Build your officer’s “muscle memory” for responding to an ambush in their cruiser. A chair, some careful coaching, a Chamber Safe and proper weapons are a good start. Photo R.K. Miller
FEATURED IN TRAINING
Last month we discussed an officer’s response to an ambush while in a patrol unit. They might drive out of the kill zone. As a last resort, they might fight there and then. Think of those final moments as the North Hollywood Shootout comes to a deadly climax: you know why this is important. (In another context, the options discussed in this column might also applies to officers’ tactics during high-risk vehicle stops.)
As always, training will play a significant part in an officer’s response to such a critical threat. To do this, one option is to bring a police car onto the range so officers can practice shooting from outside the car, as well as—dare I say it?—inside. However, I’m sure many of you recognize that live-fire exercises with real police cars don’t always end well. It would be difficult to explain to the boss such an unintended outcome as 9 mm or .45-caliber officer-induced ventilation.
Give ’Em the Chair
A safer, more cost-effective method to replicate fighting from a police unit is to just use a chair. The brain will build pathways to “muscle memory” even if we just have students simulate responding from the driver’s seat. Capitalize on this by having the student sit on a folding chair facing down range. Let’s go through the process.
- The officer first decides to fight on foot.
- Press down on the brake pedal.
- Put it in park—avoid “neutral,” “drive” or “reverse” as the unit may continue to roll. (It can be tactically troublesome when a patrol unit tries to depart the scene without its assigned officer.)
- Left hand releases the seatbelt.
- The same hand controls the seatbelt arcing it out of the way toward the door as the belt retracts. This will help prevent the seatbelt from snagging on equipment, such as a badge or gun belt.
- Momentum carries the left hand to the door handle to start opening it. Then the left foot is used to finish opening the door, freeing up that hand.
- Simultaneously for right-handers, the draw stroke is begun. (For left-handed shooters, as soon as the seatbelt is out of the way, the pistol is being drawn from its holster. Be careful not to “laser” the left leg in the process. )
- Using the frame of the handgun to follow the upper curve of the steering wheel, get the weapon into play. This technique helps keep the weapon on track rather than trying to maneuver it right behind the steering wheel. If necessary, an option is firing through the windshield if a target is close and deadly. Yup, this isn’t the best choice. The sound, muzzle blast and other factors will be significant, but it’s a step that could save an officer’s life.
- Moving into some semblance of a stable and protected spot at the unit’s A pillar affords a fighting position. Avoid exposing the feet by keeping them in the car rather than placing them on the ground until ready to get up and move.
- Depending upon where the threat is, exiting the car and using it as cover rather than the door should be an educated decision.
With a suspect to the front, an alternative to firing from the door is to, if tactically sound, position yourself at the rear bumper and consider shooting along the unit’s side.
Shooting over the roof—not a good idea unless necessary. The car’s side windows (if they are even up) won’t provide much protection and the officer is more exposed. Similarly, shooting from the rear over the roof toward the front raises some of the same concerns. If possible, I would just stay at the door instead or shoot along the side of the unit at a suspect to the front.
Shooting over the hood or trunk—although this position provides a wider field-of-view and -fire, it also places the head in profile. We typically use the hood due to the added ballistic protection provided by the engine block. If the trunk is used as cover, remember that gas tank only a short distance away. In one case I know of, a suspect intentionally targeted a unit’s fuel tank, setting it on fire. It also makes a target of the officer’s head.
Shooting around the bumper—this might provide a lower, safer profile, but it reduces the officer’s field of view.
Shooting from or at the gap between the ground and the car—this is an option: Think North Hollywood and remember that suspects can be just as tactically smart as we are.
In the Driver’s Seat
All of the above steps can be practiced on the range using a folding chair as a stand-in (or “sit-in”?) for the car seat. If a real patrol car is being used, only one student can go through the drill at a time. You might save a little time by using multiple vehicles on the range, but for obvious saftey and training reasons, a chair provides a better solution.
