Most gunfights are “come as you are” events. There’s no way to fully predict what can happen and what you’ll need to succeed. What we know for sure is that what you bring with you is all you’ll have to finish the fight. Nationwide, there have been incidents where criminals have armed themselves with multiple weapons and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.
The focus of this article is our everyday capability to meet an extended deadly force attack. At the most basic level, are we properly equipped for a prolonged fight so we can indeed overcome and win? Some may say this is too unlikely to be concerned with, but I disagree. Since the Mumbai India attacks and other increased criminal violence, the “ordinary” course of police readiness isn’t in sync with what we may soon face. We’ve already faced these events in cities large and small.
On a frigid December 2007 evening in New Lenox, Ill., a suburb south of Chicago, a gunman ambushed and wounded an officer during a “routine” traffic stop. In the ensuing battle, the officer courageously held the line and took the fight to the offender. The gunman was barricaded in his pickup truck parked directly behind a high school that was hosting a swim meet. Had the officer not continued to fire on the shooter, he could have run into the school or aggressed the officer.
Alone and bleeding from a leg wound, in the very first minutes of the battle, the officer expended all his ammo—37 rounds of .40 caliber from his Sig 229 duty pistol. The second arriving officer attempted to resupply the first officer with a reload. The exchange of ammo failed because the weapon type was different. A third responding officer passed a shotgun to the first, and the fight continued until a fourth flanked the shooter’s position. A combined counterattack killed the offender, who continued firing on the officers to his last moments.
Days later, I spoke with a neighboring chief who was considering ordering all of his officers to carry the same type and caliber duty handgun should such an incident happen again. My response to him was, “In all of our collective years of experience, when had this previously happened?” By ordering all officers to use the same duty handgun, were we solving a likely problem or creating one? In my view, it’s the latter and standardizing what in many cases are improperly fitted handguns, solves nothing.
Real Lessons Learned
Let’s get to the core issue and the real lesson of these events.
I posed the following question to a number of officers in a class I teach about use of force and officer-involved shootings: If you believe you’ll need more ammo in a gun fight, what should you do? Universally the answer was, “Carry more.” It was not, “Depend on your fellow officers to resupply you with life-saving equipment.” The “carry more” was also accompanied by “carry a back-up firearm.”
I fully agree with the view of these experienced officers. We can’t expect that there will be any back-up in the first moments or minutes of a life-or-death attack. It will always be a come-as-you-are event and you’re responsible for yourself and those you are sworn to protect.
What can we do to meet the challenge of having the ability to effectively stay in a fight like the one above?
First, accept the reality. If we carry a firearm as more than an ornament of office, we must believe that someday, somewhere it will be needed. If this is true, how many rounds will it take to defeat the offenders bent on your destruction? With the extraordinary threats we face, we must not stake our lives on the wishful belief that the coming fight will be a fair one, in which we have the advantage. Plan for an extended fight.
Second, consider the gear you currently have attached to your body, either on a duty belt, inside/outside vest carrier system, ankle holster and uniform pants BDU pockets. Does it fit the plan?
Third, ask yourself if you carry it with you at all times. The answer should be a resounding yes.
Carry a Full Set
Carrying one magazine—the one in your pistol—is simply not acceptable. At minimum, two additional magazines should be standard carry. If you carry a 1911 or other “single stack” pistol, additional magazines should be considered. There’s no formula for total rounds carried. That’s your decision.
Add magazines to your carry gear via the use of a newly designed pouch, such as the Safariland model 775. This model offers dual or triple magazine capacity. We’ve been loaning these pouches to officers in our classes, and the 775 has proven to be an excellent open-top design. For single-stack mags, such as the 1911, you can also add a tandem pouch that looks like a folding knife pouch. It holds two mags, one on top of the other in minimal belt space.
For the patrol rifle, an extra magazine should be attached to the rifle, and the method I prefer is the use of a Redi-Mag. You can also use the new Centermass Rifle Integrated Mag Pouch that attaches to your duty belt.
Recognizing that we only have so much belt space, many agencies have authorized outside vest carriers with pouches. At my department, officers are allowed to design what they need, and the carriers are custom-built by J&G Uniforms. The company’s carrier designs have a professional uniform shirt appearance that also has a large reflective “police” panel across the back for day and night identification. I set mine up to carry my radio, a 20-round P-Mag for my patrol rifle, a pouch for two 1911 mags, a two-cell LED light, two set of pockets for protective gloves, extra lightweight handcuffs, a rescue knife, a radio ear piece and accessories.
We can’t afford to learn the hard way. Let’s not find ourselves short of ammo or any piece of gear that history tells us we need. The officers of New Lenox taught us that attitude, training and determination win the day. Let’s learn from them and from those officers around you who’ve been in the fight.
People will say, “We can’t believe this happened here.” Remember: It will always happen “here.” And because there’s no predicting, it’s our duty to be ready. Part of that call is to bring enough ammo.