Self-Defense Tip: How Not To Shoot an Off-Duty Cop

What are the odds of taking out a Belker? Well here’s some sobering info courtesy Sgt. Michael Harding of the Tactics & Survival Training Unit in Los Angeles County. ”During early evolutions of our force-on-force active-shooter training, we inserted two plainclothes (PC) officers into a scenario where contact teams respond to a dynamic, high-stress, active-shooter event,” Harding reveals in a Force Science Institute email blast. “The PC officers were told to always face away from advancing contact teams, to not make any furtive movements or point their weapons in the teams’ direction, to comply with any challenges or directions, and to identify themselves only when challenged. They carried their badges on belt, around the neck, in hand near their weapon, and in hand up in the air . . .

It was very concerning to find that within the first 20 scenarios, due to the stress of the responders looking for unknown multiple armed adversaries, our PC role players were misidentified as suspects and fired on an estimated 95% of the time without first being challenged. Their badges were not seen. When we changed the PC officers’ positions slightly so their badges would be more visible, we found that they still were not readily identified and still were consistently fired upon by first responders.”

Armed self-defenders (who don’t need no stinkin’ badges) are now on notice: if you’re involved a defensive gun use (DGU) and the cops arrive to find you with a firearm in your hand, you’re on the wrong side of the “don’t get shot by cops” curve.  For that you can thank ye olde tunnel vision.

Badges on belts were not readily identified because responders were focused on the PC officers’ weapons in hand. Badges around the neck were not readily identified because responders were focused on the PCs’ weapons and hands; in the role players’ shooting stance, the neck badges were not visible. A badge held in the support hand next to a PC officer’s weapon was not readily identified because responders focused on the PC’s weapon and shooting stance. Even when we took away the PC officers’ weapons, they were fired upon because responders identified their shooting-stance behavior and thought the badge being pointed was a gun.

So . . . responding cops don’t see an off-duty/plainclothes cop’s badge. They just see their gun. Even when there isn’t one. Switch it around and there’s an important lesson beyond “put away the gun after a DGU the instant it is safe to do so” and “don’t move a freakin’ muscle when the cops show up.”

Know your target.

If a cop shoots an off-duty or plainclothes cop, they’re not going to jail. If you shoot one of our boys-not-in-blue, life as you know it is over. While it must be said—shit happens—there are two basic strategies for not shooting a cop out of uniform.

1. Don’t shoot anyone

Legally, you can only shoot another human being if that person poses an imminent, credible threat to life and limb (yours or an innocent’s) and imminence is imminent. As the above test indicates, just because someone’s holding a gun in a violent situation doesn’t necessarily mean they pose an imminent credible threat to you or [what may or may not be] an innocent person.

Logic says if you don’t shoot anyone you can’t shoot the wrong person. Which is why not shooting anyone should always be your default option. Or, if you prefer, your last possible option.

I know: speed, surprise and violence of action. Don’t get behind the bad guy’s OODA (Observe Orient Decide Act) loop. Hesitation kills. Etc. But you’ve got to at least accept the possibility that the situation isn’t what it seems. That’s especially true if you’re defending someone you don’t know, who could be anybody, even an attacker’s accomplice.

For example . . .

Let’s say you’re walking in the park when you stumble across a woman struggling with two men screaming “RAPE!” They’re plainclothes cops making an arrest. You walk into your local Stop ‘N Rob to find a man pointing a gun at the clerk behind the counter. It’s a plainclothes cop pointing a gun at the robber trying to open the cash register.

If cops can’t ID plainclothes or off-duty cops waving a badge around, what hope do you have figuring out the above scenarios? None. Never assume you know what’s going on. Never shoot unless you know the whole story and/or don’t have a choice.

2. Practice NOT shooting

Bring your weapon on target, finger off the trigger, grab a sight picture and . . . that’s it. Return your gun to your holster or the table in front of you. Better yet do it with an unloaded or blue gun at home and MOVE.

