Avoiding The Ambush

Editor’s Note:  When I began talking to Chief Jeff Chudwin (ret) about an exhaustive article on Ambush Survival, I had no idea he would be presenting our audience with one of the most detailed pieces of information ever written on the topic.  We intended to roll out a “series” of articles on the issue but the value of this article, in it’s entirety, is too important to keep away from our audience another day.  Please make sure everyone you know in law enforcement gets an opportunity to review what Jeff has so graciously provided.  We have also sponsored an Ambush Seminar called “The First Three Seconds.”  If you mention this article, they will provide a discount to the purchase of that course.  We highly recommend it.

Photo Courtesy: Alan Kulovitz

The issue of ambush directed at police officers must always be a consideration in our training and field response. By numbers of police contacts, ambush attacks are few and far between but so are gunfights. No one would suggest we should stop firearms training because of the statistically rare gunfight or shooting event. As FBI S.A. John Hall (ret) wrote when he oversaw the Firearms Training unit, “we do not train only for those frequent low impact events but for those statistically rare events that have such critical consequences that we must be trained and ready.”

If we only went by the numbers, officers would leave their handgun in their lockers.

So back to reality, it is a dangerous world and policing is about interacting with the unknown under difficult conditions. Included in the mix of human interaction will be those who given the chance will do you harm. Who is who and how can we know? Most often we cannot know an individual’s intentions until we encounter them. How and where we make that encounter is key.

Awareness and caution are fundamental elements of officer safety, especially in dangerous places and times. Officers writing reports, sitting inside their squad car with no recognition of who is approaching are at the highest risk of surprise. How often have you been approached by a citizen needing directions that you never saw coming? A knock on your window and you about launch out of your seat. And they meant no harm.

Simply put, you must first see them coming. You need to act in response to that recognition in a timely and effective manner.

Yet reality is that not all danger can be seen first or avoided. To have the best chance of winning against a surprise attack, we must be unpredictable in our response and capable of immediate and decisive action.

Whether you agree with the offered opinions or what is written is not the issue; the question to answer is; what you have done to think about and then prepare for an ambush directed against YOU.

Here are some thoughts and ideas for your consideration; much more will be said in future articles on this topic.


During a use of force class, a police supervisor told me about an incident he was involved in as a younger patrol officer. He was checking a forest preserve park and about to lock the entry gate for the night. A single car remained and was parked on the grass. The vehicle was not supposed to be there and the officer called out on his PA for the driver to move. The driver of the auto took a long circular path and drove up behind the officer’s squad car and then crashed into him at slow speed. What would most officers have done? This Officer said he knew that he had to move, and instead of jumping out to confront the driver, he drove forward and made a sweeping circle away. As it was getting dark, he saw the driver / offender raise a revolver and begin shooting at him. It was an ambush planned by the shooter to draw the officer close and the shooter expected the officer to walk into it. As it did not happen as he planned, the offender opened fire and gave away his element of surprise. The officer told me he made a fast plan to reverse the inertia of the attack and stopped his car and jumped out into the shadows. He observed the offender get out of his car, rush over and point his revolver into the interior of the now empty squad car. The officer told me he silently approached out of the shadows behind the gunman. With his pistol raised towards the back of the attacker’s head, he made his presence known. He said the offender slowly turned his head and then stuck the muzzle of his revolver under his chin and committed suicide.

The offender was counting on the shock value and surprise of hitting the squad car to draw out the officer and murder him. He ran into an officer who responded not by emotion but by consideration and thoughtful action. He told me it saved his life and that he had planned for such events in his mind many times. Not that he expected this bizarre event, but the key point is that facing an irrational act he did not feed into it by angrily jumping out and doing what the attacker expected.

In this action, there are many lessons to consider.

Human nature works against us. We are impatient, emotion driven, and too easily caught up in routine and complacency.

Routine and Complacency are deadly adversaries, laying us open to all other hazards.

We take the position that we have gone to the same alarm, same location, same offender over and over. There was no danger in the past so it will not be dangerous today. Not dangerous …add the word YET.

A Texas Deputy told me of his life and death fight with a long time domestic offender who had not been previously dangerous so he did not wait for back up. As the Deputy exited his SUV, he slipped and reached up to steady himself by grabbing the edge of the door. The offender rushed him and slammed closed the drive’s door onto his gun hand, crushing his fingers and locking them into the door frame. Pinned in place, the Deputy fought back with his left hand, his feet, his teeth and as the offender tried to disarm him. The Deputy grabbed a pistol magazine from his belt and thrust it into the attacker’s eye socket. Blinded in that eye, the offender broke away and ran. Fast action saved the Deputy’s life.

When we fall into routine, the next time the offender who has not been “dangerous” may be waiting behind the door or around the corner with a knife, gun, or can of gasoline.

We know and recognize the danger and often disregard it.

On alarm calls, officers continue to park in front of the bank, house or business. Nothing to worry about, until you are ambushed.

