Warnings are often NOT Feasible

In law enforcement at my old police house our policies and procedures essentially stated if it was “feasible,” officers were to give a verbal warning for a subject to submit to their authority prior to using deadly force.  In this post I’ll unpack some thoughts regarding when it’s feasible or not feasible to give warnings and offer some things for you to think about.  

According to Merriam Webster’s feasible means: 

  • Capable of being done, executed, or effected, possible of realization.  
  • Capable of being managed, utilized, or dwelt with successfully.  
  • Reasonable, likely.

In other words, what is possible? Can you make this thing happen while also doing whatever other thing folks want you to do for the legal and civil battlefields? Conducting an internet search it didn’t take long to find a police training video with an example of law enforcement training with a student shouting: Police don’t move! 

When an apparent imminent threat of great bodily harm or death exists (ie; jeopardy) and that threat is an unjust aggressor pointing a firearm at you; IT IS NOT FEASIBLE TO OFFER A WARNING PRIOR TO STOPPING THE THREAT!  

Why? Action beats reaction especially when the action of pulling, raising, and getting the first shot on target at close distances can all happen in two to four tenths of one second. There was a phrase I heard many times during my police career: Gun in hand gun in use! The reason this is a legitimate phrase goes right to the root of the principle: action beats reaction!

Lets consider a hypothetical circumstance where an unjust criminal aggressor attempts to rob you by reaching for or brandishing a firearm at a distance of two, three, or four yards. Realizing this is the close range that he needs to be able to simply use the outline of the back of the slide to align and point his firearm at the center of your chest or face at which point your chest or face literally fills the backdrop of his rudimentary alignment and sight picture.  You might be wondering why an unjust criminal aggressor needs such close range? In part, it’s because his life of crime has denied him access to qualified firearms training. When an unjust aggressor is robbing you by use of a firearm in his hand it is my opinion a warning is NOT feasible.

At Humilitas First I demonstrate what I would do providing I’ve made the decision to attempt to stop the threat during a street robbery.  More importantly I show you the most probable ways to avoid being in that unfortunate circumstance. Without digressing too much, I would simultaneously move left or right offline and then my movements may look a lot like a retreating Bill Drill as expanding distance works in the favor of someone trained in marksmanship. Simultaneously moving, drawing, presenting, and shooting repeatedly in efforts to stop the threat.  Ceasing shooting only when the unjust criminal aggressor 1) shows a clear and convincing sign of surrender (a psychological stoppage), or 2) the unjust criminal aggressor suffers a physiological stoppage. 

For a civilian compliance is an option. In videos and in course work with students I break down the four times compliance as a civilian (for me) is not an option.  Compliance is not a good option for a police officer since bad guys don’t rob, rape, or kidnap officers. At least in the United States, I don’t know about every place.

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So under what circumstances do I believe warnings are feasible? I’ll provide one. Say officers are dispatched to deal with a subject who’s holding a firearm without making any verbal or gestured threats? Properly trained police officers will identify and go to the largest tree providing them with a balance of distance and ability to still be able to communicate with the subject. Why? Big old trees provide cover. What does the word cover mean? Cover is some object or material that has the capacity to stop inbound projectiles – bullets.  When we think about the urgency to use force right now juxtaposed to sometime later a major principle that is taught at Humilitas First is the principle of Time, Distance, & Cover. When you lack time, distance, and cover the urgency goes up. When an unjust aggressor begins compressing in on your position – urgency goes up because he’s taking away your time, distance, and cover.

Early in my police career, trainers began telling us to shout clear commands to stop resisting as we fought with resisting and combative subjects in an attempt to secure them with handcuffs during an arrest.  Personally, I preferred to do the things I needed to do to save what limited wind I had for the purpose of winning the fight! I have wondered if this hyper focus on the legal and civil battlefields have contributed to the goofy loops we see and hear today. A goofy loop is where an officer provides fifteen, twenty seven, or forty nine warnings. 

