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Safety And Tactics - Frontline Debriefs (permalink)

I’m not a “by the book” kind of guy—at least not usually.

I don’t like most rules in life because they seem to be without purpose or sense. I do, however, know when certain rules are in place for a purpose and they have merit due to very well-thought-out reasoning. Someone figured it out years before I came onto the scene. It made sense back then and it makes sense now.

The following is but one example of why the safety rule as it pertains to the placement of the finger on the trigger is important. The rule states: “The trigger finger should remain off the trigger, alongside the frame, until the sights are aligned on target and the active intent to shoot has been formulated.” This is more of my personal interpretation of this safety rule and there are modifiers to it under certain circumstances, yet by and large, this rule is valid.

So here’s the scenario:

Two patrol officers are working very early morning hours. They hear a series of loud, distinct gunshots as they round a blind corner. The area is known for gang activity. They observe a male suspect running southbound from the location of the only open fast-food establishment in the area. They make the reasonable assumption that this individual might have some connection to the gunshots.

They request back-up and follow said suspect as he turns the corner farther down the street and heads eastbound. The suspect then turns northbound back into the large parking lot that adjoins the fast-food establishment. A vehicle containing two additional males—and with its left rear door open—slows down in front of the black and white, and the running suspect jumps into the back seat. The patrol vehicle is at a perpendicular position facing the driver’s side of the suspect’s vehicle when the driving officer hits the brakes. The suspect’s actions are unusual and it may be reasonably assumed that something is afoot.

A shot suddenly goes off, and the driving officer fires four rounds through the windshield, believing that they have been fired on from the vehicle they are now facing. The passenger officer, now believing that they are being fired on through the windshield, exits and returns fire, as does the driving officer. The final result is that one individual in the vehicle expires and two others are injured.

There is no weapon in the vehicle and the individuals are not suspects, but rather victims fleeing from a gang member who was shooting at them.

The first round discharged was from the passenger officer, who had his finger on the trigger when the patrol vehicle came to a stop. He discharged the round into the dash, which the driver officer improperly read as incoming fire from the vehicle to their front. The passenger officer misread the shots through the windshield as incoming rather than outgoing. In essence, the two officers misread each other’s shots, and it devolved from there.

I told the city to settle the case, which they did—and for substantial sums. A simple adherence to safety protocols could have avoided all of this.

When you’re on the range and someone instructs you to remove your finger from the trigger when other than directly on target with the intention to shoot, there is a reason for this. Don’t think safety is an integral part of tactics? Any seasoned real-world professional will agree with me that it is. Anyone who disagrees is an idiot.

What may seem to be an insignificant detail on the range or during training evolutions can have profound implications in the field. It does you absolutely no good to do unto yourself what the bad guy had been trying to do unto you all along.

No doubt incidents such as this will continue until individuals realize that firearms safety is continual. It requires a constant active focus at all times, and there is nothing cavalier regarding its import.

An old fighter-pilot adage is appropriate: complacency kills.


Scott Reitz is a 30-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department and the director of the highly acclaimed International Tactical Training Seminars. Course information and schedules are available at their website at http://www.internationaltactical.com .Looking Back, a free monthly newsletter, is available by email at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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