A fine police officer and a friend, Crest Hill IL P.D.  Sgt. Tim Simenson was murdered when he opened the trunk of an arrested armed robbers’ vehicle. The second offender, unseen and unknown was hiding in the trunk and shot Tim in the face as he opened the trunk lid to look for proceeds.

Ambush by its very nature depends on surprise.

Every officer should study Col. Boyd’s OODA Cycle/Loop concepts. Simply put, when you can get ahead of your opponent’s actions by forcing him to respond to your actions, you are winning the fight of time and space. When he must respond to you, his planning has failed. Ambush is an example of getting inside your opponent’s OODA Loop or him getting inside of yours. That said, training to immediately recognize the attack and avoid, deflect, or counter the attacker can then gain you the advantage and reverse the momentum. Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act is the premise of Boyd’s writing and these steps in the cycle take time. Time is the core element of the fight and we can win by adopting Col. Boyd’s teachings.

To reduce the likelihood of being taken by surprise and the deadly consequences of violent ambush, we need to be alert, aware, trained to respond, and continually practice our response(s) both mentally and physically. A key practice involves mental visualization. It is a very powerful tool used throughout professional sports. Imagine the situation and visualize your successful response. You are training at a conscious and subconscious level to recognize a variety of patterns. Pattern recognition becomes part of your mental programming so that when faced with a threat, you have seen it before in your mental rehearsals and visualizations. You are instantly alerted by the offender’s speech, body language and overall conduct. You can identify human actions that indicate danger as taught by Patrick Van Horne and Jason Riley in their excellent book “Left of Bang” and follow through using your pre-planning and training. This is not complicated. An example is the matador and the bull. The matador is able avoid being gored or crushed by use of his cape and moving quickly off the line of the bull’s charge. The matador is the conductor of the action. While he knows the bull is the danger, where the bull is located, and recognizes when it is about to charge; his success in evading the charge comes from his mental and physical training and preparation. Using the above concepts, officers on the street can learn to see, identify, and move away from the proverbial bull. At the same time, tasking action to defeat the threat. Each officer can become the matador.

What You Train, You Do

Illinois Tactical Officers Association Conference presenters have warned us about making the correct choice of tactics. Henk Iverson challenges us with these words, “would you truly do that in the fight”. If not, stop training it. He explains that “You can get really good at something that will get you killed”. How does a new officer even understand what to do in a life or death incident and more so what to avoid? By seeking out information from web sites like Law Officer and other credible sources of information. For the physical hands on learning, attend training offered through your state POST/Police Training Board, state tactical officers association such at the ITOA, the National Tactical Officers Association, the FBI, and reputable industry trainers.

As the ancient proverb states, “when the student is ready, the teacher will be there”.

Paul Howe of CSAT questions us as to how many are living the fantasy of the fight? Meaning we train for things that simply will not work and are not reality based. Too much training is just to put a piece of paper in a file.

Both Henk and Paul have been through the hard times and speak from vast experience.

Former ITOA Board member Deputy Chief Rich Ryan (ret.) served as a Marine rifleman in VietNam. Rich traveled the world as a security specialist for one of the largest Fortune 500 companies and studied threat recognition and response, He commented as follows on military ambush response v. civilian law enforcement.

“Ambushes take many forms, but I think it may help the discussion if we understand some differences between military preparation for ambushes and those likely to be encountered by a civilian LE officer. It’s been many years since I trooped and trained in Marine rifle companies, but the necessary assumption in that arena is that the attacker has also trained and knows how to set up an ambush. In that scenario, the “kill zone” includes where you are at the moment of attack and where the attacker anticipates you will move. The only effective survival response is violent, aggressive assault on the attacker with as much suppresive fire as you can lay down. It certainly doesn’t always work that way (especially in a mountain jungle environment), but that was the training.

The only 100% survival mechanism that I can think of in either case is that the officer must remain tactically aware of the evolving situation and retain the ability to make sound decisions under extreme stress. Dave Grossman covers this in his training about as well as it can be covered.

I learned security concepts then that have served me very well through the years. One was “Target Hardening”. In those discussions, the focus was on physical security, but the same concept applies to counter-ambush tactics. Left of Bang has the same focus—be a hard target. Situational awareness is always crucial and never more so than in today’s world. An alert officer when approaching any situation will benefit from the risk methodologies which cause us to “think like the attacker”. If you were going to set up an ambush, where would you initiate from? Be aware and have a plan. A response plan for any anticipated immediate future situation is analogous to a baseball outfielder who always knows where he will throw the ball given the conditions on the field. He is watching, waiting, preparing, and has trained his responses ten thousand times.

What is necessary for an ambush to be successful? As you point out, surprise—the officer can’t see it coming. A truly alert officer can reduce the surprise factor. Any officer who is lulled into complacency by routine is at risk.

