Officers live and die by the gun. Not a day goes by that some cop isn’t hauling ass after some armed felon, half worried that the suspect will toss the gun on him, half worried he won’t. And even if the perp does discard the firearm, the danger is unabated. For should the officer catch up with the suspect, his own weapon is going to be present in any struggle.
Firearm retention means everything from simply being aware of your gun hip during citizen contacts to overcoming physical attempts to wrest it from your hand or holster.
An ounce of prevention being the proverbial pound of cure, it’s best to minimize the prospects of someone coming within reach of your weapon in the first place.
I had the good fortune of being a reasonably big boy (six-three, 245 pounds at the time of my retirement); this in and of itself was enough to keep some people from kicking my ass who otherwise might have tried. But I also routinely practiced a few things that kept such dangers to a minimum.
Whether it was a pedestrian or vehicle stop, I was usually quick to get up on people, pat them down, and get them in cuffs as soon as possible if I had any justification to do so (cuffs can come off, after all). I didn’t care how big or small they were, either. If I could limit their physical capabilities before they could psych themselves and commit to either “fight or flight,” I felt that I’d gained something of an edge. My safety and that of my partner was a bigger priority than worrying about whether or not anything the individual had to say would be suppressed in court (and for what it’s worth, I can’t recall a single case where my having handcuffed a person resulted in the suppression of otherwise admissible statements).
Once satisfied that the person wasn’t armed and there was no reason to physically restrain him, I maintained sufficient distance between the two of us so that any assault that he may launch would be telegraphed.
That’s not to say they still didn’t try.
One day, I rolled to assist a deputy, Jim Willmon, on a routine call. Shortly after Jim’s arrival at the location, a crazed man—completely unrelated to the call—suddenly charged Jim and attempted take his revolver from its holster.
Jim prevented the gun grab and was detaining the man at gunpoint when I rolled up seconds later. When Jim re-holstered his sidearm in preparation for handcuffing the man, the suspect was off the curb, going for Jim’s gun, which he apparently felt was—literally—up for grabs again. This, despite the fact that there were now two deputies for the man to contend with. A few measured strikes of politically incorrect force via my baton was enough to dissuade the man (and break his arm). Nonetheless, it illustrates the determination that some suspects will exhibit in attempting to take an officer’s sidearm.
When it comes to protecting the weapon that protects you, some key considerations include:
• Your holster. What kind do you carry? How secure is it? Important considerations, especially for plainclothes cops who favor Level I holsters that can be easily defeated. Detectives have paid the ultimate price by having their weapons stripped off them by suspects while conducting station bookings and interviews, or in cars while conducting suspect transports. Select a holster that is a good compromise between accessibility (for you) and retention (against the suspect).
• Recognizing the threat. Can you pick up the telltale signs of a pending attempt on your sidearm?
Early in my career—back when I was at my most hyper-vigilant—I suspected that a detainee I was dealing with was about to make a go for my sidearm. But then, I wasn’t lacking for red flags. If the too friendly smile and uncommonly social nature wasn’t cause enough for concern, his surreptitious glances at my sidearm as he tried to box-step his way towards my gun hip side was. By taking firm command of the situation, I was able to keep the attempt from becoming more overt. (My suspicions of his intentions were subsequently confirmed by my training officer. My T.O. told me that the man had previously succeeded in stripping a deputy’s firearm from him. Only the quick action of a partner deputy screwing his own revolver in the suspect’s ear and telling him to drop the gun saved lives all around.)
• What kind of physical condition are you in? If you have the strength and stamina to fight for your gun, then you’re at least physically prepared to fight for your life—because 80 percent of the time that’s exactly the situation you’ll be in. Supplement that with some mixed martial arts training and you’ll have a fighting edge.
• How much faith do you have in your holster and your skills in retaining your weapon? Whatever gun you carry, whatever holster you use to carry it in, practice weapon takeaways with training replicas such as Blue Guns. While I am not suggesting you tear your holster to shit, make a vigorous study of the mechanics of the holster and how easily it might be defeated. Practice with the “assailant” attempting to take the gun away from you both while facing you, as well as from behind (such as when you may be attempting a carotid restraint of the suspect).
I once found myself in such a situation while attempting to arrest a G.T.A. suspect at the conclusion of a foot pursuit. After tackling the suspect from behind, I felt him go for my gun. I immediately took the man to the ground and applied a carotid restraint hold on him. By simultaneously lying on my right (gun hand) side, I was able to keep my sidearm wedged between the ground and my hip.
• Are you willing to use deadly force? With mixed martial arts very much coming into its own in popularity, many young men have at least some exposure to submission holds, the application of which can prove fatal for a debilitated officer. Should you become incapacitated—be it via a submission hold, chemical agent, or a sudden blow to the head—your weapon is effectively up for grabs. If you are faced with a situation where it is obvious that a person is not trying to escape, but really taking the fight to you with an obvious intent to kill, you not only have to recognize your justification to use deadly force, but your obligation to.
Earlier this year, after a suspect used a North Carolina State Trooper’s own pepper spray against him, the trooper—recognizing the potential outcome—fatally shot the suspect.
Now that’s officer survival in action.