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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.

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