Are They Armed?

Pentagon Police Officers shot. Fort Hood soldiers killed. Lakewood, Washington, Police Officers massacred while at a coffee shop, and a security officer at The Holocaust Museum, Washington, D.C., gunned down in broad daylight. Before that Oakland, CA., Officers killed in March of 2009 on a routine traffic stop and subsequent fugitive apprehension attempt. New alarming trends have become apparent to law enforcement, one of which is that cops are dying in groups, more now than ever, and the other is the apparent, suicidal, aggression displayed by a lone shooter intend on engaging those in authority singlehandedly. While social scientists debate what were the root causes affecting the shooter to commit a mass atrocity, cops will continue to show up for duty, go out on patrol, respond to calls and occasionally die. One thing is for certain, though, this phenomenon is not going away.

By definition, a Lone Wolf Gunman acts in support in some type of political movement, group, or ideology, but does so alone. Well structured terrorist groups, Al-Qaeda for instance, have called for more individualized attacks modeling the lone wolf types, according to intelligence circles, and as reported in a news article by the Huffington Post, March 11th, 2010. Why? It works. The proverbial footprint of the shooter (evidence, indications or anything that forewarns of the assault) is small as compared to the spectacular attacks that terrorist groups like to use that risk discovery before execution due to planning and logistics concerns. Regardless of whether or not a shooter is a member a terrorist organization executing a well thought-out plan, or a mentally deranged individual committing an act of terror alone, what can cops do?

Action is faster than Reaction

Threat recognition and biomechanics are inextricably linked. Simply put, in street cop lingo: You can't out draw a drawn gun. Anticipating an event, even expecting it, no matter how mundane the call is the first step toward staying alive. The other aspect to surviving a Lone Wolf encounter is knowing what to look for. The Pentagon Police Officers involved the shooting on March 5th, knew that. Officer Marvin Carraway was quoted as saying after the shooting, "When I looked at the shooter, we made eye contact and the look he had on his face, the glare he had in his eyes, I knew something." That something Carraway referred to although subjective and may have been only a feeling, cops recognize as being the life saving intuition each one of us develops that is unique to us and our experiences. Objectively, though, there has to be something else we can draw on.

Packing Heat?

Michael and Chris Dorn published an article titled, 7 Signs a Weapon is Being Concealed for Campus Safety magazine, and did a great job highlighting common behavioral indictors of an armed person. Namely (and paraphrased):

  1. Security Check - instinctively checking and rechecking to see if there weapon is still there.
  2. Un-natural Gait - moving unnaturally due to being uncomfortable.
  3. Jacket Sag - pistol in a pocket causing the coat to hang unusually.
  4. Hunchback Stride - Stock of the long gun protruding from the armpit.
  5. Bulges and Outline/Weapon - The imprint of the weapon against clothing.
  6. Visible Weapon - I had a partner who once called this being over exposed.
  7. Palming - Concealing the weapon from frontal view; hiding behind the leg.

Any veteran officer can look at this list a probably recall many situations they have survived where a suspect was demonstrating any of the above characteristics. Your experiences confirm their findings as being accurate. However, when presented as seven individualized actions, the average officer cannot retain the information as being useful unless committing it to long term memory.


Educational psychologists call it Elaborative Encoding. The research into it is long, boring, nerdy, but potentially life-saving if cops knew how to apply it to something they need. If you want to learn something new and be able to recall it long term when you need it the most, you must link, associate, or connect it to something you already know. Elaborative Encoding serves as mental glue. As a child you started learning the ABCs when you were about two years old. Subsequently, the letters A, B, and C have been buried into your collective memory for two, three, four or five decades, in most cases. Using the information gleaned from the Dorn publication, and glued to the first three letters of the alphabet will help you better retain how a gunman acts or moves when you need to recognize it under stress. Here is how it works:

A - Stands for Action; this consists of Dorn's #2, 4 and 7 gunman signs.

B - Means Behaviors; Dorn's gunman characteristic #1, or anything else relating to it like looking to see repeatedly if a weapon in their waste band. Other suspicious mannerisms count as well.

C - Denotes Clothing the suspect is wearing; Dorn's #3, 5 and 6.

Applying the seven characteristics of a gunman to the first three letters of the alphabet allows for the rapid recall, and affording a life safety reaction quickly.

Don't Forget Terry

Another advantage of perpetuating skill through application of the ABCs is the police frisk. In the historical, landmark, U.S. Supreme Court case of Terry v. Ohio the court specified that reasonable suspicion must be based on specific and articulable facts. Seizing the suspect's gun for your safety is one thing, and arguably most paramount, but following through to successful prosecution is the hallmark of a good street cop. Write the report in the format of your logical observations detailing the suspects Actions, Behaviors and Clothing and you not only increase the chances of convicting the offender, but live to tell about it.