Always, move to gain and maintain tactical advantage. Static training in a lane with firearm safety rules in full force only teaches basic firearm awareness. Without movement, obstacles, stress, etc. the training is not for the battle. Realism in training can be painful and stressful, but remove the stress and you’ve removed the value. Certainly, skill builder short courses can teach shooting while wounded, reloads, etc., but force-on-force and high stress training—whether provided by the department or obtained privately is vital. It may take money out of your pocket to obtain superior training, but the wise officer realizes that his or her family matters and NO ONE else is responsible for your safety more so than you are.”

As Rich points out, there is a difference in ambush response training. The concept of suppressive fire as a military tactic does not translate into the civilian law enforcement response. We can however direct gunfire at a location where the offender is known or reasonably believed to be located. We are responsible for rounds fired and do not have “free fire zones”. With that caveat, a fierce counter attack should be taught to stop the momentum of the attacker(s) and move out of a purely defensive mode. When under direct attack, we will not win by defense only.

Frequency v. Quantity

We cannot eat a years’ worth of food in one meal any more than one day of firearms or defensive tactics training prepares us for a life and death fight. It is doing something of value in training daily that makes the difference.

What To Do

Commit to a daily effort that includes reading Left of Bang and the listed resource. With Kindle and I-Pads, electronic media at hand when you have those extra minutes. Physical fitness is the foundation of capability in the fight and a fit officer looks ready. As Coach Tony Blauer states, “you can’t fake endurance”. Table top different scenarios with your patrol partners and ask the “what if” questions. Draw your response on a white board and require each other to explain the legal issues as to use of force in the given situation, the method of approach to the scene, identification of the danger or kill zone and how to avoid it and keep other officers out, and what you might do on scene. Is there an immediate threat to life requiring immediate action or do you have time to contain, plan, and coordinate? You will find many unanswered questions but if they are not asked and answered truthfully, the next time you see the question will be in real time where life is at risk. Remember, the learn as you go model is a poor one indeed.

Law and Policy

Know the legal and department policy issues that frame our use of force and arrest procedures and tactics. The United States Supreme Court laid out the reasonableness standard in Graham v. Connor (1989). Three points must be considered as an officer responds to a call:

The severity of the crime at issue.

Whether there is an immediate threat to the officer or others

Whether the offender is attempting to defeat your arrest by resistance or escape.

In an ambush, the attempted crime is murder, the threat is one of death or great bodily harm and it is happening now, and the offender is by the nature of the crime attempting to defeat your arrest.

What does your policy offer as to guidance? There are those who argue for policy that prohibits the use of force against a driver of a vehicle if it is ONLY the vehicle being used as a weapon. They must have failed to read about the series of recent vehicle attacks in the US and overseas. But again, does your policy allow shooting at or from a moving vehicle where there is an immediate threat to life? If not, move to make the change.


Remember the words of noted trainer Clint Smith, “If you look like food you will get eaten”. Do you present a squared away appearance, is your gear maintained, do you look ready? Lt. Col. Dave Grossman describes how a white shark will bump its prey before attacking. Human predators will do the same but instead of a physical bump it can be a psychological one. The pre-attack is a look over, a decision-making moment as the officer is being appraised with one thought, “can I take him/her”?

The Tulsa Police Department is a former winner of the “Best Dressed” Competition.

An FBI study related to officers murdered in the line of duty detailed how one offender decided not to attack on officer because his uniform and gear was squared away and he was carrying a large revolver with rubber grips. The murderer bypassed this potential victim officer because he said it looked like the officer was carrying a “magnum revolver” and looked squared away. The officer never knew he had been “bumped”. How many times has this happened that cannot be known or quantified?

“Readiness is not only what gear you carry but how carry yourself.”

Use Communication Effectively

If you know that you are heading into danger; try to get the best information BEFORE searching for or advancing against armed offenders. Know who your back up is and where they are located. If you are calling in assistance, advise the route(s) to avoid. In a violent emergency event, the radio can be useless due to multiple users. Clear the air for those who need it most.

Even linking up with assisting uniformed Officers can be difficult and dangerous and far worse for plain clothes officers. A badge or star worn on the belt is likely not going to be seen and you will be seen as “the man with the gun”. Carry/Wear large external ID that clearly shows POLICE such as the DSM Safety Banner and rifle sling cover.

Avoid: the kill zone and creating cross fire or ‘Blue on Blue” fire. Beware of being drawn into an ambush. If it does not look right, slow down, appraise, hold position or move in another direction; remember the Forest Preserve Incident.

Do not form a circle around the offender or vehicle, as this becomes what we call a “circular ambush” created by ourselves. Do not put him / them into a linear “gauntlet”. As they drive or run down the line, we are firing from either side into each other. Train to put the offender at a disadvantage using the concept of the “L” formation. This allows clear line of sight and line of fire. The “L” is where officers position themselves at the ends of the L with the offender in bend or 90-degree position. The offender cannot focus on and target both officers at the same time. Officers are spread apart and at different distances achieving contact and cover points. Avoid standing close together where an immediate attack puts all officers in the line of fire and puts officers in each other’s line of return fire. Test this out with your partners. It is a simple exercise. One of you plays the offender, and two or more of you stand in various locations. Ask the “offender” what he can and cannot see, what he can and cannot immediately target. Switch roles so every officer sees and experiences the issues from both perspectives. Where there is more than one officer, make certain to have at least one officer providing rear cover and checking for threats that include other offenders, oncoming vehicles, or dangerous animals. Check your six is the saying; make it happen.