Here’s a headline for you to ponder: Police Have No Duty To Protect You, Federal Court Affirms Yet Again. At the bottom of this article I’ll put a link to the article written by Ryan McMaken. This was following the active shooter event at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

As a retired police Lieutenant it’s my belief police do have a moral and ethical duty to protect innocents regardless of what decisions come forth from the United States Supreme Court having to do with a lack of “legal obligations” to protect innocents from unjust criminal aggressors. There is no shortage in 2022 of recorded police videos where officers should be shooting unjust criminal aggressors sooner within the window of opportunity. When an unjust criminal aggressor initiates and maintains an imminent threat of great bodily harm or death to any and all innocents around them to take a wait and see approach or worse to enter into a panicky kind of goofy loop is an abdication of a moral and ethical duty to protect innocents.  This includes the innocent officers looking to do a hard and increasingly thankless job.  That job is not only dangerous to the officer on the streets but now they have to worry about an unjust administrative attack coming from their own administration (via loss of employment) for doing that next hard right thing. Officers also have to worry about unjust legal attacks coming from activist prosecutors looking to remove their freedoms for doing that next hard right thing. It’s my belief this is the real culprit behind goofy loops. It is a fear of losing one’s means of supporting one’s family or worse fear of suffering an unjust prosecution and unjust incarceration for doing that next hard right thing to protect innocents including one’s own innocent life.

During my career it was made abundantly clear to me that we do not provide warnings in the case of an active shooter.  One of our Academy Instructors while acting as an active shooter during paint marking simulated active shooter training used to punish new officers who would give a verbal command to him rather than shoot him to stop the threat.  The active shooter was certainly always welcome of his own free will to put down his weapon and show his hands before trainee’s got line of sight on him (a clear and convincing sign of surrender). If he did that then of course he’d be taken into custody juxtaposed to being shot repeatedly. Here’s how the instructor would punish new officers. Once warned to drop the gun he’d immediately step into an adjacent room and simulate shooting five, seven, or ten more innocent people.  He would then step back into the hallway and shoot the officer in his face shield. I can imagine the tactical debrief sounding something like: Because you failed to stop the imminent threat immediately you got ten more innocent killed and still got shot in the face!   I’m certain he left a lasting impression in the mind of the unfortunate officer who couldn’t help himself but to offer a warning.  

How did we get here?  In part, we’ve been sort of conditioned by Hollywood.  New police officers have to learn to disregard their knee jerk reactions to social constructs. They have to come to learn how to be odd, awkward, and comfortable in their tactical oddities (another principle taught at Humilitas First). There are a whole lot of movies and television programs that show a whole lot of unreasonable (impossible) violent confrontations where an officer of the law gives a warning despite it being exceedingly not feasible to do so. 

The late Col. John Boyd gave us the OODA loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act).  Boyd purported the Orientation Stage was the most important stage.  Many today view this stage simplistically as understanding or perceiving correctly, and/or aligning with which are a part of that decision / action making cycle.  But Orientation runs much deeper.  Boyd provided his own criteria but as a coach I’ll paraphrase providing my take on this critical stage.  Orientation is essentially what you’ve come to believe.  You could think about this like a person’s filter. A filter through which you perceive the world around you.  A filter through which you understand things like violence in America. The things that go into making up your filter are things like your upbringing, religious views, the entertainment you watch (Television, movies, YouTube training videos). Your education, formal training, and especially your experiences with violence.  Your ideology or world views.  Orientation good, bad, or ugly has to do with the formation of what you’ve come to believe.  Formation is critical.

An error in the beginning is an error indeed!” St Thomas Aquinas

An error at the level of formation is the worst because at that level we ought to be learning fundamental first principles.  Over time errors will compound!  If we find errors at the level of formation then we have to provide the knowledge and rebuild new trained responses to correct formation or provide a reformation.  Knowledge, time, and hard work fixes bad formations.  But pride often gets in the way because it comes down to beliefs.  

I digressed. I tend to do that a lot.

When a man pulls a firearm as a solution to his perceived problem and when that perceived problem is a police officer, his intent is not to rob, rape, or kidnap the police officer.  That man is seeking death!  The death of the officer, himself (suicide by officer), or both.  It’s not really relevant which one as police officers ought not gamble with such a man.  When a man reaches for a firearm, places his hand upon, or begins to pull a firearm (unjust imminent deadly threats) the innocent police officer ought to send rounds downrange into the anatomically correct parts of that man to efficiently and effectively stop the threat.  It’s really that simple.  

When a man pulls a firearm on a civilian it’s more often than not to rob, rape, or kidnap that civilian.  However, sometimes it is to unjustly murder that civilian.  Civilians have no moral, ethical, or legal obligations to gamble with that unjust criminal aggressor.  Innocent people do have a right to defend their own life and the lives of those they’re responsible for.  Statutory language varies from one state to another so you have to do the work of knowing and understanding the rules on your particular legal battlefield.  A great resource to begin learning the underlying fundamental principles on the legal battlefield is the book The Law of Self-Defense by attorney Andrew Branca. I’m not an affiliate but I am a fan.

In conclusion, don’t imitate poor law enforcement tactics!  Warning a person who’s pointing a firearm at you is a very poor tactic!