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Reaction Time

You don't have to be on a special response team to be a 'tactical' officer.

March 01, 2002  |  by Gary Klugiewicz


Things are getting more dangerous out there. Whether you are functioning as a member of a SWAT Team or conducting routine patrol duties, you are responding to more and more calls with firearms drawn.

But having your sidearm drawn or carrying a long gun doesn't mean that you will need to shoot-you just have to be ready to. Close-quarter situations bring you into areas of special threats and require special tactics and firearm deployment to quickly stabilize events.

Threat assessment becomes even more important when dealing with situations where a firearm is drawn and aimed at possible targets. Even if you have your weapon ready to fire, you can still lose the gunfight, especially if you aren't ready to react immediately to a lethal threat or to prevent an assailant from attempting to disarm you. This is why you need to train for hazardous situation and learn to think tactically, regardless of duty assignment.

Lunch is Served

Proper training will program you to win the fight. I like to use the following example to illustrate this point. I ask officers in my training classes, "What does a victim expect to see when he or she turns a blind corner?" The answer is "Nothing, because life is good." Then I ask the same officers, "What does a Predator expect to see around the same blind corner?" The answer is, "Lunch."

Proper awareness and sound tactical thinking will prevent you from becoming "lunch." You have to be ready for the predator who may be lurking around the corner. Remember, when you are ready and no one is there "it's a good day." But when the Predator is there, and you are ready to take action, you will win the fight.

When/Then Thinking

The best way to prepare for split-second deadly force decision-making situations is to practice "when/then" thinking. This is a term that I learned from Bob "Coach" Lindsey, a nationally known officer survival Instructor. It replaces the old concept of "if/then" thinking.

"If/then" thinking doesn't make the threat immediate enough. It places the threat at a distance, in the future, and in the realm of things that may not happen at all. If/then thinking leads to a state of unpreparedness.

"When/then" thinking on the other hand makes the threat immediate and certain. When you practice "when/then" thinking, you say, "When the subject with the gun appears, then I will be able to take immediate action without hesitation." This doesn't mean that on high-risk calls you will always fire your gun, but you should always be ready to do so.

Have a Plan

Being prepared to fight is just one aspect of learning to think tactically. Another important step is to plan your reaction to specific threats and actions. Analyze the types of responses you are likely to face from subjects in the field and you will find that there are five basic things that people can do when you try to arrest them. They can comply with all verbal commands, flee, respond slowly or not at all, resist and assault you, or assault and try to kill you.


Don’t let down your guard. A seemingly harmless nonresponsive subject can be dangerous, especially if you underestimate him.

Let's look at each of these in detail and discuss the appropriate actions that you should take in response to each.

Compliance - When a subject complies, conduct the "surrender ritual" and order her to the ground with her hands out to the side, palms up. Order her not to move until told to do so and handcuff them.

Flight - You have two choices when a subject flees, follow or don't. And both can be right, depending on the circumstances.

The criteria for chasing a fleeing subject during a tactical operation was taught to me by John Meyer, Jr., vice president in charge of training for the H&K International Training Division. Meyer says you should make your decision based on whether the subject is armed.

Further, the decision to pursue is based on the time vs. distance concept. In other words, the closer a fleeing subject is to you, the greater the chance that you will catch him before he can escape and/or gain access to hidden weapons.

Finally, Meyer says another factor in deciding whether you should give chase is the nature of the terrain. Don't run past or into an unknown area without considering the possibility that you are being set up for an ambush.

Remember that in all cases a quick snatch is preferable to a long, drawn out chase through unknown territory whether that territory is outdoors or inside a building.

Nonresponse or Slow Response - The important thing to remember here is that even if the subject has a deer-in-the-headlights vacant gaze that doesn't make him any less dangerous. And you especially need to be wary of an attempt to grab your sidearm.

To prevent a slow responding subject from taking your gun, practice weapon (disarming) avoidance tactics like the ones taught at the H&K International Training Division.

If you move in on a subject, don't leave your gun extended in a position that "begs" the subject to try to disarm you. Instead, transition it to your reaction hand and side. This allows you to defend yourself with strong side, empty hand control tactics or to take the subject to the ground.

CONTINUED: Reaction Time «   Page 1 of 2   »

Tags: Defensive Tactics, Tips for Success, Combat Breathing


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