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RECENTLY, MY FELLOW DEFENSIVE tactics instructors and I subjected police officers at my department to a series of drills intended to gauge their responses to a surprise encounter. Each drill began with a thick, dark material being draped over the officer's head to prevent him or her from seeing. The officer was then escorted to the mat, where an instructor/role player was waiting. The only instruction officers were given was to respond realistically to whatever situation they encountered once they could see. Here's a rundown of what happend.

In the first scenario, the officers found themselves staring down the barrel of an inert training gun. Nearly all of the officers' responses fell into one of the following three categories. One, the officer uttered an obscenity, created distance, and drew his or her inert training sidearm followed by some version of "Bang! Bang!"

In the second category, the officer uttered an obscenity, redirected the suspect's inert gun and drew his or her inert gun, followed by, "Bang! Bang!" In the last category, the officer uttered an obscenity, got out of the training gun's line of fire, and disarmed the suspect or executed a takedown.

The first response was the most common and, unfortunately, the least desirable. Simply drawing your gun when a gunman has the drop on you is a race you're not likely to win. In this situation, you'll need to address the threat in order to create an opportunity to either take the assailant's gun or get to your own.

In the second scenario, the role player was holding a cell phone close to the officer's face. The role player immediately asked the officer for directions. Regardless of the officer's response, the role player was non-combative.

Here, each officer reacted appropriately and did not strike the lost dimwit (for the record, surprising an officer by placing an object near his or her face is not recommended). Some officers were a little jumpier than others, especially since in the previous drill they found themselves facing a drawn handgun.

However, the most forceful response was to redirect the phone and admonish the lost soul in the following manner; "What the f*** is wrong with you? You don't approach people like that." Maybe not a textbook response but well within the realm of reasonableness.

In the third scenario the officer had his or her gun in hand as if searching a building. As soon as the officer could see, the role player latched on to the gun. A tug of war ensued and culminated with the officer extracting his or her gun from the assailant, creating distance and issuing verbal commands.

For the purpose of our drill, the bad guy then complied with verbal commands to assume a prone position. (In the real world or even in a different training scenario, the assailant could decide to reengage. The legalities of shooting the assailant at this point would depend on the "totality of the circumstances.")

Not surprisingly, officers who reacted immediately and aggressively had little difficulty pulling the gun away from the assailant. Conversely, those who hesitated were at a distinct disadvantage for a couple reasons. First, the assailant had time to establish a death grip on the gun. Additionally, the officer's pause enabled the assailant to redirect the muzzle and pull the officer's gun toward his or her body, creating a significant leverage advantage for the crook. An interesting point was that few officers simulated the "tap, rack and assess" sequence that would likely be required in order for the pistol to fire if need be.

The final situation was a punch to the face, which naturally was the most hated scenario. As soon as the officer could see, he or she was punched lightly in the face by a role player wearing 16-ounce boxing gloves.

Some officers drew their sidearms. This was usually not an appropriate level of force. However, a couple of officers happened to be much smaller than their attackers and would have likely have sustained significant injury had they been hit by repeated hard, real punches (sans boxing gloves), so drawing their sidearms and creating distance seemed appropriate.

These types of drills are not complicated or time-consuming like full-blown scenario training can be. With a safe training environment, inert training weapons, appropriate protective gear and a designated safety officer running the show, this type of training is tremendously beneficial in assessing your responses to a spontaneous threat.

Invariably there will be a slight pause to assess whether the role player poses a threat and decide on a course of action. But if you find yourself frozen in place like a deer in the headlights, it's a sign you need to give more thought to the types of threats you're likely to face.

Admittedly, in the real world, you won't be walking around blinded by a hood over your head. However, walking blindly into a scenario represents the worst-case scenario, when you are caught completely by surprise and must respond immediately and appropriately to whatever situation you are thrust into. As such, it's an excellent way to develop better and faster decision-making under stress.

Caption: When officers had a dark hood pulled off their heads, they were confronted by four different situations. Their reactions were, well, varied.
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Title Annotation:EN GARDE
Author:Nance, Richard
Date:Jan 12, 2018
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