Critical Space

Law enforcement personnel have known for decades that the majority of gunfights involving police occur inside 10 feet. Critical Space shooting techniques take into account the close proximity officers must operate in with both citizens and suspects.

Photo: Panteao ProductionsPhoto: Panteao Productions

This article is adapted from Spaulding's new video, "Critical Space Combative Pistol," available from Panteao Productions as a DVD or via streaming to Panteao subscribers.

Law enforcement personnel have known for decades that the majority of gunfights involving police occur inside 10 feet. There is nothing surprising about this, really. If you take a moment to consider police officers' "real world of work," they do not kill the enemy like the military; they seek out criminals and take them into custody. This is a huge difference.

The military is always looking for ways to increase distance, while law enforcement officers will always have to close in with those they confront, interview, arrest, and handcuff. Even common citizen contacts will be conducted within the interested parties' earshot, as interaction with police is something most want to keep private. Can you imagine the uproar if officers stood back 10 or 15 yards and yelled their commands? "Sir! Give me your driver's license! We have a report you are flashing yourself at children!" Yep, that would be a real crowd pleaser.

Hand-to-Hand Combat

Truth be told, as a law enforcement officer you are far more likely to become involved in a confrontation requiring less than deadly force. While it might offer comfort to think of every threat faced as a gun problem, this is not reality. Yes, there are suspect/officer factors that come into play like age, gender, skill level, or disabilities that may make your gun relevant, but the majority of contacts will require repelling an attack without shooting. This means having some skill in open-hand techniques, or what is more realistically called hand-to-hand combat.

In reality, it is quite possible open-hand skills will be necessary even if shooting is "reasonable based on the circumstances at hand." At extreme close quarters you will have to "create" the space needed to deploy your firearm. A gun will only be useful if you have the time to use it without deflection…time=distance, distance=time, and time=prevail.

Critical Space Draw

Your draw stroke should be the same physical action regardless of the contact distance involved. Keep in mind, a fast draw is not spastic-looking muscle manipulations; it is an exercise in lack of unnecessary motion...better known as smoothness. While any number of body locations can be used to carry or conceal a handgun, strong-side belt-mounted carry will always be the most physiologically efficient, as the gun is mounted on the same side as the shoulder, arm, elbow, and hand that will draw and direct it to the threat.

Consider the physical action required to draw a handgun. The shoulder rotates, the elbow folds, and the hand travels to the handgun, wrapping around it in a solid shooting grip (while releasing any retention devices) that must not vary from the moment it is drawn until it is returned to the holster. It should also be understood this must take no more than two seconds regardless of what position the body is in, which could be anywhere from standing to kneeling to supine or anywhere in between. Additionally, the shooter might be involved in intense open hand combat as the draw occurs, which makes me wonder why anyone would want to place their service pistol anywhere other than their strong side.

In close confines, reaching across the body to a shoulder or crossdraw rig places the arm in a position it can be easily be fouled by an attacker. Also, the gun is pointed in a direction that is potentially more accessible to the attacker than the wearer.

The Critical Space Draw is an essential skill much like grip, trigger control, or body position. It should also be understood the draw should be the same regardless of the distance to your attacker. It doesn't matter if the critical space is 2.5 feet or 25 yards.

Training to Protect Bystanders

Another consideration when engaging at critical space distances are non-hostiles that can enter the battle space…do you take such incursions into consideration during your training? Moving in and around people who are panicked and scared by the fight occurring before their eyes happens more often than many believe.

To prepare for such a situation, "cluttering" the range with targets designated as non-hostile and making officers shoot in and around them adds an interesting dynamic to the training environment while also offering some interesting lessons like experiencing "tunnel vision." You'll find that many officers will focus on the threat target and not even see the non-hostiles. Keep in mind this type of training is different than your typical hostage target scenario where the threat target down range has a non-hostile standing in front of him or her. When working in and around non-hostiles, 3D targets work best and should be spread out around the range with the officers moving around them to shoot.

Officers should be "pushed" with verbal commands like "Move, move, move…They are killing people!" to move rapidly but in control, which is harder than it sounds. This adds a bit of stress/duress to the environment. Jostling the officer as he or she moves (holding onto the shirt or jacket and the shoulders while standing behind the officer and pulling him or her back and forth) can simulate panicked people bumping into the officer as they try to flee the battle space in a panic.

Shooting Supine or Face Down

Ending up in an unconventional shooting position is also a part of critical space engagements. Several times during my law enforcement career I began a confrontation with a suspect on my feet only to find myself flat on my back after being violently shoved.

If the suspect drew a weapon, would you be able to draw and shoot while lying down? Will your security holster allow you to draw when in such a position? How do you get quickly back up? Do you have the physical capability to do so? Are you fit enough for such a situation? Abdominal strength will play a role here…do you have it? These are things any officer needs to know before facing this situation in the street.

Being attacked while on the ground can be the most dangerous. The following can help you get your gun in the fight quickly.

If you find yourself needing to shoot while supine (on your back), first identify the location of the threat. It could be anywhere around you in a 360-degree environment and you might be disoriented after hitting the ground. Next, use your strong side foot to push your body up or over enough to get your hand on your holstered handgun. Secure a solid shooting grip and release any retention devices. If the holster requires a rearward movement to release the pistol, make sure you give the gun enough room to clear the holster. Now you're ready to draw the gun and direct it straight to the threat, much like a punch. Make sure the threat is clear of non-hostiles. Keep in mind this might require you to take the gun over your head to the rear. Be careful not to unnecessarily "muzzle" non-threats.

If you need to shoot and you're face down, first identify the location of the threat, keeping in mind it could be anywhere around you. Roll over onto your non-gun side to make room to draw the holstered handgun. Punch it in the direction of the threat and engage if clear of non-hostiles. If time permits, get your arms tucked under your upper torso and then push your body off the ground much like doing a push-up. Once on your knees, engage the threat in the same fashion as you would standing.

Critical Space shooting techniques take into account the close proximity officers must operate in with both citizens and suspects. Keep in mind it won't always be just you and them…it might be you, them, and a bunch of citizens who were nothing more than in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is your obligation to protect innocent bystanders while you fight for your own life.

My advice to officers is stay alert, stay safe, and check 360 often.

Dave Spaulding is a law enforcement instructor with 36 years of law enforcement and federal security experience. He was a founding member of his agency's SWAT Team and spent 12 years as its training officer.

This article is adapted from Spaulding's new video, "Critical Space Combative Pistol," available from Panteao Productions as a DVD or via streaming to Panteao subscribers.

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