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News from ILEETA 2011: Winning in a Lakewood-type battle

Don Gulla — a 27-year veteran of the King County (Wash.) Sheriff's Office — demonstrated numerous drills and exercises that can be used at roll call to help officers defend against an ambush or assassination attempt

When I arrived in the meeting room in Wheeling at around 0745 hours this morning for my ILEETA session with Don Gulla, the PoliceOne video about the Lakewood Four was playing in a continuous loop on the big screen. Gulla — a 27-year veteran of the King County (Wash.) Sheriff’s Office — nodded his recognition of my entry into the room, gestured with his eyes to the screen, and smiled. We visited together for a few moments and briefly discussed the efforts of Dave Smith and the rest of the folks on the PoliceOne Video team in creating that masterful piece of video. Quick side note: Gulla offered an interesting idea about a follow-up to that video. Stay tuned on that, because although it’s decidedly not my AOR to make the call on such things, I can — and will — advocate strongly for it.

When the class began a few moments later, Gulla started with the segment from that video in which Officer Ben Kelly is being interviewed about his contact with Maurice Clemmons. “Watch this,” Gulla said, “and pay attention to what Officer Kelly says.”

Kelly, in the video, described shooting his service pistol at Clemmons three times but because of Clemmons’ continued movement away from him, not believing he’d even hit him. As you will likely recall, Clemmons fled around a hedge after being shot by Kelly.

My training partner — I’ll call him “Makers, Mark” until I can absolutely confirm he’s okay with me posting his actual name — is “drawing” a tennis ball from beneath his un-tucked shirt, ready to whip at my face like a head-shot, and I’m using a movement technique Don Gulla taught me a few moments before.  (PoliceOne Image)
My training partner — I’ll call him “Makers, Mark” until I can absolutely confirm he’s okay with me posting his actual name — is “drawing” a tennis ball from beneath his un-tucked shirt, ready to whip at my face like a head-shot, and I’m using a movement technique Don Gulla taught me a few moments before. (PoliceOne Image)

Center Mass vs. Head Shots
Gulla then challenged the room by asking, “Those officers in Lakewood, the officers in that video, where were all of those cops shot? In the head or neck — all of them — in the head or neck.”

Then Gulla asked, “Where was Clemmons shot?”

He let that one hang in the air... then, he answered.

“Center mass. The bad guys are shooting at the head and neck, and we’re shooting center mass.”

Gulla then showed a picture of himself with a blue v-neck shirt over a red undershirt. He said that the image roughly represents the target area that bad guys are aiming at, and I immediately though of the “triangle of death.”

Learning Objectives & Performance Objectives
Gulla then went on to explain that in the next hour or two, we were going to learn to set up speed survival drills to increase officer’s chances of survival during an ambush, and set up indoor speed shooting drills to include:

1.) Indoor Basic Speed Shooting Drills
2.) Body/Head Movement — Flinch Draw Drills
3.) Threat ID Drills — Target Suspect's Head
4.) Multi-Officer Shooting Movement Drills

SIRT Training Pistols
Gulla then gave us a brief explanation of the gear we’d be using — the Shot Indicating Resetting Trigger (SIRT) Training Pistol from a company called Next Level Training. I won’t get too deep into describing these devices, but say first and foremost that it does not discharge any type of projectile. Instead, it has two lasers — a red one that is lit up when you begin to take up slack on the trigger, and a green one that is illuminated at the moment the trigger breaks. It then immediately resets so you can replicate multiple, rapid-fire shots. I will tell you also, that from having now had the chance to use one in training with Don Gulla, I am planning on buying one for myself. It is that impressive. Enough said on that.

We took a quick break for everyone who was carrying to secure their weapons, and conducted a self-check / buddy-check. We then did a safety-officer check to confirm that we were all good to go. We were issued our SIRT pistols and holsters, cleared the room of all the tables (except for six set up as if in a restaurant), and began our drills.

One scenario had us seated in a group of four, responding to a single gunman approaching our “coffee break.” Another scenario had us in just a pair at the table, responding to two armed assailants. Then three attackers against three seated officers.

We practiced movement at the table to ensure that we would not have a blue-on-blue situation. We talked about the need for officers — when just making themselves seated at any such table — to agree in advance, “OK, I’m going to go here to my left,” or “I’m going to go this way or that.”

Shift Your Chair
Gulla also gave a great tip. I’ll paraphrase him. When you’re seated in a restaurant chair, rotate that chair so one of the four legs is in between your two legs, so that one forward corner is between your knees and one back edge is close to your pistol side. This does two things:

1.) It creates an easier way to move on that chair to “get off the X” and respond to a threat, whether you’re still in the chair or getting up.
2.) It enhances weapon-retention because your sidearm is partially covered with the vertical element to the back of the chair.

Close-Quarters Combat
The training exercises that Gulla was giving the two-dozen-plus police trainers present included a variety of other scenarios, not the least of which was responding to what is very likely to have been the second element to the murders of those four Lakewood warriors — when you’ve got to come to the aid of a fellow cop who is hands-on with the violent offender and have deliver a lethal shot to the attacker.

Recall that Sgt. Mark Renninger and Officer Tina Griswold were executed — again, remember, with head shots — within one or two seconds of one another. It’s believed that because Officer Ronald Owens was grappling with Clemmons, Officer Greg Richards may have felt he had no shot that would end the threat and at the same time not endanger Owens’ life. There is no way to be absolutely certain of this conclusion, but it’s a good jumping-off point for a discussion about training that can bridge what Gulla calls the chasm between “the two kingdoms” of DT and Firearms training.

So, there we were, in groups of three, one in the role of bad guy going for one officer’s gun with the other officer delivering that stopping fire in close quarters battle.

Shrinking the Target
We then did a variety of other scenarios and movement training to help officers take away — or at least minimize the size of — that target area known as the “triangle of death.” My training partner and I did a number of runs through the movement Gulla was teaching, and after only a few repetitions we each saw a significant improvement. We both quickly imagined how these exercises can be easily added to roll call training.

As the session was wrapping up, we incorporated the use of tennis balls and a shock-knife, which could also be easily be used at roll call or in-service training.

We put the conference room back the way we found it, shook hands all around, and took a group photo. I left confident that the type of exercises Gulla gave those police trainers can have a significant and positive impact on the likelihood that an assassination attempt on an officer will end in a dead assailant, not a dead cop.

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