The Killing Mindset

Recently the FBI published a study entitled "Violent Encounters: A study of Felonious Assaults on Our Nation's Law Enforcement Officers," which found that criminal gang members and other felons practice their skills with firearms more often and shoot more accurately then the police officers they try to kill.

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"If the sword is always sheathed, it will become rusty, the blade will dull, and people will think as much of its owner." —Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai

Recently the FBI published a study entitled "Violent Encounters: A study of Felonious Assaults on Our Nation's Law Enforcement Officers," which found that criminal gang members and other felons practice their skills with firearms more often and shoot more accurately then the police officers they try to kill. The research was conducted and summarized in a report by clinical forensic psychologist Dr. Anthony Pinizzotto and criminal investigative instructor Ed Davis. Both are now with the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit. Also contributing to this study was Charles Miller III, coordinator of LEO's Killed and Assaulted statistical program. An in-depth article covering the findings of this study was published by the Force Science Research Center; it is recommended reading.

The research carefully studied over 800 violent encounters and selected 40 incidents involving 43 offenders, including 13 who were admitted gang members and drug dealers. The 40 selected incidents also involved 50 law enforcement officers. Both the cops and the bad guys were interviewed in detail and crime scenes were visited to glean valuable information in understanding these lethal encounters.

Although I have encountered many of the circumstances described in this study during my 30+ years as a gang assault investigator with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, it was shocking to read just how much of a disadvantage the average officer has over the felons who would attempt to kill him. A great number of the gang homicides and drive-by shootings that I have investigated involved lethal shots to the victim's head, which means that they shoot pretty good, even from a moving car. I have seen many photographs of White, Hispanic, African American, and Asian gang members practicing their weapons skills "at the range."

Judging by this photographic evidence, Asian Gangs conduct the most training and preparation for a firefight. Video captured in an Asian Boyz case a few years ago shows the gang repeatedly firing at two 55-gallon drums from two moving vehicles. A follow vehicle would then stop and a designated shooter would run up to the drums and at close range administer the "Todome" (Japanese) or "Coup de Grace" (French), simulating the killing of any surviving victims.

In a Los Angeles FOX 11 TV news story, white gang members from the PEN1 Death Squad are seen practicing with pistols and shotguns on targets meant to simulate African Americans.

In contrast to the preparation undertaken by gang members, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department requires all sworn deputies to qualify at the shooting range only once every quarter. Many deputies have difficulty meeting this minimal test. Thirty years ago, we were required to qualify every month. While many police officers in my era were hunters, had military experience, or were otherwise familiar with shooting firearms, this is not true today. In those former days our LASD range had reloading equipment; we utilized the empty brass, and produced cheep practice ammunition. The range staff encouraged us to use this ammunition in frequent and extended trips to the range for hours of recreational shooting. Today LASD deputies are pushed through the standard qualification course in assembly line fashion. This regimented punching holes in paper is not the kind of preparation you need to survive a "close encounter of the worst kind," and good luck finding a safe place to shoot for recreation in the Los Angeles area.

According to the FBI's Violent Encounters study, some offenders admitted to regularly carrying weapons at the ages of nine to 12 years old. On average, the offenders were 17 years old when they first were armed "most of the time." Gang members were highlighted as starting especially young. Surprisingly, almost 40 percent of the offenders had some type of formal firearms training, primarily from the military. 80 percent reported that they "regularly practiced with handguns," averaging about 23 practice sessions a year. That means that they practiced on average six times more often than LASD requires of its deputies. But the average victim officer averaged even less: only about 14 hours of sidearm training and only 2.5 qualifications in a year. Only six of the 50 officers reported regular practice outside of the department.

Before they even attacked officers in the studied incidents, more than 40 percent of the felons admitted to being involved in prior shooting confrontations. Ten of the offenders were described as "street combat veterans" with five or more "criminal fire fights" in their lifetimes­ all of them from inner city drug-trafficking environments. How many have you experienced?

One of the "street combat veterans" said he was only 14 years old when he was first shot on the street and "about 18 before a cop shot me." Another reported that getting shot was a pivotal experience, "because I made up my mind no one was gonna shoot me again." One offender talked about practice and motivation, he fired 12 rounds striking the victim officer four times. The officer fired seven rounds, all of them were misses.

In general, all of the offenders were more successful in getting rounds on target than their officer counterparts. 70 percent of the offenders got at least one hit and only 40 percent of the officers scored a hit. Ed Davis pointed out that the offenders in all but three incidents fired first catching the officer by surprise. This put the officers at an immediate disadvantage. Ten of the victim officers were impaired by their wounds in attempting to return fire.

The most disturbing aspect of the report is the disparity of the mindsets held by the offenders and the officers. Having had many encounters with career offenders and prison gang members, I knew that this was an important factor, but underestimated its effects. The Violent Encounters study pointed out many of the victim officers had experienced an average of four "hazardous situations where they had the legal authority" to use deadly force "but chose not to shoot." The researchers concluded, "It appears clear that none of these officers were willing to use deadly force against an offender if other options were available."

On the other hand, the offender's mindset was totally different. Davis said that the study team "did not realize how cold blooded the younger generation of offender is. They have been exposed to killing after killing, they fully expect to get killed and they don't hesitate to shoot anybody, including a police officer. They can go from riding down the street saying what a beautiful day it is, to killing in the next instant." The repot states, "Offenders typically displayed no moral or ethical restraints in using firearms… In fact the street combat veterans survived by developing a shoot first mentality."

Got big plans for this weekend? Watching the football or baseball game on your new HD television? Thinking about a night out with the boys or girls? Maybe you are planning a round of golf? Well, maybe you should listen to Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman when he says, "Piss on Golf!" Practice your martial arts skills, especially your shooting skills. Practice and prepare for that bad day, that violent encounter.

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Sergeant (Ret.)
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