How not to be a killer or killed cop

Washington, DC (TFC) – Those in the police accountability movement and members of the Fraternal Order of Police seem like natural enemies. It has certainly played out that way recently. However, maybe that doesn’t have to be. In the end, both groups are determined to save lives, albeit each group differs in whose life they seek to save. What if we could begin by making changes to policies, mindsets, and tactics that save not only the lives of the unarmed but also of officers? That middle ground could be the foundation for the serious reform that is desperately needed. The changes suggested below will save the lives of both innocents and officers.

The idea for this article and project arose during a moonshine infused evening in which first responders, active and former military, NGO workers, and lowly journalists discussed police accountability. Many of today’s high-profile shootings stem from the same thing: bad training. In some cases, the officers literally do not know any better. They were taught a faulty theory or tactic in the academy and in-depth continuing education is somewhat of an urban legend within law enforcement.

For officers, this article will challenge many beliefs that are closely held. The video at the end will demonstrate that these changes will save lives and keep officers out of prison.

Domination-based Compliance: This goes by many names, but this is the theory that suggests the badge, uniform, close proximity, and aggressive stance will lead to compliance. The reality of the situation is that it only creates compliance among those who would have complied anyway. Those predisposed to using violence against law enforcement will use violence regardless of the officer’s attitude. Those on the line, will likely be provoked into violence by the latent aggression of the officer.

Don’t believe some pinhead journalist? One of the few people that caters to law enforcement that I believe to be equal to those who trained me is a man named Tony Blauer. Officers may have never heard the name, but they have probably heard of the SPEARS method of self-defense. Those are his training materials sitting on the shelf. He focuses on the psychology of the officer and takes a much wider stance in what he terms “Presumed Compliance.” While we travel different roads, we reach the same conclusion. Assuming compliance because of the badge, uniform, and aggressive attitude will only force those who would have complied anyway to comply; with those that will not comply, the mindset can be downright deadly. As he puts it:

“Presence, firepower and justification mean nothing to the sociopath with nothing to lose. And it is that sociopath who is responsible for most officer fatalities. Training should be geared toward the motivated sociopath. Period. Those who choose to comply – will. Those who don’t…will test your mettle.”

I would disagree with the characterization of all motivated resisters being sociopaths, but that’s where the disagreement ends. He says the attitude results in police brutality; I agree. He says it results in unprofessional behavior; I agree. He says it results in officer deaths; I agree.

One of the most important advantages an officer has before a situation turns violent is lost when exercising an aggressive stance. That aggressive stance requires an officer to be close to the subject. Whether in armed or unarmed combat, distance is your friend. Prior to an unarmed altercation the attacker must close the gap, and in doing so, he lets you know he is going to attack. In armed confrontations, the closer you are, the more the advantage of training disappears. Any random person off the street can repeatedly hit the target at three feet. The battle then becomes entirely about who can retrieve their weapon and fire first. Given that the suspect controls his decision to fire, it will almost always be him that pulls first. The officer now has to recognize what is happening, unholster his weapon, and fire in less time. In some situations this is impossible, as seen in the video below.

The elimination of this mindset also reduces the likelihood of an officer becoming emotional and losing control because of small acts of defiance. It is important for officers to remember that they are not above question. The actual authority of the officer is an illusion. If the suspect chooses to become violent, the badge and uniform mean nothing. Removing this mindset will greatly reduce excessive force incidents during unarmed confrontations. In armed situations, officers mistake actions and because of the range feel the need to draw and fire rapidly. This causes mistakes and kills unarmed people.

A recent high-profile case that would have ended differently is the killing of Tamir Rice. Tamir was child playing with a toy gun in a park. Officers pulled up just a few feet from him, exited the vehicle, and immediately killed him. If officers had kept their distance and used range to their advantage, the officer would have felt safe enough to demand that the suspect drop the “weapon”, this order would have been obeyed, and Tamir would still be alive.

Learning to shoot under stress: Generally speaking, officers are not very good marksmen during firefights or under pressure. There is no clearer example of this than California cops recently firing 600 “unnecessary” rounds into the car of bank robbers. The robbers also had a hostage in the vehicle. She was killed. Cases similar to this, in which officers fire dozens of rounds only to hit the suspect or a bystander once or twice are too numerous to list. Why? Because officers do no train to shoot under pressure.

Even with all of the active shooter drills occurring around the country, in most of them, the SWAT team does not fire a single live round. If the SWAT team does not train to fire under pressure, you can be assured that the average patrolman does not. An officer needs to be able to hit a target the size of a paper plate consistently while firing under pressure. A SWAT officer should be able to hit a 5×7 inch target. If the officer cannot do that, she may miss her target and be struck by return fire. The round that missed may also hit a bystander.

