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Charging the bullet: A scientific evaluation of our tactics

In 2011, law enforcement saw a surge in officers killed by gunfire and an even bigger increase in officers killed in ambush. Historically most officers who are killed by gunfire are shot at distances of 10 feet or less with the majority of those dying at a distance of 5 feet or less.

The reason for these high numbers is easy to understand. At close distance we have little time to react. The closer you are to your target the easier it is to hit quickly. Aware of this, Use of Force instructors tried to devise an effective response to defeat this tactic.  I was taught that if the suspect was within five to six feet, you wouldn’t have time to draw your gun so you should immediately move in and block or deflect the firearms being drawn against you before the suspect could use it. As a result, I’ve trained myself and others to use those types of techniques for years. 

However, my continued studies of Boyd’s OODA Loop made me start to doubt the logic and application of these techniques. Were these tactics a viable response, or are we just teaching officers to charge into an oncoming bullet? So two questions came to mind, how long does it take for someone to draw a weapon and how long does it take for someone to move into and make contact with a suspect three to six feet away.

An Experiment
I set up this study by placing a PACT timer on top of a kick pad sitting on a table. The kick pad provided a cushion for the PACT timer as it was repeatedly struck as it lay on a table. The timer started with an audible beep. A hard slap on the timer stopped it. The height of the pad was set at about the waist level to simulate the place most criminals carry their firearms

I then taped off markers on the floor at three, four, five, and six feet from the PACT timer. One hundred and eight male and female students and staff members of the Alexandria Technical and Community College Law Enforcement Firearms in the class — ranging in ages from 19 to 52 — took part in the study. Each started from an interview position, with the hands at about chest level. They were advised to move forward and strike the PACT timer, as quickly as they could, when they heard it beep. They started at the three-foot marker and moved back one foot on each additional attempt.

Each participant was given one opportunity unless there was a problem with the timer or the positioning of the study participant. The compiled times to accomplish this task where:

  Three (3) Feet Four (4) Feet Five (5) Feet Six (6) Feet
Average Time 0.73 seconds 0.90 seconds 1.02 seconds 1.12 seconds
Fastest Time 0.57 seconds 0.76 seconds 0.85 seconds 0.81 seconds

To demonstrate drawing speed, I used previous research done by the Force Science Research Institute. In that study participants were videotaped with a timer showing. Each participant started with their hand on a pistol in their waistband. Drawing whenever they wanted to, they brought the gun out and fired a blank cartridge. The time from the first movement to the shot being fired was measured using the electronic timer. Two shooting positions were studied — the ‘Combat Tuck’ position with the gun arm only extending from where the elbow is held next to the torso, and the ‘Extended’ position with the arm coming to full extension before firing.

You can see a demonstration of this study here. The times were:  

  Average Time Fastest Time
Combat Tuck 0.23 seconds 0.09 seconds
Extended 0.26 seconds 0.09 seconds

A comparison of draw speed to movement response time.

  Draw Time Distance Response Time
Combat Tuck 0.23 seconds Three (3) Feet 0.57-0.73 seconds
    Four (4) Feet 0.76-0.90 seconds
Extended 0.26 seconds Five (5) Feet 0.85-1.02 seconds
    Six (6) Feet 0.81-1.12 seconds

In the demonstration of the Force Science Research study the draw speed was measured with the subjects hand already on the gun. If you were to take that speed of 0.23 for the combat tuck and double it to 0.46 to account for the hand to gun motion you will see that even the fastest participant closing in to stop the gun would be shot before making contact to deflect or disarm the subjects weapon — charging the bullet. Since this is a study regarding movement time there is no way to determine the success rate of any deflection/disarm attempts.

We can go so far as to say that if we tripled the time for the drawing action to 0.69 only the fastest of the participants in the study would have a chance of completing a deflection or disarm and only at a distance of three feet or less.

At this point you may be thinking to yourself that this information can’t be right because you have successfully done weapons deflections and disarms numerous times in training. In training you skip several steps in the OODA Loop that occur in real confrontations. In training you already know that your partner is going to draw a gun and you have already practiced your response.  In training you have eliminated the first three steps of the OODA Loop. There is no time needed to Observe the suspects actions because you are practicing weapon disarms. There is no need to determine specifically what the actions and intentions of the suspect are (Orient) because you are in training and you already know what they intend to do-what I call “Training Clairvoyance”.  There is no need to Decide what to do because that has already been primed through the days training and practice.

The Half Second Test
The first three steps in the OODA Loop (Observe, Orient, Decide) can take about a ½ second to complete. In training that ½ second is eliminated by the pre-determined actions you are practicing that day. On the other side of the coin, in the real world it adds at about a ½ second to your response because it requires that you actually go through the first three stages of the OODA Loop before getting to the Act portion of the Loop. The time can be faster depending on the individual and their level of training and practice. The response can also be slower for those same reasons.

Bear in mind that in the study the participants had already completed the OOD and only had to A(ct) at the sound of the buzzer-giving them “Training Clairvoyance,” an artificial head start. The take away being that in the real world response times would be longer. Previously, I wrote that only the fastest participants could hope to deflect a gun being drawn and fire in 0.68 seconds. It would have been more correct for me to add “in training” due to the Half Second Test.

If we fail to take this into account in our training, we end up training in tactics and techniques that will not work outside the training room.

So then what is a workable technique for close quarter’s firearms ambush? Get off the line of attack through movement, more specifically lateral movement. If you have been range trained to move directly away from a close quarters confrontation, you have movement but the attacker isn’t required to shift their attention and aim. By moving directly away you are in essence, a stationary target that is getting smaller as you create distance.

By using sideways movement you get off the line of the impending attack, if the assailant fires the bullets will miss. The attacker now has to take into account your movement and track you, requiring them to re-start their OODA which gives you time to draw your weapon and return fire. Testing has shown that an average police officer can draw and fire their weapon in about one and a half seconds. Once again that time is an average and well-practiced officers can do it faster (some in under one second), while non-practiced officers can take longer. Research at the Force Science Institute had the fastest officer drawing from a Level III security holster and the slowest a Level I, once again, the factor effecting speed-practice.

Now that you are in motion, and you want to be moving fast, the suspect has to track and fire. The good news is that there will be a lag in time between the time the brain says fire and the finger pulls the trigger. That lag time means that the round will not impact where the sights were aligned or the gun was pointed when the trigger was pressed. The faster you move the farther behind the bullet will hit. Unless, the suspect gets lucky or they have practiced leading a moving target the chances of receiving a hit are reduced. The advised you may have received in training, “Don’t move any faster than you can accurately shoot”, does not apply in this moment. Get off line as fast as you can and return fire when it is to your advantage.

Movement, Pain, Surprise
When a suspect has decided to shoot you, they have already completed the first three steps of the OODA Loop. You start your OODA Loop by seeing them start what appears to be a draw. You are at the first O and they are at A.

You’re behind in the loop.

Moving in and attempting to stop their Loop can’t work because you are behind in time and action. You can only hope to restart their OODA Loop by what you choose to do.

There are three ways to restart their OODA Loop: movement, pain, and/or surprise. By rapid movement off the line of attack you make them restart their Loop because you are no longer where they had you targeted. They now have to find you.  Your action isn’t the usual or expected response so now they are surprised-which causes a delay in them restarting their loop. Numerous bullets entering the body will be painful and surprising.

Ambushes against the police are on the rise. Are you practicing an effective response?

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