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.