Top Tips from Experts

Every spring I make the pilgrimage to North Chicago for the annual International Law Enforcement Education and Training Association (ILEETA) conference. It’s an opportunity to network and listen to the world’s leading experts on all things related to law enforcement trends, training and equipment. Much of the information exchange occurs in the hallways, hotel rooms, restaurants and even in the parking lot as two or more authorities on a subject cross paths and exchange ideas.

I receive the best information if I happen to be where these folks gather and just sit back and listen. I’ve learned that I comprehend the subject matter better if I don’t make rash judgments on what’s being said and just take time to ponder the information. After some reflection, I do a better job of deciding whether the new information is noteworthy or just BS designed to sell a product or training course.

This past year I sat down with a number of trainers who also share their vast knowledge with the readers of this magazine. The subject matter shared around the table included court testimony, pursuit driving, defensive tactics, firearms and everything else in between.

It’s been several months since the conference, and I’ve had time to digest and reflect upon the information shared and discussed. Below are the most noteworthy topics that highlight current issues, training tips, officer safety—all of which center around the importance of prevailing.


Ammo Costs

During the conference, I was able to sit down with Law Officer’s Tactical Ops columnist, Jeff Chudwin, and of course we talked about all things firearms related. We both expressed concern about the increasingly high cost of ammunition. It’s more than doubled in the last five years, and you should expect it to double again.

I’ve tried to pin down why the rise has been so severe while talking with industry representatives and have heard myriad reasons. Although I can’t prove it, I suspect the price is rising due to demand. As long as the demand is high, ammo companies will continue to increase their profit margin. I don’t say this lightly. I have many friends in the business, but sometimes the truth hurts.

Depending on the volume of ammo purchased, duty ammo can cost twice as much as full-metal jacket training loads, which means an agency buying duty ammo is actually buying half the amount of ammo they could be. Consequently, they’re probably training and shooting less, and if you think about how quickly shooting skills perish, this is just flat out wrong!

“I can’t believe the number of agencies that still insist on using duty-grade hollow point ammo for training,” said Chudwin. “I can’t tell the difference when I shoot training versus duty ammo, and I doubt that many others can either.” Great point!

The trend of training with duty ammo began in the revolver days when agencies were using .38 target wadcutters for training, but carrying .357 magnum ammo for duty. Naturally, the felt recoil and muzzle blast were substantially different and actually became a factor in gunfights where it affected an officer’s ability to prevail. Legal experts even maintained it could affect the outcome of lawsuits against police agencies where wrongful deaths and failure to train were named as part of the suit. Agencies quickly began to train with duty-equivalent ammo and the concerns of disparity in duty vs. training ammo faded. Jump forward to the era of the semi-automatic pistol, and we discover that even though training ammo is powerful enough to cycle the action of a duty pistol, agencies still think it’s a good idea for training ammo to have a hole in the end. Not necessary, folks!

The current generation of duty ammo comes from the factory with flash-retardant powders mixed in. The concern about overwhelming muzzle flash during conflict is no longer a factor. The truth is, more muzzle flash will be experienced using training ammo than duty loads. Because much of the recoil experienced when shooting a semi-auto pistol is generated from slide cycle and velocity, the felt difference between duty and training ammo would have to be measured with a bench rest.

It makes more sense these days to spend disintegrating tax revenues on purchasing training ammo and shooting more, rather than worry about not training with duty ammo. If an officer misses during conflict or does something to get the agency sued, it’s more likely that the lack of trigger time will be a factor in the suit, not whether the training ammo was duty-equivalent. Bottom line: Less-expensive training ammo should be used as intended. It reduces cost and expands the training program.


Spaulding’s Rule of Gun Safety

My friend Sgt. Chuck Humes calls them “The Flawless Four” and everyone who has ever trained with a firearm has heard them. They’re simple, succinct and make sense for most all firearms usages, whether plinking, competition or combat.


The Flawless Four

1. All guns are always loaded.

2. Never place your finger inside the trigger guard until the sights are on target and you’re ready to shoot.

3. Never let the muzzle cover anything you aren’t willing to shoot, kill or destroy.

4. Know your target and what’s beyond.


The first rule is probably the most important because it actually addresses your behavior anytime you have a gun in your possession. If you treat it as if it can cause death and destruction at any second, it deserves your full attention. After all, the gun doesn’t shoot itself. If a gun discharges while it’s in your possession, you shot it.

I’ve been to public firing ranges and read the warnings in the owner’s manuals of firearms that I’ve purchased. Clint Smith, the founder of Thunder Ranch, is right: There’s a lawyer attached to every round fired. There’s probably a lawyer attached to every gun purchased, too.

