Self-Defense Tip: Three Ways Not to Get Shot by the Police

 Roy Middleton was shot Saturday morning by deputies while trying to get a cigarette out of his mother's car. (courtesy / Kevin Robinson/krobinson4@pnj.com)

“Roy Middleton, a 60-year-old resident of Warrington, Fla. . . claims that he was searching the car for a loose cigarette when he heard someone say, ‘Get your hands where I can see them,'” pnj.com reports. The 60-year-old thought a neighbor was playing a joke on him. Nope. Middleton turned to find Escambia County police standing in front of him, guns drawn. Middleton extracted himself from his mother’s car with his arms raised. The cops opened fire. “It was like a firing squad,” Middleton told the paper. “Bullets were flying everywhere.” . . .

Whether or not you take Middleton’s story at face value this is hardly the first time cops have shot the wrong person. As an armed American, you need to consider the possibility of “friendly fire” and adjust your behavior accordingly.

Yes, yes. The cops should adjust their behavior to avoid shooting innocent civilians. We’ve long argued for a proper police protocol for officers approaching a home or business. Especially at night. Something along the lines of “This is the police!” While bad guys could imitate the shout-out, they can do that now, anyway. Anyway . . .

The most important step you can take to avoid getting shot by a cop is . . . don’t be a gang banger or criminal. (Pot smokers note: you’re a criminal.) I hold that truth to be self-evident. So we’ll skip that one and go with . . .

1. Assume the cops will view you as the perp

Before, after or during a defensive gun use (DGU) you will see yourself as “the defender.” They’re the bad guy or bad guys. I’m the good guy. True! And yet how is a responding police officer supposed to know that?

The cops are as hopped-up on adrenalin as you are. They’ve got tunnel vision, just like you. Despite all that serve and protect stuff, their primary concern is not getting killed. So if you’re holding a gun . . .

You are in deep, deep trouble.

If it’s safe to do so you need to holster that bad boy ASAP, before the cops arrive (You practice re-holstering, right?) If you can’t or shouldn’t, know this: the cops will view you as a lethal threat. Period.

A recent Force Science Institute (FSI) email blast sounds the warning klaxon for their law enforcement friends and family.

In blue-on-blue confrontations, “the heaviest burden really is on the unidentified officer,” [FSI’s executive director Dr. Bill] Lewinski. explains. “Cops need to learn to change their mindset when they are in civilian clothes and to understand the dangerous position they place themselves in when they engage in enforcement activities in plainclothes.”

You too.

This excerpt raises another important point: who says the cop (or cops) responding to your DGU, the guy pointing a gun at you, will be in uniform? And what of off-duty cops posing as on-duty cops to rob people at gunpoint, with cops arriving on the scene? How’s that for a potential cluster you-know-what?

There are only two ways to deal with this “challenge”: try to keep your wits about you and pray. As my father said, it’s better to be lucky than smart.

2. Freeze!

The Force Science folks recommend that cops out of uniform facing their brother officers in a “law enforcement situation” should “comply promptly with commands.” Ixnay on the omptlypray. Freeze.

Being high testosterone Homo sapiens, cops under stress respond to movement. Any sudden movement runs the risk of ballistic retaliation. In other words, “one false move” and the cops could shoot you.

In the story above an unarmed civilian claims he backed out of his car and put his hands on his head. Good thinking. The question is, how quickly did he do it? If Mr. Middleton’s hands flew towards his head the movement may have triggered the firearm fusillade, including “sympathetic fire”.

Drop the gun! Put your hands up! Freeze! Get down! We’ve run stories where cops shot good guys trying to obey conflicting commands. The safest course of action: freeze. Let the cops get their proverbial shit together. Then . . .

3. Move slowly

After you’ve frozen, slowly comply. If you can, tell the cop what you’re going to do before you do it. “I’m going to put my gun down now.”

If the police ask you to do something that could be misconstrued as an aggressive action by another cop arriving on the scene (e.g., handing a cop your gun from your holster) reserve the right to offer an alternative. “I’d rather you remove the firearm officer.”

I got pulled over for speeding the other night. I turned on the hazards, put down all the windows and kept my hands on the wheel with my license and permit in my right hand. The cop asked me where my gun was and requested proof of insurance. I said “It’s in the glove box. May I get it?” I did so slowly.

Yeah, it’s that important. And a hundred times more important before, during or after a DGU. Oh and the cops aren’t totally oblivious to the need to factor in the possibility of an armed good guy on the scene. Lewinski.

“Responding officers, on the other hand, need to practice utilizing cover whenever possible in approaching uncertain situations. This may give them more time to pick up on cues to a target officer’s identity and to analyze subtleties of the circumstances they’re facing.”

Good luck with that. For all our sakes.