For liability reasons, some police departments may not sanction such training. It is up to the officers themselves to make certain they are up to the task. If the officer does not have access to a close quarters range, the officer should practice by jogging immediately before firing their weapon on a traditional range. The racing heart and heavy breathing will help simulate stress. If that is not feasible, the officer can do push ups or jumping jacks between magazines at any range in the country. It will not be the department’s lawyers that end up on trial after shooting a baby in highchair by accident. It will not be the lawyers that have to live with the guilt of shooting a four-year-old.

The “S” in SWAT stands for “Special”: SWAT teams are not to be used for simple felony warrants. They, by their very nature, are for special circumstances. The prevalence of “no-knock” raids has led to a list of dead officers and innocents that were completely unnecessary. Obviously, there are cases of officers shooting the wrong people or each other because they do not train to shoot under pressure, as mentioned above.

There is also the problem of officers obtaining equipment from the Department of Defense that they simply do not know how to use. A concussion grenade should be the greatest life saving tool in police arsenals, however, it is constantly misused. Babies sleeping in cribs have holes blown in them because officers are too ill-trained to understand that the explosive power, though non-lethal in most cases, could be compared to having a space shuttle blast off in your face. It is designed to confuse and disorient. If the team does not know the location of every person in the house, it should not be used. If the SWAT team does not have thermal imaging or fiber optic cameras, it should not even have access to concussion grenades. If the concussion grenade is simply tossed through the front door it could injure children nearby, or if nobody is in the room, it has effectively given away the element of surprise. The element of surprise is pretty important when a team is rushing through a building with an unfamiliar or unknown layout. Officers should also understand that after a concussion grenade explodes near someone, they are deaf. They cannot obey orders because they cannot hear them.

The amateur-hour of SWAT teams have taken to serving arrest warrants and basing their search warrants on the address listed on the subject’s driver’s license. Here’s a free tip: criminals do not update their address at DMV, especially if they have an active warrant. Wrong house raids have killed scores of innocent people. Prior to conducting a SWAT raid, someone from the department (not a $10 snitch) should have visually confirmed that the suspect is inside the home. If the person is not important enough to justify a surveillance effort, they are not important or dangerous enough for a SWAT team entry. Wrong house raids have claimed many officers as well.

Justin King. The Fifth Column

Justin King.
The Fifth Column

Keep them in the car: This may be the most controversial and difficult things for officers to unlearn. You are safer with the suspect in the vehicle during a traffic stop. Once a suspect that is willing to use violence is out of the car, he is on equal footing, has mobility, has the element of surprise, and is permitted the ability to determine when the engagement will begin. If the suspect has any skill at all, the officer signed his own death warrant. This tactic began as a method of encouraging compliance by getting the suspect to begin complying with small commands, which makes them more likely to obey more important commands later. There is no tactical advantage to having a violent suspect outside of the vehicle. It is a disadvantage. Small commands to induce compliance should be similar to “Could you turn your interior lights on for me?” and “Please keep your hands on the steering wheel.” Never reach into the vehicle under any circumstances. If an officer is dragged down the road because he reached into a suspect’s vehicle, it is his own fault.

If you attempt “Domination compliance”, you will be completely exposed at the driver’s side window. If the suspect is armed, you are at his mercy. Proper positioning is just behind the driver’s side window, assuming all passengers are in the front row of seats. If the suspect pulls a firearm, he will have to reach out of the window and point it back at the officer while aiming over his shoulder. The officer is free to pin the weapon against the car with her left hand and fire through the suspect’s headrest with her right. This does mean that the officer is unable to snoop through the suspect’s vehicle from the driver’s side window. Is the joint in the ashtray worth your life?

The main objection to allowing a suspect to remain in the vehicle is that he may drive away. Officers could simply have the suspect set their keys on the dash. This would buy a few more seconds if the suspect decides to evade. There are two main counters to the evasion complaint. First, being that the suspect will certainly drive away once the officer is bleeding to death. The second is, who cares? Yes, the suspect may outrun the officer’s Chevrolet, but he will not outrun the officer’s two-way. The officer can simple radio ahead and keep the suspect in a loose net until it is safe to force the vehicle to stop. With modern technology, high-speed chases are obsolete. The odds of someone evading police in a car is slim to none.

Police officers are not warriors: The propaganda mindset of cops being warriors has led to more officer and civilian deaths than anything. A cop is a peace officer. The very opposite of a warrior. While it is currently in vogue for cops to wear military style clothing and (mis)use military equipment, they are not warriors. Adopting military structure and tactics leads citizens to hate officers, officers to kill innocents, and citizens to wonder with whom exactly the police are at war. If cops declare war on the American people, the American people will respond. To officers that do not believe that, I would remind them that a Texas police department has a job opening right now that says otherwise.

The warrior mentality continues the cycle of insurgency and fills more body bags.

Want to see some of the above tactics in action? Watch below.

How not to be a killer or killed cop – TFC from Justin King on Vimeo.