Decisions and experience

Good decisions come from experience. Experience comes from bad decisions.

Although incorrectly attributed to Will Rogers, the concept of learning from other peoples’ experience rather than our own still has value. We can use the Intelligence community’s technique of ‘walking back the cat’ to de-construct an incident. This allows us to visualize it and learn from the experience of someone else.

The concept of ‘Decision points’ has been emphasized by both Gary Klein, PhD., a noted expert on the decision-making process, and President George W. Bush. Any drama contains not just one, but a sequence of decisions and decision points we can study.

The Don’t Shoot/Shoot decision is the one most commonly focused on the training and firearms communities. However, any Defensive Gun Use, whether shots are fired or not, contains a plethora of decisions and decision points. These occur before, during, and after the shooting or display of a firearm takes place.

A rich source for walking back the cat is the Categorical Use of Force reports by the LAPD Board of Police Commissioners. The following is an analysis of one incident by an off-duty LAPD officer. The analysis will use the phases of an incident as described in my book Real Shootouts of the LAPD. http://realshootoutsofthelapd.com

The incident began as an Aggravated Assault on an LAPD off-duty officer. The full report by the Board of Police Commissioners, including its Findings about Tactics, Drawing and Exhibiting of a Firearm, and Use of Lethal Force can be found here. http://www.lapdonline.org/assets/pdf/011-11_Harbor-OIS.pdf

Incident Summary

The Situation

Officer A, who was off-duty, walked to his vehicle parked in the driveway of a residence. He did not see anyone around at the time. His duty weapon was in the right front pocket of his pants. After driving out of the driveway, he backed his vehicle up and left the lights on. He then walked back to the gate to close it.

  • Decision point — Leave home armed with his weapon on his person or at least accessible? Even for POlice officers, this is not as absolute a decision as it would seem, as can be seen in other LAPD off-duty incidents.
  • Decision point — Close gate (initial entry barrier to home) or not? As mundane as this decision seems, many people leave their garage doors open when they drive away from their home.

The Buildup

Officer A saw the Subject walking on the sidewalk coming toward him. The Subject then began to run toward Officer A. As the distance to the Subject became closer, Officer A saw the Subject had a handgun in his hand. The Subject pointed the handgun at Officer A.

  • Decision point — Maintain awareness of surroundings or focus on telephone or other attention divider?
  • Decision point — Maintain surveillance on the suspect or not?
  • Decision point — Recognize and accept that an armed attack is imminent or not?

Drawing and Exhibiting

Officer A drew his service pistol from his pocket.

  • Decision point — Draw own pistol or not?

The Gunfight

Immediately after drawing his pistol, Officer A fired one round at the Subject.

  • Decision point — Don’t Shoot or Shoot?
  • Decision point — Fire in place or Shoot on the Move?
  • Decision point — Obtain an adequate sight picture to make a hit or fire without visual reference?

The Subject seemed unaffected, so Officer A fired a second round at the Subject.

  • Decision point — Don’t Shoot or Shoot a second time?
  • Decision point — Fire in place or Shoot on the Move?
  • Decision point — Obtain an adequate sight picture to make a hit or fire without visual reference?

After running past Officer’s A car, the subject collapsed on the sidewalk behind a short block wall.

Post Gunfight Actions

Because he could not see him and wanted to wait for responding officers to arrive, Officer A did not approach the Subject.

  • Decision point — Approach the suspect or not?

Officer A retreated to cover at the house and called 911.

  • Decision point — Hold position or retreat to cover?
  • Decision point — Call 9-1-1 or do something else?

While he was calling 911, Officer A observed another male come over to the Subject, squat down, then stand up and adjust his shirt. The second male then walked away.

  • Decision point — Interact with/challenge the secondary suspect or not?

Two other males walked to the fallen Subject, leaned over to look at him, and then walked away.

  • Decision point — Interact with/challenge the tertiary suspects or not?

There are also implied decision points subsequent in the drama but were not elaborated on by the BOPC.

  •  Actions on approach of responding officers.
  • What statements, if any, should be made to responding officers and then to detectives.
  • Whom else to notify about the incident; Significant Other, etc.
  • Retain an attorney or call pre-paid legal assistance plan.

At least 21 decisions/decision points are readily discernible in this incident. There are perhaps even more, despite this being a relatively uncomplicated DGU. Also note that of the 21, only six (Don’t Shoot or Shoot [X2]), (Fire in place or Shoot on the Move [X2]), and (Obtain an adequate sight picture to make a hit or fire without visual reference [X2]) can be readily practiced with live fire. Those and another, (Draw own pistol or not) can be practiced dry. The other two-thirds of the decisions are more in the nature of ‘soft skills’ that are best decided upon in advance and then practiced away from the range.

“Best decided upon in advance and practiced away from the range” represents our opportunities during the current ammo shortage. Rather than sit on our hands because ammo has become so precious, we can begin developing and practicing a more complete repertoire of the skills we need for Personal Protection. If you would like to read my analyses of the rest of the incidents described in the book, please subscribe to me on Patreon. Patreon link I will be posting the rest of them there.

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