“Cops Win Gunfights Because They Show Up With Lots of Cops”

This morning, I read Paul Markel’s column for officer.com: Firearms Training Sanity Check; Why do we train the way we do? The answer: “Rather than examine or address any deficiencies in the curriculum or training program, it’s much easier to simply state, that’s we way we’ve always done it. Well that’s great. We used to bore holes in people’s head to let the demons out. I’m sorry folks but we’ve always done it like that is a crutch. It’s an easy way out that requires no thought or effort.” Yes, well, what’s wrong with “it”? How should police be training? Markel’s article pulled more punches than a paid-off prizefighter. So I rang him up, expecting some carefully couched criticism. Nope. He let police firearms training standards have it, both barrels . . .

“The vast majority of cops don’t have a warrior mentality,” the formerly active Marine and ex-cop told TTAG. “Cops win gunfights because they show up with a lot of cops. Whenever they run into serious, motivated and trained bad guys, they get their asses handed to them.”

And yet most of them have no desire to train hard . . .

“It’s all about their ego. They like to practice what they’re good at: standing still and slowly firing at a target that’s five to ten yards away. That way they make lots of nice pretty groups and they can keep thinking that they know how to use a gun . . .

“I tell them to start a string lying on their back. The groups don’t look so nice but they know how to draw and shoot after someone’s knocked them on the ground, before the bad guy comes at them with a knife and starts using them for a pin cushion.”

Markel’s been angry at the state of the average American police force’s combat preparedness for quite some time. When he left the Gulf War for home, Markel graduated at the top of his police academy class. And yet work was hard to come by.

“I was too caucasian and too male for the job,” he states. “When you are more interested in filling quotas than hiring warriors you end up with government workers . . .

“I’d say around one to two percent of police are ‘gun guys’. They’ll spend their own money on ammo and train hard. The rest couldn’t care less. They just want a government job.”

Gun guys. Two little words capable of trigger a major rant.

“Lots of cops say it to me like they’re proud of it. ‘I’m not a gun guy.’ They get all lofty about it. Like if you’re a gun guy you’re some kind of barbarian or Rambo.

“Imagine a plumber who says ‘I’m not a pipe and wrench guy.’ It’s ridiculous. If you’re a cop, you ARE a gun guy. You have to do it. It’s part of your job. ‘I’m not a gun guy.’ Try explaining that to a bad guy when you’re lying in a ditch and he’s about to blow your head off . . .

“Cops aren’t social workers. Some people in America want them to be social workers. They think combat is too nasty and horrible. But they’re supposed to be gunfighters. They need to be gunfighters.”

In the current era of fiscal austerity, firearms training is particularly vulnerable to cut-backs. Markel is not having an easy time of it. But he’s optimistic that a sea change is on the horizon.

“A lot of the new police recruits are kids coming back from Afghanistan. They’ve been there. They know what’s real. They’ve got the warrior spirit. As they work their way up the ranks, they’ll start to lobby for serious training and the budgets to pay for them.”

The change of attitude and increase in real world gunfighting skills can’t happen soon enough for the Mississippi-based trainer. Or for us, the citizens the cops are supposed to protect and serve.

[Please support Mr. Markel's decision to write for TTAG by clicking here to visit his website or here to check out his Cafe Press gob shop.]

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About Robert Farago

Robert Farago is the Publisher of The Truth About Guns (TTAG). He started the site to explore the ethics, morality, business, politics, culture, technology, practice, strategy, dangers and fun of guns.

32 Responses to “Cops Win Gunfights Because They Show Up With Lots of Cops”

  1. avatarAaron says:

    To somewhat defend cops that “aren’t gun guys”, I think it’s fair to say that for them, use of the weapon means that something has gone really wrong.
    Police officers are responsible for maintaining general law and order – they are peace officers first, and gunfighters second. I actually dislike it when police officers do classroom presentations and spend most of it focused on their sidearm, rather than what their day to day job and responsibilities entail.
    SWAT officers, on the other hand, have very little reason to not be “gun guys.”
    That said, any officer that decides ahead of time that they will never need to use their weapon and refuse take any range time other than periodic requalification shouldn’t be on the force.

    • avatarmiforest says:

      it takes 2 to have peace , and cops only have one vote. they need to be prepared for the uncontrollable actions of others.

