using his opposite hand as his primary gun hand. Failure to use the same side hand (gun in left hand for left barricade, right hand for right barricade) will overexpose the officer. When the officer must reload on their non-dominant side, a transition back to their dominant hand is allowed as it is faster and more sure a movement. Once again, the switch from hand to hand demands finger off trigger, the muzzle kept forward and remain behind cover.


  1. Have a plan—Be aware of cover points around you.
  2. When needed, no hesitation— move to cover fast.
  3. Draw your handgun— now.
  4. Do not crowd cover, standoff at least an arm’s length or more.
  5. Cut the corner with minimal exposure.
  6. Be deliberate and move with practiced speed.
  7. Have your firearm ready and just below eye level for unobstructed visual.
  8. Muzzle must clear the edge of cover.
  9. Finger off trigger in “bent C” until the decision is made to fire.
  10. Use cover during a clearance or reload of your firearm.
  11. Do not return out of cover in the same location or height.
  12. Ability to use both hands—both sides of your body.
  13. Prepare to move from one cover point to another.
  14. If you have a partner, communicate and work together, have him in position to cover and protect you while you are moving.
  15. Be ready for more than one offender.
  16. Scan the area forward and behind you for additional threats.
  17. If you have fired any rounds, reload behind cover.
  18. Do not reholster until you decide the fight is over and it is safe to do so.

With the primary magazine including a dummy round loaded somewhere between the second and last round in the mag, the officer will have a failure to fire malfunction on one side of cover and shoot dry and have to reload on the other side of cover.

The setup for the handgun is a live round chambered, with six live rounds and a dummy in the magazine. The dummy cannot be the first or last round. Fully loaded reload magazines are in the duty belt mag pouch.

While firing, the pistol will malfunction on a dummy round, the officer must make use of cover, clear the malfunction and return to the fight without coming out of cover at the same point. The bad guy is watching and waiting for you. During the course of fire, after clearing the malfunction, the pistol runs dry, requiring a reload. Do not expose the body when reloading; make use of your cover and return to the fight.

We train to take a different elevation so if you were standing, you come out of cover kneeling. If cover allows and you can come out of a different side, do so. This requires that you can operate your handgun or long gun with either hand or side. As my training partner Lt. “Big Al” Kulovitz teaches, half the corners in the world are working against you. We long ago discarded the idea of “strong hand side/weak hand side.” It has to be that you are capable with both hands. You must be able to operate your handgun or long gun from both sides of your body. Right side cover requires right side capability and the same for left. Failing to train this way causes a right hand shooter using left side cover to lean way outside the cover edge in order to both clear the muzzle and also get a visual on the threat. You are mostly exposed and that is not acceptable.

Ballistic Effects & Cover
We also discuss what protection is gained behind cover from different firearms and bullet types. Most officers are not into ammunition types and ballistics. During our ballistic demonstration, we illustrate the effect of commonly available handgun, rifle and shotgun ammo. From the start, officers need to know what stops bullets and what does not. A news report after the 1997 North Hollywood shootout showed full penetration of both sides of a full size metal mail box from the offender’s rifle fire. Initially, when I asked officers if they believe they are protected from gunfire behind such cover, the answer was affirmative. After seeing the video, their opinion quickly changed when facing offenders armed with rifles.

These training concepts are simple and effective. Make the time to study and train in the use of cover in the patrol environment. Use Iverson’s course of fire or any other concept that will train your officers to take advantage of these lifesaving tactics. There is nothing new about it and old truths can be the best guide to a long and safe police career.


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