Practice looking at strangers as if they’re a threat. Look at their hands—BOTH hands—then their face, then their entire body. Just as you get a “flash sight picture” when shooting rapidly, get a sight picture of a whole person. Look at everything about them.

The most effective badge position we identified was when the PC officers’ held their badges high above their heads, rotating the badge around like a halo. This allowed the badge to be presented in all directions, as close to 360 degrees as possible.

Something tells me the “wave your badge in the air like you just don’t care to not get shot” memo won’t make it to the front lines in, say, the next ten years. So practice LOOKING FOR A BADGE in a person’s “other” hand, at their belt line, and around their neck.

If you’re really paranoid (i.e., really want to be prepared for the possibility of missed cop ID), try the exercise SIG SAUER designed for their Active Shooter Instructors’ Course. Have someone put up a bunch of targets with one holding/wearing a badge. Encounter, assess, deal.

The chances of shooting a plainclothes or off-duty cop by mistake are small. Smaller than the chances of getting shot by one by mistake. But the repercussions are enormous. Catastrophic. It’s definitely something worth thinking about. Sooner rather than later.

avatar

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.

20 Responses to Self-Defense Tip: How Not To Shoot an Off-Duty Cop

  1. avatarRokurota says:

    And yet Joseph Zamudio ran into an active shooter scene and identified an slidelocked gun before he unholstered his Glock. Now can someone please point out the last time a CC permit holder actually shot the wrong person?

  2. avatarjwm says:

    How’s about this. I see a potential robbery or assault in progress against someone I’m not bonded with( family or close personal freind) I back up and call 911 and observe and report.

    My gun only comes into play if one of the actors comes at me in a threatening or aggressive manner.

    And when a uniform shows up I’m putting my gun on the ground and stepping away. reholstering your gun in a stressed enviroment may be mistaken for “furtive” movements toward your gun with a resulting tragedy.

    • avatarGuy says:

      Re-holstering is done after the threat is over, but before the cops show up. When they arrive, it’s you with empty hands.

      BTW, I’m sure you putting the gun on the ground without being instructed could also be mistaken as a “furtive” movement.

      • avatarRalph says:

        Scratching one’s a$$ can be misidentified as a “furtive movement.” As will breathing.

        Furtive movement is cops speak for “he didn’t do nothin’, but I shot him anyway.”

  3. avatarsanchanim says:

    Well this is a telling story.
    One thing he didn’t quite get into is observation. Use your ears too. If the guy in the stop N rob is screaming give me yo money fool, he probably isn’t an undercover cop. The two guys in the park, well they will be telling her get on the ground, your under arrest. Stop resisting arrest! You will hear their verbal commands. So stop, look, listen. Analyze the threat and formulate your plan. And if the cops are rolling in, drop your gun and get on the ground. Don’t give them any reason to think you are the one committing the crime.

    Depending on the situation you also may choose to do as jwm stated, which is not engage at all. Call 911 and report. You will be their eyes and ears prior to their arrival.

    Also I am not sure since no one stated this, but if you are on the phone to 911, do you want to tell them that you are carrying? They can relay that to the Police, so they know there is the BG, plus someone else who has a gun. This might also help you from getting shot.

    • avatarJJ Swiontek says:

      The problem with giving 911 extra, unrelated-to-the-crime info is you have no control on what the police ‘hear’ from the dispatcher. By adding the info, “BG, plus witness with gun” they may hear, “BG with gun, something-something witness”. They arrive extra-hyper; prone and search everyone; find your gun; ignore your statement that you called 911; and you are arrested. Enjoy your night in jail.

  4. avatarChuckN says:

    This issue works the other way as well. If I have to draw on someone
    and a plain clothes rushes up gun drawn WITHOUT identifying
    himself; I’m going to view him as an immediate threat. How do I
    know the guy isn’t an accomplice?

