Ambushing / Counter Ambushing, Pt 2

Whether on foot patrol, bike patrol, or in a vehicle, attack recognition and response is critical. Try to use heightened awareness to recognize pre-attack indicators and minimize the physical effects of surprise.

Ask yourself five questions:

  1. When do I move?
  2. Where do I move? (to and from)
  3. How do I move?
  4. Where am I the most predictable?
  5. Where am I the most vulnerable?

A few tactics that we have been told about (but may have forgotten):

When caught out in the open, prone is still a good position and can be used with gutters and curbs.

Light, power and phone poles are excellent; mail boxes, vehicle engine blocks, trees. Anything that stops or re-directs incoming fire is your temporary friend.

Drawing and being able to shoot and hit on the move is a must.

Consider practicing (red or blue gun, not the real one) drawing while belted in your vehicle, shooting through the windshield and side windows, bailing out rapidly, getting to other cover. Also practice the same while seated in a chair such as that used at a restaurant.

Do not drive up directly in front of an address you are responding to. Do not place yourself in the fatal funnel by standing in the doorway.

Consider this; a near ambush is considered contact distance to 25-yards, far ambush is considered 25-yards and beyond.

In a far ambush 25-yards and beyond, return fire and seek cover, call in the location ask for assistance. Be sure to provide all the information you can, as we don't want our fellow officers driving up into the ambush.

In a near ambush, the tactic is to counter-attack the attacker if possible. This takes a lot of nerve meaning you will be shooting back at the person who just tried to kill you. The dynamics change once you can get bullets going at the attacker. The reason for this maneuver is that the person shooting at you will try to assault you immediately if (s)he thinks (s)he missed you since (s)he feels they have the edge.

However, when deciding what to emphasize during our precious and limited training time, we must keep in mind the importance of street survival, training to win and live for the fast pace encounters of the real world.

I like many others, learned from experience and consider myself lucky to have survived the sensitive situations in which I found myself. Therefore, speaking to you about fear and mindset is critical to develop the subconscious to react to a deadly force encounter.

In the summer of 2006, I was a guest instructor for a seminar in Mexico City and had the opportunity to meet and talk with Dr. Alexis Artwohl. Dr. Artwohl is the co-author of a book called Deadly Force Encounters: What Cops Need to Know to Mentally and Physically to Prepare for and Survive a Gunfight. I had a unique opportunity to listen to her discuss a variety of issues with others and sit through her presentation at the seminar.

I have tried to live by my own advice: you never hear of a deaf mute being in jail, it is his big mouth that gets him in trouble. Therefore, while I did not say much, I did listen intently, something I think we all need to do more. Dr. Artwohl hit the nail on the head with her book on Deadly Force Encounters. My only regret is that it was not available back in the sixties and seventies, and that I did not know about her and the book much earlier. If you take carrying a gun seriously and know that you one day may have to use it to save your life or the life of another person, this book is required reading. Please do yourself a service and get it, read it twice, and keep it. Your attorney will need a copy too. Encourage supervisors and tactical team members to read and save it. There is no better book geared to your survival than the book Dr. Artwohl as co-authored with Loren W. Christensen.

Before you can truly come to grips with survival at the subconscious level you need to mentally prepare yourself before, during, and after a deadly force encounter.

As Alexis Artwohl and Loren Christensen point out, fear is an automatic physical reaction to a perceived threat that will result in predicable physical, emotional, perceptual and cognitive changes because of high physical arousal.

Some will regard it as a weakness or cowardice. Fear is actually a gift from Mother Nature, but only if you understand it and know how to use it.

Fear is Mother Nature's way of telling you that your life is in danger and you better do something about it. These natural changes compel you to instinctively, and without hesitation, do one of three things to save your life: fight, flight, or freeze.

Based on these powerful instinctive urges to fight like a demon, run like hell, or freeze in place, police officers can find themselves in a difficult situation. You are asked to deliberately go out and look for dangerous situations where your life or someone else's may be threatened. Then when you are faced with a deadly threat, you are prohibited from choosing any of these three options. You can fight but not like a demon, unless your opponent is fighting like a demon as well. While you can use force, even deadly force, you can only use enough to stop the threat. Added to this difficult situation is having to make an accurate threat assessment during these often confusing conditions.

Flight is not an option for police officers. You are not paid to avoid dangerous situations, but to stay and deal with it. Freezing is not considered a good option for police. We just hope we won't freeze when the stuff hits the fan.

Here are some physical changes you might experience because of a high arousal state:

Pounding heart, muscle tension, trembling, rapid or shallow breathing, dizziness, nausea, gut knots, sweating, dry mouth, goose bumps, feeling jumpy, urge to urinate, urge to defecate.

These physical changes are designed to galvanize you into action and give you the extra edge to fight hard or to run as fast as you can.

Perceptual changes from fear - meaning the natural drugs that cause the high arousal state - also cause your senses to operate differently, sometimes altering your perceptions during a traumatic event.

Two examples of perception changes include tunnel vision and hearing distortions.

Tunnel vision is a result of the loss of your peripheral vision. Your field of vision may narrow to mere inches and you may lose your depth perception and your ability to see what is behind the threat.

The most common hearing distortions are diminished sound ranging from total loss to muffled sounds in the distance; inability to clearly hear sirens or people yelling at you.

Here are a few things you can do to help diminish and control fear:

  • Understand and totally accept that one day you may have to use deadly force.
  • Stay up to date on police tactics and practice them regularly.
  • Practice mental imagery of high-risk situations (ambushes) at least once a week.
  • Learn what the physiological responses are to fight or flight and understand that it will happen to you no matter how brave you are.
  • Develop confidence backed by real skill. Know that your techniques will work when you need them. The more competent you are, the less likely you will feel overwhelmed by fear.
  • Review your past high risk situations to determine what was done well and what needs improvement.
  • Constantly strive to improve your observation and assessment skills. (Tactical Communications)
  • Trust your instincts.
  • Develop a powerful will to win and survive no matter what the situation.
  • Stay mentally positive.

It is a Thursday about 08:15 Central Time and I am trying to close this article with a summary when another instructor came to inform me that five (5) officers in Jersey City, New Jersey have been shot. I do not have the details yet, but, my first instinct is to pray that they are alright and recover rapidly. Knowing that area in Jersey is a heavy crime area and that luring officers into a hallway knowing what wall they would be on and firing through the wall with a shotgun in my opinion was a hasty ambush. By now we all know what was involved and it should reinforce everything I have spoke to in this article, so rather than close on a summary highlighting key points I ask that you read please read the article twice. I hope and pray that this article will help in some small way the law enforcement community.

In closing, I would like to thank Sgt. Mike Glass from the Mountain Brook, Alabama PD for his assistance with this article. Sgt. Glass is the first Range Master that was able to get approval from his Chief to train his department in Counter Ambushing Techniques.

I would also like to thank Benjamin Kurata and Kirk Rock Brown, Senior Instructors at International Training, Inc. for their assistance with content and editing.

To for taking a gamble with an unknown writer, and to all of you for taking training seriously, be safe, be alert, and God Bless America.