Shooting in the hole

Different firearms instructors have different opinions about the most efficient way to train for shooting in the hole. In fact, many of us have different names for contact and near-contact shooting. Me, I like “in the hole.” I have heard, “in the...

Since the majority of Hall’s law enforcement career has been in casual clothes, he is adamant about practicing in environments where clothes-clearing is part of shooting training. His requirement for this type of training is 1.5 seconds from a concealed draw. That is, officers don’t leave the range until they can do this consistently.

Hall’s training method is one I use myself: officers compete against each other, two at a time. They do this all the way to an elimination round. The competition creates a little stress in the training. Hall told me he used to have a knife giveaway for the fastest round. One thing that he stresses is the fact that draw speed is a significant criterion for holster selection.

I have just discovered the Safariland 7TS, one of the most versatile and indestructible holsters I have tested. For an open top, thumb released holster, it has an ideal level of retention. Even after an hour or so of orientation, I could make the 1.5-second draw with it. The good news is the fact that the officer who goes from uniform, bike, motor, detectives to special duty can use the same holster.

Hall told me that, ideally, officers need to consistently draw and shoot under two seconds. Up close, it’s faster. At near contact distance, it should be under 1.5 seconds, which most officers should be able to do. The shift in distance between zero to three feet and three to six feet is actually more dramatic than it seems. At contact distance, when the gun comes out, the adaptable decision making process can be quickly short-circuited.

For example, let’s say that an officer, ticket book in hand, is writing a municipal citation in a city park. Consider this a traffic stop where there is no vehicle. The suspect, whose mental status is questionable, slowly closes the officer-suspect distance, and then charges him while reaching for the waistband. The officer has a slight delay in observing and recognizing the withdrawn object as a threat/non-threat. In this case, the suspect draws a knife.

Here’s where the critical distance decision-making concept comes into play. If the two subjects in the illustration were just standing facing each other at a distance where they could place each others’ palms on their adversary’s shoulders, the officer would be better served to strike before drawing. This is why the “reactionary strike” using the support hand is crucial.

Now the decision making part: Should the officer maintain contact, or create distance? It’s best to try to avoid a wrestling match. The best answer is for law enforcement professionals to train for both.

Reaction to visual stimuli runs around 0.25 seconds (a quarter second). That is, an average person has to see, and then process visual stimuli before they can do something. This delay is increased if the stimulus is not immediately recognized, or the officer does not register it as a threat. Added to that is the “what to do” equation.

We also have to factor in “recognition” memory. If the threatening object is only partially exposed, like the handle of a knife in a waistband, the officer’s experience has to navigate memory of items and the context from where the officer’s experience places it.

If anyone thinks context isn’t a big deal, consider this: The other day I saw my dental hygienist at a restaurant. I knew I knew her, but I could not place her into context. I said hello, but my inability to place her was probably very obvious. Seeing a partial section of a weapon and distinguishing it in time from a cell phone is a complex task.

All right, let’s go back to the decision-making. If the officer maintains contact, he could jam the draw and stay hand-to-hand. Visual recognition, as I said before, is 0.25 seconds. Tactile recognition, the ability to touch something and recognize it by feel, is 0.17 seconds on the average. This is potentially an advantage. Trust it when doing a pat down. Remember it when forced to close the distance.

Here’s the part that non-officers (especially the media) don’t get:

If the officer is wrestling with the subject, somebody’s gun is within arm’s reach.

Even if the suspect was unarmed, the opportunity to become armed is there.

One of the most likely common factors of officers killed in the line of duty where initial physical contact was made is not enough initial controlling force. This may indicate that many of the fatal encounters were actually disengagements.