The Atlanta Courtroom Murders: Who is to blame?

The loss of any life brings us to reflect on our own actions, what we believe we would have done, and to hopefully fully understand and correct whatever -- in our opinions -- went wrong. The natural reaction is to point the finger and find fault to justify the murders. All of the Monday morning quarterbacks surface and offer their opinions or criticize what they would have done or what others should have done. With any event like this, there is never one singular fault which deserves all the blame.

To blame the department for not ensuring their officers were adequately trained is not entirely fair. The depth and breadth of training is always subject to obstacles like budgeting, manpower issues, and politics. Training dollars usually compete with other priorities in government, and since the importance of training is usually only measured in hindsight when tragedies or corruption occur, we are left with the false impression that so long as everything is going smoothly our men and women of law enforcement must be adequately trained. Then something like this happens and we NOW seek corrective action.

To blame the training division of a department for failing to train officers properly to be better prepared for these encounters is not entirely fair either. Training is a double-edged sword. State-imposed mandatory retraining requirements that have become a necessary evil for many administrations, and the sad thing is most of these state requirements are outdated and are no longer effective as they once were. Training is a continuous evolution of techniques, strategies and equipment.

As mentioned earlier, manpower issues and a lack of department funding, limits the numbers of hours of training provided to in-service officers. Furthermore, we have to assess whether officers actually get the training they need. Training is often provided by in-house staff, which can become incestuous over time, with many agencies continuing to use the same outdated training methods and equipment year after year.

Their failure to keep up with industry standards limits officers' ability to respond to critical incidents with modern tactical knowledge. Then something like this happens and we NOW want to review where we went wrong.

To blame the officer who was involved in the encounter is not entirely fair, since officers receive equipment and training from their agencies and trust that it is adequate to handle any circumstance that might arise. These officers have also been conditioned to be kinder and gentler in their actions, and they are often hired for these very characteristics.

The public demands a softer, gentler response to subject resistance and is quick to criticize officers who take decisive action against violent threats. Today's officer perceives a greater personal threat from lawsuits than from violent criminals. It is simply a statement of our times, a product of our history. Then something like this happens and we NOW want to seek other alternatives.

To blame the equipment manufacturers for not designing or making the right equipment for our officers is not entirely fair. All equipment should be augmented with proper training. For instance, today's security holsters are designed to keep the firearm in the holster and free from unwarranted access. These "safety holsters" require significant training along with thousands of draws, to allow the officers to get their sidearm out smoothly and quickly. These holsters have saved many lives over the years.

But sometimes, a very determined suspect can figure out how it works and defeat the holster, or simply strip the gun out with extraordinary force. Officers need to have contingency plans in place to deal with sudden violence and to not become totally dependent on their equipment.

If a security holster can keep a gun in for maybe five or 10 seconds, the officer has to have a plan to react to that timeframe. However, officers tend to become blase. Then something like this happens and we NOW want a better way.

To blame the society we live in for not understanding the threats we face or for allowing these solutions to be more available to our officers is not entirely fair. We would have to fault our society for failing to educate themselves in these areas before passing judgment. Then something like this happens and we NOW want a better way.

Failing to train, not providing the training, failing to seek the additional training, mandatory standards for physical fitness or other tasks, society's lack of concern until it directly affects them--it is a collective effort of all parties involved. What we need to do is listen to what the facts tell us then as concerned group take the necessary action to correct it TOGETHER.

Let's look at some general terms used with law enforcement holsters. None of these terms is an industry standard by any means. However with recent events they should be, wouldn't you agree?

