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Are We Teaching Cops To Run?

Seeking cover during a gunfight is not always the best option. So why do trainers insist that it is?

August 19, 2011  |  by Dave Bahde

More than a decade ago I started studying officer-involved gunfights. Having accepted the huge responsibility of training officers to use their weapons in deadly encounters, I believed it was critical to learn from others.

Firearms training is a serious business. Unfortunately that's not a sentiment always shared by all police firearms instructors. All too often they make the training about them and their favored tactics and not the needs of their students in actual gunfights.

Leaving all the political correctness and legal soft shoe aside, gunfighting is just that: fighting with a gun. But some police firearms trainers don't acknowledge the "fight" as part of the equation.

Once the guns come out and the bullets start to fly, gunfighting is no longer an academic exercise, it is a fight plain and simple. I've been training to fight or teaching people to fight since 1972 when I took my first martial arts lesson, so the warrior mindset has become a part of my very being. When I was tasked with police firearms training, I saw it as nothing more than another fighting system.

One of the most critical things we should take from the military or warrior mindset is the emphasis on winning and the need to always be deliberate and often aggressive in a fight. I believe this is where police training is often lacking.

As my father told me long ago, "I don't expect you to start the fight, but I expect you to finish it!" As a police officer, you may not have started the fight, but it's your job to end it. In fact, seldom do we ever start the fight. Police work is all about reaction and that makes this all the more difficult.

When a gunfight begins you need to end it, period. But many of you have been taught that your first need is to find cover.

Which may be teaching you to run away from a fight instead of doing your duty, which is to "run toward the gunfire." When a gunfight begins you may have to move toward the threat using your pistol as cover in order to end it and end it quickly.

Going for Cover

Don't get me wrong. When available, and when it ensures or increases the likelihood of winning the fight, cover should be sought.

Whenever you approach a situation you should be identifying cover. Just remember the more attention you pay before the fight starts, the better off you are. Identify what will stop bullets and where it is. When the gunfight begins it may come in handy.

But let's be clear. Just because cover is available and you have cataloged it in your mind before the fight, that does not mean the best thing to do once the fight starts is run for cover. This is especially true if doing so requires you to give your back to the threat.

The best thing to do may be to advance on the threat, returning fire, and ending the fight. The surest and quickest way to end a gunfight is to win it. Be deliberate in your actions and aggressively end the fight.

Sun Tzu wrote: "Whoever is first in the field and awaits the coming of the enemy will be fresh for the fight; whoever is second in the field and has to hasten to battle will arrive exhausted." He's absolutely right, and unfortunately, police officers are almost always second to the fight.

It's not our fault that we are late to the fight. It's just the nature of what we do: We have to react to the other guy, so it's very rare that we can act first. That means we have to be better prepared, better trained, and have the ability to press the fight after starting behind the curve. That is not fair, but it's simply the way it is.

Comments (11)

Displaying 1 - 11 of 11

01powell @ 8/21/2011 7:57 AM

Very good artical. We train to go toward the fight here. And as a SWAT team member we train to advance toward the fight everytime we train. All Officer's should do the same. We are here to finish the fight and go home to our beloved families at the end of our shift.

TripWire @ 8/23/2011 6:39 PM

Yeah, you're on the SWAT team. Right. I'm calling you out, what city?

TripWire @ 8/23/2011 6:40 PM

Yeah, you're on the SWAT team. Right. I'm calling you out, what city?

Morning Eagle @ 8/24/2011 2:30 AM

This is a very good article that makes many appropriate observations about training to win. We often hear the phrase "My training just kicked in and saved my butt." True. When the SHTF we fight as we have trained, especially in the initial reaction. That old axiom about the best defense being a good offense (preferably a swift, overwhelmingly violent one) has lost no validity over the years. Stay calm, cool, collected and thinking. Even if hit, focus on eliminating the threat, having been trained (hopefully) to shoot accurately, now is the time to do it without hesitation. Spraying and praying lots of bullets makes a lot of noise but is usually ineffective except maybe to keep their heads down. Plus, how many dash cam videos have we seen when an officer gets shot at the first reaction is to turn their back to the threat while running, usually back to the patrol vehicle, and shouting in near panic into their portable mic for back-up, often not even drawing their own weapon until back to the vehicle. Failure to immediately return fire is a good way to get executed while trying to gain some kind of cover. A real gunfight is not a carefully choreographed event, it usually begins with little or no warning and is chaotic, violent, loud, and your attacker is not inhibited by any concerns for fair play or what the law says he can or cannot do. Above all, stay calm, cool, collected, and keep thinking. Even if you are hit, stay in the fight until the BG(s) are dead or have at least stopped shooting at you. Preferably dead but that is just my own opinion.

