Inspector Chris Butler (courtesy metronews.ca)

Republished with permission from forcescience.org email blast:

In a provocative, in-depth interview newly posted online, Insp. Chris Butler (above), one of North America’s leading use-of-force experts, minces no words in assessing present shortcomings of police training. “Currently,” he asserts, “many agencies have training paradigms that are directly leading to deaths of officers in the line of duty. This is hard for trainers to swallow, but not all training is good training. And bad training will get officers killed just as fast as no training at all” . . .

Butler, a 26-year veteran of the Calgary (Canada) Police Service, is an instructor in the Force Science Institute’s two-day Force Science Basics seminar on FS principles and is one of the few peace officers to earn special certification as an Advanced Force Science Analyst.

The hour-long interview was conducted by FS graduate Brian Willis, president of Winning Mind Training, and is posted in audio format on Willis’ new membership website for police trainers, The Excellence in Training Academy.

In it, Butler offers insights into applying FS research to firearms and UOF programs to better prepare officers to overcome life-threatening challenges of the street.

Here’s a sampling of the topics touched on:

DEADLY PARADIGMS.

“I have spoken to thousands of firearms and use-of-force trainers,” Butler says, “and I ask them, ‘What is your current firearms certification standard based on?’ I can count on one hand the number who have said, ‘We base training on the threats and circumstances that officers are likely to encounter on the street.’

“Almost always the standards are designed to meet some sort of administrative risk-management requirement. Very little is finding its way from real-life combat situations into firearms training.”

For example, he notes, training in no- or low-light situations is commonly neglected, even though a significant percentage of OISs occur where visibility is impaired. And officers frequently are not taught the importance of moving immediately when faced with a threat–a proven means of disrupting offender hit rates–because trainers mistakenly accept that range design prohibits any movement that’s effective.

VEHICLE STOP TACTICS

Butler recounts valuable lessons learned from Force Science’s groundbreaking Traffic Stop study, which involved a motorist suddenly producing a gun and firing on officers during discussion of a driving infraction.

The initial reaction of 91 out of 94 officers was to “stand flat-footed, draw, and try to return fire,” says Butler, who helped conduct the study. That “strong but wrong” automatic response was “embedded in their brain” because that’s how “we have conditioned officers to respond to lethal threats presented at close range.” Yet in the 1.5-1.9 seconds that reaction requires, an officer could receive “a minimum of six rounds coming at them.”

Only three officers reacted initially to physically control the suspect’s weapon, immediately “reaching out and trying to get the muzzle off-line,” Butler says. “Not one of these officers was struck by initial gunfire,” because their reaction was a faster choice. “All three had a very strong background in martial arts,” which had programmed their brains differently.

Benefits of a passenger-side approach were also underscored by the Traffic Stop study, Butler points out. “There’s a lot of obstruction inside the car” that an attacking driver has to overcome: the front passenger seat, headrest, door pillar, glass. “He has a great deal of difficulty engaging an officer effectively on the passenger side,” Butler explains.

Officers who approached on the passenger side were able to reach a “mitigation zone” where they were relatively safe from the driver’s gun attack three-quarters to one second faster than officers approaching on the driver’s side, he says.

He emphasizes that he’s “not advocating teaching only a passenger-side approach.” Officers should be trained in both techniques so that “in the right context they can make the best decision possible.”

MOVE!

Force Science’s well-known Hit Probability study, which revealed the natural instinct of many offenders to shoot at an officer’s head from close range, also confirms the value of immediately moving as a threat response, Butler says.

“Officers see the threat coming and they tend to stand still while drawing their weapon to respond,” he says. “Drawing your weapon should be your second priority. Moving to get your body off-line is the single most important piece of mitigating action you can take.

“Shooting at a moving target, especially with a handgun, is a trained skill, particularly if the movement is lateral. Very few offenders have that skill. When you’re moving, offenders end up ‘shooting in the present but hitting in the past,’ ” and thus missing their intended target.

Butler challenges trainers who claim they can’t teach movement on the range because of safety considerations or facility limitations. “We can’t allow ourselves to fall into that fallacy of thinking,” he declares. “Every time you let an officer stand still and draw, you reinforce a habit that can get the officer killed.

“Trainers need to be creative. There are always solutions. Even taking a dramatic step to the right or left as you draw and fire can help. It may not be the optimal solution, but we can certainly start to implement small advances and do it now without waiting for the ‘big’ solution.”

TRAINING ENVIRONMENT

Too few agencies “move beyond the classroom to teach [tactics] in a context of reality-based training,” Butler claims. Confining teaching only to the classroom typically “floods an officer’s forebrain with knowledge that never gets into the midbrain,” Butler says. “The only way to teach skills so an officer is competent to perform them is in the environment in which they are going to be needed.”

