Blue on Blue: Preventing 'friendly fire' and unintentional discharges

As Pogo Possum said many years ago, 'We have met the enemy and he is us.'

We all want to be safer.  We all want to go home after the shift.  If you are part of a tactical team or any team frequently making A&D arrests, you may constantly wonder how you can do it more safely.  There is one sure-fire way to increase your team’s safety by at least 50 percent.  It’s really quite simple and you can do it right now!  What is this amazing technique?  Here it is...don’t shoot each other. 
No, I’m not joking.  Statistically, over half of the law enforcement shootings are friendly fire or unintentional discharges.  As Pogo Possum said many years ago, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

I was teaching several law enforcement agencies tactics years ago using Simunitions.  On our lunch break I passed a local newspaper stand and the front page caught my attention.  The headline story was about a local SWAT team member being shot during an arrest.  Thankfully, his injury was minor.  The SWAT team arrived at the subject’s house at “oh-dark-thirty” and was stealthily creeping through the house.  The bad guy heard noises in his house and walked out into the hallway to determine the source of the noise. 

One team member, upon seeing a figure unexpectedly appear in the hallway, probably had a startle reflex with his finger on the trigger.  A round gets fired by one SWAT member and the round lodges into the leg of a fellow SWAT member farther up in the stack.  The struck operator yells something like, “I’m hit!” 

Other members, seeing someone at the end of the hallway, hearing a shot, and then hearing a fellow SWAT cop yell out he’s hit come to a somewhat reasonable conclusion — the bad guy is shooting at them. 

This leads them to send a lot of rounds downrange in the vicinity of the bad guy.  For the record, the bad guy was not armed and was not hit.  The team pulled back, negotiations began, and the bad guy eventually gave himself up.

As I continued to read the story, what I found interesting was the injured officer had been shot approximately six months earlier — again by someone on his own team.  I was starting to wonder if he had done something to tick off his team mates or if he was just having a run of bad luck.  If it were me, I know I’d be looking to get off that team.  The first shooting incident of this officer happened when another team member failed to place his MP-5 on safe prior to crawling over a wall.  The MP-5 was slung and the trigger got caught on something as the SWAT officer was jumping down.  The gun goes bang and an innocent officer is shot — again, fortunately, the injury was minor. 

Although some may see some humor in these two occurrences, it can be deadly serious.  Each year officers are killed and injured due to the actions of their fellow officers. 

It’s got to stop.

How do we fix it?  Easy.  Insist on strict adherence to all safety protocols during training and operations.  Don’t take short-cuts.  Don’t think those silly safety rules are for those officers less experienced or talented than you.  After chastising an officer of another agency (who was also a tactical instructor for that agency) for having his finger on the trigger during a room clearing exercise using Simunitions, he told me he was diligent in teaching recruits to keep their finger off the trigger; however, it was okay for him to have his finger on the trigger at all times because he was sooooo experienced and sooooo talented. 

I wish I were making that up, but I’m not.

If you are an instructor, keep an eagle eye on everyone.  Really look hard for fingers on the trigger when they shouldn’t be and muzzles pointing at ‘friendlies.’ 

See it, correct it, ensure it doesn’t happen again.  If you are on a team, realize everyone is a Safety Officer.  Everyone should feel comfortable calling out safety violations.  If you don’t, someone can die and lots of lives are destroyed — the person shot, their family and loved ones, the shooter, and the shooter’s family and loved ones.  

Stay safe, do not hurt each other, and get the bad guys.   

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