Depending upon your safety assessment, the type of range and the availability of instructors/safety officers, this training can be carried out with a number of students and chairs. Obviously, such training is more advanced and therefore potentially more dangerous. This isn’t an introductory firearms drill. It would be wise to review the cardinal rules of firearms safety and have students practice in a “dry-fire” condition prior to going live fire. Finally, a medical emergency plan should be briefed just in case.
When ready to start, confirm that the student has a loaded handgun, proper safety gear and knows their assigned target. Place the chair facing the impact area and have the student take a seat. Instruct them to position hands and feet as if driving toward the target. Even though this is an artificial environment, their actions will still help imbed the correct response to a real lethal-force encounter. At some point, give the command “move,” thus triggering the step-by-step response outlined earlier in this article.
Next, the student will start a lethal-force response upon hearing the fire command. (This two-part approach to range commands is a method of adding to the drill’s safety.)
Ready on the right—in addition to placing the chair with the target forward, positioning it to simulate a threat from the right or left is another option. In either case, safety is the first concern. For a target-right response, the officer would sit in the chair facing to the left side of the range. Upon command, they would then have to draw the handgun and either move out of the “police unit” or—worst case scenario—shoot from their seat out the passenger window. If multiple officers are participating and a left response is used, for example, make sure that no one is “lasered.”
Plan first, move next—rather than staying with the “car,” the training scenario can also incorporate movement to other positions of cover and/or advancing on a “downed” suspect. One of the key points I try to emphasize before moving, however, is for the students to develop some form of plan rather than just rushing up to the criminal.
Rifle at the ready—this training approach can also be used with a patrol rifle. Using it for this type of training is a little more challenging than handgun deployment. Rifles should be in a “cruiser-safe” condition. In addition, this should reflect a standardized department storage policy in vehicles. (Note: For those of you not familiar with the cruiser-safe method, for an AR-15-type rifle, the hammer is cocked, the safety is “on,” the chamber is empty and a magazine is locked into the magazine well.)
Show the Flag
When running this drill, I have students use a chamber flag. There are a variety of these safety items available. In one form or another, each version has a stem that’s placed in the chamber through the ejection port to ensure the rifle is empty and an external part that is visible when the bolt is closed. Select one that satisfies your agency’s requirements, and ensure it’s capable of handling the temperatures of a just-fired chamber. (Inferior models have been known to melt leaving a nasty plastic residue on the inside.)
My favorite is the “Chamber Safe” developed by Chief Jeff Chudwin, a long-time law enforcement trainer and fellow Law Officer columnist. Rather than just using the Chamber Safe for training, many departments have also adopted it for on-duty use.
Once the rifle is in the Cruiser Safe condition, it’s given to whoever is assigned to assist with the drill—another student, an instructor or a safety officer. The student takes a seat with the chair facing down range. The assistant confirms it is Cruiser Safe and standing on the right side, orients the rifle vertically simulating placement in a weapons rack between the front seats.
The drill again starts with the student instructed to drive. Upon the “move” command, the officer has to go through the previously outlined steps, but they must additionally deploy the rifle, which requires releasing its locking device. Tracking the rifle barrel over the imaginary steering wheel is still a good technique but becomes more difficult due to the size of the weapon.
Once this is accomplished, the student should end up in a position similar to that of shooting from the door’s apex with a handgun. This may require some adjustment however due to the fact that a rifle is being used rather than a more compact handgun. Again, I suggest giving the “fire” command only with the student in the desired position and the Chamber Safe removed. Tactical responses such as movement, firing positions and closing on the suspect can be incorporated into the drill.
As the drill progresses, a student will sometimes lose focus. Example: While participating in this training one officer got wrapped up in putting his tactical sling on rather than first getting the gun working in order to return fire. When debriefed, he didn’t even realize that he had wasted those precious moments.
These are the basics of such a training alternative for fighting from a police unit. I’m sure that so long as the prime rule of safe firearms training is observed, you can come up with additional ways to make it better for your officers.
Train safe. God bless America.