NOTE: ALL safety measures are in place in any training. NO live fire firearms or ammunition should be in the scenario. Do not “train” on midnights in the parking lot. Discussion is always needed but when hands on training is in place, always follow the safety rules and train in an area or location set up for it.

Observe: 360 degrees, do not just look but SEE. No one trains this better than Derrick Bartlett of Snipercraft, Inc. His class, Tactical Vision is one of the most important I have attended. He explains and demonstrates why we fail to see what is happening around us. More importantly, he teaches how to visually identify critical inputs at high speed and then act on that information. The brain takes in most of the information we need through our eyes. As Derrick teaches, there is a means to see better and faster that greatly enhances our defensive abilities.

We can see at close distance but if you also carry binoculars in your car on the seat next to you, you can see ahead and standoff distance is protection. Do not drive into the erupting violence. Night vision is huge advantage at night and in low light and is less expensive in the older versions. Hold your distance and where feasible come in on foot. You can hear very little of outside conditions from in a car and you are an obvious target entering by use of your vehicle.

What Gives Us and Them Away: light, sound, and movement. During different times of the day, each one has different effect. Light and sound at night, movement more so in the day. Know this and make your actions accordingly. Let your eyes adjust to the dark if you have the time, so make the time. Use flashlights properly and do not light up yourself or your partners. Do not put light in their eyes destroying their night vision.

As noise gives away the offender, it works the same for officers. Make sure to quiet your gear that you carry. Use a key holder on your belt to prevent the rattling of loose keys, and check all other items by jumping up and down a few times.

Slow Down: the saying that “Fools rush in where Angels fear to tread” applies to us all. Speed kills in a number of ways. We can create danger or force an offender into action by rushing in. As Paul Howe trains, “know when to push and know when to hold”. Do not rush into the muzzle of a gun or towards the point of a blade heedlessly and without a plan. A police uniform does not make you stronger, smarter, or faster. It does make you a visible target. One more time: slow down.

Stabilize: Get control of yourself, adrenaline is a very powerful chemical that drives us into unreasoning actions. Get control of other Officers responding to assist. The saying I remember best and lived a number of times is: When you ask for help, the good news is you get it, When you ask for help, the bad news is…you get it.

Many Officers rush to the scene, with no command and control, they all are doing what they think best. They get to go to some other town, drive fast, and not have to write paper; a good day…except if you are in command and require coordination.

Where life is not at immediate risk, such as an active shooter/threat situation and immediate rapid deployment is not in play, SLOW DOWN.

Get control of the scene. Set your perimeter. Identify your Officer/unit locations. Team/Buddy Up where possible. Buddy-Up plain clothes officers with uniformed officers. DO NOT leave your partner. When you break apart, bad things can and have happened.

Breath: Break out of tunnel vision. Clear your mind and senses by using a breathing technique we learned from Lt. Col. Dave Grossman and Bruce Siddle. It is called Combat Breathing and done as follows; breath in through the nose and hold for three seconds, press out on the gut before releasing the breath for three seconds, release the breath out through the mouth for three seconds and repeat. This clears your mind and brings conscious thinking back into play. In a recent discussion panel at the LEETA 2017 Conference, a St. Louis officer described the ambush attack he faced in the early am hours as he was working a secondary security job. He saw the attackers on foot and although suspicious, he said he did not peg them as a threat. They left the area and then returned in a vehicle. As the attackers drove up to his parked vehicle, one jumped out and onto the hood of his car and started shooting down at him through he windshield. Simultaneously, the officer drew his pistol and fired back. Moments before, he grabbed the vest that he had placed on the seat next to him; that he had not put on until he said that “God spoke in his ear and told him to get ready”. His gut instinct was telling him that things were very wrong, even when his conscious mind was saying otherwise. The ambusher jumped down and fled as the officer reloaded his Beretta model 92. The officer said that he could not see anything other than a small area in front of his face because he was so focused on his attacker. He forced himself to breath and his visual area opened wide, he could see the others driving away and the shooter running off. The officer was hit just on the side edge of his vest mid chest. His fast counter attack, his ability to instantly draw and fire, along with his vest saved life.

Have a Plan: It always changes on contact but planning requires thinking and that affords consideration of what we know and what we do not. Where are we, where should we be? Where is the offender(s) and how are he/they armed? Number of and description of offender(s) and vehicles, direction, speed, clothing, weapons, and injuries / where did he/they head?

Have an Alternative Plan: When Plan A fails, transition to Plan B or C which may be a transition to NIKE’s and run fast to a better location where you can take cover and successfully defend yourself.

Muphys Law: Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong, and at the worst possible time. Murphy’s Law is NOT Murphy’s Suggestion. It will happen that whatever your plan, or piece of gear or other element you are counting on, fails to work. Carry backup gear and as said, have a backup plan.