    As far as re-holstering goes, it’s a hard habit to break( specifically
    if you’ve been trained by LE of military) to safe a weapon
    before securing the premises.

    My advice would be, as soon as you’re able call 911 and/or dispatch
    and give them an update and a physical description of all involved.
    At the very least the responding officers might get a heads up that
    there are friendlies around.

    As soon as they enter, forget re holstering and just lie down
    hands on head.

  5. avatarGS650G says:

    Looks like cops are prone to shoot first and ask questions later. Hell, the dog can’t hold a gun and he’s gonna get shot too.

  6. avatarJJ Swiontek says:

    Sorry, Robert, I respectfully disagree.

    “Let’s say you’re walking in the park when you stumble across a woman struggling with two men screaming “RAPE!” They’re plainclothes cops making an arrest.”

    If you draw on the plainclothes cops, they will draw and shoot you (then yell ‘Police’!!!)

    Don’t draw until you have identified the parties involved.

    BTW, by questioning (loudly), “WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON!?!” The Police will yell back some identification and order you to stay back. Real rapists will just threaten you with death and dismemberment. For the rapists, then you can draw. Especially since they are now a threat to you.

    “You walk into your local Stop ‘N Rob to find a man pointing a gun at the clerk behind the counter. It’s a plainclothes cop pointing a gun at the robber trying to open the cash register.”

    Since deadly force is visable but not being directed at you, retreat and call 911.

    Since we are not police, we should not get involved if it is not a imediate threat to us or loved-ones.

    Write me and we can talk further on this if you wish.

    • avataruncommon_sense says:

      I agree completely. A concealed carry holder should never draw their firearm in a situation involving others unless they observed the entire event before it even started and know exactly what is happening and who the bad guys are.

    • avatarRobert Farago says:

      I must have missed something. It seems we are in total agreement.

  7. avatarJoseph says:

    This article had some of the best advise I’ve ever seen on this forum. When the fertilizer hits the fentilator those who shoot first and accurately will probably stay alive. And don’t expect “friendlies” to recognize who you are. In the real world shit
    happens fast.

  8. avatarBambiB says:

    I actually had that situation happen to me.Heard a ruckus outside, someone pounding on neighbor’s door and windows. Lots of yelling and screaming. Called 911, went outside with flashlight, phone and 45ACP to assess the level of the problem (noisy argument? Imminent danger? Attempted homicide?) Remained concealed in shadows, but the perp came towards me in my yard. I let him know I was armed, and he went back to beating on the doors and windows next door. The cops roll up, see me with the .45 and assume I’m the threat even though I had notified the dispatcher that **I** was the one armed, not the perp. Did not have a holster, so put the .45 in the back of the truck and stepped away. By now, the cop has overshot the yard, thinking I’m the BG, and wants to do the full felony biz on me. I made it VERY clear that it was my cell phone in my left hand and a flashlight in my right and the gun was in the truck.

    It was clear he was a lot less interested in the maniac trying to break into the house next door than he was in “securing” my firearm. He didn’t hook me up, but locked up my gun and then went and busted the bad guy (who apparently had medical looniness and drug issues).

    So do NOT rely upon the dispatcher. They are not the sharpest knives in the drawer and frequently FAIL at their jobs. Had this one been on the ball, she would have relayed the fact that the guy in the front yard with the firearm was a GOOD GUY and I wouldn’t have been in the sights of an uninformed cop one finger twitch away from putting a hole in me.

  9. avatarv says:

    our pd and so are getting really mental-case products of the Kali-POST programs, you know, the kids raised on FPS’s and stevie segal flics…
    crazy doesn’t even begin to cover it…
    watched one on foot patrol a while back doing his ‘gunfighter roll’ walk down the street, he was so pathetic it took all my control not to crack up laughing at him…
    they don’t enforce any law that doesn’t bring in either good press or $$$/confiscation of property…
    time to move to a free state…

Leave a Reply

Please use your real name instead of you company name or keyword spam.