Action V. Reaction: The Ray Porter Incident
By Brian McKenna
Description of Incident
Considering the size of the community it served, Officer Ray Porter’s department handled an unusually large number of serious calls. Though home to only 3,500 people, the small farm town seemed to draw a large number of troublemakers and chronic offenders from surrounding areas. The high frequency of shootings, cuttings, and other violent crimes seemed out of character for a town that size, a fact that tended to make Porter cautious in his approach to the job.
Porter’s shift had been uneventful so far. He worked the 7:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m. overlap, and had stopped at the firehouse for dinner about midway through the shift. Since the police and fire departments were housed in the same building, he, like many of the other officers on the department, often ate with the firefighters. It was after 10:00 p.m. when he pulled off the station lot and headed for the outskirts of town. He had decided to make a quick sweep around town before heading into the business district to check the businesses there.
He was on Highway 172 heading east past the Ford dealership when he noticed a dark, slow‑moving car up ahead with its headlights off and emergency flashers blinking. The emergency flashers shut off as the vehicle, a new model Ford Mustang, continued along at a slow pace with its headlights still out. As Porter quickly rolled up behind the Mustang, the beams from his headlights lit up its rear end. The rear plate, an out‑of‑state tag, was battered and covered with dirt but still readable. Given that the driver didn’t seem to be in much of a hurry to leave the area, Porter figured it was probably a drunk driver or someone experiencing electrical problems. Still, he was careful not to assume too much.
He called out on traffic, gave the dispatcher the license number, and switched on his roof lights. The sports car continued at the same slow pace until it reached a nearby motel, where it eased off the highway onto the motel’s horseshoe-shaped driveway. About halfway up the dimly lit driveway, the car slipped over to the right and came to a stop near the motel’s neon sign, the neon’s red glow adding an eerie hue to the sweeping blue beams from Porter’s lightbar. Since his squad car was not equipped with a spotlight, Porter had to depend upon his headlights for illumination. The high beams took in most of the Mustang but he could see very little in the semidarkness beyond.
Porter looked at the plate again and realized he had read it wrong the first time. As he was calling in the correct number and giving the dispatcher his location, the motorist stepped out of the Mustang and started back toward the patrol car. He was a quiet looking man in his mid‑50s, later identified as Sam Randall, a career criminal with an arrest record dating back to before Porter was born. He was casually dressed in a flannel shirt and blue jeans, and his neat appearance gave no indication of danger. He strolled quickly but easily back to Porter’s cruiser, crossing over to the right as he passed between the two vehicles. He stepped up to the front passenger door and nonchalantly tried to open it, but the door was locked. He stepped back and bent over as if to look inside.
Knowing better than to let anyone inside his patrol car, Porter issued Randall a firm command, “Go back to your car, sir! Go back to your car!”
Randall’s face was void of emotion. He said nothing, but turned and walked back toward the Mustang.
Porter stepped out of the patrol car and followed. As he moved forward, he asked Randall for his driver’s license and vehicle registration. Still without saying a word, Randall continued walking toward the driver’s side of the Mustang. As Randall rounded the Mustang’s left-rear fender, Porter spotted the tip of a screwdriver protruding from the man’s right-front pants pocket. The screwdriver worried him. In fact, nothing about this situation felt right. He moved in a little closer, reached for his 9mm Smith & Wesson, and released the thumb break on his holster. He glanced past Randall as the man stepped up to the open driver’s door and noticed that the hood was ajar. Porter took a quick glimpse inside the car. Its interior was spotlessly clean, like a brand-new car. In the meantime, Randall had leaned forward as if to sit down. His left hand reached out toward the steering wheel as his right hand nonchalantly glided out of sight in front of his torso. