Legacy of Lakewood: Analysis & Discussion, Part 3

Editor's note: Below is an in-depth analysis of the Lakewood shootings. It's advised that you read Brian McKenna's Officer Down: Legacy of Lakewood before you continue.

Extreme Close-Quarters Armed Attacks
This case highlights the dangers associated with extreme close-quarters armed attacks. Although it's unlikely that Sgt. Renninger or Officer Griswold would have had time to employ any ECQ techniques, it appears that Officer Owens would have significantly improved his chances if he'd used a lethal ECQ technique to stop Clemmons. It's also clear that other officers are dying in wholly unacceptable numbers from ECQ armed attacks. Over 50 percent of the police officers murdered with firearms over the past 20 years were within five feet of their assailants, and nearly 20 percent more were killed at a range of 6-10 feet.10, 11

This isn't surprising when we consider the obstacles to defending against this threat. A large part of the problem is that using a firearm in extreme close quarters is a great deal different than shooting at a distance. In reality, this kind of gun fighting is more like a street brawl than a gunfight. Marksmanship has little to do with winning, and speed is far more important than pinpoint accuracy. In addition, there's considerably more risk of being disarmed and/or shot in the head. These are extremely brutal, fast-moving attacks that often come with little or no warning, and the skills leaned in most police firearms training do little to help defend against them. So again, we must ask why this gravely serious threat appears to have been largely neglected in police training.

Since these attacks are fast moving, ferocious and fraught with unpredictable variables, the countermeasures for responding to them must be immediate, fierce and flexible. To accomplish this, any effective technique should be based upon five core principles that can best be remembered via the acronym REACT:

  • Readiness. No countermeasure, no matter how effective it may otherwise be, will do you much good if you are not ready to use it when needed. Considering the speed at which ECQ attacks occur, you must be mentally prepared to react immediately whenever you approach anyone on the street. Learn a technique that works well for you, practice it thoroughly and often, and then make it a habit to plan to use it if necessary on every street contact, whether you suspect the subject of being dangerous or not.
  • Evade the Weapon. Since you can’t outdraw someone who is already in the process of drawing his weapon, don’t try. Instead, immediately dodge to one side. As long as you move quickly enough, this will move you out of his line of fire before he can pull the trigger (experimentation has shown that, although his eyes will follow you, his gun will remain where it is for an instant). (In some cases, you may find it necessary to deflect your assailant’s muzzle away from you. If so, focus on his weapon only for as long as it takes to deflect it, and then keep going. It is tempting to become fixated on his gun, but this can lead to a dangerous tug-of-war over it while also increasing your vulnerability to a disarming. Instead, it's better to quickly deal with the immediate threat posed by the weapon and then focus on neutralizing the force behind it—your attacker.)
  • Advance. After evading your assailant’s weapon and before he can change his point of aim, rush forward and get in close, preferably off to one side in order to move further out of his line of fire. Since he was probably expecting you to freeze, back away defensively, or even try to outdraw him, this should catch him off guard, disrupt his plan of attack, and make it a lot harder for him to maneuver his weapon into firing position.
  • Counterattack. The counterattack must be immediate, overwhelming in its ferocity, and able to neutralize your opponent before he can react effectively to it. While there is general agreement on these basic elements of the counterattack, the specific means for achieving them vary depending upon the technique used.
  • Take further follow-up action. Your attacker will probably instinctively back away as you move in on him, so be ready. Keep moving and keep up the counterattack until he is no longer a threat. After he is incapacitated, back away, move to cover if available, reload, call for assistance, and continue to scan for possible additional threats until help arrives.13

Fail to Fire: Countermeasures

On one side is a group of various countermeasures that use gunfire to neutralize the threat. These are relatively simple to employ and devastatingly effective provided that the shots are delivered without hesitation to vital targets and kept up for as long as necessary to stop the assailant. However, your gun must be held close to your body in order to protect you from being disarmed, and to keep you from jamming it into his body, which could push the slide out of battery and prevent the gun from firing.

Although some experts believe that there 's very little chance that a gun will fail to fire if its muzzle is pressed against a human body, it can in fact happen and must be avoided. While most of the techniques for countering an ECQ attack call for the officer to hold the gun in close to his body with one hand in order to keep it safe, there are two other alternatives well worth considering.

