We had an interesting critical thinking debate at SWAT training recently. Suppose you are serving a search warrant in which crucial evidence could potentially be destroyed, and an entry is appropriate. During the entry, you encounter a man in one of the bedrooms who is wearing a badge on his belt, holding a gun raised in the direction of the doorway. Several good points were raised:

  • You could argue this is a no-shoot scenario. Part of target identification requires that you notice your surroundings. Something something, “Be sure of your target and what is behind it.” You should see that he is wearing a badge and instruct him to put the gun down. If you saw the badge, gave him commands, and he didn’t listen, that’s one thing—but on your initial contact I think you need to notice it’s probably a cop and you should not pull the trigger right away.
  • You could also argue this is a shoot scenario. Officers give announcements at the door and throughout the house as they make entry. They identify themselves as law enforcement, announce that they are serving a warrant, and give instructions to anyone in the house to get on the ground and show their hands. Any reasonable officer would know better than to have a gun in their hands pointed at the door, and if they didn’t, you would question whether they were really a cop or just wearing a badge that was stolen or belonged to someone other than a law enforcement officer (security, etc.).

A critical point in this debate is whether or not you see the badge at all. We train to always look at a person’s hands—we have to be careful asking officers to look much further before deciding if they are a threat, as that could create a deadly delay in reaction time. That said, seeing the badge and deciding to shoot is much different than shooting the person not having seen the badge at all. Your backdrop and surroundings are also important to take into account. This requires thoughtful training to find the right balance. Part of this conversation is driven by context; This scenario was a search warrant at a house as part of a criminal investigation—not a 911 call in a public place where you might encounter an otherwise legitimate officer in plain clothes, so those details also must be factored into the equation. What if you walked into a business and a man was pointing a gun at someone? At first glance, that looks like a shoot scenario, until you consider the possibility that it’s an off-duty officer intervening in whatever disturbance brought you there. What do you think? How do we train to get this right?



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