“Watch their hands. It’s the hands that will kill you.” That advice has been offered in police academy classrooms and in-service training for decades upon decades. Like much that we have heard and learned over the years, if it sounds reasonable and rational, we glom on to it and repeat it ourselves over and over again without ever giving it a second thought.
Every year, American law enforcement officers have thousands of successful use of force encounters where the officer(s) involved does it right. However, we still have too many cases where a legitimate good guy is shot and killed despite circumstances determining they should not have been.
“Blue on Blue” shootings destroy multiple lives. The officer on the receiving end of the negligent rounds now has a widow(er) and fatherless children. Those who delivered the negligent rounds have to live with the fact that they killed another officer mistakenly.
Training the Target
For as long as I’ve been involved in the arena, and that has been nearly thirty years now, we have tried to solve the Blue on Blue or mistaken identity shooting problem by putting the onus on the target. Tools and techniques for off-duty officers and armed good guys have been offered. Special shooting techniques for holding your badge and gun while in plainclothes have been developed. Unique “off-duty” jackets with pull down “POLICE” placards have been sold by the thousands.
For years I carried a specially designed waistpack that when opened had a large Velcro patch with “POLICE” boldly displayed as a potential deterrent against mistaken identity shooting. I suppose that pack is in a box upstairs somewhere.
Discussion versus Practice
Despite the profiling boogie-man and the modern PC advice against it, veteran cops understand that genuine bad guys tend to all behave in certain ways and that paying attention to visual cues more often than not will pay off. Salty vets can spot a bad guy just by looking at him.
In the aftermath of a mistaken identity shooting, the knee-jerk reaction of the administration is most often to make everyone sit through an in-service Use of Force class. Unfortunately, the majority of these sessions are simply warmed-over basic academy periods of instruction. These classes talk about observation, verbal commands, and again, stress how off-duty officers should behave so as not to get shot. There are even numerous policies that off-duty cops are expected to memorize and follow so as not to be a victim.
While there certainly are mistaken identity shootings where an officer ‘thought’ they saw a weapon but it turned out not to be so, these cases are a rare minority. The majority of mistaken identity shootings occur when the bona fide good guy has a gun in hand and responding uniformed officers shoot them. Rarely does the off-duty guy get shot because he pointed or threatened the patrol guys with the gun, he/she gets shot because there were “holding” a gun.
Live-Fire Training to Kill People with Guns
Shoot-house and scenario based training where officers must address full-color human-like paper targets have been vogue for decades. Many companies offer targets with special overlays to change a “man w/gun” target to a “man w/cellphone” target. You can get a paper “badge” overlay to tape/glue onto the plainclothes target to make it appear to be an off-duty officer.
Consider the last live-fire scenario shoot house training you went through. If the scenario is like most I’ve attended and I’ve attended a lot, there will be numerous full color paper targets throughout. Some have guns, some don’t. As the student progresses through the scenario they shoot the targets holding guns and, if they are locked on, they don’t shoot the ones without guns. If a student shoots a target without a gun they are remediated and possibly fail the course.