The first is to hold the slide with your support hand as you fire. Despite the fact that this technique ties up your support hand when shooting and makes it necessary to rack the slide before you can take another shot, it's a very effective way to ensure that the weapon will fire. Moreover, it provides you with an extra margin of safety against a disarming for two reasons. First, it makes it harder for your assailant to snatch the gun away, and second, if he does manage to disarm you after your first shot, he will have to figure clear the spent case before he can use it against you. It may appear that there is a risk of getting burned or shooting yourself in your support hand or forearm when discharging your pistol in this manner, but it is actually quite safe with proper training. (For more information on this technique, contact Don Gulla at Don.Gulla@Arrestling.com.)

The second alternative is to is to hold your gun at about solar plexus level, cup your support hand around your gun hand from the front, and then clamp down with both hands. This keeps the gun in close to your chest, where it can’t get too close to your assailant’s body, and allows you to fire multiple shots without racking the slide each time. Furthermore, it locks the gun into the strongest possible bio-mechanical position, where it's extremely difficult for an assailant to rip it out of your hand if he manages to get hold of it. Like the "arrestling" technique just discussed, this technique is very safe with proper training. (For further information, contact Shawn Beane at smiletraining@yahoo.com.)

On the other side of the coin are countermeasures that use devastating empty-handed techniques to stop the assailant. As the officer moves inside, he steps alongside the attacker and delivers a rapid series of traumatic injuries to key targets on his body; e.g., gouging a thumb deep into one eye (see the “Weapon Retention” section of this analysis for more on this crucial target), crushing his throat, smashing his groin, etc. If delivered one right after the other, these high-trauma injuries should quickly disable the attacker. The key is to inflict intense trauma to a major target, which will distract your opponent as he instinctively reacts to protect it, thereby leaving other key targets open to subsequent attacks. Before he can recover, follow up immediately by attacking another key target, and then yet another and another until he is no longer a threat.12

Each of these two categories of countermeasures offers some important advantages. The armed response is simpler to learn, because, despite the fact that an ECQ gunfight is significantly different from one at greater distances, it uses the officer’s most familiar weapon to terminate the attack. In contrast to their skill with empty-handed techniques, most officers have practiced drawing their duty weapons often enough to become proficient at it under stress. In addition, most officers have developed a very strong propensity for reaching for their sidearm when threatened with armed violence, and this is a hard habit to break psychologically. For those officers, it can be very hard for them to develop enough confidence in any unarmed response to use it decisively on the street, no matter how good that technique may be. Lastly, although gunfire is not 100 percent effective, it is an extremely effective way to quickly disable an opponent when rapidly delivered at close range.

By enabling the officer to leave his gun holstered, empty-handed techniques make the risk of pushing the slide out of battery a mute point, and significantly reduce the chances of the officer being disarmed. They're also slightly faster than drawing and firing, and eliminate the risk of an innocent bystander being hit by the officer’s gunfire. Finally, officers who are hands-on oriented (see the next section of this analysis for further) will find it easier to learn and confidently employ an empty-handed technique on the street.

Because of the wide range of variables involved in ECQ armed attacks, there are no easy answers for dealing with them. The foregoing discussion presented a very brief overview of many of the best available techniques for countering this threat, but there is a lot more work to be done. Individual officers should take any ECQ training provided by their department very seriously, drill often in the techniques offered, and use visual imagery to further enhance the training. If they feel that their training isn’t sufficient they should attend additional training that better fits their needs, even if it means going outside their agencies to find it. Considering the extent of the threat, such training is well worth the investment in time, sweat and money.

Trainers have an even greater obligation. With the safety of their officers resting on them, they must always put forth their best effort. In view of the grievously large number of officer deaths from ECQ attacks, ECQ training must receive much greater emphasis at both the academy and in-service level, including the use of regular drills and frequent dynamic one-on-one exercises.  At the same time, trainers must seek out the best available ECQ training for new ideas and techniques, keep an open mind, and consult earnestly with fellow trainers as they continually strive to find ever better ways to deal with this threat. It is hoped that the information presented here will serve as a catalyst for this important search for answers.


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