Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Cautionary Tale Redux

While at a private range on Saturday, James (thanks for the camera work and video editing!) and I shot a mock-up of the Iowa Falls shooting I wrote about a while back. Let me lay out the design of the "experiment".

The Iowa AG's report says that five officers fired a total of 68 rounds in 7-8 seconds. Channel 13 WHO says the subject was struck 17 times, leaving 51 misses. The AG and Channel 13 agree that the shots came from no further than 25 feet. From the video, it appears that the officers were already either on target or at the low ready when the firing began (they did not quick-draw and fire, they were more or less ready to fire when Fitz went for his gun).

Obviously we can't precisely re-enact the event itself because (1) I don't have five armed former operational operator friends who can be in the same place at the same time, and (2) the officers were in a circle and firing past eachother, and I'm not going to do that. But we can work with the averages.

On average, each officer fired 14 rounds, and hit four times from a maximum distance of 25 feet. So, what we did was use an M&P 9 loaded with 15 rounds and shot at an IPSC silhouette at a measured distance of 30 feet. We used a shot timer set to "random" to surprise the shooter, and set it to beep again at six seconds, signaling the end of the event. Any rounds not fired at the second beep would be counted as misses. We wore a 33lb ballistic vest to restrict our movement and just generally make life harder. Then we did rifle PT to exhaust our arms and shoulders, which makes shooting a handgun harder as well as raise our heart rates and simulate the stress of a life-and-death situation (if one can do that...). Additionally, whoever was not acting as the "officer" fired a 5.45x39mm AR15 about four feet to the right of the "officer" to attempt to add confusion and maybe impart some distracting muzzle blast.

Without further stalling, this is me talking unscripted on camera:

To cut through my rambling at the end, what it boils down to is that there really isn't an excuse for missing 75% of the time from across-the-room distances. There was time to set up a perimeter and evacuate neighbors, but no one thought to grab their shotgun or AR. If you're expecting trouble, always take the long gun. ALWAYS. The subject's soft-armor vest would not have taken a hit from a 5.56, and likely not a 12ga slug or full spread of buckshot. I would bet that there were so many misses because officers were trying to shoot around the vest. That is a fairly old SOP that should be revisited as police have new tools at their disposal (such as AR15s). Also, without steel or ceramic plates, all that energy from the bullet goes into the wearer, so 68 hits from a .40 S&W (supposing they didn't compromise the vest, which repeated hits sometimes do) would have laid down a ton of hurt.

As an infantryman in Afghanistan, I had to justify every round fired by my soldiers during the AAR. Big Army wanted to know who fired what in which direction, why that type of weapon was used, and anticipated collateral damage (the correct answer was "none" or you were on the naughty list). If we're going to hold soldiers at war to that standard, I think it's fair to hold peace officers to it as well. Personally, I believe the shooting was justified. However, the tactics and marksmanship were abysmal and every officer who was there needs to re-train on small-unit tactics (i.e. DON'T FORM A CIRCULAR FIRING SQUAD!) and all the departments need to seek some marksmanship training from a reputable source. Also, SOPs for dealing with armored assailants needs to be addressed. I'm glad no officers or innocents were hurt, but this could have ended very differently. Training is essential and I hope the departments involved are seeking it.


James said...

Possibly one of the biggest problems is that gun culture and LE culture don't overlap as much as we'd like to think. Folks like us that regularly shoot for recreation - whether it's informal, competition, or at a training course - are probably miles ahead of the curve compared to the officer that shoots his or her gun only for qualification.

The only real marksmanship training I received in the Army was only marginally individualized and comprised only a tiny percentage of my overall training, which was 25 weeks. Compare that to the various LE academies in Iowa (ILEA, DMPD, CRPD, ISP) which range 13-20 weeks.

I never consistently qualified "expert" in the Army until I took up recreational shooting in my civilian life. The same problem that undoubtedly exists in the LE world certainly exists in the Army, where twice a year qualifications are commonly the only live-fire marksmanship events. Shooting for record is not equivalent to live fire marksmanship training.

I now understand that pretty much anyone with 20/20 vision should be able to qualify expert on the Army's marksmanship test, and yet that isn't the case. The reason is that shooting is just one small part of the job, and the Army treats it that way in terms of time and money (ammo) allocated for training. I can only imagine that the exact same situation plagues most LE organizations. The "job" is paperwork and maintaining law and order, just like my "job" in the Army was pushing a broom and turning wrenches. Firing a gun is a rare event, even if it's carried on a daily basis. Only problem is that the consequences of firing a gun poorly can be tragic in both occupations.

Here's a scarier thought: the majority of those hits might have come from ONE officer.

The Flatland Gun Nut said...

I would put a good bit of money down that all the hits came from the two officers who were ten feet away or less.

Police are overdue for upgraded training, unfortunately they'd rather spend that time and money on MRAPS. Article to come.