Trainers who don’t appreciate the “huge difference” have no understanding of “how the brain works under stress. We can’t think we are training officers to respond predictably and reliably in the crucible of life-threatening events until we have first seen them [use their skills] reliably and predictably in the context of a realistic training environment.”

He deplores the “silo-type” training of street skills that dominates many academy programs, citing particularly the “bifurcation between physical combat training and firearms training. Very few academies meld these together in a reality-based environment where officers can be taught to apply them in close-in encounters.”

Silo-type instruction leaves “gaps, with a failure to connect the dots,” Butler says. “That’s like teaching an athlete specific skill sets without teaching how to apply them in a game.

“There’s a huge responsibility on trainers to understand how to tie together cognition, perception, motor behavior, and tactical decision-making,” he says. “We have the most work to do in moving firearms training into a state that is supported by research.”

TIME QUESTION

Trainers always say they need more time, Butler observes. “But the question is: How effectively and productively are you using the time you’ve got?”

Are you, for example, “spending far too much time taking officers to a high level of technical skill [with their firearm], rather than taking them to an acceptable, safe level of competence and as fast as possible moving them out of a static environment and start building complexity [into their training], so their basic skills are further enhanced within the context in which those skills are needed. It’s no different than the way coaches build high-level athletic performance.”

As an officer becomes “unconsciously competent” with his firearm–able to soundly “manipulate it without conscious thought”–he’s able in life-threatening situations to focus “the attentional resources of his brain [on] perception, judgment, risk assessment, decision-making, and good tactical choices,” Butler says.

AND MORE…

In exchanges during the interview, Butler and Willis explore a variety of other topics, including:

• How “rote behavior,” like automatically telling suspects to take their hands out of their pockets, can prove fatal

• Three findings from FBI studies to keep in mind when building your survival training program

• Two books that can enhance your training capabilities

• Why trainers’ “huge egos” are dangerous for officers

• What “eternal threat” is most deadly on traffic stops

• How the average officer’s training in performance skills compares to that of the typical freshman wrestling student (Hint: Unfavorably!).

——–

The session with Butler is posted in its entirety at: www.excellenceintrainingacademy.comThis is a fee-based website, featuring interviews with shooting survivors, webinars with training experts, and other unique features designed to help individual police trainers and their agencies maximize their teaching potential. Important new content is added weekly, Willis says. As a courtesy, Willis offers Force Science News readers the first month FREE when they enroll as new members. Just click on the site’s “Join Now” button and enter the special code: fsimonthfree

38 Responses to Insp. Chris Butler: Fixing Fatal “Strong but Wrong” Police Firearms Training

  1. Quality piece. This might make up for the McDonalds all-day breakfast with scotch fiasco from last weekend.

  2. How about real training and policies to deescalate situations instead of the current paradigm of going in guns/taser/aggressions blazin’?

    Protect and serve…the later is being often forgotten.

    • Sadly this is because “to protect and serve” is not actually their job. They are under no obligation to do either, as affirmed by the Supreme Court. Their job is to find things to charge people with under the law and arrest them when they have probable cause for such a charge. These are very different things. A police officer is fully within their rights to stand by and do nothing while a murder occurs, ensuring their own safety above and beyond anything else. their job is to then go find and arrest someone they believe committed the murder (or get someone who will confess to it in some way, remember they are also fully entitled to lie about anything and everything as well, affirmed by the Supreme Court).

      It’s a sad state of affairs, but that is the role of the police in the modern United States.

      • Yup, Justice in the US is not “guilty until proven innocent either”

        The main function of the police is to deter crime by their presence, followed by an investigation and assignment of blame after the fact. Then it goes to the DA or States Attorney, who get to decide if there is enough evidence to actually get the blame to stick. The Judges are there to give the appearance of impartiality, but the truth is that they are there to make sure that everything was done correctly in assigning blame.

        That leaves the jury, and it is up to US as the jury to assess whether the person committed the crime and or if the law that was broken is being used to unfairly malign the defendant. Most judges do not like jury nullification, but that is our right to ensure that a normally fair law isn’t being misapplied maliciously or an unfair law is being applied.

        • Juries are legally constituted entities and, as such, are free to reach independent judgements. This may piss off the judge and prosecutors but juries have the right to make their own decisions. I think instructions on jury nullification should be a required part of every court process.

        • We have a legal system not a justice system. It’s far from far and some people are better at the game than others

    • That’s good stuff too. But when the driver pulls a gun during a routine traffic stop, it’s irrelevant.

