Survival gems from the ILEETA gold mine


Nuggets mined from the rich training lode at the recent annual conference of the International Law Enforcement Educators & Trainers Assn. (ILEETA):

Deadly trends. More than 18,300 LEOs have been killed since the first line-of-duty death was recorded in the U.S. in 1792, and these deaths have spanned every hour of the day and every day of the week. During the last 10 years, though, more officers have been feloniously slain on Fridays, the least on Sundays, and more have been murdered between 8 pm and 10 pm than in any other two-hour period.

Last year, domestics and traffic stops/pursuits proved to be the deadliest encounters. With the possible exception of six officers who were fatally ambushed, all those murdered in 2007 “were involved in activities where danger should have been anticipated.”

The general trend since 1978 has been a decline in felonious deaths of officers and an increase in accidental deaths. Now traffic mishaps “are the biggest killers of police officers.” Possible contributing factors: training is not matching this trend (most agencies require no driver training/refreshing beyond recruit level), more distractions in patrol cars, increased call volume, more agencies changing to smaller vehicles, an increasing percentage of recruits “are getting their driver’s licenses on their day of hire,” fatigue as “officers try to crowd too much into their lives,” and a failure to follow safety protocols.

—Lt. Ken Solosky, NYPD (ret.)
Instructor: What’s Killing Cops

Fatal legacies. Three officer murders and one near-miss with inherent lessons for training and practice:

• An officer who had earlier taken off his vest, possibly because of heat discomfort, was investigating a collision at a street corner. A suspect lunged from a crowd of onlookers, knocked the officer down, snatched his gun and killed him. The assailant “had set out deliberately to kill a cop that day because police were hurting his drug business.” He’d come across another officer earlier but decided not to take him on because “he looked sorta ready.” The eventual victim, “extremely overweight,” didn’t exhibit comparable command presence. Six months earlier, the targeted officer had been disarmed in another street encounter. He had received “below average” performance evaluations, but was still assigned to work the street.

• On a traffic stop, a suspect with an outstanding warrant came out of his vehicle with a gun concealed in his pocket. The subject handed over his license, and the officer started his paperwork while the two stood between the vehicles. “He wasn’t watching me so I pulled the gun and shot him,” the suspect explained. Although the round struck the officer’s vest, he collapsed; it’s thought he may have fainted from being shot. The assailant saw him moving on the pavement, then stood over him and delivered a fatal round to the head. Was that victim “killed” in training by instructors who told him “You’re dead” whenever he got “shot” in combat scenarios, instead of urging him to fight back and win?

• A prisoner who was handcuffed in the backseat of a patrol car stepped through the cuffs and shot the officer behind the wheel. Why? “He disrespected me.” Moral: “Treat everyone you contact with respect. Don’t yell at them or demean them, even gang members. Respect seems to be a big thing in survival, but how much training do we do on this?”

• A suspect with a gun hidden his crotch was searched three times by an officer who failed to discover the weapon. Finally, the officer asked, “Do you have a weapon?”

“Yes,” the suspect said—and meekly handed it over.

“Don’t tell my sergeant about this,” the officer cautioned. The suspect commented that he hadn’t attacked the officer because “I was brought up to respect police.”

Some officers are more afraid of getting in trouble than of getting killed.

—Range master Shannon Bohrer, Md. Police/Correctional Training Commissions,
Instructor: The Deadly Mix—Recognizing Threats

Fight back! Regarding officers who automatically collapse or hesitate in using force even when shot: “Getting shot is no big deal. Very few people die from being shot with a pistol. But getting shot again while you are dithering is another matter.”

—John Farnam, president, Defense Training International, Instructor: Close Contact Fighting

The 3-S Test. “The test of a good instructor is not what he personally can do as a warrior. The test is how proficient his students are long after the training is over. If your students can’t be reasonably proficient and retain the tactics you are teaching in your allotted training time, the time you are spending is wasted.”

Trainers need to “break the cycle of trying to teach advanced defensive and survival techniques” and bring training down to the basics. Violation of basic combative concepts, after all, is what gets officers injured or killed. Measure the tactics and techniques you teach against the 3-S test, proposed by trainer Dave Spaulding:

Is the technique Simple? If it’s not simple to do in class, it won’t get any easier on the street.

Does the technique make Sense, based on real-world experience? And can students learn and retain it in the allotted training time?

Is the technique Street-proven effective? Has it been used successfully in actual street encounters? If not, do your students want to be the guinea pigs?

Example: Martial arts techniques “take daily practice and lots of dedication. If you have enough time and energy to train seven hours a night, they can be fine. But realistically there are very few martial arts techniques that can be used effectively by street cops.”

You’re better off devoting your training time to “prosaic” techniques like knee strikes and elbow strikes. “These are your emergency sledgehammers. They can deliver stunning blows, and they can be effective from virtually any position.”

—Sgt. Chuck Humes Jr., Toledo (Ohio) PD,
Instructor: Critical Combative Concepts

Write? Wrong! In a research project in which officers were subjected to simulated deadly force encounters, “surviving” officers who were interviewed afterwards were able to accurately recall far more specifics of their shooting than were officers who were asked to write reports about the incident. “In writing, you have to anticipate what is going to be important to investigators down-range, and you are bound to leave things out or make innocent errors that will later look like lies.”

