Clint Smith offering firearms training at Thunder Ranch. Photo via Clint Smith.
Contemporary law enforcement becomes more sophisticated daily, with sweeping advances in technology. From DNA used in crime scene investigations to computers with "mega-rams" dashing information to the onboard vehicle computers just the tip of the 'berg.
Today, the issues concerning the use of lethal force and basic filed tactics are often softened by the introduction of new types of technology, like less-lethal munitions. These are designed to reduce the numbers of lives lost by persons displaying "poor judgment" while brandishing knives, waving guns and holding hostages. Officers now have options available that were — just a few years ago — just ideas in Buck Rogers' mind.
In all candor, some of these less-than lethal tools and their proposed applications are "good concepts mugged by a gang of facts" and often entice us to rely heavily on them to work. In reality, the less-than lethal tools do not always perform as expected. Not to be dismayed, though; many things often aren't what they were cracked up to be. All of which brings us handily to a point where we should consider some basic fundamentals about all this conflict that we seem to be facing with distressing regularity. Technology is nice, but what if it fails?
There is an old military axiom that declares we should be able to "shoot, move and communicate" to be effective in conflict. The military approach, of course, means what it says, literally. To "shoot" actually means shooting, but more importantly, also hitting the threat since only hits may stop the threat. "Move" or moving simply means to maneuver to a position of cover or concealment or to a place where one could potentially get better target acquisition (if I can see the threat I have a better chance of hitting it). "Communicate" or communications to the military means to communicate with each other from a unit-to-unit standpoint and to have communication access to supporting fires that can be brought to bear against threats. To the military, these are remarkably sound principles.
Could these principles apply to current law enforcement officers or operations?
Actually, yes, but in a slightly different way. By developing these principles even further, they can broaden the base of knowledge of law enforcement officers and their ability to function more effectively in use-of-force encounters. The principles first need to be revised, however, not changed. This revision would more appropriately fit the needs of the law enforcement community.
By adding these three simple concepts, cops can more effectively protect themselves from not only injury or death, but also from the specter of litigation in some cases.
The first order of business? We need to reverse the order of application. "Communications" will be first. You are going to talk to more people than you are going to shoot. Verbal compliance should be programmed into all training forums. Stress a command-presence voice with a minimal message: "Police. Drop the weapon."
First of all, we told them who we are. By expressing the commands in a loud voice we have made an attempt to communicate to the threat to stop doing what he/she is doing. The threat may not stop doing what they are doing but any other officers or witnesses in the immediate area will have heard of the officer's request and could, at a later date, confirm it. Say, for example, to a grand jury.
A couple of points of interest here, though. Officers should not use profanity in their compliance request (although we've all heard it and probably done it). Whatever is said could be repeated to that same grand jury. We may already be in enough trouble without having the officer's limited vocabulary become an issue to the blue-haired old ladies on the jury.
The officer's request to drop weapons should be just that: "Drop the weapon." Don't complicate the issue by using drop the baseball bat, knife, pipe or curling iron. It's enough that the officer declare, "Drop the weapon," thereby qualifying whatever the threat has in their hands as a weapon. This brief address could be expounded on slightly to be more fitting: "Police. Drop the weapon and show me your hands."
This approach solves many problems. The officer has told the potential threat who he/she is and that the threat's hands should be clear of weapons and available for visual inspection by the officer. Period.