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The importance of being a ‘predator’ in a deadly confrontation

It’s crucial to do what your attacker doesn’t expect in order to prevail in a deadly confrontation

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During the annual conference of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA) in St. Louis, Policing Matters podcast co-host Doug Wyllie met with law enforcement trainers and experts, some of whom were willing to sit down and talk about what they’re teaching and what they’re learning.

In this podcast segment, Doug sits down with Lee Shaykhet, a renowned police trainer, who talks about predators versus prey – the importance of moving forward and doing what your attacker doesn’t expect in order to prevail in a deadly confrontation.


Learn more about police tactics for winning a deadly confrontation or read a transcript of this episode of Policing Matters.

Defeating a close-quarters ambush

Using the ‘T-Kick’

Basic takedown of a non-compliant subject

Surviving an ambush

Training day: Gun retention techniques

Weapon retention out of the holster


Doug Wyllie: We’re here at ILEETA 2019 in St. Louis, Missouri, with Lee Shaykhet. In 1979, Lee came from the then Soviet Union, now Russia, to the United States to begin a journey of training law enforcement officers in Canada and the United States in a variety of different tactics. Lee, you talk in your training about predators and prey. And the analogy that you use, and it’s not an analogy, it’s a scientific fact, that predators have their eyes in the front and prey have their eyes on the side. Tell me how that impacts or affects law enforcement training, and what you use to get that analogy across to cops.

Lee Shaykhet: First, a little bit of an explanation about predator versus prey and how that applies to law enforcement applications. A lot of different scenarios police officers learn in response to aggression used to be, and still is, unfortunately, to step back and to create distance or reactionary gaps.

Although there may be a time when this is appropriate, normally we operate in very close proximity to the subject. And oftentimes it’s too late to go backwards. When you start going backwards, you begin to act like a prey. Unfortunately, when you begin to act like a prey, things go in one direction: from bad to worse.

A good example would be you come up on a person with some kind of long gun. Maybe you knocked on the door, the door opens and here is this guy with a long gun. The worst possible thing in the world you can do is step backwards. By stepping backwards, you would still be what you might call in a kill zone. And you’re actually helping the bad guy shoot you.

Now, the appropriate response would be a predator response, whereas, instead of going backwards, you go forward through the target. Take him down. And by collapsing this distance – actually, call the distance between you and the bad guy daylight – you want to see zero daylight. You want to make contact and drive right through. And what happens in that application is that there is no room for him to turn the weapon onto you. It’s also very surprising to the subject. He does not expect you to come right at him. He’s used to, and he’s expecting – anticipating – you backing up.

This is just one example of that, but a lot of problems get worse when we startbacking up and acting like a prey.

Doug Wyllie: You talk about closing daylight and eliminating daylight. For me, the thing that came to mind was you’re breaking the OODA loop of the subject. You’re doing the absolute unexpected, the opposite of what they’re expecting you to do. So, you get inside their OODA loop and you then have the element of surprise. We talk about speed, surprise and violence of action in the military context. But in a law enforcement context, if you’re in a deadly fight, those ideas apply, correct?

Lee Shaykhet: That is a very good point. As a matter of fact, if we’re going to apply OODA loop to this concept, the first O in the OODA Loop stands for observation. In other words, if you stand in front of the subject, he can clearly see you, which means he can shoot you, stab you. He can punch you, he can fight with you. You are, what I would call, in a kill zone. That is a bad place to be.

I’d like to be positioned behind the subject, what you might call a six o’clock position. Oftentimes the priorities in which the officer addresses this threat are somewhat backwards because we always try to do it quickly and to kind of get ahead of the subject, but because of the concept of the OODA loop, since they already made their observation, the orientation, they already decided what they’re going to do. So, basically, we’re behind to start with.

What you want to do is immediately get out of the kill zone. I’d like to get in my favorite place, which is behind the subject’s back, or six o’clock position. Because that way, as you correctly pointed out, since they can’t see me, they can’t really do anything to me until they reacquire me as a target. So that gives me an opportunity to control them or whatever action is appropriate at that time.

Sun Tzu said that most battles are won or lost before they get started. And he also advised first, to acquire a winning hand, a good position. And then, from there on, it’s somewhat of a no-brainer. So, basically, that’s exactly what I do.

