I've been a cop in some way, shape or form (military, civilian, private, etc.) since the fall of 1982. For over 35 years I lived with the reality that I might, just MIGHT, have to put a human being in my sight picture and squeeze the trigger. It's a reality I came to live with a long time ago and it remains with me today, even though I’ve retired from uniform. I decided, so many years ago, that it was something I could do and promised myself I would if it needed doing. It was something I saw as part of my job when circumstances warranted it. The reality of life though is that there are a great many police officers who simply don't have it in them to pull the trigger when they should.
Lt. Col. Dave Grossman speaks about this in his presentation on the Bulletproof Mind. He tells the story about a cop who comes and thanks him for having simply asked, "Can you pull the trigger when you have to?" It's something that far too many cops take for granted. Grossman cites human interpersonal violence as the "universal phobia" and gives historical information to support his theories. The fact that some cops today hesitate to pull the trigger when it's both justified and necessary to their potential survival may further support his theory.
I've seen numerous videos from dashboard video-cameras mounted in police and sheriff's patrol vehicles around the country. In one, the law enforcement officer, gun drawn and pointed at an armed threat, says, "I'll shoot your ass," nine times. NINE times. Now, admittedly that's not the most professional thing to say to a subject who needs to drop his weapon before you are forced to shoot him. Perhaps, "Don't make me shoot you," would sound more professional as it's captured on your dash-cam, but be that as it may, NINE times? Let's think about everything that is implied in ONE verbal warning.
Situation: Subject is armed and not complying with your orders. You have drawn your weapon and are aiming / pointing it at him. The moment of truth has arrived. Either he must drop his weapon, or you must pull the trigger on yours - at least twice in most contemporary training structures and then evaluate the need for further shots.
Boyd's decision-making model of Observe-Orient-Decide -Act affects both players in this drama and we law enforcement professionals—or any other contemporary warrior for that matter—must understand what our failure to act in a timely fashion means to the opponent.
Subject's OODA Loop has ended at ACT: He is NOT complying. He is resistant. He is armed. He presents a threat. He may not yet have decided to pull the trigger, but he is refusing to surrender or put down his weapon. He HAS decided not to be obedient.
Officer's OODA Loop has ended at ACT: Observed a threat. Oriented sufficiently to recognize that the threat is to himself or an innocent it is his duty to protect. Decided that he must present Deadly Force. The Action is simultaneously to draw his weapon and to issue a verbal command / warning.
Subject's OODA Loop repeats: I'm not complying. He warned me, but he hasn't started shooting yet. My decision and resolve haven’t changed.
Officer's OODA Loop has ended at ACT: He observes no change in the threat level. The threat still exists to himself or another. He decided to present Deadly Force and did so at the conclusion of his last OODA Loop. Now he has to choose: Action 1: pull the trigger. Action 2: repeat verbal warning.
OK, three things have to be said here:
- Police officers have no legal requirement to retreat from a physical threat. In fact, it's our sworn duty to stand in harm's way and defend / protect those who cannot defend or protect themselves. We cannot in good conscience shirk that duty.
- If Deadly Force wasn't justified, we shouldn't be standing there with the gun in our hand pointed at a bad guy. If we're confident in our decision to present Deadly Force, we should be equally confident in the necessity of pulling the trigger.
- Action is always faster than REaction. If the bad guy goes through his next OODA Loop and decides to start pulling the trigger, the officer or other victim may be critically injured by gunfire before the officer can return fire. At that point, the action is too little too late.
Those three items recognized, let's consider the implication of a second (or third or fourth or NINTH) warning. The subject is going through repetitive OODA Loops just as the officer is. To make those OODA Loops inefficient, the officer must compress the subject's time and space. By whatever means necessary, the officer must reach an appropriate ACTION first - or risk losing the fight and potentially his life. If the officer makes the decision to issue a second warning - which may be appropriate dependent on circumstances, position of cover, threat presented, etc. - then the subject takes that into consideration in his next OODA Loop.
What's the message he's been given? Let's think about it.
Observe: Nothing physical has changed. I'm here with a gun in hand. The cop is there with his gun pointed at me. He looks shaken and unsure, but his gun has a big hole at the end of it and it's pointed at me. He just said, "Don't force me to shoot you," which means the choice is mine. I can drop the gun and live, or I can disobey him, and he'll shoot me. But then he said the same thing again.