Adding additional safety rules usually results in making things more complicated and confusing, which has led me to create Spaulding’s Rule of Gun Safety. I call it D.D.S.S. and it stands for Don’t Do Stupid…er, Stuff! Yes, I mean this to be tongue-in-cheek, but when I’ve shared this with students over the years, I’ve found they remember it. When they have a gun in their hands, it gets their full attention.

It seems that most involuntary, negligent, accidental (take your choice) discharges involving trained shooters occur due to a momentary lack of judgment, attention, etc.—what I like to call a “brain fart.” We all have them. They’re just more tragic when a gun is involved. When I see a student start to lose focus with their firearm, I’ll look at them and say “D.D.S.S.,” which usually results in a smile and a nod. That way they don’t suffer the embarrassment of being chewed out in front of their peers while trying to master a new skill.

Complete focus on the gun and its use will also lead to the type of familiar task transference that’s needed to use the gun while in conflict. Let’s face the facts: In the middle of a gunfight, your attention should be focused on the person who’s trying to kill you and not the object in your hand. If you haven’t developed firearms skills while in training, you won’t have the level of confidence needed to run on “auto pilot” in conflict.

Bottom line: Divided attention will likely result in your demise, so focus on the gun and its proper use in training, as well as handling it outside of conflict. This way you not only develop safe handling skills, but so you also develop the unconscious competence needed to prevail in combat.


WIN & Below 100

As I write this, it seems we hear of an officer being killed in a shootout every week. The rate of officer deaths in 2011 is alarming and while the politicians wring their hands and make campaign speeches about what to do, we in law enforcement must take action.

Prevailing is the central focus of Law Officer’s Below 100 Initiative. Sadly, it’s been 65 years since officer deaths have been below 100 in a calendar year. I was able to sit down with Dale Stockton, Editor-in-Chief of Law Officer magazine, and hear him explain how the initiative strives to address LODDs and promote officer safety by targeting certain areas over which agencies have some degree of influence and control. Briefly, the Below 100 Initiative core concepts are:

• Wear your seatbelt.

• Watch your speed.

• Wear your vest.

• WIN—What’s Important Now?!

Remember: Complacency kills!


 2011 Law Enforcement Trainer of the Year Brian Wills’ What’s Important Now (WIN) campaign is one of the best ways to remember the state of mind we must all be in whenever we venture out from the safety of our homes. Whether you’re in a gunfight, testifying in court, writing a ticket or sitting at a stop light waiting for it to change, we must constantly remind ourselves to stay “switched on” to what’s going on around us by asking, What’s Important Now?!

To me, this comes down to the “First Rule of Law Enforcement” as explained by actor Sean Connery in the movie The Untouchables: “Make sure when your shift is over you go home alive.” Meaning alive in the same state—both physically and mentally—as when you left. Nothing less.    


Improvise, Adapt & Prevail

9/11 reminds us that survival is all about being prepared for anything and everything

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was sitting in my office reading reports from the previous night’s activity. At the time, I was a narcotics task force commander. I remember taking a phone call (don’t remember from who) and while on that call, I received several call-waiting beeps. I finished my call and then checked my voicemail. The message on the machine said, “Go find a TV! New York City is on fire!”

I immediately got up and walked through the detective bull pen toward the conference room where the TV was located. As I passed through, I told the assembled investigators what the message had said and they all followed me into the room. Just as I turned on the TV, the second plane hit. One of my lead investigators, a former marine, said, “This is an attack! Our country is being attacked!”

Everything that was being worked on suddenly came to a halt as we watched the scene on TV. When the Twin Towers fell, the feeling I had in my stomach was a mix of pure rage and understanding that I was powerless to do anything. I looked at the others and they all were aghast. The one comment that offered some degree of solace was from the marine, who said with complete determination, “Don’t worry, somewhere right now is a battalion of marines who are gearing up for payback.” We all nodded our heads in agreement.

Since that time, I’ve realized that a crisis can be many things—not just armed conflict or other combative situations. The ability to prevail over any situation you may face or that’s thrust upon you is dependent on your ability to plan ahead and be ready. For example, I read in the 911 Commission Report that the people who had a flashlight in their possession got out of the building. Many died because they couldn’t see through the smoke, dust and debris. Little things like this are important. It’s also important to understand that no matter how much you train or prepare, Mr. Murphy is alive and well and will block your path anytime he can. Be prepared to improvise, adapt and overcome. —Dave Spaulding



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The Front Sight Truth

Kevin Davis responds to Antione Lane’s Front Sight Lie piece from the February issue

Appropriate Use of Cover

Making effective use of your options for cover during a gunfight is the key to survival

Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda

After an incident occurs, it seems everyone knows what you should have done

Less Lethal Lessons, Part II

When deploying less lethal munitions, officers should take extra precaution to read the scene

Florida Officer Killed in Training

Ocala officer is accidentally shot while participating in firearms training.

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