Don’t Rush: Instead of moving into dark fields, alleys, or yards where you are subject to unseen attack, set up a perimeter. Call in K-9 and air support if you have access. Get it right from the start, as LAPDOfc.-Senior Pilot Jack Shonely(ret.) has taught us, make it bigger and shrink if needed as you cannot easily or effectively go from smaller to larger. Officers must hold their positions and stay alert. If we rush from one false sighting to another we are totally ineffective and worse a danger to ourselves. How often has the offender come out of a field or yard right into a perimeter unit. Who gets surprised and possibly ambushed? Offenders will change their appearance and often wear clothes to discard and simply walk away. Get Ofc. Schonely to come to your region and do his Perimeter and Containment class; it is essential information. His book Apprehending Fleeing Suspects is another must read.

Do Not Underestimate: Not every offender is an untrained and ineffective opponent. He or SHE may be highly trained and skilled and most importantly, highly motivated to murder you and anyone else that attempts to stop them. Respect the fact that they are willing to fight and plan/respond accordingly.

The Fight Equation: FIND THEM, FIX THEM IN PLACE, FLANK THEM, DEFEAT THEM. Frontal attacks are suicidal against a fortified position manned by ready defenders.

When Under Attack: MOVE – SHOOT – COMMUNICATE in whatever order is required. These three actions have many facets and apply at different times under varying circumstances.

Move: in close quarters, without cover, do not be a stationary target. As Henk Iverson trains, it is more important to not get shot by immediately moving off the line of force than it is to stand still, try to shoot back and get shot. Movement may include the use of your squad car and breaking out of the kill zone or driving at the attacker to defeat his plan. It may be on foot and moving hard laterally like the matador to avoid the bullet or the blade. Moving and shooting is an elevated skill set. The fight is dynamic and most often involves movement by the officer and offender. Why is it that the majority of police firearms training I have seen is static range work with little reality to the actual incidents that have occurred? Work with experienced and vetted trainers to learn both the safety protocols and the tactics of the close quarter fight. Start with unloaded handguns to understand the footwork and the issue of muzzle discipline. Do not draw your handgun as you are moving sideways and muzzle the shooter to your left or right. Do not cross step as you will trip and likely fall. Turn your feet in the direction you choose and move fast. In extreme close quarters, arm’s length, you may have to move into the offender. At greater distance, movement to cover at speed away from and off line of threat may be the key. Only through realistic and continued training and practice can you learn these vital skills.

Shoot: The ability to immediately get your handgun or long gun into action is critical. Develop your skills through continued training and proper practice. Train for accuracy and speed but do not go so fast as to miss. You may only get one round in a fight and it has to count. One of the great shooters I competed against said this, “your first shot has to be your best shot and every shot has to be your first shot”. There are no throw-aways or do-overs. Many officers shoot once a year and are “qualified”. Qualified for what? The next piece of paper or a real fight? If your agency cannot provide you with training, find it and pay for it on your own. Ask yourself, how much is your life worth? The only answer, all that I have. Work an extra overtime shift or two to buy ammo and find the instructor on your department or in your region to show you the way.

Communicate: Train to call for assistance by stating your location, that you need help, and that you are under fire or firing. The television version of “shots fired” that too often is the information shouted into the radio, does not tell us if the officer has fired and the offender is down or that the officer is under fire.

If the fight is over, say so. Officers will be driving at high speed with all the dangers attached to get to you.

In our training we have officers FIRST finish the fight and then call in a mock radio call. They have not done it before and it requires training.

Gear: It only matters if you have it with you. How much ammo do you need? No one can say. But if you think you need more, CARRY MORE. Near us, an ambushed officer exhausted 37 rounds in a 9 minute shoot out. He shot dry and responding officers passed him a shotgun. You cannot expect that others will supply you or even get to you in time. You have to decide what is enough. A single magazine for your pistol or patrol rifle is not. As a note, I find plain clothes officers and administrators carrying no other ammo than that in their pistol or revolver. For street officers who make use of outside vest carriers, be sure to have a mag pouch on your gun belt. We continue to see officers show up to training with their only mags on their vest carriers. If the vest carrier is stripped off in a fight or any other reason, you have no extra ammo. Handguns are carried as defensive close range tools, always on us and ready for immediate use. But if you are responding to a known deadly force threat, deploy your rifle / shotgun before you arrive. Mount long guns inside your squad car so you have immediate access. There are a number of rack designs that I have used including Big Sky and Santa Cruz. If you must use a trunk or back of vehicle storage system, stop and retrieve your long gun before you arrive at the scene. You may encounter the offender(s) fleeing the area. Be ready by being prepared.

