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Incident analysis: Hammer attack on Conn. detective offers lessons in responding to a close quarters attack

Every officer should be trained in shooting from the ground on their back, side and front in every direction a threat can present itself


FOX 61

A lone officer responds to a noise complaint and the report of the sounds of breaking glass on August 12 in Middletown, Connecticut. She arrives on scene and approaches a house. A male in front of the house is walking toward her. She sees a hammer in his hand.

She asks the man to put it down, but she is met with profanity as he continues to walk towards her. She calls for her backup. The armed man uses that moment to launch his attack and charges her.

In about three seconds he covers the distance to her as she attempts to backpedal and draw her firearm and gives commands to “Stop.” She fires several rounds before being knocked to the ground.

He continues his attack, striking her with the hammer, as she attempts to fend him off with her feet and continues to fire. She regains a standing position, turns, and moves away from the attack and the suspect swings the hammer at her head. She goes to the ground again and he continues his attack.

After being shot several times, he retreats inside his home. He was arrested. Records indicate he had a prior arrest for assaulting a police officer.

Detective Karli Travis sustained a self-inflicted gunshot wound to her left hand and injuries from multiple hammer blows. Let’s review the bodycam video of the incident and then discuss tactical issues highlighted by this incident:

How fast can they attack?

The attacker reaches Detective Travis in around three seconds. Force Science Institute (FSI) research indicates someone in a full sprint coming toward you is “closing distance at more than 5 feet per stride” and that they are taking “…6 strides in slightly more than a second and a half.” People underestimate that speed.

You cannot back up fast enough

FSI research also indicates that when backing up, “the average first step is barely 2 feet and doesn’t reach 3 feet even after 6 strides.” You will be overrun, literally, if you try to back out of an attack.

Backing up also creates a high likelihood of you falling.

Radio or gun

The officer uses her dominant hand to call for backup. By using your non-dominant hand to operate your mic your dominant hand is free to draw. Do you practice drawing while keying your mic? When you see a suspect with a weapon, you should probably be drawing yours.

Get off the X

Your options for a charging attack are to move off to the side causing your attacker to slow to turn to follow you, or to move forward at an angle, preferably on the non-weapon side, which will cause them to have to stop and turn. This will create time for you.

You need to train and practice those responses if you want them to be automatic under stress.

How many shots will it take?

If and what your bullets hit determine how long a deadly force situation will last. Be mentally prepared to shoot until the threat stops.

Close quarters shooting

Shooting a paper target at close range isn’t anything like this situation. Dynamic realistic training better prepares you to deal with the complexity of a close-quarters shooting. Anytime you use a limb to fend off an attack while firing your gun, you run the risk of shooting yourself.

Falling to the ground with a gun in your hand

I must thank fellow trainer Don Gulla for pointing this one out: “We never teach tactical falls with guns! You’re going to fall in a dynamic situation whether you want to or not.” Drill using your legs to keep an attacker at bay from a grounded position.

Shooting from the ground

Every officer should be trained in shooting from the ground on their back, side and front in every direction a threat can present itself. You never know how you will be oriented to your threat on the ground.

Getting up

Your goal on the ground is to get back up. Your ground game should include getting back on your feet in a good guard position to protect your head so you can stay in the fight and off the ground.

A charging attacker with a contact weapon

There is NO 21-foot rule. Studies suggest that given the pace at which a suspect charges, coupled with the average time it takes an officer to unholster and fire an unaimed round from a level 2 security holster (1.5 seconds), the unpredictability of striking a moving target, and the uncertain time and number of rounds required to halt an attack, it may be more pragmatic to maintain a minimum distance of 30 feet when dealing with a subject armed with a contact weapon.

While every situation will be different, always remember time, distance and cover. Your training, your practice and your mindset go a long way in determining the outcome.

In February 2014, Duane Wolfe retired from his career as a Minnesota Peace Officer after more than 25 years of service (beginning in 1988). During his career, he served as a patrolman, sergeant, S.R.T., use of force and firearms instructor. He was a full-time law enforcement instructor at Alexandria Technical & Community College in Alexandria, Minnesota for 28 years. Duane has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminal Justice from Bemidji State University and a Masters Degree in Education from Southwest State University.