  2. avatarRalph says:

    Aside from the infrequent, mandatory “training days” at the Town range where I shoot, I’ve seen exactly three local officers practicing their guncraft. One was there to show off for his girlfriend. One was an old-timer who stood and fired. He was fast and accurate, but he was a bit too portly to move well, if at all. The third cop was a rookie who was there to teach his twenty-something friends. He was fantastic on the move, fast and deadly-accurate, but the targets were neither moving nor shooting back. The local LEOs receive no force on force training at all. I don’t know how their families manage to sleep at night.

  3. avatarAntiCitizenOne says:

    The whole idea is that the police officer is called in because he/she represents your sanctioned use of deadly force by the state (that represents you) against another individual violating codified norms. While of course your training should not be gun/weapon-centric, you should definitely include it in there as a high priority on equal footing with negotiations and street smarts.

    If the criminals know that you’re not competent in the use of force they will more than likely try and hand your ass to you. Hence all the attacks on soft targets and gun-free zones.

  4. avatarChris Dumm says:

    Some of my LEO friends don’t seem to get a lot of firearms training (and NO force-on-force training) while others run the tire houses, night-firing drills and pistol/carbine/shotgun qualifications several times a year. Training varies widely by jurisdiction, and some of it seems a little skimpy.

    If a civilian like me is doing more shooting than a police officer, that officer isn’t doing enough training.

  5. avatarEric S says:

    I dislike the “too white & too male” comment, but I can see his point. Cops need to be good shooters as well as good drivers. If you carry/use equipment in your job, be as proficient as you can be in its use.

    It’s like an airline pilot saying, “I’m not a stick & rudder guy.”

    • avatarihatetrees says:

      “The rest couldn’t care less. They just want a government job.”

      That’s the telling point. Way too many cops are postal workers with a sidearm. “Too white & too male” is the natural result of PC hiring policies in many states and localities.

      Here’s a money quote from Senator Jim Webb, D(!!!) Virginia:
      “In an odd historical twist that all Americans see but few can understand, many programs allow recently arrived immigrants to move ahead of similarly situated whites whose families have been in the country for generations.”

    • avatarBK says:

      I don’t see why you have issue with the two white too male comment. It’s 100% true! I know of several Officers in the Department I work for that DID NOT pass the civil service exam with a score that would be normally be considered passing. Yet these people got hired anyway because of their race or gender. On the other hand, white male applicants can have a passing score and will not be hired to keep in line with affirmitive action.

      How do I know these people didn’t pass…. One woman bragged about it, one told me thats why he worked his tail off to try to be the best because he felt like he had it handed to him and another told me in the Academy then washed out of training…

  6. avatarRoy Hill says:

    I want to make clear that I have the utmost respect and admiration for police officers who do a very tough, thankless job for not much money.

    But the simple truth is, and has pretty much always been that the vast majority of police officers are “gun guys” in exactly the same way that taxi cab drivers are “car guys.”

    I’ve read and heard several gun gurus, who were also police officers, say that for the vast majority of police officers, a gun is a heavy thing they have to carry around because it’s part of their job.

  7. avatarRoy Hill says:

    One more point, on a different aspect of this issue.

    While I do think that police officers need to have good firearms training, I’m not so sure that I want all the local cops to have the “warrior mentality.”

    The huge problem with all cops having a “warrior mentality” is that they are not engaged in combat the vast majority of the time.

    Police officers are dealing with the public, and we are all “innocent until proven guilty” under the constitution, the same constitution that guarantees (not grants) our various rights.

    I don’t want to get stopped for a traffic violation by somebody with a “warrior mentality” who sees me as an enemy combatant.

    I don’t want to get ticketed for jaywalking by somebody who is trained to treat me as a threat and who’s goal is to achieve military dominance over me.

    Are there real threats that demand special firearms training? Yes. That’s what SWAT is for. But what reason is there for the police department of a small town to be full of hard core “warrior mentality” types?

    • avatarCharlesT says:

      I want police to have the “warrior mentality” of a Samurai. Extreme patience and discipline that gives way to deadly, precise skill only when the situation absolutely warrants it.

  8. I hope Mr. Markel decides to take Robert up on his offer.

    We could use some common-sense input about training.

  9. avatarRyan Finn says:

    Awesome comments from Mr. Markel. I’m pretty sure he’s my old instructor from the SO in disguise, sounds exactly like conversations we used to have. Can’t wait to see what he brings to the table. Nice find RF.