Worst of all is demanding that an officer write a post-shooting report before he has a chance to sleep well and de-stress. “You may get garbage that can boomerang later. Immediately after a life-threatening encounter, an officer may be functioning at a level of cognitive impairment that’s equivalent to intoxication. He needs to be able to pay attention alertly to the interview and interact in the process. He needs to be fully focused to be effective.”

Even interviewing an officer soon after a critical incident rather than forcing him to write “can cause a spike in his pulse rate from symbolically reliving the shooting” and this can “interfere with his ability to remember and articulate precisely what happened.”

Best strategy: allow an officer at least 48 hours and two sleep cycles before interviewing him. The results then from a skillful interviewer are likely to be much more comprehensive and reliable, and any spike in pulse rate from being “put back in the scene” is less likely to significantly affect responses.

—Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director, Force Science Research Center,
Instructor: Focus of Attention

Reading people. In three exhaustive studies by the FBI of murdered and wounded LEOs and their assailants, one common trait that emerged among victim officers was a strong belief that they could reliably “read” people. In the contacts that went sour they obviously read them wrong, because most officers were taken by surprise when attacked.

“Tell yourself, ‘Yes, I can read people; any good cop can. But I have limitations. Lots of suspects in the studies said they tried to be ‘real nice’ to officers. They were just waiting. Being nice to you doesn’t mean someone is your friend. Be ready.”

One of the authors of the FBI studies, Ed Davis, once was asked by a reporter, “Who can kill an officer?” His response: “Anyone who can pull 6 pounds.” (And some triggers are lighter than that these days.)

—Range master Shannon Bohrer

Time and brutality. Too often cops get into a struggle and don’t use an effective level of force to quickly defeat the assailant. The fight extends and seems to go on forever. “You want to take the suspect out in one or two strikes, because as trainer Bob Willis has written time equals brutality in the mind of the media, of citizens who have never been involved in confrontations, and others who will eventually judge the reasonableness of your police action.”

—Sgt. Chuck Humes Jr.

Life-saving psychological tactic. A suspect pulls a gun and catches you totally by surprise. You have no cover, no concealment, no gun in your hand. What do you do? One officer caught in this desperate circumstance just put up his non-gun hand in a “stop” motion. The suspect tried to dodge his gun around the officer’s hand rather than shoot through it, giving the would-be victim time to effectively deploy his own firearm.

—Lt. Ken Solosky

W.I.N. “You are faced with choices throughout each day—what you spend your time on and who you spend it with.” Keep this acronym in mind: W.I.N.—What’s Important Now. “You need to ask this question 35 times a day, beginning with breakfast and what you need to eat to get your day started right.” Ask it on your way to calls and during calls. What’s most important now may change and change quickly. Frequently referencing the question helps you prioritize, to assure that you are advancing toward your goals of safety, growth and personal excellence.

—Brian Willis, president of Winning Mind Training,
Instructor: Inspiring the Winning Mind & Warrior Spirit

Retaliatory attacks. “Prison gangs and street gangs may take an oath of retaliation against you. They may try to pay you back by attacking you, or they may take their revenge out by attacking your spouse and/or your children. Their retribution may be for you to suffer by watching your family members get injured, maimed or killed in front of you. You and your family need to be aware of this threat, have a plan for how you can respond when you’re together off-duty, and be prepared so that all of you will prevail, win and stay safe.”

—Col. Robert “Coach” Lindsey, Jefferson Parish (La.) SO (ret.),
Instructor: Winning & Surviving Off-Duty Encounters

Positive predators. “The only way to win is to play offense. If you only play defense, the best you can hope for is a tie. This is true in any athletic competition—and in police work.”

Officers need to adopt certain aspects of the predator mentality. “We usually think of predation with negative connotations, but think of some of the positive qualities of predatory animals in the wild. They exhibit controlled aggression, patience, cunning. They exploit the weaknesses of their opponents. They’re decisive and train from an early age. They’re confident of their ability. They use cover and concealment, speed and power, and use the environment to their advantage.”

Lt. Col. Dave Grossman has said, “Only a predator can hunt a predator. We are predators under authority of law.” And trainer Phil Messina has noted that “the only other option is to be prey, and that is not acceptable.”

—Brian Willis

Secret of commitment. “How do you develop the commitment to prevail against all odds? Identify your potential losses. What in your life do you really treasure? What in this world do you love the most—your dog, your kids, your spouse, someone else’s spouse?

“Whatever it is, pledge on your soul that you will fight with your body, your mind and your weapons to live for it. The thought of losing it will incite in you the rage to win.”

—Sgt. Chuck Humes Jr.

Blunt Truth. “It’s amazing how much you can still learn when you know everything.”

—Range master Shannon Bohrer

[Note: Thanks to ILEETA’s executive director, Ed Nowicki, and his many assistants for an outstanding conference, attended by nearly 800 trainers and officers from throughout the U.S. and abroad. The 2009 conference will be held April 20-25 at the Westin Chicago North Shore in Wheeling, IL just outside of Chicago. For more details, visit www.ileeta.org]

About the author

Charles Remsberg co-founded the original Street Survival Seminar and the Street Survival Newsline, authored three of the best-selling law enforcement training textbooks, and helped produce numerous award-winning training videos. His nearly three decades of work earned him the prestigious O.W. Wilson Award for outstanding contributions to law enforcement and the American Police Hall of Fame Honor Award for distinguished achievement in public service.

Buy Charles Remsberg's latest book, Blood Lessons, which takes you inside more than 20 unforgettable confrontations where officers' lives are on the line.

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