They're training to face someone trying to kill them.
Your attitude is your destiny. Your officers must be aware that they're training to face someone trying to kill them. Your officers must be aware that they're training to face someone trying to kill
good initial indicators of preparedness
When they first pick up their guns, do they ensure the weapons are unloaded? When they first pick up their guns, do they ensure the weapons are unloaded?
Trainees must be reminded: Always holster reluctantly.
Deadly force training is based on the assumption that someone is trying to kill you or someone else. Deadly force training is based on the assumption that someone is trying to kill
Recognize the importance of making sure a weapon is ready
Officers should recognize the importance of making sure their weapons are clean, function checked and ready. Officers should recognize the importance of making sure their weapons are clean,
FEATURED IN TRAINING
My first tactical operation as a police officer came a long time ago, and, yes, it almost feels like it was in a galaxy far, far away. I was working at a Los Angeles County agency one night when a burglary alarm came in at a local liquor store.
It was “a good one,” with one suspect caught exiting the location. Our sergeants believed there was at least one more suspect still inside. This was the early 1970s, and I was working at a medium-size police department. We didn’t have a SWAT Team to call on. After tear gas deployment and bull horn orders to exit and surrender failed, I was told I’d be going in with a couple of other officers. This may have been due to my Marine Corps experience, but even with that, I wasn’t prepared for the searching method to be used: In addition to the three-officer entry element, we were told to take the suspect we had in custody in with us as a shield.
Wait a minute! What’d he just say?!
Yes, I’m embarrassed to tell you, this is a true story. At that time, at that department, it was an accepted technique to infrequently use arrestees as shields. We did what we were told, fully searching the location. Thankfully, we didn’t find a second suspect, and nothing happened to the one we took inside with us. I was extremely uncomfortable with this approach to tactical problem solving. For a number of very good reasons that I hope you’ve already identified, I’m even more apprehensive about it now. I would never advocate using such a technique today.
As the years passed, I was lucky enough to be exposed to good tactical training from people a lot smarter than me, including the folks of Huntington Beach (Calif.) Police Department SWAT. I developed an appreciation of what it takes to prepare a SWAT team for today’s tactical world.
This month, I want to address a few tactical team training issues. Time and space won’t permit me to address all of the issues in one article. We’re going to focus on firearms training standards for SWAT teams.
Occasionally, I’m asked to evaluate a team’s performance. As part of this, I like to spend time on the range observing the standards that have been used to train the tactical operators. A critical element is how the members practice with their firearms. Following are some of the things I look for.
Even before they load their weapons, I want to see if the SWAT officers demonstrate a safety-oriented awareness of their firearms. When they first pick up their guns, do they ensure the weapons are unloaded? Or do they just assume they’re safe? Beyond that, do they exhibit a precise awareness of the laser rule? Or are they carelessly allowing the muzzle to point at fellow team members? This is a good initial indicator of their preparedness.
I watch how magazines are loaded, as well as the care they are given. It’s always refreshing to see teams that have magazines specifically designated and marked for training use. These can be abused as if they’re in a blazing gunfight on the street. But the same team has magazines that are saved for duty use exclusively. They must be carefully maintained. Remember: Properly working magazines are a direct link to our survival in a lethal force encounter.
As far as loading a long gun magazine, I’m watching to see if the SWAT cops have been trained to download a few rounds off the top of a fully loaded mag. Unless you have some of the newer magazines designed to correct this problem, downloading ensures that they will properly seat when placed into the magazine well with the bolt already forward. This is important for a SWAT operator in a gun fight: Discovering that a MP-5 or M-16 magazine won’t seat because it has too many rounds in it isn’t a good predicament to be in when someone is shooting at you.
Shoot/Don’t Shoot Drills
Clearly, SWAT cops don’t shoot every time they confront someone. The same should be true during range training. A good instructor runs a variety of drills focusing on various skill sets (e.g., close range vs. long distance shots, speed and tactical reloads, transitions to back up weapon) while also changing up the command to fire. This “false fire” option begins with the use of a particular word—let’s say, “threat”—to initiate the shooting. At some point, the instructor would then inform the operators on the line that “threat” is no longer the command to fire, substituting instead another word or sound. After using the new command a few times, the instructor calls out “threat” to see which officers are in range robot mode and which are correctly holding their fire. Clearly, the latter is an indication of who is the more self disciplined and well-trained operator.
