(Photo Courtesy Mobile Tactics Training)
FEATURED IN LEADERSHIP
This piece was prompted in part by my December 2009 Law Officer Tactics column, So You Married a Cop…, specifically the Spousal Orientation Program (SOP), and also by some feedback I received on that article from a former Michigan and Florida cop.
Here’s the harsh reality of the civil and criminal justice system in the U.S.: When cops get involved in an officer-involved shooting, most often the facts and circumstances of the incident are going to be reviewed by people who, for the most part, have absolutely no idea what deadly force confrontations are like—judges, juries, civilian review boards and, yes, sometimes even assistant district attorneys and/or assistant state prosecutors.
One of the more intricate courtroom demonstrations I did during a trial in the U.S. District Court in Tennessee involved dragging in a whole FATS system (complete with a full-size screen) into the courtroom. The case involved two Metro Nashville cops, who fatally shot a homeowner during a suspected DV investigation. A sergeant shot the homeowner in the back as the armed resident was chasing the first officer out the front door. The patrol officer finished the job with a profile shot as the decedent exited the door. The federal court judge wouldn’t allow me to perform the action/reaction drill using modified handguns and blank rounds. It became apparent that some demonstrative evidence was needed to help the jury (and the judge) understand how fast deadly force confrontations occur and how quickly those decisions have to be made.
During a break in my testimony, I flashed back to a talk I gave our local assistant district attorney (ADA) years earlier on deadly force decision-making. During the lunch break, I called their academy and asked the range master if he’d be willing to truck their FATS system to the U.S. courthouse. My plan was to demonstrate how today’s officers are trained during their judgmental firearms training.
I picked out a scenario that closely paralleled the circumstances of the shoot—an armed suspect who’s back is turned toward the officer (camera), who quickly makes a 180° turn. It worked. There was a complete jury verdict for the defense in about two hours. That day, the courtroom became a classroom for not only the judge and jury, but the police defense attorneys, too.
The Evolution of the Demo
The genesis for the Nashville FATS demo really stemmed from one of the programs our range staff designed for the half dozen or so ADAs assigned to our local court. The idea came after one of our officers became involved in a controversial shooting. Although not a fatal use of force, the .45 caliber round this officer fired landed in a spot that would’ve qualified the recipient for the role of first soprano in the Vienna Boy’s Choir. Needless to say, the shooting generated a lot of media interest. Long story short, the grand jury cleared the cop as did our internal affairs bureau. The civil suit filed by the plaintiff, after lingering through the often complex N.Y. civil justice system, ended with a settlement that pretty much satisfied all.
However, during an after-action critique of that incident, one of my range staff members told me about a disturbing comment expressed by one of our ADAs after the “no true bill” came down clearing the officer. When we discussed it further, we all felt the statement uttered by this young prosecutor really needed to be addressed. It was, and afterward everyone left with a more thorough understanding of what transpires when the police are faced with life-or-death confrontations. However, it was also apparent from the discussion, that a good many of the young ADAs assigned to assist local police had no idea of the dynamics at play during officer-involved shootings.
After researching past district attorney on-call lists, it became evident that most of the career prosecutors (those older, experienced veteran attorneys who look at the DA’s office as a career) didn’t have to pull on-call duty. Indeed, the on-call list for nights, weekends and holidays contained the names of young attorneys who knew nothing about police work.
After running the idea of an abbreviated “shoot, don’t shoot” program similar to the SOP firearms block my former agency developed for the spouses of our academy cadets, my boss brought it to the attention of the first ADA. After surprisingly little red tape, about 90% of the local DA’s staff assigned to our department took advantage of the offer. And the education began.
The results can only be described as astounding. Each ADA, after undergoing a mandatory firearms safety briefing, was put through three judgmental shooting scenarios. Without exception, everyone failed. Either they shot when they shouldn’t have or failed to shoot when they could’ve and “died” (or got shot) in the process. The most significant benefit from the training? No more statements such as, “Couldn’t you have just ‘winged’ him or ‘shot the knife’ out of his hand?” One junior ADA said it was more beneficial to his job than his class on justification for deadly force by police, which he took prior to the N.Y. State Bar Exam. Although it’s impossible to say whether knowledge these young lawyers received while undergoing this range training played any role in the shooting investigations that followed any subsequent discharges, I’d like to think it helped. I know the program continued after I retired, so someone up in the Hall of Justice must have felt it was relevant.
How They Relate
How do these two anecdotes relate back to my Michigan/Florida bud? Mike Christoff is the owner of Mobile Tactics Training in Naples, Fla. As a certified police firearms trainer who worked as a Florida cop after doing 16 years up in Michigan, Mike was forced to seek outside ranges for his troops. When his 20 years were up, he took his savings and bought, renovated and equipped a 3-year old, never-used, three-lane, full-length shooting trailer with state-of-the-art electronics. Mobile Tactics is a total firearms range on wheels, one of only a handful in North America. The unit is complete with red and blue emergency lights, sound, a 500+ scenario-based, menu-driven, decision-making system and bullet traps that can virtually handle any and all handguns rounds, as well as .223 caliber rifle loads. Mike lives by the motto, “Have range, will travel.”
And travel he does—all over Florida from St. Augustine to Miami, even running the Miami-Dade SWAT team through some shoot-and-move drills with their M4 .223. patrol rifles. One of Mike’s plans still in the development stage is to run all of Florida’s State Attorneys Office assistants (Florida’s version of New York State’s ADAs) through his CAPS judgmental shooting system.
During a recent visit to Mike’s range, I told him about the Nashville trial, the FATS machine and demo, how well our local ADAs took to the training, and how beneficial a similar program might be to the Florida State Attorney’s Office.
At the time of this writing, the training Mike envisions with the Florida SAO’s staff is still in the “wishful thinking” stage. He’s run a few Florida city council members and at least one mayor through the CAPS judgmental shooting program when he was on site for a recent police firearms in-service. All reportedly felt it was well worth the experience. Of course, with the brick-and-mortar (and steel) facility I had, my group of legal beagles had to come to moi. However, like the Nashville range master, who happily trucked his FATS machine that sunny March afternoon to the U.S.
Courthouse and helped me set it up, Mike is willing to go to them—guns and ammo included. All he needs is the date. And if he needs an assistant range officer, I’m willing to tag along. My police firearms instructor creds are good through 2013.
If any Sunshine State prosecuting attorneys out there are listening and willing to learn the realities of officer-involved shootings, give Mike a call. You can reach him by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org, visiting www.ShootOnTheMove.com or by calling Mobile Tactics Training at 239/434-1844.