A Tale of Two Targets

Kevin R. Davis

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been running officers through a modern version of what Rex Applegate referred to when he trained his O.S.S. – Office of Strategic Services (the forerunner of today’s C.I.A.) in his “House of Horrors.”  Put simply, the officers are paired up, armed with marking cartridge pistols and ammo, given a scenario involving the pursuit of two armed suspects who have entered into a business, and left to clear several rooms.  Non-shoot 3-D and pictures of innocent citizens, cops and armed shoot targets swivel, rush toward them, and flop down from behind cover.  Prompting sound effects life men and women screaming and gunfire are added to draw the shooters forward.

Believe me, I designed and developed these mocked armed and unarmed scenarios and it is far from sophisticated.  Yours truly manipulates the targets and uses a remote controlled stereo to start the sound effects.  Since the scenarios use marking cartridges, they can be run in the basement of our building.  Training value?  Tremendous.  Mistakes made by officers?  Numerous but that’s called learning folks.  *Here’s a video by our friend Mike Conti who retired from the Mass State Police.  Mike’s “house of horrors” starts at about the 18 minute mark but the entire video and Mike’s other two vids are worth watching.

Range versus Scenario

Let us compare the static, closed mode training environment of the firearms range to these types of stressful simulations.

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In a standard live-fire range session, officers stand in one spot and when the stimulus is given, usually an audio stimulus, i.e. whistle or command, the officer draws and fires the designated number of rounds.  Use of cover is minimal (unless it is a drill focusing on cover), little to any tactics are employed as well as little to any verbalization or communications.

Stand and shoot, that pretty much sums it up.  And though the basic training of the fundamentals of marksmanship are vital as are the maintenance of those skills, we must move beyond the basics, to the application of those basics and other tactics to solve problems.

Further, we must teach and/or reinforce two additional issues, A) Decision making, and B) Performance under stress.  Both of these issues are vital to street performance because they teach the officer the adverse impact of the SNS – Sympathetic Nervous System on cognitive performance (making decisions and taking action under stress), and perceptual distortions – tunnel vision, auditory occlusion, time distortions, etc.  This is why a firearms training program which is devoid of these simulations is lacking.  Be it a simulated house of horrors like Rex Applegate put spies through in WWII, or “force on force” scenarios with live role-players, these confrontation simulations are vital to improve performance and teach officers how to operate within their SNS response.

Man with Gun

Fortunately Omaha Targets makes some great targets which are clearly armed and offer target overlays which cover the target’s knife or gun with innocuous items such as water bottles or cell phones.  Additionally, there are overlays which show badges on chains around the photo’s neck to simulate a law enforcement officer.  These types of targets and teaching threat assessment and scanning the whole target rather than just focusing on a gun are important as well.

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I believe it was former Delta Force Spec Ops operator Paul Howe and Combat Shooting and Tactics who first implored instructors to teach their officers to scan the entire person and not just focus on whether the “suspect” had a gun.  Indeed fratricide or in our line of work, blue on blue shootings occur when plainclothes or off-duty officers are confronted by uniform officers responding to a variety of “man with gun” or other call.  The street clothes wearing officer is challenged and turns toward the uniform guys and tragedy occurs.  Studies have been conducted which indicate that badges should be worn around the neck for higher chance of being seen.  I have even recommended off-duty and plainclothes officers use I.D. banners such as the DSM – Don’t Shoot Me Banners (note here, I’m not paid to endorse these products, this includes this blog).

Once again, this type of assessment is lacking in standard firearms training and to the detriment of our officers.  It is easily remedied with photorealistic targets and the overlays offered by Omaha Targets.

Want to make it more realistic for your night shift cops and more challenging for everyone?  Turn down or off the lights.  In adverse lighting conditions we must use the light to: navigate, locate, identify as well as neutralize threats.  Rather than have our officers work their handheld and weapon mounted white lights on a darkened indoor or outdoor range at night, we can teach the tactics of working with lights in these mock scenarios.

Keys to Success

So what are the keys to successful performance under stress and proper threat assessment?  Here’s a short list:

  • Breathe to control your stress. Take control of your body and mind
  • Use available cover and slice the pie. Too many officers unnecessarily expose themselves within a step from available cover
  • Roll-out from cover with the pistol up and ready to shoot. “Quick peeks” are a waste of time
  • Communicate with your partners and simulated non-shoots
  • As you move through a problem area, keep your finger off the trigger and outside of the trigger guard
  • Control subject’s hands. The hands, or more specifically what is in the hands, are what can kill you
  • Follow through – breathe, scan, check your weapon for status, take cover, communicate with dispatch, control/secure suspects, etcetera, after shots have been fired or contact with a suspect
  • Expect that in certain circumstances such as an active shooter incident, that people will be running toward you and/or fleeing the suspect or danger

Many of these areas can be taught away from the live-fire range using marking cartridges or even airsoft.  They are taking the officer/student out of their comfort zone and forcing them to shoot, move and communicate, or not…

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Purchase some overlays for your Omaha Target products.  Change things up and challenge your officers to develop into sound decision makers or problem solvers versus the armed law enforcement version of Pavlov’s dog who shoots without conscious thought at movement or the presence of a gun (even when it is a uniformed role player, or photo of a LEO).

We can oftentimes move forward by looking backward.  The late great Colonel Rex Applegate had it right in his training in WWII.  Maybe it’s time we progress our training by paying attention to what others did before us…

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