11.16.2011

The Tools of Law Enforcement – Lethal Force and Fire Arms part II

FBI Badge & gun.Image via Wikipedia
Article by: Scott Hall
            In law enforcement’s decisions as to whether or not to use lethal force, the decision to do so comes with inherent dangers.  Dangers such as the perpetrator acquiring the weapon, is the perpetrator serious about using a weapon of their own or are they trying to “commit suicide by cop”.  Observations of environment are also a key factor; items that may be of concern could include, are there innocent bystanders around or is this busy intersection a place of business? Above all these decisions is safety.  An important part of the law enforcement person’s training includes gun safety and use.  Grab your head gear, put on some safety goggles and we will try to “zero in” on why gun safety is very important to the public and the officer.


            Gun safety means being responsible for the storage and handling of a firearm.  It does not necessarily mean to make sure your “safety” is on, although in order to avoid unnecessary accidents, when in storage or being transported it’s not a bad idea to make sure it is on and set.  According to the National Rifle Association (nrahq.org), there are 3 basic rules we should apply when using a firearm; they are: 1-Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.  This is very important; keeping the barrel pointed away keeps accidental discharges of the weapon from actually harming anyone and by the way, resting a rifle on your shoulder isn’t such a good idea either.  I am sure the powder burns of the accidental shoulder discharge will suffice as a good reminder as well as the unintended blast sound a few inches from the ear. 
Soldier demonstrating gun safety by keeping th...Image via Wikipedia            The second rule of thumb to observe, or in this case finger is: 2-Never put your finger on the trigger until you are ready to shoot.  Resting the finger on the trigger guard is the safest place besides not touching the gun itself.  This is important as different weapons have different “sensitivity” ranges on the trigger itself and jostling or accidental squeezing of a trigger could spell disaster if you are not in a certain stance to fire the weapon or have others around your target that could be hit by the round coming from the weapon.  Also, if you intend to squeeze the trigger, or not, always check the status of the safety, this could prove frustrating if wanting to fire and cannot or vice versa.
            An unloaded gun cannot kill anyone, which brings us to the NRA’s third guideline:  3-Always keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.  This means when you are done using the weapon and getting it ready to store, unload the chamber or if you are handling the weapon and do not intend to use it, make sure there are no rounds in the chamber or the magazine that holds those rounds is removed from the weapon.  At this stage of safety it is important to note that if you are unfamiliar with the workings or assembly of your firearm, stop!  Failure to be aware of all that weapon can do is just as fatal as making errors in handling or discharging, be smart about your weapon of choice by finding someone who knows or take a gun course from a qualified business or instructor, again, knowledge here means safety overall.  This point is also important in relation to homes where impressionable children reside.  Do not give easy access to guns to children who would otherwise just as well imitate their hero or video game and pick up a weapon and shoot some innocent person with it and not know why they have done wrong.
            There is good news on our horizons even in the face of a new world driven by defense against extremists, the firearm accident death rate is at an all time low, this according to a statistic of the NRA (nraila.org), the reason they cite is education about firearm safety and gun training.  Organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America, the Jaycees and the American Legion all have hosted or participated in the training program that the NRA provides. So we can easily asses that training and education is a large portion of law enforcements firearm training.  The type mentioned so far is related to the firearm itself and just skims the surface of what other environments may affect training, such as dismantling for cleaning and oiling, defensive training, tactical use or a variety of areas.
            Law enforcement departments do their very best to provide adequate training based on budgeting provided to them.  Education alone in theory needs only to be practiced to see where the errors need correcting, which is why law enforcement persons undergo a variety of situational training.  This type of training may include areas of hostages, public safety, when to fire (rules governing lethal force) and other views.  An online article (policeone.com) uncovered some very intriguing factors in training.  The information includes data that was gathered from the California Commission on Peace Officers Standards and Training along with input from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), about a dozen items were listed as guidelines for firearms training so a summation and critical items will only be discussed, and further review will be provided as a link in the references of this article.
