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Departments : The Winning Edge

Stay Out of the Way

April 01, 2006  |  by Craig Stapp

Do We Retreat?

What I am advocating is to make two clear changes in our tactics. One, we need to pay more attention to our tactical positioning when attempting to arrest a driver who may flee. Two, we need to stop shooting at drivers unless we have no other means of escape or they are attacking us (or someone else) with a weapon other than their car.

This is contrary to the instincts of many officers. Police organizations hire aggressive, self-motivated, strong-willed individuals who are committed to carrying out the goals and objectives of law enforcement even in the face of extreme danger. So we aren’t the kind of people who back down from a fight. But we have to keep our instincts under control, maintain sound tactics, and use common sense.

Recently on a Website where vehicle approach and shooting issues were being discussed there was one very telling post. It read in part: “A peace officer need not retreat. A tool we can use to catch the bad guy is to place ourselves in front of a vehicle, forcing it to stop.” The post also makes a reference to the lack of a legal requirement for police officers to retreat prior to using deadly force.

Let me be clear. Nothing in this article should be construed as promoting the idea of a legal requirement to retreat before using deadly force. The issue is not about a requirement to retreat after the threat develops. It is about avoiding danger in the first place by employing proper tactics. One of our primary goals must be to carry out the police mission while reducing unnecessary risk to ourselves and the public when possible.

There was a recent incident in which a police officer was run over by a suspect after positioning himself in front of the suspect’s car to make the suspect stop. The report detailed the suspect’s criminal history. The suspect had a record of 25 arrests and eight convictions, two of which were felonies. Does anyone reading this really think that the best way to prevent this individual from driving away is to stand in front of his car?

Changing Your Mindset

The question we are asking as trainers is, how do we change the mindset of officers and get them to use more effective tactics in these situations?

Believe me, the solution is not as simple as initiating a policy that dictates that officers will “just get of the way.” Training must be provided to keep officers from getting “in the way” in the first place.

When possible, we must position ourselves in a location to prevent an attack. When it is not possible or when we have failed to take a good tactical position initially, we must immediately begin to move and create distance if the vehicle begins to move.

This is the reaction that trainers need to instill into officers. They need to recognize when they are at a tactical disadvantage and move into a better position.

Such training can be accomplished through video demonstrations and practical exercises and demonstrations, as well as the study and reenactment of actual scenarios. It can be conducted in briefings, demonstrated in a parking lot, and gamed in force-on-force scenarios.

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