  10. avatarCharlesT says:

    I have a buddy that was an Army Ranger that served in Iraq and Afghanistan. After his enlistment ended he came home got a job at our Home Town Police Department, heretofore referred to as HTPD (Town has a large military base and a population of about 70,000, so the department is good sized). He wanted to be a SWAT officer, but HTPD had a policy that you had to be a traffic cop for at least two years before you could apply for SWAT. He was shocked. An Army Ranger with two combat tours that actually knows what being in a fire fight really means. He has probably had more rounds fired at him than any other cop on the force has fired at the range. And they did not think he had sufficient training to be on SWAT. Really high standards you might ask? Nope, just bureaucratic B.S.
    I remember having a conversation with him after a couple months working there. He could not believe the firearms training at HTPD…nonexistent. Basic quarterly quals that consisted of standing fire at immobile targets at no greater than 15 yds. Even then accuracy was still sub-par. Beyond that, 9/10 officers did not train on their own. Most didn’t know anything about firearms beyond Glocks. I remember being at the range when one local cop I knew (went to high school with him) came in to shoot with a brother visiting from out of town. At 10 yds, the cop had a grouping of 8-10” firing at a rate of about 1 round every 2 seconds. The brother (unknown prior firearm experience) shot considerably better. The cop brother blamed his poor performance on the fact that he only shoots with the Department 4-6 times a year and never on his own. I would like to add that he did remember to put on his hearing protection before he entered the indoor firing area, though he didn’t wear his glasses most of the time.
    If I was going to carry a firearm everywhere I went for my job, I would want to make sure that I knew how to use it proficiently, because lives might depend on it. My Army buddy told me to never assume that just because someone has a badge and a gun that they know what they are doing.
    On another note, Police Departments are in my opinion also deficient in physical standards as well as firearms training. I think my 78 year old grandmother runs more than the average cop (she actually still jogs a couple miles a week)
    Lastly, to be fair, there are exceptions out there in the law enforcement world and to those officers I would like to say thank you.
    I have a buddy that was an Army Ranger that served in Iraq and Afghanistan. After his enlistment ended he came home got a job at our Home Town Police Department, heretofore referred to as HTPD (Town has a large military base and a population of about 70,000, so the department is good sized). He wanted to be a SWAT officer, but HTPD had a policy that you had to be a traffic cop for at least two years before you could apply for SWAT. He was shocked. An Army Ranger with two combat tours that actually knows what being in a fire fight really means. He has probably had more rounds fired at him than any other cop on the force has fired at the range. And they did not think he had sufficient training to be on SWAT. Really high standards you might ask? Nope, just bureaucratic B.S.
    I remember having a conversation with him after a couple months working there. He could not believe the firearms training at HTPD…nonexistent. Basic quarterly quals that consisted of standing fire at immobile targets at no greater than 15 yds. Even then accuracy was still sub-par. Beyond that, 9/10 officers did not train on their own. Most didn’t know anything about firearms beyond Glocks. I remember being at the range when one local cop I knew (went to high school with him) came in to shoot with a brother visiting from out of town. At 10 yds, the cop had a grouping of 8-10” firing at a rate of about 1 round every 2 seconds. The brother (unknown prior firearm experience) shot considerably better. The cop brother blamed his poor performance on the fact that he only shoots with the Department 4-6 times a year and never on his own. I would like to add that he did remember to put on his hearing protection before he entered the indoor firing area, though he didn’t wear his glasses most of the time.
    If I was going to carry a firearm everywhere I went for my job, I would want to make sure that I knew how to use it proficiently, because lives might depend on it. My Army buddy told me to never assume that just because someone has a badge and a gun that they know what they are doing.
    On another note, Police Departments are in my opinion also deficient in physical standards as well as firearms training. I think my 78 year old grandmother runs more than the average cop (she actually still jogs a couple miles a week)
    Lastly, to be fair, there are exceptions out there in the law enforcement world and to those officers I would like to say thank you.

  11. avatarJD says:

    America is not a warzone. We don’t need warriors patrolling the streets. Cops seem to need to be reminded that they are civilians too.

    • avatarGreg, Orlando, FL says:

      ABSOLUTELY CORRECT!

