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Communicate, Move, Shoot

July 01, 2001  |  by Clint Smith


"Move" or movement is the second principle of the three and its place in order does not deviate from the military sequence. In reality, many daily activities of police officers involve movement. By radio or computer dispatch, officers move to problem areas.

Upon arriving at the scene the officer generally dismounts and may move toward the problem. If the complainant advises that her drunk husband is upstairs, abusing the children, the officer proceeds into the house and up the stairs, down the hallway and into a bedroom. Sounds like movement. What do you think?

Officers making traffic stops approach people who are sitting inside lightly armored vehicles while the officers themselves are generally protected by only light personal armor and a uniform shirt. There's no getting away from this "movement" concept. The police can't help themselves.

Even if we want to move away from an armed threat while asking for compliance, we can't. "Police. Drop the weapon; show me your hands" and if the threat complies and takes a spread-eagle position, an officer is required to approach the threat for purposes of handcuffing and closure. A great example of this forced movement is the video of Los Angeles SWAT officers approaching the formerly rifle-armed second suspect is the North Hollywood bank robbery shoot-out.

The L.A. officers did it and did it well but it's not really all that exciting in actual application. It's a daily routine for street cops. Movement is required as part of an officer's daily program. This movement can be to approach, to cuff, to withdraw to protective cover/concealment, to get target acquisition or even to move out of the line of incoming fire (always a good idea). Most active shootings find officers and suspects both moving and usually displaying less-than-sterling marksmanship as the inevitable result.

Everyone reading this knows the best way to achieve optimum marksmanship is to shoot from a stationary position at a non-moving target. The problem is that real-world shootings are not generally cooperative along these lines. It won't be fin and it certainly won't be easy, but officers must be able to hit moving targets while simultaneously moving to protective cover/concealment, away from a threat that has gone from ready-to-cuff to gunfight mode.

Remember, proximity deletes skill. Your opponent doesn't need to be good; he only needs to be "lucky" if he's close. Officer often provide their opponents that "luck" when they close the ground to cuff or engage in witty conversation. Check the stats on the number of officers killed in the category of "effecting arrest." It's lots.


The third principle is "shoot" or shooting and is probably the least used of the three principles. For many years, law enforcement standard operating procedures used terms like "shoot to kill" and "shoot to wound." Then political correctness (and law suits) appeared and presto, "shoot to stop" was suddenly the by-word.

Actually, "shoot to stop" wasn't politically correct.  It was, in plain fact, just correct. When officers shoot at a knife-wielding suspect, in all honesty, few really care if the suspect dies. No cop wants to get sliced or see an innocent bystander shredded by the knot-head with the knife.

Officers don't care about the suspect's clothing color, skin color, ethnic background, religious preference, if he came from a broken home or if his dog was killed by a car when he was a child. They just want him to drop the knife, by verbal compliance or compliance by gunfire and it's the threat's choice.

I won't even go into the firearms training or techniques involved here. It's enough to know that often firearms and firearms training in the police community are a lot like fire trucks. Nobody thinks much about them until their house is on fire and then they want one now and it had better be good.

Although these three fundamental principles of conflict are not new and not always that exciting, with planning and a little practice they could still come in handy someday. You know, that day your dispatcher won't answer your call and the car computer won't "boot up"?

One last point to think on: It's very hard to acquire new fighting skills in the middle of a fight.

Clint Smith is the founder and president of Thunder Ranch Inc., a former police officer and combat-wounded Vietnam veteran. He's also a pretty good communicator.

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