Friday, January 20, 2012
Law enforcement officers are under attack. Don’t take my word for it, just look at the numbers.
The FBI’s Uniform Crime Report for 2010 lists 53,469 sworn officers assaulted and injured in the line of duty in the U.S. According to a memo released in March 2011 from the U.S. Attorney General, 2010 was one of the deadliest years for law enforcement officers in nearly 20 years. During the last two years, we’ve seen a disturbing increase in the frequency of surprise attacks on officers. Sadly, at the time this article was written, it’s clear that 2011 will experience more gunfire-related deaths than took place in 2010.
The losses attributable to attacks on officers are staggering. But what do they tell us? That, in no uncertain terms, we’re facing a tough and determined enemy whose penchant for violence and desire to hurt us seems to be increasing.
You don’t have to look far to find pundits who will provide various societal, economic and sociological explanations for the increase in violence against law enforcement. For the officer/agent on the street, that’s not the concern. The underlying fact is that there are people out there who have no compunction about trying to hurt us. Their twisted rationale for wanting to do so is irrelevant. We must accept that they do—and prepare for it.
One advantage we have as LEOs is that the majority of us are realists. We see the statistics. We know the threat is real. Can we ever mitigate all of the threats? Is it possible for all of us to go home safely after every shift, year after year, without serious injury or worse? Regrettably, the answer is no. Law enforcement is a dangerous profession and we do take calculated risks when necessary to do our jobs and perhaps save others. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t strive to improve our chances of staying alive.
The one major factor that separates us from the bad guys: training. Unfortunately, not all training is created equal. Our goal must be the development of a comprehensive and realistic training program that openly acknowledges the threats we face, addresses our weaknesses and teaches us the skills to smartly and aggressively defend ourselves.
In this article, I’ll introduce some factors that must be incorporated into a firearms training program and provide some tips for developing an effective training program.
The Right Mentality
We’ve heard countless times from trainers in our academies and from our tactical and firearms instructors that the development of the right mentality is critical to our success. But it’s also difficult to acquire and maintain throughout the course of a career. Many LE instructors believe that the true enemy isn’t the bad guys we face, but rather our own complacency and overconfidence. Some LEOs refuse to accept the fact that a physical confrontation is a distinct possibility in the future, and thus train apathetically and without purpose or intensity. In too many minds, “It won’t ever happen to me.”
The threat, however, is real, and it’s out there waiting for us. If you’ve never been in a serious physical confrontation, count yourself lucky. Just don’t count on that luck to get you home at the end of the day.
Recognize Your Weaknesses
None of us are impervious to injury or death, and none of us, no matter how hard we try, are beyond losing a fight. While we can and should recognize that fact, we can also bolster the areas where we know we’re weak. If your shooting isn’t where it should be, practice. If you are a small-framed officer, work on developing your strength and power. If you are fortunate enough to possess great physical strength, make sure that your stamina is good.
Recognize that your weaknesses are not just your own, but inevitably affect those you work with. It’s not about tournaments, belts, recognition or awards, but rather about bringing the greatest number of refined skills to a confrontation. The more skills you possess, the more ways you have to win. In our world, coming in second place could mean a trip to the hospital or the morgue. In training, if you’re always winning confrontations and overpowering your training partners, you’re not training with the right people, at the right speed or in the right places.
Addressing your weaknesses requires being honest with yourself so you can identify those areas where you need improvement. If you’re not, your opponents will most certainly try to exploit your weaknesses in a confrontation—just as we would against them.
Personally, I know my weaknesses. I’m an average-sized (on my best day) and I know that a real threat to me is being grabbed up by some Neanderthal and tossed around like a rag doll. Is that realistic? Yes, it is. Do I train for that possibility? Absolutely. I know my weaknesses and I try to counter those threats and bolster areas where I know I’m weak.
The Box Drill
Train hard. The beginning of true self-defense and true officer safety lies with hard training.
No one wants to get hurt in training. The problem is that many of us train at only 25% speed and intensity, which gives us a false sense of reality. In the real world, our enemy will come at us at 100%, with adrenaline, rage and fear fueling their intensity. If you’ve never trained at this level or even close to it, you could easily get overwhelmed in a real confrontation.