      • Most police officers are killed by donuts, followed by driving faster than their abilities. The most dangerous situation they routinely face is probably domestic violence calls.

        • So are most non-LEO citizens and yet we have plenty of articles about carrying and using guns in self-defense without people needing to spew ideology in every comments section.

      • ^^^This. The average cop’s risk of having a gun pulled on them is relatively small – but its 50 times more likely to happen to them than your average concealed carrier.

        If we have a right to prepare to defend ourselves – even to the point of getting a little mall-ninja’d up, then so do they.

        We hate the Bloomburg types for bloody shirt waving hyperbole, but we’re all too happy to use the exact same irrational arguments against Cops – because feelings. Its exactly the same narrative, performed for exactly the same reasons – fearful ignorance.

        Watch less TV, get outside and get to know some real cops – in person.
        They’re just people, people.

        • >prepare to defend ourselves
          >wear a government badge and dispense violence at the behest of politicians

          Pick one and only one.

      • Reduce the number of unneeded traffic stops and interactions between government employees and citizens.

  3. Does this help the officer make better decisions in a shoot/no-shoot, or is it just about minimizing the already minimal risk (statistically speaking) of being killed as a cop?

    I’m all in favor of training of this ilk, it makes cops more proficient and safer. The question is, will it minimize the number of really bad shoots, or not? That’s the data the rest of us are interested in.

    Does this training extend to driving, since right around 50% of all cops who die on the job do so because of a traffic accident? That’s half right there, but I guess a decent driving instructor and a week of track time isn’t as cool, huh?

    • Considering the source (the company, not the person), I was all set to assume the alleged problem was ‘cops waiting before shooting’ and the solution would be ‘kill all the taxpayers and let God sort them out’, but since I actually read the piece I know my preconception was wrong.

      It’s about getting off the stick and not being a sitting duck. It’s also about concentrating more on saving your own ass and less on killing the other guy. Nothing here I can disagree with.

      However it’s not about reducing bad shoots, which is absolutely not in Farce Science’s mission statement. Their mission is to concoct excuses for bad shoots, not to show why they’re preventable.

      • I see the “get off your ass” part. But the rest appears to be about making the best instinctive use of your sidearm. Perhaps it’s assumed that the officer has reached the point where the officer decides lethal force is the only option left to him.

        My question is still, does this better training help that decision making process, or not? Where’s the de-escalation? Or is that not part of the program?

        I mean it’s presser from Force Science – which seems good with force, and has been proven very shaky at times with their science.

        • Back in the day, one of my professors used the phrase “low-level empiricism” to refer to outfits like “The Force Science Institute” which exist to sell “training” to bureaucracies. What passes for knowledge with these outfits is a one-way presentation where a “gatekeeper” informs the “stakeholders” about a new reality. There’s no room for dialogue in these sessions, the trainers being incapable of engaging in even a simple discourse with someone who has expertise in their area. Low-level empiricism = shuck-and-jive.

      • While I totally see where you’re coming from, if training focuses more on grabbing the gun in a traffic stop (as referenced above) or just getting the eff out of the way instead of standing there and shooting, I think indirectly some of these “bad shoots” could be mitigated.

        For example, if I’m taking my wallet out of my pocket too fast at a traffic stop and the cop’s mind registers GUN and he tries to grab it and redirect the imaginary muzzle, hopefully at some point he realizes I didn’t actually pull a gun on him.

        Even just the notion that they’re trying to push that a cop needs to size up a situation and apply the best strategy- e.g. approaching the passenger side rather than the driver side helps. Anything that gets someone thinking instead of just reacting would be a step in the right direction.

    • One thing to think about is that often times the cops who take things too far and use excessive force are the ones with false confidence or no confidence in their skills. They get in a situation where they perceive danger and their lack of confidence leads them to lash out in ways that are inappropriate. The higher your level of skill and your level of justified competence, the less likely you are to panic or use too much force because you know you can handle it if things go sideways.

  4. Good shit. Seriously, I’ve been whining about shitty officer, (and military) training regarding lack of movement and outside the box thinking for awhile now.

    • No, No No No No No No No.

      I’m not sure if the “shoot on the move” fallacy arose due to high cap semis in law enforcement, or because of growth in gun game “certified” trainers. But regardless, it’s an absolute and utter fallacy. And will remain so until either bullets become target seeking, or every single beat cop can comfortably outshout Max Michel. By a good margin. While under the stress of deadly fire themselves.

      Run/Dive/Dodge/whatever, until you are outside of the perps high-probability-of-hitting zone. Which is pretty darned close with most perps shooting gangsta style. Probably further if you’re a DEA agent confronting ex Salvadoran civil war guerilla, but still your best, and most often only reasonable, bet. THEN, draw, aim and hit what you are shooting at.

