Despite advancements in training and tactics, law enforcement homicide rates have remained consistent for several decades and have actually increased in the last two years. Most of these murders occur during sudden close-quarter contacts. In a number these homicides the officer was murdered with the first round, while in others, multiple officers were murdered or seriously wounded in only a few seconds. If we are going to make officers less vulnerable to the types of sudden assaults in which many are killed each year, we need to reevaluate how officers conduct field contacts.
Most law enforcement periodicals routinely publish articles in which the authors provide techniques on how to prevail against a sudden assault. A number of these articles include photographs that offer step-by-step instructions on how to defend against everything from a knife attack to an attempted gun-take away. While most of these articles offer useful information, many of the accompanying illustrations perpetuate a dangerous myth — the myth that an officer can easily defend themselves against a sudden attack by a suspect who is standing only a few feet away. Too many of these instructional slides fail to accurately represent the speed and devastating effectiveness in which a suspect, particularly a motivated suspect, can draw a pistol, land a punch, or launch a successful take-down. Many of these illustrations also fail to represent the reaction time of most officers, particularly officers who have to divide their attention between the suspect(s) and the call they are handling.
There is simply too much at stake for officers to continue to believe that they can routinely overcome a sudden attack, particularly one with a handgun, from a suspect standing within several feet of them. The details surrounding most law enforcement homicides continue to prove otherwise!
This article offers simple and proven methods for establishing a Position of Advantage for officers, one that is not based on a stance, but is instead built on the disadvantages it places on the people we contact. As we enter 2012, I would encourage officers to honestly assess their vulnerability to a sudden assault and to use tactics that provide them with a real Position of Advantage in every field contact.
The Advantage of a Sidewalk
More than two decades ago a partner and I adopted a practice which we learned from a veteran officer in our agency. When contacting suspects or suspicious persons, we first asked them to sit down on the closest sidewalk or parking curb available, and to extend their legs out in front of them. On the rare occasion when a sidewalk or curb was not available, we had the suspect sit in the same position on a vehicle bumper. By taking the suspects legs out of the equation we did a number of things.
First, we placed the subject in a position that made him less capable of initiating a sudden unarmed assault. More importantly, we also made it more difficult, and more time consuming, for a suspect to draw a firearm. Detainees could still shoot from a seated position of course, but in creating the need for some “preparatory action” for them — such as rolling to their side or attempting to stand up — we added additional reaction time for us.
When we became defensive tactics instructors we formally introduced this “tactic” into our agency’s training program, adding it to both our in service and new officer orientation training. This tactic is now practiced by every officer in my former agency. It is so widely used that many “regulars” will sit down before an officer even asks them to. This admittedly simple technique has become a very effective officer safety tactic and has helped to all but eliminate sudden assaults against officers. This practice also reduced the number of foot pursuits that officers are involved in as suspects are less likely to attempt to escape after complying with the initial request to sit down. If the decision is made to arrest or handcuff the detainee, he or she is always handcuffed while seated, which also reduces their ability to resist arrest or attempt to escape
The Advantage of Poor Mobility
There are times and locations where a sidewalk or curb is not available; or when weather conditions make it unreasonable to ask a subject to sit down. Even in these circumstances officers should still be committed to limiting the contacted person’s ability to initiate a sudden assault. One of the more effective techniques that I used was to ask a person I contacted to assume a position that, for lack of a better description, looks like a Gingerbread Man.
The key to this position is that you ask the subject to spread their legs significantly beyond shoulder width distance. The suspect is also asked to place the back of their hands against their legs with their palms facing towards you. Suspects in this position are less mobile and slightly less capable of quickly lunging or striking at an officer. I have had countless students assume this position but have yet to find one who could lunge towards me without first drawing one leg in towards the other to regain the balance and mobility necessary to fight.
This “preparatory” move, however brief, at least affords a vigilant officer a few additional moments to react. Quickly drawing a firearm can be more difficult from this position and nearly impossible if the firearm is concealed in the suspect’s front and in some cases even rear pants pockets. This position should not be used in lieu of a seated position, however, it is far more effective than interacting with suspects who have no restrictions placed on their ability to assault an officer or access a concealed weapon.
The Advantage of a Refusal
On occasion, a suspect will refuse to comply with a request to sit down. Obviously, during a consensual contact, citizens have the right to refuse this request. However, a subject’s refusal is still beneficial as it can offer clues into the mindset and motivations of the suspect or suspicious person. These clues can help officers to make more informed decisions about their safety.
The only training issue we encountered with this tactic was from officers who would occasionally turn a consensual contact into a detention by demanding, rather than asking, that someone sit down. With very little training, every officer learned that it was always better to at least initially ask a subject to comply, even if they considered the field contact a detention.
Too many good men and women are still being murdered and seriously wounded every year in unexpected armed attacks. If we are going to reduce the number of successful close-quarter assaults against officers we must adopt tactics that make sudden attacks more difficult and more obvious. I encourage officers and instructors to move away from traditional “face to face” field contacts, and move toward tactics that create a real advantage for officers.