The FBI, like many agencies and departments, employs a variety of drills to enhance skills on the range, in the shoot house and on the mats. An unusual drill we use in our division, called a “Box Drill,” is designed to highlight what a real confrontation feels like. (Note: The term “box drill” didn’t originate with the FBI.) The drill is used in many law enforcement agencies and military units and serves to force participants to react to an attack. In these drills, a box keeps the participant in a confined area. The use of a shroud keeps the attack a surprise and enables instructors to attack from the front or rear and mix up the scenarios.
In order to simulate a genuine “flash” reaction to an attack, we outfitted our shooting house rafters with a pulley system and dangled a shroud from a rope. Our agents wear the shroud so it covers their eyes and head. When the shroud is pulled up quickly, the agents are confronted with an immediate attack where they’re forced to, as Law Officer columnist Dave Spaulding says, “fight from the hole.”
This reactive position is a serious disadvantage to any officer, and that’s where we start the confrontation. The agents are forced to react to a surprise attack from someone in front or behind them, and in some instances, from multiple attackers. The training highlights an important lesson: Real-life confrontations, at 100% speed, are sloppy, dangerous and difficult. There are no beautiful moves like in the movies, and most of the scenarios end with both attacker and agent falling to the ground, getting into scramble (50/50) positions, and bouncing off the walls and into one another. This tactic also gets agents accustomed to feeling a real surprise reaction to someone coming straight at them at full speed.
In some instances, agents are able to deploy their firearms, but in the majority of the scenarios they can’t access their weapons because of the proximity of the attacker. Participants and instructors soon realize how fast these confrontations occur and how unpredictable they can be. Unlike professional combat sports, there’s no rhythm to this type of fight. It’s intense and fast, with no breaks or time to catch your breath.
The Box Drill emphasizes one of the most important roles of defensive tactics (DT): Create the critical space between agent and attacker that allows the agent to access their weapons. “DT gets you to your gun” is a common phrase used by FBI DT instructors.
This type of practical training allows participants to transition seamlessly between Close Quarters Battle (CQB), defensive tactics and firearms deployment in real time.
Don’t Be a One-Trick Pony
Our goal as LEOs is to develop a comprehensive system to keep ourselves safe. We need to make our training realistic and train in all the various disciplines and positions we might find ourselves in. If we only train from positions of advantage, we run the risk of fooling ourselves into believing that’s where we will always be.
It’s human nature to train in the activities we like and are good at. There’s nothing wrong with that in the civilian world, but in law enforcement it can be a fundamental flaw. We can’t afford to be weak in the one discipline that may end up saving our lives one day.
Great shooters who are physically weak, cops who can bench press 300 lbs. but can’t catch a suspect in a foot pursuit, and skilled punchers who flounder on their backs in a ground entanglement all have one thing in common: Strength in one discipline only. As trainers, we must recognize this and address it. There’s no point in being the best shooter in your department if you’re incapable of deflecting an attacker and actually getting to your weapon.
When they’re scared and at risk, people will naturally fall back on what they know, both in training and in real situations. Our attackers will likely exhibit the same behavior.
As LEOs, we need to be aware of all the realistic areas where a confrontation could end up and train in those areas, including the unlikely and worst positions we could ever find ourselves in. When it comes to physical confrontations, our goal as trainers is to predict where a confrontation could possibly go, train from those positions and ensure that the first time we experience these situations is in the mat room or at the range—not on the streets.
Law enforcement generally wins the confrontations we get ourselves into, and that is a very good thing. We win for a variety of reasons, the most important of which are:
• We work in teams;
• We’re significantly smarter than the bad guys; and
• We generally bring a greater skill set to the fight.
If we refuse to keep our skills polished, sharp and at the ready, we could find ourselves being overmatched, overpowered and on the losing end of a deadly confrontation. Don’t let that happen to you. Don’t settle for mediocrity and don’t rely on luck. There’s no such thing as being over-prepared.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the FBI.
Joe Denahan is an FBI Special Agent assigned to an East Coast Division. He is the Division’s Primary Defense Tactics Instructor and a member of the FBI SWAT Team. He has been in federal law enforcement since 1997.
Attorney General Launches Law Enforcement Safety Initiative. (March 22, 2011) In The United States Department of Justice. Retrieved Dec. 14, 2011, from www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2011/March/11-ag-358.html.