      “The vast majority of cops don’t have a warrior mentality…”

      GOOD! The last thing we need is to encourage cops to take an even MORE anti-citizen stance than they collectively already have.

  12. avatarMartin Albright says:

    I’m also not crazy about the “warrior mentality” among street cops. Cops already have a bad tendency to see the world as “us” (i.e. cops) vs. “them” (everybody else, which includes criminals, victims, innocent bystanders and citizens, also known as the people who pay their salaries.)

  13. avatarAntiCitizenOne says:

    I think the whole “warrior mentality” is a misnomer – too easily mis-interpreted. “warrior” refers to an entire person or culture. “gunfighting” perhaps is a little more esoteric and focused.

    You just need to be VERY good with handling a firearm. Maybe “gunfighter mentality” would do it, but it would still be pushing the line.

    • avatarSam Adams says:

      B.S. An officer needs to know how to be a person. They need to be untrained. They need all this warrior, militarized nonsenese removed from their overgrown heads. The need to be taught that not every encounter requires slamming someone to the ground and taking them to jail. In short, they need to have citizens bust their heads when they get to full of themselves.

      They need to train to shoot. With continued training comes confidence. Confidence builds character. Arrogance breeds the type of officers we have today.

  14. avatarotalps says:

    They are cops not warriors. The militarization of police departments has been going on for far too long as it is.

    Saying that, they should be efficient with the arms they carry.

  15. avatarBob The Witch says:

    Have to agree with commentators that the primary purpose of a police office is NOT combative. They should be reactive, using force only in response, not initiating use of force, unless conflict is already in progress, which is very different from soldiers, who do and should pre-empt threats.

    That said, I concur with the conclusion even though I differ in the reasoning. I think police should spend a LOT of time training in shooting, Force-on-force, weapon retention (not just back up while shooting, real weapon retention) hand to hand, etc. I am willing to pay the same as I do now for half the number of officers, if they are allowed to train like this. I emphatically do NOT want more officers, I want better trained and prepared officers who do not have the “screw everybody else, I am going home at the end of shift” mentality.

  16. avatarAndrew Frechtling says:

    I think Bob the Witch has it about right. As a retired Air Force fighter pilot, I believe I can appreciate the difference between warfighting and policing, maybe more than most.

    Confusion about the difference cuts both ways. When I was running an exercise one time, I put out a set of rules of engagement based on the premise that we were in day one of general hostilities (that is to say, a war). I got a call from the weapons officer at one of the squadrons:

    “Socrates….your ROE doesn’t tell us when we can declare a bogey hostile.”

    “It’s a WAR…They’re hostile because they exist! ID ‘em and shoot, fer chrissakes! Oh, and by the way…we’re going to bomb their airfields too.”

    Needless to say, this is NOT the attitude that we want LEOs to have.

  17. avatarJoshua says:

    I have to also agree that Cop does not equal soldier. They should however be experts in weapons manipulation and should have consistent training opportunities.

  18. avatarSport Shooter says:

    When I was young and naive, working as a remodeling contractor one summer day to pay for the University I was attending, about 13 years ago now. I was working on a basement remodel here in Va and came across a hidden gun stash. It held a revolver (I believe it was a .38 special), a 1911, and a Luger that was in a bad state of neglect (I remember this mostly because it made me very sad). I did what I thought was the right thing and fetched the owners to see if the guns were theirs, they were actually shocked and mortified that guns were in their house and immediately jumped to “they must have been hidden because they were used in a crime.” I tried to explain to them that hiding guns was actually very common and they were probably just forgotten, most likely because whoever hid them was deceased. I offered to remove them from the premises, but the owners insisted on calling the cops to come remove them.

    So they called the cops, and because they were wealthy, five cops showed up in minutes. What happened next has always left me … let’s call it concerned. I don’t expect cops to know everything about guns, but they should know enough to figure new ones out. Of the five officers there, after asking me where I found them and how they were placed and if I handled them (because the cops I don’t know … thought they moved themselves from the whole in the wall to the portable workbench they now resided on). They picked up and unloaded the revolver, but of the five of them they all sat looking at the other two not touching them because they didn’t know if they were safe, and inquiring between them if any knew how to render them safe. After a bit of this I said something like “You guys are joking right, none of you know how to unload a 1911? I mean the luger I can sort of understand!” To which the one in charge said “Do you know how to unload them?” I indicated I did and the police asked me to do it for them. I did, and they thanked me. Then sadly the guns all went away with the cops, probably to be destroyed.