  1. Level 1 - Just grab weapon and pull from holster. Weapon is retained inside holster due to its mold, configuration, and tension from the holster itself.
  2. Level 2 - Just grab weapon, operate a thumb break and pull weapon from holster. Weapon is retained inside holster due to its mold, configuration, tension from the holster itself, and from a safety strap covering the top of the weapon.
  3. Level 3 - Just grab weapon, operate a thumb break, twist, push, or pull weapon in a specific direction and pull weapon from holster. Weapon is retained inside holster due to its mold, configuration, tension from the holster itself, from a safety strap covering the top of the weapon, and special added features that are proprietary to the manufacturer, and need to stay a kept secret.
  4. Level 4 (Or referred to as SMART Holsters) - Just grab weapon, operate a thumb break, twist, push, or pull weapon in a specific direction, execute another function and pull weapon from holster. Weapon is retained inside holster due to its mold, configuration, tension from the holster itself, and from a safety strap covering the top of the weapon, with special added features that are proprietary to the manufacturer enhanced through the latest technology, and need to stay a kept secret.
The sad fact is that through the last 20 years safety for law enforcement has become a big business for some. With business you have competition. The industry deals with two different protocols. Administrative protocol is based on price and appearance. Operational protocol is based on durability, functionality, and serviceability. Which one would you want to base your own life on?

This brings to the table two important factors; either you have quality or quantity. Often the strategy of big business deals is money and friendship which seems at times more important and effective, than just letting the products speak for themselves. Without industry standards and proper department protocols and testing this will never change.

Some manufacturers have taken a different approach for their products, such as seeking other professionals to validate and evaluate their products. These are done through a variety of methods like actual field testing, establishing scientific research, and of course time to have the product mature.

Some manufacturers produce large quantities of products through mass production lines with excellent quality control where other are completely the opposite, regardless of size of company. Here are some hard facts though.

  • 48 police officers were killed with their own handguns between 1992 and 2001. (Tactical Design Labs)
  • According to the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, if an officer has his firearm taken during physical encounter, he -- or another officer in the area -- stands a very high chance of being shot with it. (As in the Atlanta incident, and many other incidents before this one.)
  • Some departments' handgun retention programs, due to budget cuts, lack of funding, and overtime factors, are at times not covered by the departments' to the extent needed, or not just a concern of many officers. (Hard to imagine, huh?)
  • At any time during a physical encounter, where the officer and subject are in a struggle, the subject has the same access to the firearm that the officer does. (Something to think about.)
  • Because most departments have no officer physical standards for due to discrimination issues or other legal conflicts, most of the subjects we confront may be in better physical conditioning than we are.
During times of stress, it has been proven that officers operate in the mid-brain, meaning we revert to gross motor skills when under stress. I am sure you would all agree that faced with a weapon disarming or drawing a weapon from a holster to defend your own life is a stressful encounter.

So, understanding this fact, it is imperative that these specially added features and unique designs of holsters need to focus and address this human fact. An officer shouldn't have to go through a nine digit code to access their firearm, or have to deviate from the gross motor skills needed to access their firearm, and in the same breath not have it be easy for a subject to commonly grab and just pull the firearm from the holster. But, I guess if we have this type of holster then some of these tragedies might have had a different outcome.

Some of the companies within the industry have taken some of the vital steps to provide the industry with holsters that meet these needs.

Please keep in mind that none of this is an exact science. You, like other individual officers, need to take the equipment in hand, use it yourself, and evaluate each one to make sure you have the right holster for you.

About the author

Dave Young is the Founder and Director of ARMA, now part of the PoliceOne Training Network. He is also the Chairman of Advisory Board, and a training advisor for Dave graduated from his first law enforcement academy in 1985, and now has over 25 years of combined civilian and military law enforcement and training experience. He was a sworn corrections and law enforcement officer in the state of Florida and has served as a gate sentry, patrol officer, watch commander, investigator, Special Reaction Team (SRT) member, leader and commander in the United States Marine Corps.

Dave has participated in and trained both military and law enforcement personnel in crowd management operations throughout the world. Dave is recognized as one of the nation's leading defensive tactics instructors specializing in crowd management, chemical and specialty impact munitions, protocol and selection of gear and munitions, ground defense tactics, and water - based defensive tactics.

He has hosted television shows for National Geographic TV Channel on Non Lethal Weapons and the host of Crash Test Human series.  He is a former staff noncommissioned officer in the United States Marine Corps, a member of the Police Magazine advisory board, and a technical advisory board member for Force Science Research Center. Dave is an active member of the American Society for Law Enforcement Training (ASLET), International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA).

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