Orient: Hmmm... maybe he really doesn't want to shoot me. Let me think about this a minute... maybe more options will become apparent before he gets up the courage to shoot me. Let me look around and see what I can leverage to my advantage or do to escape.
Decide: I think I'll pull this trigger and shoot him before he says anything else again.
Act: Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang.
Of course, that's only one possibility. He may decide to drop the gun and surrender. He may realize that your position of cover is so good he'd be wasting bullets trying to shoot you. He may hear sirens and decide he needs to get away fast and you're in his way, so he opens fire. But let's look at the options and see how the percentages work out for the good guys: us cops.
He surrenders. GOOD.
He shoots. You don't. He's not shot. You're injured. BAD.
He shoots. You don't. He's not shot. You're incapacitated. BAD.
He shoots. You shoot. He's injured. You're not shot. GOOD.
He shoots. You shoot. He's injured. You're injured. BAD.
He shoots. You shoot. He's incapacitated. You're not shot. GOOD.
He shoots. You shoot. He's incapacitated. You're injured. BAD.
He shoots. You shoot. He's incapacitated. You're incapacitated. BAD.
He shoots. You shoot. He's injured. You're incapacitated. BAD.
He shoots. You shoot. He's not shot. You're incapacitated. BAD.
If he surrenders, then great. If he decides to pull the trigger, you're in a REactive position. Of those options listed above, seven out of nine where he shoots work out BAD for you. That's a 78% chance it will go wrong for you. How can we change that? Be PROactive and do what you know is right and justified. Pull the trigger FIRST. How will that work out?
You shoot. He doesn't. He's injured. You're not shot. GOOD.
You shoot. He doesn't. He's incapacitated. You're not shot. GOOD.
You shoot. He shoots. He's injured. You're not shot. GOOD.
You shoot. He shoots. He's incapacitated. You're not shot. GOOD.
You shoot. He shoots. He's injured. You're injured. BAD.
You shoot. He shoots. He's incapacitated. You're injured. BAD.
You shoot. He shoots. He's incapacitated. You're incapacitated. BAD.
You shoot. He shoots. He's injured. You're incapacitated. BAD.
Now look at that again. In the instances where the good guys shoot and the bad guy doesn't, it works out 100% in our favor (given that the use of force is justified). In the remaining six of eight, four of them work in his favor. It would seem to me - based simply on math - that making an appropriate decision and ACTING on it in a timely fashion while using good tactics (such as being behind cover) increases our chances of victory at least 30%.
While I fully understand that today's society puts a lot of pressure on cops to make sure we do the right thing, some things will never change: I will always rather be tried by twelve than carried by six. Understand, you're almost guaranteed to get sued if you pull that trigger. You will face administrative and criminal investigations, and someone will always say you could have done something different. They'll be right. There was always something different that could have been done. Would that different thing have ended in your victory in the conflict? Or would it simply have made it easier for the bad guy to kill you?
Now let me give you an example of how things can work the other way:
County police get a call for a man armed with a knife at a local gas station. They arrive and sure enough, here's the man wandering around the parking lot with a butcher knife in his hand, waving it at people and making verbal threats. The corporal who arrives on the scene has JUST finished qualifying with his carbine. He pulls up approximately fifteen yards / 45 feet from the subject, pops his trunk and gets out. As he goes to his trunk to pull out his 9mm carbine, the subject begins approaching him waving the knife. The officer secures his carbine, chambers a round, checks his shooting backdrop. He moves around to the other side of his cruiser away from the subject, takes aim and issues one warning: "Drop the knife and get down on the ground or I'll fire." The subject never slows down and has approached within the infamous 21-foot distance. One shot is fired. The subject is immediately incapacitated. The administrative and criminal investigations were completed. The shooting was deemed justified. The witness statements clearly indicated that the officer wasn't eager in his actions but didn't hesitate either - - - as it should be.
Do what you must do and don't hesitate. Beat the bad guys in the OODA Loop races and ACT appropriately before they can come to a coherent decision. Don't doubt. Don't second guess. Don't die or get injured because you're afraid of civil litigation or administrative headaches. If you were a uniform and a badge and consider yourself a law enforcement professional, you're a contemporary warrior. Warriors go into battle. In battle there are victors... and those other folks. Don't be one of those other folks.