What especially troubles me is to see SWAT cops who just applied lethal force without justification—they didn’t respond correctly to the command—and they try to laugh it off. Mature operators recognize the seriousness of their mistake. I also watch to see how the instructor working with these folks addresses this issue. Do they do so in a professional and proactive manner? Or do they join in the misdirected humor? Or say nothing to correct the problem?
Another variation on this training concept is the use of a “challenge” command. This begins with the instructor preparing the SWAT shooters with directions to hold their fire and verbalize orders to the suspect if a challenge command—“challenge!”—is given. When this happens, the instructor is watching to see which cops start shooting at the sound of his voice and which have actually understood the command, therefore making a conscious decision to not use lethal force.
When to Relax
A team member’s training and attitude toward firearms may also be evaluated by what that officer does immediately after a course of fire. What I want to see is awareness that this deadly force training is based on someone trying to kill the officer.
The target should be considered as representing a lethal threat to our lives. “We’re just punching holes in paper” is a dangerous attitude. If the officers holster their handgun and seem relaxed just after shooting, I consider it a fair indicator that these officers may do the same in a real firefight. I know what you’re thinking: “I wouldn’t do that in a gun fight!” I sure hope you’re right. But officers have been killed because they holstered too soon. Remember: Drum these words into your officer’s heads: “Always holster reluctantly.”
Firing on the Move
Tactical teamwork is often a fluid, dynamic application of techniques. Often, it’s bad to be stationary when someone is shooting at you, especially if there’s no ballistic cover nearby and you’re out in the open.
In one context, we’re talking about lateral movement. What I’m evaluating is whether or not the operators have been trained to move to the left or right as needed. Whether it’s getting to cover or dealing with a malfunctioning or empty weapon, it’s harder for a suspect to hit us if we’re moving. When teaching this technique, I like to emphasize that the officer should keep their body oriented towards the threat. This allows for maximizing the coverage provided by our body armor.
Forward movement is directly related to clearing through buildings and closing on suspects. In this case, my evaluation criteria are derived from a relevant instructional technique I learned years ago from my friend Phil Singleton of Singleton International.
We were discussing firing on-the-move drills, and he gave me an instructional gem based on the “only move as fast as you can accurately shoot” rule. Phil suggested having the students visualize the following: They’re at their local bar and have in their hands two beer mugs, filled to the brim with that precious fluid. They have to walk to the table where their friends are waiting for these adult beverages. Moving too fast will result in the beer sloshing out of the mugs. If, however, they take short steps as they walk, using the knees as shock absorbers and focus on getting the mission accomplished with the safe delivery of the beer, they have a good chance of success. Similarly, in teaching firing on the move, our goal should be for the officers to get the hits and stop the threat. We do this by teaching them to maintain as stable a shooting platform as possible by using our built in shock absorbers at an appropriate “tactical walk” pace, using short steps.
To put this into perspective, when I worked narcotics our standard entry technique for a warrant service was to boot the door and then run through the house to reach the suspect’s bedroom or bathroom and find the dope. The sad truth is that we couldn’t have assessed the environment, let alone shoot accurately if our lives depended on it: We were flying through the environment, moving way too fast for the circumstances. Helping SWAT cops to assess and shoot while moving is a critically important firearms training standard.
What team members do after they have finished a day on the range is often a reflection of how they’ve been trained. If an instructor has properly drilled into them the importance of having their weapons ready for the next call out, then the team members make it a point of cleaning their firearms prior to going home or back on duty. If not, then dirty weapons go back into holsters or gun racks, with the potential of next being used not on the range but during a real tactical operation. Remember: If the officers recognize the importance of making sure their weapons are clean, function checked and ready, then their instructor has done a good job in this respect.
Here’s a final thought before we close for this month. The standards discussed above really could apply to patrol officers and detectives just as much as a tactical team. Some don’t even require a live fire range so long as they are taught and tested with good safety guidelines in place. My hope is that as an instructor, you’ll compare these suggestions with your current practices. What I’ve shared with you is, I believe, tactically sound. Whatever your standards are, take a moment to compare them with what we have discussed here. If they work for you, run them by a lawyer and then make these your standards as well, implementing them the next time you have an opportunity to do so with your officers.