June 2005 incident
A Yuma, Ariz., police officer takes cover behind a vehicle at a call of shots fired.
FEATURED IN TRAINING
The handguns we carry are not ornamental. For us, the handgun is a tool to be used when we are faced with the actions of the most dangerous criminals. Every officer must be competent under extreme stress. In truth, the majority of officers haven’t mastered the most basic skills that will make them effective shooters and fighters.
Many departments have no training system, only a requirement that officers “qualify.” Qualification may be as simple as firing 30–50 rounds standing still, in full light, in front of an unmoving piece of paper, with no induced stress, no verbalization and no realistic time limitations. Question: What are these officers qualified for? To fight the next piece of paper they encounter?
This isn’t what a street fight is like. What we’re doing is confusing a most basic level of mechanical firearms use with the most advanced physical demands of an armed confrontation. There’s no equivalence, and those who hold to this standard do so in the hope that it “won’t happen here.” But it can and will.
Example: In the 1970s, a WWII Pacific Campaign vet who was a police lieutenant in a town near me—let’s call him Jack—stood in line at a grocery store counter off duty. Suddenly an armed robber shoved a .38 snub revolver into his side and took Jack hostage. Jack pushed the robber away as he drew his Model 39 S&W 9 mm. The offender fired all five rounds at the cop at arm’s length. None of the rounds struck Jack, who returned multiple rounds—all hits—and killed the gunman. Jack was a man of great experience and knowledge earned in fierce combat.
This isn’t an isolated example. Numerous gunfights have been reported in which handguns are emptied—by officers and bad guys—at very short distances with no hits. Why? Because of the lack of movement, stress, low light and unrealistic training.
Need to Train
Doing our firearms training for agencies in the Chicago area, we work with our state-supported law enforcement training group MTU #3/North East Multi Regional Training. In recent years, we have combined Henk Iverson’s Strike Tactical Level 1 advanced pistol skills course (www.StrikeTactical.com) with our basic shooting skills class. Iverson has led the way for us in defining the reality of armed confrontation. His knowledge and experience have stripped our discussion down to, “Would you really do that in a fight?” If so, prove it. Don’t tell me; show me.
What do we do? Day one, we start with an explanation of what police officers face during violent incidents. Many officers have no experience with violence and haven’t been in a fight of any type. It’s essential that we instill in every officer the will to overcome and win in any fight.
But we also caution that a time will come when you can’t prevail with what you face; fast, purposeful movement out of the line of the threat or the area of danger is essential. When I ask officers how they feel about the word retreat, universally, they say it’s synonymous with weakness or cowardice. Yet retreat may be exactly what will save their lives. So we change the word retreat to “advance in another direction at a high rate of speed.” When I ask if that’s OK, they smile and say that makes sense.
We then ask about physical skills and body dynamics: “What’s the stance in a gunfight?” A free-flowing discussion follows to illustrate that there’s no classic stance, because fights involve movement. Example: Iverson opens his folding knife and extends the tip of the blade forward. For safety purposes, he then closes the blade but keeps his arm and knife handle extended. A student officer stands directly in line of Iverson’s arm as Iverson moves forward in a simulated attack. He asks: “Would you stand where you are as the knife closes on you?” “No way!” says the officer, as they move laterally off the line of attack. Then, asks Iverson, “Why would you stand unmoving in the path of a bullet?” Answer: Officers haven’t been trained to move. They are forced to remain within the shooting booth on the range for “safety purposes.”
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