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How officers can integrate firearms and DT training

In order to prevail, an officer needs the ability to quickly shift gears and apply the correct force option, particularly when facing danger in close quarters

Since the l970s, the number of law enforcement officers feloniously slain in the line of duty has fallen dramatically. Without question, today’s officers are better trained and less likely than their predecessors to take unnecessary risks. The near-universal use of soft body armor has also helped the cause. While we may never eliminate line of duty deaths, we can still improve.

One area where officers remain especially vulnerable is extreme close quarters. Like it or not, policing is an intimate business where we regularly have to close inside of personal space to render assistance or establish control. Once we’re at arm’s length, an officer’s superior skills are often compromised, particularly in instances of a surprise violent attack.

In a sudden, violent attack you’ll be working from far behind on the power curve, but with a bit of training and commitment, you can turn the tables. Luck continues to favor the prepared individual. How good are your close quarters fighting skills? Hopefully, you’ve got something in your tactical toolbox that you can use to counter violent aggression and buy you a few precious seconds to access a less lethal weapon or firearm.

We are force generalists and typically have no idea of what sort of options — if any — will be required in a particular situation. One stumbling block remaining is that defensive skills are often presented in training as stand-alone disciplines, with little effort dedicated to integrating them into an effective, seamless, fighting system.

Fight it Out, Disarm, or Shoot?
The harsh reality of a close-quarters, violent encounter is that we have no idea what our opponent’s capabilities or intentions are and what type of force will be needed to prevail. Is our opponent attempting to take our gun, inflict a serious injury, or escape? Has he brought a weapon of his own? From an academic standpoint, we recognize that we can use the force which is objectively reasonable to bring our assailant under control.

Many officers are seriously injured or killed because they’re reluctant to use sufficient force against an adversary once the fight is on. Pressure point control, joint locks, and other soft empty hand control techniques may be appropriate for lower levels of resistance, but not against an assailant who is attempting to choke you out, rip your gun from the holster, or strike you with an improvised weapon.

A few decisive striking techniques should be part of your trick bag. Striking with a closed fist is great in the gym when your hand is protected by a glove, but not so great on the street where an injury to the dominant hand can prove catastrophic. Simple techniques, such as a palm strike, hammer fist, elbow strike, knee thrust, or angle kick are very effective and can quickly change an opponent’s focus, allowing the officer to gain the upper hand. If you can affect an assailant’s vision, breathing, or balance, the odds will quickly shift to your favor.

Close quarter attacks leave little time to assess the level of danger and take the appropriate action. This is especially problematic should an opponent quickly produce a knife or gun while in close proximity. Is there time for you to draw and fire your sidearm? Probably not. Your best course of action may be to disarm or otherwise deflect your opponent’s weapon. With the proper training, this is well within the realm of possibility. Scary for sure, but a fighting chance beats the pants off no chance.

Shooting Up Close & Personal
Early in my career, our firearms training and qualification sessions never addressed shooting at distances closer than seven yards. Fortunately, that has all changed as statistics continue to illustrate that the vast majority of police action shootings take place well inside seven yards.

Over the years, I’ve been exposed to, and practiced a number of extreme close quarters shooting techniques. Just about all have something to offer, but suffice to say, no one technique will work in every conceivable situation. Those carefully choreographed range techniques will also look a little bit different once there is some violent interaction between you and your assailant.

There are a couple of keys to success in extreme close quarters shootings. First, protect your gun and your most vulnerable areas. Don’t extend the gun toward your opponent where he could push it away or grab it. At contact distance, bring your support side arm and hand up to protect your head, neck, and upper chest. Be especially cognizant of where your muzzle is pointed and be sure not to cover your own body parts.

Two of the better extreme-close-quarters remedies include the gun retention and step-back — shove-shoot-shoot — techniques. With the gun retention technique, the gun is drawn and held close to the body to minimize risk of being disarmed.

Lifting the gun above the holster and bringing the elbow all the way to the rear will place your pistol in an optimum position against the ribs. Angle the gun slightly to the outside to prevent the slide fouling on clothing and remember to get the support hand up high to protect vulnerable areas.

The step-back technique is yet another viable extreme close quarters option. With the step-back technique, our assumption is that an opponent is attempting to access a weapon of his/her own from the waistband or pocket. To counter, deliver a hand palm strike to the sternum to create distance. If executed correctly, the striking technique will disrupt your assailant’s attack for a second or two and perhaps even move him back a step. This will afford you the opportunity to step back and draw your pistol to eye level and, if necessary, fire to stop the threat.

Proximity, available space to maneuver, and types of weapons utilized play heavily into the mix when deciding what technique is best. You may have to fire a contact shot with your handgun pressed up against the body of an assailant. Recognize that this will likely cause a stoppage in your pistol and you must be familiar with the procedure of getting it back into the fight if subsequent shots are necessary.

Mix it Up
Training in the integration of empty hand skills with firearms is highly recommended. When conducting extreme close quarters shooting exercises, I often have officers simulate a series of strikes and knee thrusts prior to giving the shoot stimulus. Taking it one step further, I have also had officers face 180 degrees up-range and deliver full power strikes on a training bag held by an assistant. On command, they turn and face their target and fire the requisite number of shots. It may not be the perfect solution, but it beats just talking about it!

Consider using inert training guns such as those manufactured by ASP, BLACKHAWK, or Ring’s Manufacturing in your empty hand defensive tactics training. With the appropriate protective gear, officers can practice drawing the inert firearm and pointing it at a violent opponent looking to thwart that action. Officers can also practice drawing after being taken to the ground or from other non-typical positions.

Unlike the range or gym, real world attacks do not follow predictable, pre-determined patterns. In order to prevail, an officer needs the ability to quickly shift gears and apply the correct force option, particularly when facing danger in close quarters. Our chance of success can be greatly enhanced in dealing with a rapidly evolving threat, by using a combination of empty hand and firearm skills.

Captain Mike Boyle served 27 years with the New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife, Bureau of Law Enforcement. Mike was responsible for all aspects of pre-service and in-service training and also supervised the internal affairs section of his agency. Mike has also been an assistant police academy director and continues to participate in both recruit and instructor level training. He is a certified instructor in multiple uses of force disciplines including handgun, shotgun, rifle, SMG, impact weapons and unarmed self-defense.

Contact Mike Boyle