Doug Wyllie: We were talking earlier about what we can learn from mobile phones. Everyone has one of these, and there are so many videos of officers being assaulted, being shot, stabbed, all different manners of attack. There are so many videos that we can watch now and learn from them. Hopefully in most cases these officers are okay at the end of the day, but we’ve seen, tragically, sometimes, not. What are your thoughts on how we can look at these videos?

Lee Shaykhet: Well, when you look at the video, you can clearly see the results of prior training, because the officer in distress basically reverts to what they’ve been trained to do. And you often see the officer backing away. And just about every time, once you start moving backwards, things just go bad, because then it puts an idea in the mind of the subject that you’re acting like a prey. You’re afraid of them. You’re backing up. You are hesitating. A lot of it has to do with policies and overall perception.

But the fact of the matter is, once the confrontation deteriorates to the point that we must physically take control, or we are in a deadly force type of situation, we must change it up. We must assume a good position and get it over with the sooner the better, because the longer it takes for us to gain control, once things turn physical, it can only go bad. A classic example of that, years ago, was the Rodney King incident. On that tape, you can clearly see that the longer it goes, the worse it gets.

Incidentally, a lot of what happened there can be clearly traced to the fault of training, because basically, at that time, the officers had the stick with another handle. They used to call it PR-24. And they told them the story that if you hit somebody with a stick, they will get cold and compliant. And then they will completely change their personality and they will just do whatever it is we tell them.

Well, what they forgot to tell them, that oftentimes it’s not going to work. And pain compliance has an extremely limited application because a lot of people, whether they’re intoxicated ...

Doug Wyllie: On PSP, or PCP ...

Lee Shaykhet: Or whatever. Or just angry.

Doug Wyllie: Yeah, right.

Lee Shaykhet: You can beat them with a stick all day long. It doesn’t have any effect. As a side note, talking about videotapes, it looks terrible.

Doug Wyllie: Yeah.

Lee Shaykhet: So, the point of the matter is that we always want to be able, when we do something, to have an option because maybe it’s going to work or maybe it’s not going to work. Well, if it doesn’t work, rather than dwelling on it, we want to put it away and just go to the next option. Clearly, at that point, the officers didn’t know any other options. So, to me, I would lay most of what happened there at the foot of training.

Doug Wyllie: Yeah. And one of the videos that immediately comes to mind, for me, for a decade or more now, is the Dinkheller video, where Deputy Kyle Dinkheller, he was trying to do his very best to control the situation in that traffic stop. And he kept doing the same thing over and over. Put the gun down. Over and over and over and over and over and over. When you’re doing the same thing over and over and it’s not working, you should change what you’re doing. Right?

Lee Shaykhet: Well, let me just say that many moons ago, there was a very smart guy. His name was Albert Einstein. He said that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. It applies exactly and directly to what you just said. But the reason it happens is because that’s what the officer was trained to do.

Doug Wyllie: Trained, exactly.

Lee Shaykhet: In other words, they did not teach him to transition to the next option. When you say something to the subject and you do not get a response, or you get no response, or you get a slow response, it’s an indication. No response, actually, is a response in itself. Most people can only do one thing at a time, and if the subject is thinking, for example, about assaulting you or grabbing your weapon, or things of that nature, he can’t respond right away because he’s already doing his one thing at a time.

So, consequently, if you say something to the subject, you want to observe how is it that he’s responding to what you’re saying. And, if we don’t get the reaction that we need to get, the red flag should go up and we should say that, all right, maybe we’ve got to look at it with more care, and maybe we should go to the next option. Repeating the same thing over and over, I would agree with Albert Einstein on that effect.

Doug Wyllie: Yeah. We’re here at ILEETA, in St. Louis. It’s March of 2019. It’s important we look back at things like Dinkheller and we look forward at things like mobile phones, because we have video that gives us instruction and gives instructors like yourself the opportunity to point at something and say, “This was either successful or unsuccessful.” So, I really appreciate everything that you do for law enforcement in all the training that you do. Thank you, again, for listening to Policing Matters, the Police1 podcast.

Policing Matters law enforcement podcast with host Jim Dudley features law enforcement and criminal justice experts discussing critical issues in policing