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Improving Reactions To Lethal Force

R.S. Eden

The potential for high risk situations is becoming more common as our society continues to deal with an increasing crime rate. As a dog handler, you will be at greater risk for lethal confrontations as a direct result of your K9 applications. There are a number of things that you can do to help you survive such encounters. Many of those include techniques with the dog, proper use of body armor and other protective measures. Proper mental preparation however, with followup reactive training is the best defense in an offensive situation.

Reaction time in a confrontation is directly effected by your mental preparation, readiness, and willingness to respond to a threat. The reaction cycle begins with your perception of a dangerous situation. You first recognize that a threat exists. Once you have acknowledged the threat, you must then devise a plan of action which then turns into physical actions. We draw our weapon, move to a position of cover and return fire if the situation warrants it. This reaction may take substantial time, depending on your ability to handle the situation.

Your reaction time can be greatly reduced, by your mental preparation, and field readiness. This readiness is obtained by mental conditioning along with the appropriate training. Train ing for such situations should produce a pattern of reactions that become second nature to you. These strategies can be drawn upon in an emergency, as immediate action plans with little or no time for planning when the threat occurs. The more you repeat the training, the faster your reactions to a threat will be. Your reaction times will be greatly reduced, as you have already formulated and trained continuously on how to control the situa tion. You already have your planning done to a large degree, and your motor skills react automatically to the situation without waiting for you to suddenly formulate a plan as to what you are going to do.

When setting up a training program, think of what options you might have when on a track after an armed suspect. Set up those types of situations, and practice your plan of actions for each given scenario. These situations can be set up using live quarries equipped with Simunition or Paintball type weapons to offer realistic situations, and can also involve live fire train ing in a bush trail ambush course with setup targets in obscure locations.

Work your training scenarios until you find yourself re sponding to each situation instinctively. This intuitive re sponse is the result of automatic motor-sensory response, build ing into your “muscle memory”.

Your immediate action plan will become a vital part of your survival. Your training should include moving and using avail able cover, reducing your exposure where possible, returning fire, and proper application and control of your dog. Upon entering a situation where your dog is indicating you are close to the suspect your weapon should be drawn and ready to use. The barrel of your weapon should always be pointed where you are looking. This reduces your reaction time should you need to fire. You will find that if you have properly prepared yourself in training, that your assessment of the situation will be fast, and your reaction instinctive. In all situations, including training, keep moving and be aware of cover. Practice giving directions over your radio so that you become aware of your position at all times, and are able to properly direct backup officers. Do not wait until you are out of ammunition before loading a new clip or speed loader. Reload at the first break in the fight that allows you a safe opportunity to freshen your weapon.

More and more suspects are starting to wear body armor when going out to commit offenses. In response to this increasing phenomenon, law enforcement officers must adjust their training to include “failure drills”. Your training should include sin gle, double and multiple suspects, and failure drills to compen sate for the likelyhood of the suspect(s) being equipped with concealable body armor.

This type of shooting drills includes the mental preparation and physical followup training that trains the officer to shoot two rounds at body mass and one round into the head of the sus pect. When encountering two suspects, double tap both suspects, and while still covering the second suspect, fire one round to the head, return to the first suspect and fire a round to the head. This “failure drill” routine is known as the double back.

Should you encounter three suspects, your pattern of shots must change. Due to the time involved in laying down fire, you cannot afford to double tap each suspect initially, depending on your situation. Initial engagement will require you to single tap on each suspect and double back, using your failure drill on the third pass. Your system of engagement will depend on your proximity to each suspect, the type of firepower each carries, and the perceived threat. If your suspects are close together, your potential for success will be greater if you single tap. If they are separated however, you will need to be sure of your shots as it will take you longer to get on target, therefore you should double tap. In each instance, you must follow through with your failure drill to ensure you have neutralized the suspect(s) if they are still a potential threat. In any situation, control your fear, your motor skills will take over if you have prepared adequately. If you can control your fear, you have already won half the battle. Concentrate on taking out the most immediate threat first, or the threat that has the most devastating firepower. Remember always that things are never as they appear. Although you may have only contacted one suspect while on the track with your dog, there may very likely be a second or even a third suspect in the vicinity. Do not relax when the initial encounter is over.

Note: More advanced information on this subject during sessions instructed at the International Police K9 Conferences held annually in various locations throughout North America.


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