Statistically, an officer is most likely to have to make a lethal force decision at contact distance more than any other moment. The problem is, there is often a training disconnect when it comes to preparing officers for these incidents. "Fighting in the hole" refers to the use of force at extreme close quarters, within a circle no wider than an arm extension between the officer and the assailant. Inside the hole, the decision-making process is accelerated. The decisive combatant who delivers effective techniques, interrupts the assailant's OODA Loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) and quickly applies the best template will prevail.
For insight on fighting in the hole, we contacted Wes Doss of Khyber Interactive Associates LLC. Doss also serves as the training director of Crimson Trace Corp. According to Doss, Dennis Tueller made some astute observations about reaction times within 21 feet between officer and assailant. He argues that the influence of this rule has driven many law enforcement training decisions.
Tueller determined that the average assailant can cover 21 feet before the average officer can draw and deliver accurate, effective fire in his defense. Doss explains that these observations were never meant to be translated into a hard and fast rule.
We owe Dennis Tueller for restructuring our original view of officer safety. His observations demonstrated a need for officers to heighten their sense of awareness when the 21-foot standoff distance is breached, which is just about any time an officer makes contact with any member of the public during the normal course of duty.
Officers knock on doors, talk to people in doorways, run people for warrants and have normal conversations while they are just a few feet away. Based on what we know about violent encounters against law enforcement officers, most training programs designed to respond to assaults are distinct from actual reality.
From 1996 to 2005 there were 468,409 reports of assaults on law enforcement officers. Of these assaults, 85 percent were personal weapons incidents; meaning hands, fists and feet were used as weapons against the officer. Only 2.2 percent involved cutting or stabbing instruments. The first thing that this data suggests is the fact that officers must learn how to respond to close physical assaults, not because of the percentage of weapons use, but because of the pure number of assaults on law enforcement officers annually.
The second suggestion that this presents should be the most serious consideration training administrators employ, even though it cannot be inferred by hard data: A percentage of officer-involved shootings were preceded by a scuffle between officer and suspect. In other words, they were disengagements, meaning some officer-involved shootings were likely at a contact distance where that officer was at risk of being disarmed.
Thus, there are three good reasons why static shooting, moving and shooting or "just standing there" shooting practice is all wrong:
- Officers generally do business at arm's length, not at 7 yards away.
- Statistically, the most common form of assault is with hands, fists and feet.
- Officer-involved shootings are most likely to occur "in the hole."
Before we look at how we need to change the training paradigm, we must add to the equation. Although the number of officers assaulted with a firearm is statistically low, this number is offset by the fact that most officers killed over the last 10 years have been killed with a firearm.
Shooting training must be merged with grappling and striking techniques. Based on legal and policy restrictions almost always placed on officers, the force continuum is not preemptive. Officers who successfully defend themselves in the hole will always be at a legal disadvantage, based on current training doctrine. That is, if they've survived a potentially lethal encounter, a crafty litigator might suggest they could not possibly have been reacting to the threat. They must have been the aggressor.