I was dispatched to a report of a 17-year-old male destroying items in his mother's residence with a baseball bat. Having recently completed the department's field training program, I was rehearsing my response while en route to the call. Obviously, the bat presented a deadly threat so the appropriate response for dealing with someone armed with a bat would be to draw my firearm.
Upon arrival, I parked several houses from the location of the call and waited for my partner to arrive. Unfortunately, prior to my partner arriving, the 17-year old burst out the front door of the residence, armed with an aluminum baseball bat. I quickly exited my vehicle and requested Dispatch expedite the response of my cover unit.
By now, the bat-wielding teenager was walking toward me, yelling for me to shoot him. I drew my handgun and pointed it at the subject, ordering him to drop the bat. He ignored my commands and continued approaching me. The subject's mother and his friend pleaded with me not to shoot him and actually walked in between subject and I so that I would not have a clear shot at him.
I placed my index finger on the trigger and was prepared to shoot the subject, who was about 20 feet away and closing distance quickly. I remember thinking if the subject took two more steps toward me and I had a clear shot, I would take it. Just then, he threw the bat down and charged me.
While back peddling to create distance and fumbling to holster my firearm, I found myself almost face to face with the suspect. I drew my pepper spray with my left hand and threatened to spray the suspect. Luckily, this caused him to stop. By now, my cover officer arrived, which prompted the subject to flee on foot. We gave chase and apprehended the subject following a brief altercation.
The moral to the story is that I was unprepared to handle a situation requiring me to quickly de-escalate from a deadly force response to an intermediate force response, such as the use pepper spray, baton, Electronic Control Device, or personal body weapons. In speaking to officers, I've discovered that many have experienced the same dilemma. When officers aren't prepared to handle this type of scenario, there is a possibility of them shooting an unarmed subject when doing so might not be reasonable or being injured while attempting to holster their handgun.
The question is, what equipment and tactics can we employ to give ourselves the best chance of safely transitioning from a deadly force response to a lower level force option?
I've seen officers carry a weapon mounted light in a pouch on their duty belt. The rationale is that when preparing to enter a low light environment, the officer can draw his or her handgun and attach the light.
The problem with this approach from a de-escalation of force standpoint is that it requires an officer to remove the light from the handgun before holstering, since the handgun will not fit into the holster with the light attached. Holstering when a subject is charging you is difficult enough without having to deal with removing a light from your handgun.
Don't get me wrong, having a weapon mounted light is a great idea. But, if you utilize a weapon mounted light, it should be mounted to your weapon and carried in a holster designed to accommodate the light.
Another problem associated with holstering in a hurry is that it can be difficult to secure the retention snaps on your holster under stress. This is compounded by the fact that we don't typically train to holster and secure our handgun quickly. If ever there was a need to secure your handgun in its holster, its when a subject is charging you.
The BLACHHAWK! Serpa Auto Lock line of holsters help solve the holstering under stress problem. What makes these holsters unique is that whether you carry a Level 2 or a Level 3 holster, once you holster the weapon, the retention mechanism (Level 2) is automatically engaged. This alleviates the need to fumble with snapping the handgun in place once it is holstered. With your handgun securely holstered, you can use both hands to deal with the subject and eliminate the problems inherent in fighting with your handgun drawn. The Serpa series holsters are made to accommodate a variety of handguns and weapon mounted lights.
As a firearms instructor, I constantly remind officers to keep their eyes on the threat when holstering. Officers simply can't afford to look at their holster. Doing so could cause the officer to miss critical information, such as the emergence of a new threat. Through practice, officers should be able to holster by feel as opposed to relying on sight.
When a subject charges you and you are holding your handgun, you have a few tactical options.
If you have sufficient distance, you could holster and secure your handgun while drawing another tool from your duty belt.
When there isn't time to holster and draw your pepper spray, baton, or Electronic Control Device, you might have to transition to a "close quarter hold". This is accomplished by pulling the handgun in so that it is near your chest with the muzzle oriented to the threat and the slide canted slightly outward. From this position, you could use your non dominant hand to post on the subject to halt his advance or to strike him. While shooting the subject might not be the appropriate response, holstering might not be either. You may have to fight with your handgun in hand. Obviously when your handgun is in hand during this type of close quarter engagement, it is vitally important that your finger be positioned outside the trigger guard and indexed along the frame of the handgun to prevent an unintended discharge.
Another viable option is to move off line. This forces the subject to reorient to you which could buy you much needed time to holster your handgun and safely transition to another force option.
Remember that when someone is armed with a contact distance weapon such as a baseball bat, vehicles, fences, furniture and other objects can be used effectively as barriers to prevent the subject from getting close enough to strike you with the weapon. When there is sufficient time, consider using your environment to your advantage.
Always have a plan B and never give up!