Editor's note: View our related photo gallery, "Stopping Gun Grabs: 3 Scenarios."
When you make contact with any suspect, there is always a firearm involved. It's on you. And it can be turned against you.
Every year the FBI publishes a report titled "Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted." This detailed document gives the law enforcement community valuable information about the circumstances and trends in assaults on officers. In 2008, 10 percent of officers killed with a firearm were killed with their own handgun. In the past few months, Officer Ryan Bonaminio of the Riverside (Calif.) Police Department and Dep. Sam Brownlee of the Weld County (Colo.) Sheriff's Department were both killed when they lost control of their duty firearms.
Concepts and Techniques
When asked to demonstrate weapon retention, most officers place both hands on their holstered handgun and move their hips violently from side to side. This technique is good. But before you are able to react in this manner, the suspect can bridge the open space between you, lower his shoulders, and extend his hands to touch your holstered firearm. So why don't officers use a technique that provides a faster reaction? The short answer is they were trained not to.
In many academies, weapon retention is taught by an instructor who says, "The key to weapon retention is to keep your handgun in the holster. Now, let your training partner get close and put his or her hands on your gun, then react." This type of training engrains into your muscle memory the concept that you have to wait until the suspect gets a hand on your weapon before you can perform a weapon retention technique. This type of training ignores the concept that you should not let a suspect get anywhere near your duty belt in the first place.
There should be a balance between teaching techniques and concepts. The basic concept is to not let anyone near your gun. If someone does get near your gun, push the person away and prepare to use one of your weapons. If you cannot push him or her away, keep your weapons on your belt and out of the suspect's hands. Teaching concepts provide the why, distance provides the when, and techniques provide the how.
In training, officers often say, "If they go for my gun, I will just shoot them." But what if you do not have time? Drawing and accurately firing a handgun takes time, which you might not have. A common reference point for reaction time is 1.5 seconds: the time it takes most human beings to realize there is a serious problem. It takes the average officer another 1.5 seconds to draw a firearm and fire the first shot.
How much damage could a suspect inflict in the 3.0 seconds it takes for an officer to recognize, react, and fire the first shot? I have seen many mixed martial artists knocked out in less time. Even an extremely slow runner could get to an officer before the officer can get their first shot off.
A five-year FBI study, "Violent Encounters: A Study of Felonious Assaults on Our Nation's Law Enforcement Officers," confirms that victim officers hit the suspect only 40 percent of the time in deadly encounters. Additionally, if the suspect gets to the officer before the officer gets his firearm out of the holster, the officer will have at least one hand down. Having one hand down when fighting can have devastating consequences.
Law enforcement trainers need to take a good look at how we teach and train for weapon retention. A layered training approach first addresses concepts, then focuses on four areas: defending with space and angles, defending with the legs, defending with the arms, and keeping the firearm secured in the holster. This concept of firearm retention has been referred to as "defense in depth."
Open Space and Angles
From a modern firebase in Afghanistan to an ancient castle, the first layer of defense is a large open area from which the defender can see the enemy coming and engage them from a distance. This open space concept can also work for individual officers.[PAGEBREAK]
You will have a better field of view and more time to react to any threat posed by a dangerous suspect, if you keep the suspect at a distance. Although every situation is different, a good rule of thumb for a minimum distance is five feet. Greater distance is better; however, at five feet you can deploy most of the common weapons on your duty belt, including your TASER, baton, chemical agents, and firearms. Space equals time. Time equals better decision making. Better decision making increases your chance for victory.
One under taught aspect of weapon retention is angles. When talking with a suspect, it is a good idea to angle to his blind spot.
Tell the suspect to look forward and stand in his blind spot in a field interrogation position (balanced stance with your firearm back). The suspect will be forced to move to engage you, if he is intent on an assault. This movement will give you valuable reaction time that you would not have if you were standing in front of the suspect. With so many people training in mixed martial arts, wresting, and jiu-jitsu, you may be surprised by the speed with which you can be taken to the ground and controlled, especially if you are in front of the suspect.
Defending with Legs
Legs are longer and stronger than arms and are also closer to the suspect. By using your front foot, you can keep your gun side back and away from an aggressor.
One effective technique for using the leg is the front foot push. Target the suspect's pelvic region, including the lower stomach, hips, groin, quadriceps, and knees.
Raise your front foot as high as it comfortably goes, then push down as if you are stepping on the gas pedal of a car. By using less of a kicking motion and more of a downward push, you can deliver great force while remaining balanced.
Defending with Arms
By simply pushing the suspect away, you can keep the suspect away from your weapon.
Place your hands under the suspect's chin and force the aggressor's head back, directing the suspect's eyes away from you. An added benefit to this technique is that the suspect will be forced onto his heels and will be less mobile. This pushing motion can be combined with moving off line in a circle step motion to force the suspect to turn to engage you.
The Classic Approach
Sometimes the oldies are the goodies. In the case of weapon retention, the classic two-handed weapon retention technique still saves lives.
This simple move starts by placing the palm of your dominant hand on the top of the holster trapping the firearm inside the holster and keeping the suspect from removing the firearm. Almost simultaneously, bend your knees and drop your weight. Next, place your off hand palm quickly on top of the dominant hand so that both hands work in unison to keep the firearm in the holster. Move your hips violently away from the suspect using leverage to strip the suspect's hands off of the holster.
A common error many officers make when doing this technique is to not protect their entire duty belt. They lift up their non-dominant elbow giving the suspect access to other weapons on the duty belt such as a TASER, baton, or chemical agents.
When doing this technique, keep both of your elbows close to your body. This will make it difficult for the suspect to take any weapons from your belt.
None of these techniques are complicated; all are based on gross motors skills that can be performed under critical stress incidents.
Far more important is to remember the concept of creating tactical distance using the gross motor skills of pushing.
Put more simply, push the crook away from you as soon and as fast as you can using any part of your body you can do it with. Once you have done that, use the appropriate force option to win the confrontation. Don't let them get their hands on your weapons. It is all about going home at the end of your watch alive.
Mike "Ziggy" Siegfried is a detective, academy instructor, and use-of-force subject matter expert with the San Bernardino County (Calif.) Sheriff's Department.