Law enforcement officers almost have to be de facto criminologists. After all, they base behavioral predictions on past practices. Coupled with common sense, the officer can increase crime solving success rates and improve safety by looking at past occurrences to predict likely outcomes.
There are simple past practices which officers institutionalize, such as things suspects generally do in a foot pursuit. For example: Most suspects will run a short distance then look for a place to hide; In a vehicle pursuit, the most likely turn is a right turn; and, statistically, policy-makers who include a foot pursuit procedure directing officers to respond toward the direction of travel to set up a perimeter, then sweep inside the perimeter are likely to be on the right track.
Institutional knowledge and statistics help officers make decisions likely to keep them safe. To illustrate this, understand that there are more potential hazards in a bedroom than a living room making it beneficial to locate a light switch. Additionally, looking at statistics on a national scale, close combat shooting practice is most productive.Bedrooms and kitchens are bad, living rooms are better
When an officer enters a residence, he immediately places himself at a disadvantage. After all, the officer is the least likely person to know the current layout of a residence. However, there are certain areas more desirable than others.
First, the officer must create a foundation of safety — watching the hands and scanning for additional subjects should be automatic. Not only while investigating a simple call in progress — even when the call for service is to take a report of a previous incident — it is beneficial to scan a room for potential problems.
The aspect of territoriality should be a consideration anytime an officer contacts a potential suspect. Territoriality is an adaptive psychological trait when someone has an instinctive need to defend an area within his or her perceived boundaries. However, these limits do not necessarily have to be geographical.
Territoriality can create a psychological barrier to investigations and an increased risk to officers. For example, it is common for individuals to react when someone infringes on the proximity of their spouse or significant other ("their territory"). For the purposes of officer safety, it is usually better to have the significant other out of sight when handcuffs go on, even if they are the victim.
The higher the investment in territoriality, the higher the dangerous and threatened a suspect can become. Each person establishes a personal space in his or her psychology. Because a bedroom is significantly more personal than a well-trafficked living room, a person will generally show more aggression there. This aggression can manifest itself in the form of evading questions while rooted in the bedroom, refusing to leave the bedroom or an overt willingness to fight in the bedroom. Although this behavior is hard to predict and even harder to gauge, officers may get better results during interviews and can lessen intensity and hostility of interviewees in common areas like the living room.
Another reason why bedrooms are not an optimum choice of environments is that people are more likely to have hidden weapons in areas where they have more control. There are fewer possible weapons in the well-trafficked living room — more in the bedroom. On that note, edged weapons are most likely found in the kitchen.
Armed with this knowledge, officers should make every effort to conduct their business in common areas, whenever possible.Grab a light switch
Houses are constructed in conventional ways. It is predictable a light switch that will illuminate most of the room is on the wall just where one can reach it before entering the room.
An officer searching a building is best served "pie-ing" or "slicing" into any doorway using his tactical light. However, if the room is large or obscured by a lot of furniture, switching on the light is tactically sound. This may help officers maintain a piece of real estate inside the building they have already captured. Statistically, the light switch will be in a predictable place. Sometimes it is better to grab a light switch than attempt to sweep the room in the darkness.Officer training and statistics
Some statistics should drive training. Examples include: Of all the data on felons that have murdered law enforcement officers since 1995, more than 77 percent have had a prior arrest and 38 percent have been arrested for a violent charge. One could conclude previous criminal history increases the danger potential for officers.
In the past three years, the average time in service for officers murdered in the line of duty is 11 years. Few victims are rookies or officers nearing retirement. This may indicate that these officers have sufficient experience to be field training officers, shift supervisors and investigators. It is likely that almost all of these officers were pinnacle of their productivity, observation and investigative skills.
Additionally, 93 percent of the homicides on law enforcement officers involved a firearm in the past three years. More than 50 percent of these officers were shot within 5 feet — the remaining majority took place within 10 feet. Several of these incidents had more than one officer on-scene.
How can we use these statistics to benefit our training? First, we should consider how some of the best competitive shooters in the world view their training philosophy. They learn to shoot a lot of bullets in a short time, then work on accuracy.Shoot a lot of bullets
Competitive shooters shoot a lot of bullets quickly for an entirely different reason than law enforcement officers should. Their purpose is to practice with a sufficient quantity of bullets in order to create muscle memory centered on trigger control. For a competitive pistol shooter, trigger control is paramount.
Don't misunderstand this: Competitive shooters do work on accuracy. However, it makes more sense to have the body and firearm deliver a clean shot, then align that clean shot to a good sight picture than the other way around. If the officer gets a good sight alignment and tries to chase it with a clean trigger break, the shot will be flawed.
Officers should shoot a lot of bullets in order to learn to get the gun out of the holster and on target quickly. Once on target, officers should shoot until the threat is down. Pouring out a sufficient number of hits is good practice.
Other reasons why trigger control is important are speed and safety. For safety, the officer must be able to get his finger on the trigger when he wants and keep it off when he doesn't. For speed, the officer must be able to train combat shooting in the correct sequence. The officer must see the target then bring the gun to the sight plane.Get out the red or blue guns
Agencies who combine defensive tactics with firearms training are truly serving their officers. Scenarios must include rapidfire decision-making processes forced on the officer. For example, trainers can set up a two-station scenario; one with a simulated firearm, the other with a close-up target. Two officers are run through the scenarios simultaneously. The primary officer does the defensive tactics portion. While the back up officer does the shooting.
In the defensive tactics portion, the officer encounters a suspect armed with a concealed (simulated) handgun. The officer-in-training is wearing his full duty uniform, including his simulated handgun. The officer is instructed to conduct an interview until threatened. He must decide whether to close or widen distance, depending on the scenario. If cover is available, he must seek it. When he sees the concealed firearm, he must yell "gun" or appropriate command to his partner, who is facing the target fewer than 10 feet away.
The officer in the defensive tactics portion must either wrestle or simulate shooting.
When the officer in the shooting portion of the scenario hears his partner he must engage a standard target that is partially obscured, simulating shooting around his partner. The scenario continues until the trainer calls an end to the exercise. Partners switch places and equipment and the training continues.
There are several trainers who emphasize realistic scenarios based on lessons learned. Rob Pincus, director of shooting operations at the Valhalla Shooting Club and Training Center, offers hands-on training in his "Combat Focus Shooting" course, an entire application of realistic training philosophy. Louis Chiodo, founder of Gunfighters Ltd. offers a program that emphasizes realistic fighting, not just shooting skills.The numbers game
Statistics give us a snapshot, often for the purpose of predicting future behavior or future outcome. As criminologists, officers must pay attention to national and local statistics. Every other business pays attention to demographics, business history drives future predictions. Judges and juries involved in sentencing decisions are simply predicting future behavior. Officers should also be afforded the opportunity to win at the numbers game.
Editor's Note: Additional information on the Valhalla Shooting Club and Training Center can be found at www.valhallashootingclub.com. Additional information on Gunfighters Ltd. can be found at www.gunfightersltd.com.
Lindsey Bertomen is a retired police officer who teaches Administration of Justice at Hartnell College in Salinas, California.