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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

I recognize there are a ton of tactical gurus out there that will disagree with me about pressing the fight. But I'm OK with that.

This is not about the tactic as much as the decision-making process. The tactic that should never change is to win the fight, by whatever means you can. The sooner it ends the better it is for you and everyone else.

My argument is about what to do when the fight starts. There are opinions ad nauseum as to what to do before or after. This is about what to do when you are in a gunfight, not what happens before or after. The sooner it is over the more likely you will have the time to have that discussion with all the tactical gurus you can find.

Case By Case

Don't get me wrong. It is not inappropriate for you to be trained to seek cover. I contend it is inappropriate for you to be trained to "always" seek cover, regardless of the situation.

If a pattern is established in your training that as soon as the bullets fly you should "run to cover" we are not training you to win, we are training you to run. Sometimes running to cover may do nothing more than get you shot in the back.

Sometimes the best way to survive is to end the fight and that may not involve moving to cover. Also, running away to fight another day just may get your partner killed next week or 10 minutes later. Someone willing to kill cops today will be willing to do so tomorrow or next week so you need to stop that from occurring. That may be as simple as containing them, it may be as nasty as killing them, but either way the problem needs solving now and you are the one to do it.

Sometimes it just flat out sucks to be a cop. You are always behind the curve. That means you may be close to the threat, you may not. There may be cover, there may not be. You may have time, you may not. It may be more lethal to go to cover than to advance on the threat. If it were always the same it would be easy, but it isn't. To quote Clint Smith, "A gunfight is not what you make it, it simply is what it is."

How well you are able to deliberately act once that fight starts will determine how it ends. Training you to win gunfights means you need to be taught to act and you need to be given the tools necessary to act given any situation.

Is it inappropriate for you to be trained to seek cover to reload? Of course not. But I think your trainers are presenting you with problems if they train you to "always" seek cover to reload.

And don't use shooting competitions for examples of how you should be trained to shoot in combat. Shooting competitions are games. They have rules, and you can make all the rules you want. That is great, I play the games too and love them. But it is important to recognize that shooting competitions are games where you test your skills and have fun. Not all of them are realistic, nor are the tactics necessarily viable in a fight.

Law enforcement training is about gunfighting, not games. There is no timer, no rules, and the winner is breathing and the loser often is not. I prefer to win the fight and discuss tactics afterwards.

If you have been trained to "always" seek cover when the bullets fly, that is what you are always going to do. You need to train to win, and that may mean moving to cover, or it may not.

You also need to be able to reload under fire, with or without cover. When you are out of bullets in a gunfight, you have to reload your gun. You need to know how to do that, and fast. You may have to reload while moving to cover or while moving toward the threat. You may also have to reload in your car, under your car, or behind a tree.

You do not get to pick where the fight is going to be; you don't even get to decide whether to join the fight. All you get to do is win it, lose it, or set up a draw once it starts. You don't know until you are in the fight what will work.

This is why it is so critical that your firearms instructors take their jobs seriously. Teaching you the skills needed to win a gunfight is not simple, and it requires great effort and thought. Your instructors cannot simply teach "one thing" and "one mindset." They have to prepare you to win a fight and that means hard work for you, and even harder work for them.

Dangerous Patterns

Over the last few years a dangerous trend has emerged. The focus on firearms training in law enforcement is often about the latest equipment, or latest tactic. These should enhance your abilities, not determine your decisions.

Tools and tactics should allow you to use your mind to apply what is needed to survive. Scientific studies of late make this clear. It is the ability to observe the problem and act that is critical. It is not the tactic but the ability to apply it that is critical.

On its own a tactic may or may not be a problem, but if it "patterns" the wrong mindset, it can be. If you train that "all gunfights occur at seven yards," you are not prepared to win when that fight occurs at 25 yards. If you are trained to "always move to cover," you are not prepared to win when no such option exists. When you are trained to always "create distance," you are not prepared to fight at a close distance to the threat when that is what is required.

Sometimes the best thing to do in training is break the pattern and think. Clearly you must learn how to shoot, what to shoot, and when to shoot. You must also know how to apply those things in a real gunfight. Once the shooting starts your training must have prepared you to win the gunfight, otherwise all the rest is meaningless.

Lt. Dave Bahde retired from the South Salt Lake (Utah) PD and is an experienced SWAT team leader and firearms instructor.

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