How cops can prepare for the speed of a sudden attack

Although Reagan’s assailant was immediately subdued, he only needed 1.7 seconds to fire six rounds and hit four men, including the president

In August 2011, three South Dakota officers detained several young adults for an alcohol violation. They had just released three of them, and were attempting to identify the fourth.

Suddenly, the last detainee drew a revolver and began shooting.

In seconds, he fatally wounded two officers, and critically wounded the third, before he was also killed.

The Speed of an Assault
These officers were neither complacent, nor were they slow to react. They simply could not overcome the often-fatal reactionary gap that exists in sudden armed attacks. These shootings occur with such speed and ferocity that more than 70 percent of murdered officers are unable to draw their pistols before they are incapacitated. Even fewer have the opportunity to shoot back.

So, how do we as trainers help to increase our officers’ ability to not merely survive such attacks, but WIN them?

As unpleasant as they are to watch, I encourage you to consider the use of dash-cam videos of law enforcement shootings. Honestly assess your students’ current skills against the speed and violence of these assaults.

For example — and this is obviously just one example among many from with you may choose — one video that I have most students view is the 1981 assassination attempt on President Reagan. Although this was not strictly speaking a law enforcement shooting, it demonstrates how fast one assailant can fire multiple hits into an officer, or officers.

Take note of the fact that although Reagan’s assailant was immediately subdued, he only needed 1.7 seconds to fire six rounds and hit four men, including the president (with a ricochet).

Check out this video, and continue reading below. 

Assassination Attempt of Ronald Reagan

The "Ability to Win"
So, how might one use this type of video? Let’s continue with the Reagan video as an example you might consider following when you build a training segment for your own students.

This is what I do. I regularly time the first (or “cold”) draw of officers around the country. While I have met a number of very capable officers, usually only half of every class can draw their pistol in under 1.7 seconds.

Some require three to four seconds on this first attempt.

We know that we must bring more than a “will to win” to a sudden attack. Unexpected violent assaults require a fast and reflexive response — one in which you need no more than two seconds to fire multiple hits into your assailant — while moving laterally.

Certainly we can go beyond this standard but anything short of this speed and accuracy leaves an attacker unimpeded in his murderous assault. 

Developing the “ability to win” requires thousands of repetitions on several core skills. This means a commitment to training beyond your agency’s program. It may take weeks or even months to achieve this ability, but with proper and consistent training I find that students will develop these skills faster than you might imagine.

This is the three-step training process I suggest to my students to achieve this objective. I teach them:

1.) One-second Draw — Practice your draw stroke 30 to 40 times a week — 10-12 reps per work day — to develop the neural pathways “muscle memory” necessary for a fast and flawless draw.

However, if you practice too fast you will offset any increased speed with unnecessary and inefficient motion. You will also fail to present your muzzle over the upper torso of the target on every draw — a skill that is critical for hitting your assailant with effective hits. Commit to slow, perfect practice for the first several hundred draws.

At this point you can begin to increase your speed and add lateral movement.

2.) Lateral Movement — A moving opponent is always harder to hit. This point is stressed in every fighting discipline, yet rarely mentioned in law enforcement firearms training.

As a consequence, officers inadvertently provide their assailant with another key advantage — a stationary target. Depending on the distances involved, moving even one body length to your left or right can make an assailant miss you with his first shots, or at least fail to hit you in a vital area.

Sudden lateral movement can also force an attacker to momentarily pause or “stall” as their brain calculates this unexpected action. Considering that many gunfights are won and lost in fractions of a second, and that you are on the wrong end of a reactionary gap, this short pause may prove critical.

3.) Live-Fire Training — Commit to live-fire training once a month, at least until you can flawlessly perform to this standard. If your agency’s range is not available every month, spend your own money and use a public range — your life is worth the investment.

Flash Sight Fire — Develop your ability to acquire a Flash Sight Picture (reference) from both the holstered and shooting ready positions.

One on One Drill — Generate more interest from your peers by working with them on this reactionary drill.

In this exercise, you and your partner — both facing downrange! — stand beside each other and, alternating turns as the “assailant,” each of you work off of the sudden draw of the other.

When the assailant draws to fire downrange at their target, the officer moves in a lateral direction (away from their partner) and engages his downrange target with hits to the chest. 

Note: Because of the stressor of competition, some officers will inadvertently put their finger on the trigger as they draw, rather than when the pistol is turned down ange. Therefore, practice this drill with empty weapons first. 

Conclusion: Learning From Tragedy
Considering what’s at stake: it is better to avoid a close-quarter gunfight than to be suddenly forced into winning one. Therefore, in addition to developing the ability to prevail, we also need to commit to tactics that can slow, or even discourage an attack.

We must be teaching our officers that when they are conducting street contacts, they request that detainees sit down on a sidewalk or vehicle bumper, or assume an off-balance stance when seated positions are not feasible.

I tell my students that during traffic stops, they should order vehicle occupants to rest their hands on the steering wheel, dashboard or the back of a car seat. These reasonable demands can discourage, or significantly slow an assault. At the very least, the detainee’s movements will appear more furtive. (See "Creating a Real Position of Advantage" for more information on this topic).

If anyone is looking for a true watershed moment that calls for more consistent and specific firearms training, the tragedy in South Dakota is that moment. The loss of these young officers is a terrible reminder that sudden armed attacks are difficult to win and impossible to predict.

While we need the courage to endure such an attack, we must also develop the specific skills to win one.

As we enter this New Year, resolve to develop and maintain these skills not only in your students, but in yourself as well. 

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