Check Your Gear/Test Your Gear, BEFORE THE FIGHT:

Whatever gear you choose, be sure it is clean, working and functional, easy to access, and replaced or checked on a monthly basis. Before you move out of your home or station, check you duty pistol(s) to be sure it is fully loaded with the proper ammunition; same with any long guns. Keep them clean and lubricated as a dry and dirty pistol or long gun is subject to failure. Ammunition should not be repeatedly chambered and loaded back in the magazine. The bullet can be pushed back into the casing and fail to feed. Check all ammo you load to be sure it is in perfect condition.


Medical: YOU ARE ON YOUR OWN. EMS is not entering an active gunfight. Defeat the threat and treat yourself. Otherwise, you might bleed to death under cover and waiting. ALWAYS carry a tourniquet on your body (not in your car or go bag that is left behind) and know how to use it without looking and in the dark. Several companies such as Rescue Essentials and Tactical Medical Solutions are making ankle holders that carry a tourniquet, gloves and other vital items.

Check out Dr. Andrew Dennis’ book; Officer Down – A Practical Guide to Surviving Injury on the Street. He is a highly skilled SWAT Doctor and his information can save your life. Spend time with this training. It is not a fifteen-minute exercise. Do it under stress on the range and in realistic simulations. Make it real, so training and action on the street are twins.

Dr. John Wipfler who teaches and writes extensively on TEMS and helped develop self aid/buddy aid classes sends the following:

If struck by a knife or bullet or fragments into your torso (neck, chest, abdomen, pelvis), first finish the fight, then communicate and get help in rapid transport to a trauma medical center, providing first aid along the way. These injuries are life-threatening. Bring or meet advanced life support providers along the way if conditions allow. Get appropriate medical treatment for the key killers… bleeding, tension pneumothorax, compromised airway and breathing. Your goal is to get to the ER (emergency department) and if needed, into the OR (operating room) as soon as possible.

If struck by a knife or bullet or fragments into your arms or legs, the first response is to finish the fight, defeat the threat, then seek hard cover. Look for the criminal who just attacked you and finish the fight… first. Then look for a 2nd and 3rd criminal maintaining 360 threat awareness. Remember the medical issues are secondary to your immediate safety, noting that up to a 30 second delay in treatment is acceptable for any injury in a high-threat situation.

When you are done shooting and the immediate threat is defeated, and behind hard cover or in concealment, keep scanning while putting on your tourniquet. No need to look at your injury until the scene is later fully safe and the cavalry has come. Put the tourniquet high on your arm or leg, and twist the windlass until the TQ is tight and painful. You should be able to do this in less than 15 seconds. Once the tourniquet is in place, you will not die from that injury. Most officers will be fully alert and ‘in the game’ at this time. Arrange transportation and further medical care at a tactically-appropriate time. No rush to leave. Do not allow other officers to risk their lives and possibly die by rushing to help you. Stay behind hard cover, communicate, and wait for the situation to be contained. You have 2 or 3 hours to get to the hospital. Think and act clearly. If a medic or fellow officer is present, most penetrating trauma injuries to the arms and legs can be treated with a compression bandage (OLAES, EB, others), but you won’t want to take the time to figure this out until the gunfight is over and done. First use your tourniquet as soon as it’s safe to do so. Remember a TQ is painful, but it can save your life and possibly the lives of your fellow officers who don’t need to rush to save you. Be prepared and survive.

Cover: Make effective use of cover. Know the limitations of your vehicle as protection against gunfire. The ricochet issues and the inability to see the offender when behind your car needs to be understood.

If you cannot see, you can be flanked. The old training we received was to retreat to the squad car, use it as cover, and return fire. In the absence of close cover, that may be the answer, but do you have a plan to clear your vehicle and move fast to another position of advantage? If you have no close vehicle, a large tree, brick or concrete wall can negate the power and penetration of rifle fire. Have you trained to shoot from inside and around your car? Read about the driver—FTO’s response to the March 2013 ambush attack in Middlefield Ohio to understand the value of being able to draw and fire from inside your squad car. Will your holster allow the draw. If it requires that you rock the pistol backwards before clearing the holster retention system, you will likely be unable to do so seated deep in your seat.

Paul Howe wrote about the “myth of cover” around vehicles and it a must read.

The Fight Is Not Over, Until You Confirm It Is

Is the offender truly out of the fight? Simply being on the ground is not proof. Dangerous and motivated murderers have been shot repeatedly and still fought on. It only has to be another beat of the heart, the flow of blood to the brain, enough energy for one more shot fired at you. Even with the primary attacker(s) down, danger is not past until you have checked your 360 and made a full scan of the scene and surrounding and made the decision it is safe for the present time. Other offenders can be hidden, or arrive with the intent to rescue their confederates or for revenge. In the Mumbai India terrorist attacks, the key anti-terrorism commander and 5 of his men were shot dead as they arrived and were first spotted by the attackers while still in their vehicle. Have a set or more of eyes to your rear and covering your backs. What part does the offender play in deciding the fight is over? Again from Rich Ryan; “I read recently that the fight isn’t over until the bad guy decided it’s over. In one of Peter Hathaway Capstick’s African hunting books as he discusses the many hunters who decide the fight was over after a good killing shot, but the lion, cape buffalo, or elephant, didn’t get the message, with deadly consequences”.