            The guidelines mentions 1-Prepare the officer for immediate, spontaneous, lethal attacks.  Imagine you are a police officer who just pulled over someone for running a stoplight.  As you approach the vehicle, you notice a bit of movement from the driver and as you walk up to the window, figuring the person may have reached for a gun you become surprised it is only their wallet or registration info.  At that point you as an officer were faced with two outcomes, the first being you were wrong at assumption and you kept your hand on your weapon as a safety precaution, end result, no encounters.  The second, you were right and the intended outcome was to do harm.  In this event, being able to draw quickly in close range and defend as well as subdue are critical, time counts.  Reaction time counts as well, not just the seconds that feels like minutes. A split second decision like that requires a lot of training to assist in making the right choice and this is the top recommendation of the guidelines, critical thinking an essential skill.
FBI Mobile Command Center - Washington Field O...Image via Wikipedia            2-Prepare Officers for assaults by multiple threats and uninvolved subjects.  Spring break in America, pick a city that is well known and lets think about multiple persons being inebriated in a bar.  Some traveler happens to find another person’s mate particularly attractive, makes comment within earshot of mate’s significant other, suddenly there is a fight.  The police show up to bring order back to the scene and while arresting subject A, happen to be seen by that person’s best friend who is either clueless as to what is going on or just angry and assaults the officer.  Yes, this scenario is possible and most who watch programs such as “COPS” on their televisions can attest to some crazy multiple person incidents. Spousal domestic violence is another consideration when the officer is in a person’s home who suddenly has a change of heart about their abused other and turns on the officer, not a good feeling, but needs to be included in the training.  Statistically there is about a 60% chance of being assaulted by more than one person in these and other situations, making this type of training second in command and second on the compiled list of guidelines.
Agents in training on the FBI Academy firing rangeImage via Wikipedia            Looking at these two examples, it should be noted that most training is for close encounters or hand to hand combat, including defense and offensive techniques.  This training is also crucial as once the subject is subdued, the next step is handcuffing and searching.  Some scenarios involve the subject reaching for or trying to obtain the officers firearm.  Not surprisingly, this area is also mentioned in the listed guidelines. 3-Integrate the sudden transition to firearms from arrest and control techniques, including searching and handcuffing.  In the blink of an eye, some subjects will try to outsmart the arresting officer and time their move just right.  For instance, your subject is leaned against the car, you have cuffs in your hand and just as you reach to secure the subject, they whip around with a small .22 caliber weapon the officer didn’t notice or had not yet patted down their subject.  In close coupled environments it would be easy to forget you have cuffs in your hand as you reach for your weapon. We can basically agree that depending on region, this may or may not occur more often, but whether or not it occurs at all still presents itself as a needed training item, as one never knows when they may encounter a “Richard Ramirez” or “Charles Manson” persona. 
            Other techniques mentioned are tactical in nature, such as coverage with two or more persons, building sweeping and clearing as well as emphasizing a mindset of survival when faced with a potentially lethal situation.  Education on stances, one arm firing techniques, cleaning, loading and clearing chambers, where the safety is as well as how to store and lock up your gun, in combination all help to reduce the number of gun accidents. Law enforcement training takes firearm use and control very seriously as no officer enjoys using lethal force and knows it is a last resort.  Without professional instruction and potential behavior outcome training, the rate of death amongst criminals and police would be much higher rather than much lower than it is today.  When an officer says, “Stop or I will be forced to shoot” the background and decision to make a lethal maneuver really does mean a lot more than just the words alone.
Authors Note:  My deepest regards go out to the fallen officers all over the world, from all marches of time.  Your personal sacrifice in committing to the overall public trust and safety is greatly appreciated and should never be forgotten.  Thank you to the Officer’s all over the world who are currently in service, your dedication helps to make all of our world a bit more respectable and I pray daily for your collective safety.
References and further readings:



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