      Limping/running/hobbling around trying to pull a gun out of a retention holster, then trying to run half sideways, not looking where you’re going, while spraying bullets in some semirandom direction, will only reliably work against perps so scared by the sound of gunfire, they “drop” from “hits” 10 feet away from the vitals.

      30 years ago, that seemed to be pretty much standard cop training. Find cover, then shoot. Cheap and simple to train, as the shooting can be done at a square range, and the running/dodging/diving at a field or a gym. Then, the meteoric rise of 60 year olds with beerguts, willing to pay $1000/weekend for the privilege of doing armed cartwheels in the mud while being yelled at by a drill sergeant, changed everything. And likely not for the better.

      Shooting on the move CAN be somewhat successfully trained for, just like doing front and back flips on a taut line above the Grand Canyon can. But for 99.9% of the population, officers included, just staying on darned line without falling off, is more than difficult enough.

      • “Then, the meteoric rise of 60 year olds with beerguts, willing to pay $1000/weekend for the privilege of doing armed cartwheels in the mud while being yelled at by a drill sergeant, changed everything. And likely not for the better.”

        Well, said. Sadly, however, the “received wisdom” of force-training doesn’t make much money through the application of simple logic.

      • The whole point of the article is to train officers in this tactic. And it would be a lot easier if they weren’t poorly trained in the beginning by range curmudgeon who refuse to consider that their method of standing still and collecting bullets is less than ideal except on the range where targets don’t shoot back.

        I’ve seen both types of training. At the ranges that most gunfights occur in real life, standing still while firing is moronic unless behind excellent cover (not concealment).

  5. Around 50 cops are shot to death every year by suspects, while cops shoot and kill over 1000 suspects every year.

    Given this 20:1 kill ratio, its hard to see how police can become more efficient killers than they already are.

    • I think body armor helps a lot with that statistic. Makes question the assumption that police are always in lethal situations when they use lethal force. I’ve heard that if I wear body armor while defending my home from a intruder the DA may assume my life really wasn’t in danger. Food for thought

      • Pay an expert witness to point out how small the plate actually is and how little it actually covers, and that your kids are not wearing any.

        Make sure you pay him after his appearance so he could say “i’m not paid for, i’m in for the justice”

      • “So they gave me a gun and slapped a bullet proof vest on me.”
        “What if he shot you in the head Harry?”

  6. There’s other suicide hot lines man. I suggest calling a few of them. You can also directly go to a hospital or if there is another mental health facility in your area in person. I don’t know if you have any friends or family you trust but reach out to them as well. Don’t make a decision you can’t come back from. Whatever it is, or she is, isn’t worth dying over. Just take a step back and look at your problems and think about how trivial they are when compared to your life.

  7. Wait, all the gun-grabbers tell us that cops are demi-gods who have trained for thousands of hours to be high-speed, low-drag super mega special-operations operators operating operationally. So, this mean that your average Officer Friendly actually has minimal training and skills? Say it isn’t so!

    And this must also mean that many open/concealed carriers have equal or better skills than your average Officer Friendly? Ahhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!

    (Gun-grabbers everywhere now hugging themselves tightly and rocking themselves.)

    • You may be right.

      All I know is that the taxpayers pay a lot on fancy trainers for cops. These guys spend their lives and big bucks dreaming up every possible scenario. Training cops is a huge taxpayer funded business. The rest of us plebes are on our own.

  8. Anyone who starts his lecture (while pointing finger) ““I have spoken to thousands” is trying to BS. No one speaks to thousands of anyone on any subject. Trying to BS you with pseudo “science”/statistics. At “best” the script will change over time. He actually talked to 12 guys at bar who agreed with his opinion (for which he is not charging).

    We need to import Canuckian “experts”. I hope Obumer is giving him a green card and voter registration.

  9. He fails to mention the suprise/comprehension delay factor. If you are totally suprised by the gun/shots it will take time to see, eliminate disbelief, evaluate, comprehend and start to react. Even if you are mentally prepared with feeling it could be a SHTF encounter: it still takes time to process say 1/4 to 1/2 from total suprise time lapse. Enough time for 2-3 rounds to come your way instead of six before you respond.

    I don’t have a 100% physical or mental fix for this.

  10. Some good simunitions training shows people very quick that if you try and stand still like on the range you will be shot. If you’re trying to hit someone from 30 yards away, okay, stand still and hope that you have better aim. But at the typical domestic gunfight ranges- less than 15 yards- you gotta move. It can be trained.

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