Remain Ready: The offender will see you and know you first. Your uniform is identification of your position and a powerful symbol, but it does not make you stronger, faster, or better at anything. It does make you a more visible target.

Vigilance: is constantly required, even when you have had little sleep, are sick, or just bored. The fight comes to you when you least expect it. Be capable of moving from recognition of danger to action at high speed. Not just any action but trained and effective response that you have prepared for and continue to practice daily.

Safe Areas: Our concept of “SAFE HAVEN” may be wrong. The dept. parking lot or visitor area can be a very dangerous location. Look at your surroundings from the view of the attacker. When possible, back your car into a parking spot, be ready to exit quickly and with good visual on the areas around you.

You are highest risk when stationary and in restricted space. Scan first before moving into your vehicle. Running engines, exhaust seen on cold days, cigarette smoke or stubs on the ground, air conditioning water runoff beneath a car can be indicators of persons inside.

Inconvenience: We are always in a rush. Slowing down, altering our daily routines and routes may take longer but it is protection against any offender looking to use your daily habits against you. It may be inconvenient but being dead is far more so. Make it a game, one that reinforces good tactics in movement and counter-surveillance.

Attention To Detail: Know who and what is around you. Pay attention and get out of Condition White as Col. Cooper called the state of total unawareness to your surroundings. See danger when it is hiding in plain sight. Read the book, Left of Bang and learn how to be more aware of the signs of danger and trouble approaching. Get a copy for your family members, it applies to everyone.

Example: Brake lights that remain on during a traffic stop indicate the car is in drive and the driver is preparing…to do what? Do NOT approach the vehicle. Make distance, over your PA, order the driver to put the car in park, turn off the engine, turn on the interior light at night… These are the Left of Bang warnings written about. Anomalies or things that do not belong in the moment. Such actions are often right in front of us and either not recognized or disregarded.

Below 100

Every officer, agency wide, should join effort that was initiated by Law Officer Magazine editors past and current, Capt. (ret.) Dale Stockton and Major Travis Yates. Based on five core tenants of officer safety and survival, Below 100 focuses on: wear you seat belt, watch your speed, wear your body armor, WIN—what’s important now?, and remember—complacency kills. Presented by some of the finest trainer we have in law enforcement, the Below 100 program contains critical information to protect officer’s lives. 

Combining all the above, add the following list to your training:

Think Tactics and constantly be assessing you position. A moving target is a difficult target. When danger is near:

When do I move?

Where do I move? (to and from)

How do I move?

Where am I the most predictable?

Where am I the most vulnerable?

Study History: When pursuing or searching for dangerous offenders, expect that he/they will fight. We have seen too many examples of ambush of officers in such situations including the Howard Johnsons’ Hotel sniper incident on December 31, 1972 in New Orleans.

August 1997, the  Colebrook New Hampshire ambush of officers in a heavily wooded area, the February 2013 murders committed by Dorner in southern California, the recent ambush murders of officer in New York, Dallas, and many others across the nation. If we fail to study history, we will not learn the lessons that have been paid for in blood and fire. After reading about these terrible events, what lessons do you take away?

Mindset: Last but perhaps the most important, we are what we make of ourselves. The mental toughness we bring to any conflict will be the most important element. We must be personally responsible for acquiring the skills that are so vital.

From former Marine Sgt. R.J. Meehan whom I hired after he recovered from his wounds;

“The mental “switch” needs to flip in an ambush. Failure to recognize the reality and immediacy of the situation results in delay in response, and time is the enemy, because those nano-seconds could be the final moments of your life unless you do…something. You must have a gun in order to shoot back, but more importantly you must have the skill, and the will, to USE what you have trained to counter and interrupt the ambush technique. And really, that’s all an ambush is- technique. The counters to that technique are military concepts:

Gain fire superiority

Fix the enemy by establishing a base of fire and enveloping, or by hasty assault (depends on distances involved)

Destroy the enemy’s ability to fight

Employ skirmishers,

Check ammo, casualties

Resupply, get aid to the wounded

Extract or continue patrol

Let’s say you are sitting in your squad typing your disposition on your computer after a call. Your focus is down towards your computer. Your vehicle is in drive and you are standing on the brake pedal because you’re vigilant and ready to move. In the next instant, your passenger-side window shatters. Because you are vigilant in keeping the car in drive, you immediately move off the “X” by hitting the gas and scanning for threats, calling out what happened on your radio, and assessing what just happened. Now, you could have been attacked in some fashion or a rock could have been kicked up by a passing vehicle and it broke your window- who knows. But because you maintained your ability to become mobile in an instant- because you were vigilant and ready, you’re off the “X” and in a position to respond to whatever comes next. Simple. Not world-shatteringly-tactically-majestic or unicorn-fancy. Just ready and thinking ahead. This is a simple example of putting mindset into action.