    So I would add that more training on tactical shooting would be a plus, but they should at least know enough to render any gun they come across safe. I wonder what would have happened if I had not been there, they probably would have had the quartermaster come out, or maybe found the odd actual gun person on the force to come take care of it. Not only allowing, but asking a 24 year old construction worker that they know only two things about (Knows more about guns than they do and wanted to add them to his personal gun collection) to handle loaded guns right there with 5 of them lined up like ducks with their guns safely holstered was in my opinion reckless and stupid. And it only happened because none of them knew enough about guns to unload a 1911 safely. To be fair though, it was a small well to do bedroom community for DC, and at that time the local police still used revolvers as their SI. But still, who hasn’t handled a 1911 or at least a extremely similar semi-auto, even in 1997?

    • avatarTTACer says:

      Wow.

    • avatarSam Adams says:

      “To be fair though, it was a small well to do bedroom community for DC,”

      So it’s “fair” to have officers trained based upon the size of the community they police? Holy crap this country is in a sad state.

      • avatarSport Shooter says:

        I clearly do not believe that.

        The “to be fair” portion was meant as the best possible argument I could find for why they did not know how to handle what I can only surmise is anything that wasn’t a revolver, but it is still clearly unacceptable.

        At first I thought it was an isolated incident, but a funny thing about sharing things you have seen or experienced is you find out other people have had similar experiences. It would not shock me at all to check this thread tomorrow and see a few others sharing similar experiences. The latest I heard was someone having an extremely similar experience as mine, only it was in their own home, was a single large revolver, and they live in upstate NY. Was actually someone I used to shoot with regularly before they moved up to NY about 2 years ago, said he called the cops because guns in NY are considered Evil with a capital E, and he didn’t want to get in any trouble. Contacted me about it because he said he never believed me when I shared my experience, until it happened to him.

  19. avatarrevjen45 says:

    In my youth we were partying at a construction site when the neighbors called sheriff. I had a Martini SS in my car (unloaded per the law) when they arrived. The cop picked it up, turned it over a couple of times, and asked me how to open it. I said “Pull the lever down.” Seems pretty simple, right? He handed it to me (Good thing I wasn’t a bad guy, I’m sure he didn’t recognize it as a single shot) and said “Open it.” By then I wondered if I would have to tell him how to tell if it had a round in it. The idea that cops know about guns is one of those myths that won’t go away.

  20. avatarTSgt B says:

    Eric S:

    In 1978, while on leave from the Air Force, I applied for, and was accepted to, the Ohio State Patrol academy. After consideration, I elected to remain on active duty.

    After retirement at the ripe old age of 37, in excellent physical condition (5′ 10″, 185 lbs, bench twice my own weight, approximately 12.0 seconds/100 yards) with 12 1/2 years of military police and civilian LEO experience (reserve deputy sheriff and reserve municipal police officer, highly trained and capable expert marksman with every weapon I ever picked up, i.e. 10 shots, 6″ @ 600 meters, M24 7.62 x 51), I again attempted to apply for the OSP. They wouldn’t even give me an application, let alone fill one out and submit it. According to the OSP Post Commander, “we’re only hiring women and minorities at this time”. Too white, too male. Politically correct bullshit, for sure and certain.

  21. avatarJay S. says:

    In too many communities, the police no longer act like peace officers and instead act like a military occupation force. Attitudes and comments like those of Mr. Markel only serve to exacerbate that problem by trying to instill an attitude among officers that is not compatible with civilian law enforcement. Police officers must be able to effectively defend themselves and should train to gain those skills. We all should. But moving about their respective communities seeing themselves as warriors or gunfighters leads to a marked superiority complex among officers and will further widen the “us vs. them” attitude that is already a big problem. The horrible, thuggish behavior that infests an ever growing number of our local police departments will only continue to grow worse if not addressed. Every police officer needs to remember that they also have to live and interact in the communities they serve. Hmm…that word, “serve”. A concept that too many law enforcement agencies have forgotten. Some friends of mine who have been police officers for many years are disturbed by the new trends in their profession but feel powerless to do anything about it. I usually just smile and tell them to encourage their fellow officers to behave themselves because they are badly outnumbered, outgunned, and in many cases, badly outtrained.

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