Not too long ago, I was involved in conducting some modern force-on-force training using marking cartridge guns for my agency. The scenarios were essentially high-risk traffic stops or PIT (Precision Immobilization Technique) stops which began just as the imaginary pursuit had ended. The goal of the training was to show the officers the different paths that the suspects could choose and to be prepared for everything from a simple surrender, all the way to a full-fledged gunfight using the marking-cartridge guns. Throughout the training, I observed the same issue arise despite the scenario. Whenever deadly force was required and used, the officers would fire their marking guns, get their hits and the actors playing the part of the suspects would do as instructed — they would either collapse as though dead or they would pretend to be wounded or incapacitated as though they had just been shot.
The officers would then often look at each other dumbfounded as to what to do next. I saw this multiple times and it reminded me of listening to old phonograph records which would sometimes scratch and the song would get stuck on the same line repeating endlessly until someone went over and gave it a bump to get it going correctly again. I observed that the officers had done everything they had mentally prepared for and been trained to do, but it became apparent that at some point the tape with the remaining data had never been recorded.
I recognized that there had been a failure in our training. I had spent hours training officers how to prepare for a gunfight and what to do if they were in one — there was plenty of data on their tapes to make the correct decisions in these circumstances. But, I had done a poor job of putting data on their tapes regarding what to do immediately after the fight, when observing the immediate results of their actions. I suspected that the cause of the failure was the use of video simulators where we often force officers to make a split second decision, but then immediately stop the scenario, tell them to re-holster and then verbally justify their actions.
In the officer’s mind, the scenario ended the second he fired the gun — he had never been given time to process what he should do next. I started using the phrase “finish the tape” to describe training officers what to do after the suspect falls wounded or dead.
Writing Data to the Tape
Once the failure was recognized, I focused on training officers on what to do next.
1. Find Cover / Don’t rush in — Most agree that there is no race to dive onto a suspect you just shot and standing in the open over a downed suspect is an invite for the suspect to try one last attack. When he pulls a “Jason from Friday the 13th” and comes back up, if I have the ability, I want to have moved somewhere that I have a tactical advantage.
2. Communicate and Coordinate — Once cover is found and your safely able, start getting the Calvary coming your way to help. If other officers are present, let them know where you are, where the suspect is and start coordinating your next actions. In dim light, if you or another keep a light on the suspect, one can cover the potential threat while the other coordinates other assisting units. Officers tend to work together best when the next goal is clear, so this is a good time for someone on scene to take command. Consider the possibility of other unknown threats in the structure, vehicle or environment… Remember, sometimes predators travel in packs.
3. Reload — Firearms Instructors often teach that the time to do a tactical reload (magazine exchange) is when there is a lull in the action and we have sought cover. If the suspect is down, you have cover and potentially backup present — there may be no clearer time when a tactical reload would be more appropriate. It may have taken 10 years before the officer got himself into his first gunfight — so the question is when will the next be. It could be another 10 years or in the next 10 seconds. In either case, I’d prefer to have a fully loaded gun in my hand or in my holster when it comes.
4. Check your and your partners condition — While you have cover, put your life in higher priority than the suspects — check yourself for injuries if you can and make sure your partners are OK before concerning yourself with the medical care of the suspect. If an officer needs to be saved, cover the suspect while getting the officer out of the threat area to where he can be given life saving efforts.
5. Safely capture the suspect — All LE uses of deadly force have the potential of becoming a close quarter battle because we have to approach and secure everyone we have shot at some point. Coordinate a team if possible using more than one angle of cover and support (long guns if possible). Use the technologies you have immediately at hand such as vehicles or a ballistic shield as you approach the suspect or perhaps a K-9 to grab and pull a suspect into a location where he can be safely approached. Handcuff the suspect, despite his injuries, even if he appears deceased.
6. Secure the remainder of the immediate scene — Before we can render aid to the suspect, we must first remove any innocent citizens (wounded or not) or wounded officers and check locations that might hide further threats in the immediate area of the gunfight.
7. When the area appears safe for the paramedics, render aid to the wounded suspect — Coordinate how you will allow the paramedics access to the wounded suspect and consider having one officer immediately assigned to trying to protect evidence if possible.
Most of the officers I work with could probably recite this list if asked, but few had actually gone through the process until we implemented it into the force on force training. Now when I conduct force on force training, I’m careful to have the officers actually practice these skills to successfully capture the suspects while minimizing further risk to the officers or innocent citizens.
When the training day is complete, I always follow up with a discussion about the post shooting investigation process. We discuss the fact that there will need to be a Public Safety statement to the first uninvolved supervisor, so that he can know the immediate scope of the scene and where other potential victims, suspects, witnesses or evidence could be. We discuss the fact that there will be two separate investigations — the Criminal Investigation for the benefit of society and the Internal Investigation for the benefit of the police agency itself and exactly what the officers’ rights are in both of them. This discussion will be different from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but officers should never go into a shooting review not knowing what to expect.
The goal of force-on-force training is always to allow officers to solve realistic use of force problems and teach them to win. By finishing the tape, we minimize the confusion of what to do after the smoke clears and give them the tools to win their fight all the way to the end.