Responding to the sudden, evil truth of the terrible rush of violence of being caught in the ambush requires an ever-present willingness to fight, counter attack, and win. Otherwise, your “switch” turns on…what exactly? My first thought when the IED that took off my fingers was about my wife and the fact I had been maimed. I immediately recognized this as an “intrusive, distracting thought” because of Lt Col Grossman wrote in his book “On Killing”, and what was first turned on was my “tactical thought process”, i.e, “where are my teammates, is anyone else hurt, and how are we going to counter the ambush that is inevitable, any second now….where would I ambush us from?” Then my mind turned to my weapons and how I was going to run them with one hand – thank you Henk Iverson for that body of knowledge, gained through his training. I wasn’t watching all this happen from the outside in, except for imagining the situation enemy’s point of view and trying to get ahead of what I thought their plan might be. On the contrary, I was 100% focused on the next few moments, as my full attention became focused on the ambush I felt sure was about to happen. Combat is work and priorities. I was finding something to do to help the situation. As it turned out, my best option at that moment was to get the hell out of the kill zone and make sure everyone else in my vehicle was OK. Had we been ambushed by small arms as I expected, I had formulated a plan and was of the mindset to put it into action.

An officer asked me about the trials of becoming a Marine in boot camp and school of infantry, and whether I thought any of it was really important after being in combat. I took a moment to consider, because marching around in circles was pretty comical in hindsight. But what I told him, and as I said it I realized the truth of it- was that every second of it- every run, every rep, every round, every time a DI got in my face, every time I felt the hurt and felt my mind weaken, every time I failed and pulled myself up again and attacked a problem, a scenario, or a hardship – mattered. It was the SUM TOTAL of all the preparation that, when our first ambush happened, allowed me to act based on the training. The first one was a shock but after a few times it was no longer a shock, it was the job we were there to do…. it was shooting, moving, communicating; what we said we would do, we did, and it worked. Luck played a role, but it worked. They ambushed us on convoy 4 times during my 3 months in Iraq”.

R.J’s words are powerful and based on reality. There is more to write, more to say, and more to do. Each of us writes our own history. The question will be, what did you do today to prepare and train for the hard and dangerous moments? What will you be doing tomorrow?

Commander Ed Mohn, our ITOA Vice President and lead tactical trainer tells us, “Train hard for the day will come”.

Is today your day?



What Is New, Is Old: Technology may change, legal issues are always a vital part of decision making and continually evolve, but the rules of the fight and the danger of ambush have been with us since the beginning of conflict. Look below at the orders of Major Robert Rogers. These were orders of war where no quarter was asked nor given. Take from them what we as police officers can best use, based on the laws and policies we work within.


Closing: Standing Orders From Rogers’ Rangers


  1. Don’t forget nothing.
  2. Have your musket clean as a whistle, hatchet scoured, sixty rounds powder and ball, and be ready to march at a minute’s warning.
  3. When you’re on the march, act the way you would if you was sneaking up on a deer. See the enemy first.
  4. Tell the truth about what you see and what you do. There is an army depending on us for correct information. You can lie all you please when you tell other folks about the Rangers, but don’t never lie to a Ranger or officer.
  5. Don’t never take a chance you don’t have to.
  6. When we’re on the march we march single file, far enough apart so one shot can’t go through two men.
  7. If we strike swamps, or soft ground, we spread out abreast, so it’s hard to track us.
  8. When we march, we keep moving till dark, so as to give the enemy the least possible chance at us.
  9. When we camp, half the party stays awake while the other half sleeps.
  10. If we take prisoners, we keep’ em separate till we have had time to examine them, so they can’t cook up a story between’ em.
  11. Don’t ever march home the same way. Take a different route so you won’t be ambushed.
  12. No matter whether we travel in big parties or little ones, each party has to keep a scout 20 yards ahead, 20 yards on each flank, and 20 yards in the rear so the main body can’t be surprised and wiped out.
  13. Every night you’ll be told where to meet if surrounded by a superior force.
  14. Don’t sit down to eat without posting sentries.
  15. Don’t sleep beyond dawn. Dawn’s when the French and Indians attack.
  16. Don’t cross a river by a regular ford.
  17. If somebody’s trailing you, make a circle, come back onto your own tracks, and ambush the folks that aim to ambush you.
  18. Don’t stand up when the enemy’s coming against you. Kneel down, lie down, hide behind a tree.
  19. Let the enemy come till he’s almost close enough to touch, then let him have it and jump out and finish him up with your hatchet.


We are thankful to Dr. Robert Rail for providing excerpts from his excellent book, “The Unspoken Dialogue.”

Body Signs & Gestures of Pending Assault

Body Signs For Apparel & Packages

Understanding Violent Gestures

Surviving The International War Zone

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1 Comment

  1. LegalBeagle

    The importance of being in shape and having your gear in good shape cannot be overstated. I don’t mean the parade ground look, which I dislike – l mean looking like you are serious about your work and being prepared. The ability to perceive and react appropriately to cues, and especially the ability to transition rapidly to appropriate violence (turning on your “mean gene”. as Pat Rogers used to say) are vital.

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