Covering the situations most likely to occur in a confrontation is the cornerstone of any defensive shooting program. Because there's no way every possible scenario can be covered in any normal police training program, you do the best you can. You address the situations more likely to occur and then make it understood that it's part of an officer's combative mindset to decide which skills best meet the threat.
One way of doing this is for an agency to look at the confrontations its officers have faced in the past and re-create them in the training arena. Agencies fortunate enough not to have experienced many armed altercations can look at what others have faced via FBI statistics. For many years, the Bureau has published its annual Officer Killed Summary (Find it here: www.fbi.gov/ucr/killed/2006). Reviewing this report is an excellent way to examine situations officers across the country have faced over and over again. One of the most common is multiple-suspect confrontation.
According to FBI statistics, approximately 50 percent of the time two or more suspects are present during an officer assault. This isn't hard to believe. Think about your younger days. Remember when you were most likely to do something really dumb? That's right when you were with somebody. Everyone feels more confident when accompanied by another person. Criminals are no different; it's one of the main reasons we catch them: The person(s) with them when they committed the crime rat them out, often to save their own skin.
While multiple offenders can be a real boon to solving criminal investigations, they can pose a very serious hazard to an officer on the street. The more suspects a lone officer must face, the more likely they'll be overwhelmed, resulting in serious injury or death. This is all the more reason why multiple-suspect engagements should be a regular lesson in firearms training.
A Quick Review
I touched on this very subject in a column several issues ago (Fighting Multiple Adversaries, October 2006, p. 80) and received a number of requests for additional information on training for multiple-suspect encounters. Most of you have used the now-famous El Presidente drill designed by the late Colonel Jeff Cooper, but many have asked for additional ideas, especially those that would make your training program more realistic while keeping cost to a minimum. The minimum-budget theme was quite important to many of you, and I understand your plight.
For those who missed that column, let me quickly review what I discussed:
1. Qualification isn't training. Three evenly spaced targets engaged in a liberal time frame to qualify officers for the street offers a false sense of competence.
2. All training is artificial. There's no expectation of injury or death, no matter how realistic it is. This includes Airsoft and SIMUNITIONS training.
3. The El Presidente is a good shooting drill because it requires a shooter to perform a number of necessary fundamental tasks in a quick time frame. But it was never intended to be a multiple-target engagement training drill.
4. Don't just stand there and shoot it out: Move! Create distance between yourself and your attackers. Move so your attackers get in each other s way. Confuse them, don't reveal your next step, and move.
5. Don't be concerned about who has the most deadly weapon. Engage the closest perpetrator; any of them can kill you given enough time, but the closest can get to you quickest.
6. Practice engaging targets in varied directions, distances and positions. Think like an attacker. Where would you stand if you were attacking?
7. Train with both live-fire and Airsoft or SIMUNITIONS against live, moving people.
Taking into account the items reviewed above, what would be the most serious multiple-attacker situation? Think about what would make a multiple-suspect scenario even worse. What if non-hostiles (citizens) were in the field of fire? Do you think a child frozen in place would confound your response? What if that child hasn't been taken hostage, but you see the potential for that situation and feel the need to engage so it won't happen?
What if the suspects you re trying to engage are moving in and out of non-hostiles or from behind cover? How well do you think you would shoot in such a situation? Do you really have the skills, or are your abilities a bit overblown in your mind because your qualification course was so easy to successfully complete?
You must ask and answer these questions on the range before they become your reality.
In the September 2007 issue of Law Officer, I introduced a simple and inexpensive target stand that operates via pulleys and rope. Made by Action Target, the portable Turn/Swing Target Stand (visit the company s Web site at www.actiontarget.com) is a spring-driven device you can move in a very lifelike manner. It operates by merely pulling on a supplied nylon cord fed through a ground-mounted pulley. The original springs supplied with the stands wore out very quickly, but Action Target s Scott McGregor tells me the company has looked at a number of replacement springs, and by the time you read this, these problems should be solved.
Each individual stand is supplied with a metal stake with two attached pulleys, making these stands easy to use for multiple-target training scenarios. The stands are made from top-quality steel that endures many years of use. They come apart in two easy-to-carry pieces, so you can set them up almost anywhere, including shoothouses.
The stands must be anchored (stakes are supplied) to turn and swing. If soft ground isn't available, weight or duct tape the stands in place, depending on the surface you place them on.
One of my favorite multiple-target training drills that many of my students find harder to solve than they originally believe is to set up four targets at two different angles with one target in front of the other. The front target simulates a non-hostile, and the rear target simulates an armed suspect. I don't play these as hostages, just folks who happened to be in the line of fire, but they could certainly be hostages for SWAT training situations.
The student/officer is behind a shoothouse barricade, doorframe or entrance (if such a facility is available), and once in the line of fire, they have five seconds to engage the two suspects. Keep in mind either the suspect or non-hostile could be wobbling back and forth, yelling at the student, increasing his stress level. Because the instructor is standing behind the shooter, the targets can be individually controlled based on where the student looks.
Remember: It's easy to make this into a no-win situation, which isn't the goal. The objective is to make the targets move in a lifelike manner and let the students use their skills to solve the problem.
Again, no-win situations do nothing more than demoralize officers. Empower your officers so they'll prevail in the street. Multiple-target training like this is designed to add another experience to the toolbox of skills and help officers make rapid, critical decisions.
Add to the turning, wobbling targets the following:
The choices are endless and based on the imagination of the instructor. As an instructor, don't be afraid to verbally act as the aggressor. Even though you'll likely be behind the shooter, verbalization increases the realm of any range drill and will bolster the shooter s ability to issue verbal commands, learn what commands are too wordy or hard to issue under stress, and learn to keep commands simple, to the point and, most importantly, relevant to the situation at hand.
As you can see, these simple moving targets add an element of realism you can't attain with a fixed target stand alone. I've been studying armed conflict all my adult life, and one thing I think you can count on is that people will move in a fight. And, the more moving people in a fight, the more pandemonium. Add movement to all of your firearms training, especially multiple-attacker scenarios.
No matter how an officer decides to tackle a multiple adversary situation, practice is the key to success. Dry and live-fire training on lifelike targets, combined with positive mental imagery, will go a long way toward building skills and instilling confidence. Interactive training (Airsoft or SIMUNITIONS) is an excellent idea if funds permit.
In the end, don't be afraid to make training hard just don't make it no-win. An officer who never wins in training will certainly never win in the street.
Train hard and stay on guard.