Anthony Emrich @ 8/24/2011 4:52 AM

This is a good article. I will share this with other Officers. Thanks for taking the time to post it. If it happens, I will win!

Chuck Haggard @ 8/24/2011 1:53 PM

Some VERY experienced instructors will advocate taking the fight to the bad guy, as in the SWAT type Groucho walk advance on the threat-shooting on the move tactic.

In the past this was supposed to be a "SWAT only" tactic, but this has also been used too many times on the street in spontaneous street OISs that officers should be taught the tactic.

Taking the fight to the bad guy is not what he expects, and it most often really jacks up their OODA loop.

The Pete Solis shooting incident is a great example of this sort of thing.


Your comments are not at all useful to this discussion.

Det. Sgt. M.C. Williams @ 8/24/2011 8:27 PM

Excellent article. Will post link to same in this week's newsletter (will be posted on Yes -- we are called to run TO the battle and not away. Well done.

BMan145 @ 8/30/2011 11:55 AM

Excellent article. The department I came from uses the "take the fight to the bad guy" mind set. Cover is a good thing but the MOST important tool in a gun fight will be the ABSOLUTE determination to END THE THREAT! Putting steel ON TARGET can only happen with a consistent history of proper gun fight training. I'm not talking about marksmanship...anyone can be taught to punch tight groups. It's altogether another matter to have the Warrior Mindset! Let's be Sheepdogs...not Sheep!!

Ima Leprechaun @ 8/30/2011 5:28 PM

From the mid 1970's onward basic recruits have been taught to retreat to a better position to assess the situation if they are caught off guard and told it is a proper response for suvivability. So tactical teaching has been around for quite a while. But Police Administrations take ANY retreat as "cowardice" and will use it in diciplinary actions against the officer, if he lives. So the officer is caught between proper training and improper leadership which in turn doesn't help the officer one bit. I am for survivability and a survivable response from a position of strength and the heck with what the administration thinks they aren't being shot at. Charging down the guns with nobody knowing where you are and no plan to survive, you are just plain stupid.

Det. Sgt. M.C. Williams @ 8/31/2011 8:00 PM

Ima Lep: They didn't teach us to "retreat" in my academy and I don't teach that when I instruct. Yes, we teach cover, concealment and good tactics but we MUST NOT sit around "waiting" or overtly running away when others are in danger. We take the fight to's our call and our charge. We are God's servant-warriors -- His ministers for good and a terror against evil (Romans 13:1-7), not sheep trying to get away from the wolf. Just sayin!

Charles @ 10/31/2012 5:58 AM

Infantry training 101: Do not charge straight ahead into oncoming gunfire. The first bullets to leave a barrel have the right of way. You will never see Marines running towards bullets and shooting back at the same time. Bounding over watch/ fire team rushes are used to move from cover to cover into a better tactical position to gain the advantage.

I understand a lot of situations put us solo, and we can't single- handed provide a base of fire, rear security, cover the bad guy's egress route, and assault from a flank. That is, however, the reason you need a 3:1 or 4:1 (depending on your rear security concerns) ratio to effectively assault an embedded position.

What's the difference between getting shot in the front of the vest or the back? How about the head? You don't get any less shot either way.

Can I shoot and move straight forward? Sure I can. Why would I want to when I can shoot and move laterally to cover or forward diagonally? Make the bad guy have to at least work for a hit. If i go forward, his target only gets bigger and he has the advantage of being stationary while Im moving and shooting. If im moving sideways, he at least has to lead me some. I could also prone or supine and return fire until I win or the other participant disengages and removes himself from my threat. Make myself a smaller target if I'm going to shoot stationary.

You should not turn around and move away unless there is no other option. Even then, you can turn and move away diagonally while returning fire one-handed. Never ever try to walk backwards while facing forward.

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