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Departments : The Winning Edge

Survival is Your Responsibility

Don’t wait for others to train you to react to the dangers of the street.

January 01, 2009  |  by Michael T. Rayburn - Also by this author


Recent "scientific" studies have shown that officer-involved shootings happen very quickly…DUH! One only needs to talk to any officer who has ever been involved in a shooting to figure that out. Did we—and when I say we, I mean law enforcement officers who actually work the street—really need a group of people with Ph.D.s and a bunch of other letters after their names to tell us something we already knew, or at least should have known?

If, as a law enforcement officer, you are not constantly doing research, continually striving to better yourself, and making yourself safer on the street, then you should seek another profession. If you're one of those guys who thinks the department owes you something because you show up for work every day, then let me enlighten you—it's called a paycheck. Past that, they owe you nothing. It is your responsibility to make yourself safer and to constantly strive to do your job better.

Do Your Own Research

Part of your research and self-improvement regimen should delve into the area of officer-involved shootings. Don't rely on your agency's firearms instructors to tell you right from wrong. Because guess what? Sometimes they get it wrong, too. Sometimes they just go through the motions to get their paycheck at the end of the week, as well.

Your safety and well-being on the street depends on you, no one else. It's your responsibility. Take the time to talk to officers who have been involved in shootings and you'll find some alarming trends. A lot of them will tell you they were "taken off guard" or "didn't expect" this person to try to take their life. Listen to them as they tell you how they "didn't have time" to get any type of sight picture with their handgun. Or how they "tried to get a sight picture," but couldn't do it. Listen to them laugh as you ask them about stance, grip, and trigger control.

"Place the middle of the first pad of your index finger on the trigger and slowly squeeze it rearward." Yeah, right! Yet some firearms instructors still teach target shooting skills for combat on the street. Or how about the dreaded "double tap," where you fire two rounds, stop, and assess the situation. Like that is really going to happen as some bad guy on the street unloads a 15-round magazine in your direction.

If you don't have access to officers who have been involved in shootings, then read about these incidents as often as you can. Try to get your hands on first-hand accounts from officers who were involved in shooting incidents. Read reports from the FBI regarding officers assaulted and killed in the line of duty. Get your hands on the Uniform Crime Reports and analyze them.

Shed Some Light on the Subject

As you read these reports, you'll find some alarming trends when it comes to time of day, distances, multiple assailants, etc. You'll find that the majority of officer-involved shootings occur between dusk and dawn, with the vast majority occurring between the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. This means that the majority of these incidents occur in low light environments, yet a number of agencies still don't have their officers practice shooting in low light.

Or, if they do have some type of low light training, it usually consists of having the officer stand static on a firing line, punching holes in a paper target, using one of the myriad of flashlight techniques that are out there. Think about this for just a second: Why have so many different flashlight shooting techniques been developed? Because they don't work out on the street under actual gunfight conditions when we go up against bad guys.

Let me take a guess at what your low-light firearms training consists of. You go to the range where you are shown several different flashlight techniques. You're given a couple of minutes to try each one, and then told to "pick the one you like best" and use that. Some of you may even have a firearms instructor tell you what his or her preference is.

After that, you step up to the firing line and practice shooting using whatever technique you prefer. The problem with these techniques is that they were devised out on the range for active shooters: "Shooters on the firing line, when given the command to FIRE, you'll draw your weapon, get into whatever flashlight technique you prefer, and fire two rounds into the target." Sound familiar to any of you?

With the scenario we just laid out, you are actively shooting. The problem is that we are reactive shooters. We don't go around shooting at people just because we thought they were armed. We have to wait for some type of danger cue and react to it. Hence, we are reactive shooters.

The other problem is that we are not given a sufficient amount of training time to practice a flashlight technique. Years ago the "experts" said it would take 4,000 to 6,000 repetitions to make a tactic intuitive to the officer. Years later, the estimate rose to 6,000 to 8,000, and now some say 8,000 to 10,000 repetitions are required to make a tactic "instinctive" to the officer. In reality, no amount of training time is going to override your instinct to survive. It's just that simple.

If a tactic is too slow, too complicated, or too confusing, then the tactic will not be used under stress. Your brain will automatically override it for one that is easier, quicker, and simpler to perform. Or, the flashlight will not be used at all. In some cases, you may purposefully not want to use your flashlight.

The problem is that sometimes mistakes are made. There have been studies conducted by police organizations in which the officer couldn't tell the difference between a wallet, a cell phone, and a handgun in low light. So some type of additional light source, like your flashlight, is beneficial.

Let me give you a flashlight technique that will work every time, under any condition. Turn the damn light on and point it at whatever you're trying to shoot. Why do we need to complicate things with all these different techniques? I'll say it again. Turn the damn light on and point it at what you're trying to shoot. You don't have to be exact, just as long as you can see the bad guy and what he's doing. If that means that only a portion of the halo around the center beam of the light shines on the bad guy, then so be it. Just as long as you can see the bad guy well enough to acquire and identify the target. In other words, yes he is a bad guy, I can see him, and he does pose a threat.

Practice Makes Better

Besides occurring in low light, you'll also find that the vast majority of officer-involved shootings occur at close distances. Most are at a distance of 21 feet or less. Well over half of all officer-involved shootings occur at five feet or less. Think back to the last incident you were involved in where the "pucker factor" ran a little high. I'm willing to bet you were in close proximity to that person. How much close quarters shooting does your agency practice? Do you practice weapon retention shooting or hip shooting? If not, do you go to the range on your own time to practice these drills?

In one of the FBI's 10-year studies on officers killed and assaulted in the line of duty, they determined that of the cases studied 46 percent of the bad guys were "in the company of others" when they assaulted and killed the officer. Does your firearms training and force-on-force training include multiple-assailant scenarios? If not, do you seek out this training on your own, at your own expense?

If you "can't seem to find the time" or find other excuses for not being able to read these reports, then sit on the sofa and watch a little television. There are a number of programs titled "wildest this" or "wildest that" featuring video taken from an officer's dash-mounted camera. Watch these videos, not only from an entertainment perspective, but from an educational perspective. Look for the visual cues that the suspect gives just before the attack. Pre-attack warning signs are almost always present.

Watch for the suspect to blade his body, clench his fists, and tighten his jaw, just before the attack. Listen to the suspect's repetitive questioning or other attempts at distraction. Watch the suspect's eyes as he sizes you up or gives your weapon a "target glance." Educate yourself to these danger cues and you'll amaze your friends and family as you point out an attack just before it happens. You'll spend half the night convincing them you haven't already seen that episode.

The bottom line here is: Don't rely on other people—Ph.D. or not—to keep you safe on the street. Your survival is your responsibility, no one else's. If I came to you and said that in two weeks I was going to come back and push you off a bridge into the water below, would you learn how to swim? Even if you had to do it on your own time, at your own expense? Or would you wait for someone from the department to teach you how to do it, and hope that they themselves know how to swim?

Don't rely on others to keep you safe. Keep yourself safe, and the others around you will be safe.

Michael T. Rayburn is a 30-year veteran of law enforcement and is currently an adjunct instructor at the Smith & Wesson Academy. He is the author of four books: "Advanced Vehicle Stop Tactics," "Advanced Patrol Tactics," "Combat Gunfighting," and "Combat Shotgun." His instructional video "Instinctive Point Shooting with Mike Rayburn" is a top seller in the law enforcement and combat shooting communities. Rayburn can be reached at www.combatgunfighting.com.

Tags: Officer Safety, Firearms Training, Officer Involved Shootings, Flashlight Techniques, shooting techniques, Winning Edge


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