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5 keys to winning gunfights (from a cop who’s ‘been there’ repeatedly)

Part one of a two-part series

Gang Detective Jared Reston knows something about winning gunfights. In a dozen years with the Jacksonville (Fla.) Sheriff’s Office, he has killed three suspects who tried to murder him. Eight other times, he’s been part of a SWAT team that ended life-threatening encounters with deadly force.

In one battle with a teenage shoplifting suspect, which he vividly describes in a Police1 BLUtube interview, Reston was shot seven times before he was able to deliver three fatal contact rounds to his assailant’s head.

One of Reston’s wounds came from a .45-cal. round that blasted through his jaw and out of his neck, blowing out teeth and bone in its transit.

It took 14 surgeries to reconstruct his mouth and face, yet he fought to a remarkable recovery that saw him back on full duty is just six months.

At the recent 25th annual conference of the Illinois Tactical Officers Association, Reston shared with fellow operators his open secrets for staying alive against staggering odds. Whether you work with a team or patrol the streets alone, these are the 10 fundamentals he believes will help you win any armed encounter, just as they’ve helped him repeatedly.

1.) Be Ready to Inflict ‘Unspeakable Violence’
“Some officers die because they didn’t use the appropriate amount of force early on,” says Reston, the lead firearms instructor for his agency’s SWAT team.

“Know what your state statutes and department policy say about when you can use deadly force so you can act with confidence without hesitation. You shouldn’t have to consciously think about what’s permissible or whether you’ll get sued. That just puts you farther behind the curve.

“Be prepared to go in an instant from being calm to inflicting unspeakable violence on those who would take your life...and then back to calm again. Commit mentally and physically to doing whatever is necessary — with hyper intensity — to prevail. You won’t have time to think or warm up. You have to have that subconscious willingness to hurt dangerous people right there, and turn it on like a switch — like you would if someone was trying to snatch your child or someone else you love from you.

“You can condition yourself for that through stress-inoculation scenario training. The more you train under stress, the less stress you’ll feel when it’s real.

“Don’t depend on adrenalin to energize you and get you through a crisis. It may drain your strength instead. When gunfire starts, I’ve known officers who just shut down. They couldn’t even talk to the dispatcher. They thought they were ready for a gunfight, but they weren’t.”

2.) Mentally Rehearse
Reston is a strong believer in integrating hours of mental imagery into your training regimen. “Guys ask me, ‘Did it bother you to shoot the suspect with contact shots to his head?’ And I say, ‘No, because I’d already done it in my mind thousands of times.’

“Your mindset to win has to be constantly honed or you’ll lose it. Mental rehearsal is one way to hone it. Imagine yourself confronting and defeating every kind of challenge you can conjure up. Imagine yourself getting shot and how you’ll react. And don’t just imagine the stereotype bad guys. The assailant you have to kill may look a lot like you. They’re not always gangbangers or hardened felons. Anybody at any time may try to hurt you.”

Just be certain, Reston cautions, that in real life you can employ the skills you imagine yourself using to win in your mental scenarios. If candidly you have doubts, then that should identify your training challenge(s), because “in a crisis you won’t surpass your level of preparation.”

3.) Armor Up
Yes, body armor is hot, it’s bulky, “it sucks,” Reston concedes. “But it’s a tool that will help you survive a physical fight or a car crash as well as a gunfight. If you don’t wear it, you’re lazy, inconsiderate of your family, and ignorant about your own safety.”

Three of the rounds fired on him by the shoplifter impacted across his chest, one in the dead-center of his vest plate.

“Body armor helped keep me in the fight. The shot that hit the plate would have been a show-stopper for sure without my vest.”

4.) Watch for Opportunities of Advantage
“In most encounters, moments arise when you can gain the upper hand, but these windows of opportunity open and close quickly,” Reston says.

“For instance, a subject who’s threatening you in a combat stance may drop his hands enough for just an instant that you could smash him in the face. Or a suspect’s manner at a certain point may suggest he’s willing to give up, but if he’s allowed more time to think without being quickly controlled, he might not.

“Be watchful and be ready. Act decisively. You may not get another chance.”

5. Don’t be Equipment-Dependent
“Be prepared for any weapon to fail — not to work or not get the results you want,” Reston says. His Taser once malfunctioned at a critical moment. “It didn’t spark, it didn’t shoot, it didn’t do anything except count down on the screen,” he recalls, necessitating a fast transition to empty-hand tactics and eventually to his Glock 22 to control a hostile subject who was determined to attack him.

“A failure may surprise you, but it shouldn’t shut you down. Know the immediate action that may fix the problem. Drill that over and over and over, so your hands can go through the manipulations subconsciously while your eyes and mind are concentrating on the threat.

“Always have a Plan B, so you don’t get stuck in a Plan A that isn’t working. Be your own weapon. If you’re well trained in multiple skills, what won’t fail you is you. ”

That’s all for part one. Check back on the third Wednesday of February part two, wherein Jared Reston continues with five more keys to winning a gunfight — from addressing your weaknesses in training to fighting through getting shot.

Charles Remsberg has joined the Police1 team as a Senior Contributor. He co-founded the original Street Survival Seminar and the Street Survival Newsline, authored three of the best-selling law enforcement training textbooks, and helped produce numerous award-winning training videos.

One of the officers was stabbed in the area of his neck and chest, the other was slashed in the head before one of them shot the assailant
Officer Brett Boller survived the shooting and the suspect was arrested and charged with attempted murder
Bystander video shows officers deploying less lethal weapons before the man was shot by the officers
Sergeant Michael Moran was a Marine Corps veteran and had served the Cortez Police Department for 11 years