Firearms training: How's your ground defense?
You remember that old TV commercial? “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” I thought of that line recently during one of our thrice-weekly Cross-Fit fitness classes my wife and I participate in. One of the exercises we were doing was called the “Turkish Get Up.” Go ahead, look it up. It’s in there. In fact, it is a great exercise that works all the muscles in your body and is designed to improve range of motion. We were performing it with dumbbells, but it can be an effective dead lift exercise with Kettlebells too — I digress.
There’s another cop in that group besides yours truly. This guy is an active duty sergeant —a real nice guy who attends with his wife, too. He knows I used to be on the job and we get along well. While our trainer was explaining the physical benefits of the Turkish Get Up from a muscle building perspective, another dude in the class, a “non-cop” wanna-be kind of guy I’ll call Murray, decided to inject his two-cents worth into the discussion on how, in his opinion, the TGU relates to law enforcement tactics. Murray’s two-minute verbal thesis centered on how a police officer — who’s down on the ground — has to get up from a supine position onto his feet to keep a bad guy at bay (what the hell does “at bay” mean, anyway?) while at the same time holding his gun with one hand pointed at the suspect in case he needs to shoot.
At about this same time, the active duty street boss kind of looked over to me as if to say “Hey, LT, is this idiot serious?”
The I.D.I.O.T. Factor
Now, I’m not sure if the “wanna-be” is an actual moron or not from an IQ standpoint, but after our workout, my wife and I were talking and I brought up the old acronym we learned at the academy, I.D.I.O.T. For the newbie out there, it means Idiots Do It On Television (a.k.a. Law and Order training).
During the drive home, I told her “officers are taught that they don’t have to get up off the ground to fire their weapons. Guns will work in any position, right side up, on their sides, even upside down.” Which brings me to the point of this article.
I’m sure we all accept the second part of that last statement; “Guns will work in any position” as accurate. But, how about the first part? Are we all training to fire our weapons from positions other than right side up? Oh, sure; I’m sure we know about the standard TRC or PPC courses of fire, i.e., sitting, kneeling, prone, blah, blah, blah. But how about shooting from some of those other-than-normal positions we might unfortunately find ourselves in?
Downed Officer’s Course
Developed by a buddy of mine, the late Jim Cirillo, NYPD (retired), the “Downed Officer’s Course” was developed to refute exactly what Murray the Moron was spouting during our recent TGU exercise; that cops can only shoot while standing up and while their guns are in an upright position. Jimmie designed the DOC to teach just the opposite; that officers’ can shoot, and in fact, MUST learn to shoot — accurately — from any position. But first, some background.
Many years ago, two NYPD officers were assassinated by members of the Black Liberation Army on a sidewalk in NYC. The two suspects got into a gunfight with the two officers and fired their guns dry. The first officer was killed immediately, and the second was down, but not out. Still conscious — albeit paralyzed from the waist down — the officer was desperately trying to right himself up into a sitting position to fire at the fleeing BLA assailants.
The suspects, both with empty guns, were running away. But one looked back to see where the officers were, and in doing so, saw the second cop struggling to get himself into a sitting position. That suspect snuck back, armed himself with the first officer’s revolver, and summarily executed the second officer with a shot to the head.
Hence, Jimmie Cirillo’s “Downed Officer’s Firearms Defense Course” was born. In later years, Jimmie would go on to teach this course across the country as well as at FLETC down in Glynco, Georgia.
Sight Pcture and Sight Aignment
The focus of Jim’s Downed Officer’s Course was the old tried-and-true axiom of firearms accuracy, sight picture and sight alignment. In sum and substance, as long as your front and rear sights are in proper alignment and properly superimposed on the target, you’ll probably hit that target. Shooting accurately does not depend in any way on your internal body compass. Jim’s program stresses a lot of shooting from these awkward positions — on your right and left sides, or the supine on-your-back position with the sights upside down.
While many civilians believe that guns must be held upright to work, police officers know differently. But we almost never practice or train in those unusual positions. We all know what an officer does during training he or she will do on the street. Law enforcement history is replete with stories like the NYPD/BLA incident or the infamous CHP/Newhall “brass in pocket” incident. Sadly, we learn from tragedies like these. But as most trainers know, a lack of funds or time sometimes dictates our training programs.
The “Downed Officer’s Course” is not something your officers will learn during basic recruit school. Most state POST firearms programs are crammed with just the basics (hence the name basic training). With a little history about the NYPD/BLA incident and some lessons from the mind of a firearms training legend, you can work some of the exercises from Jimmie’s “Downed Officer’s Course” into your next in-service.
Author’s Note: I first met Jimmie years ago during one of the Calibre Press Street Survival Seminars I taught in Atlanta, Georgia. He had retired from the NYPD in 1976 and had taken a teaching post at FLETC, a position he held for 10 years. We last spoke on the phone back in late 1991 after he contracted Lime’s Disease during a hunting trip. He eventually recovered, but was killed in a freak car accident in July 2007.
Rest in Peace, Jim.