Photo: Mike Siegfried.
Editor's Note: Please view our photo gallery, "Using Vehicles for Concealment and Cover," for extended coverage.
On Sept. 6, 2009, veteran Kansas City (Mo.) PD officers Dean McGinness and Eric Turner responded to a minor traffic collision. A driver later identified as 36-year-old Exae Chavez-Gutierrez hit a tree in a local park. It looked to be a run-of-the mill call. When the officers arrived, however, everything went sideways. And a vehicle kept everything from going south.
Officer McGinness arrived first and stopped his patrol car near Gutierrez, who was walking away from his vehicle in an odd manner. McGinness angled his vehicle in a tactical manner, providing a barrier between himself and Gutierrez. As soon as McGinness got out of the vehicle, Gutierrez started shooting at him. McGinness returned fire from his driver's side door, but he moved back and fell. He was able to get to the trunk area and return fire from a kneeling shooting position.
Officer Turner saw this gun battle taking place as he arrived. He saw McGinness fall and thought his partner had been shot. Turner immediately engaged Gutierrez and then ran to the rear of Officer McGinness's patrol vehicle, using the unit as cover and concealment. McGinness shot from a kneeling shooting position and Turner shot from a crouching shooting position. Gutierrez died in the gun battle. A toxicology report later confirmed Gutierrez had alcohol and marijuana in his system.
In this shooting, both officers used a patrol vehicle for concealment and cover. From start to finish, they made decisions that increased their survivability and in the end they both made it home unharmed. Well done. This shooting reaffirms the reality that we may be forced to use vehicles for cover and concealment. Taking some time to review the concepts of cover, concealment, and shooting fundamentals is time well spent.
VIDEO: Kansas City Shootout
Every well-trained cop can explain the difference between cover and concealment. One common summary I have heard is "Cover stops the bullets that are being fired at you and concealment hides you from the suspect but does not stop bullets." But effectively using this knowledge in the heat of a gunfight isn't always easy. For concealment to work, the suspect must have no idea you are there. This is more difficult to achieve because generally when you can see the suspect, the suspect can potentially see you.
The other issue with concealment is that once the firearm battle begins, you are exposed. When thinking about cover, sometimes we forget that the combat conditions may change. An assailant may start the conflict shooting a small caliber handgun. But, what if he starts firing a large caliber rifle round? You may find out that your cover just turned into concealment and that you need to do some moving-quick.
During training, I have watched many officers stand up and use a vehicle for what they later described as cover. They exposed half of their body by standing and shooting, negating the advantage of cover and concealment. I watched other officers shooting over the roof of vehicles with their chests on the vehicle's door glass. When I asked them, "What cover or concealment does vehicle glass provide?" they usually just looked at me and said, "I know better than that." I knew they did, but why did they make critical errors that could have gotten them shot? The conclusion: stress, and lack of technique and training.
The truth is there are few areas on a vehicle that offer the least bit of cover. Some areas that do provide some cover are the engine block, rims, ballistic doors (if the vehicle is equipped with them), and not much else. By using kneeling and crouching shooting positions you can make better use of the cover and concealment a vehicle has to offer (photo 1).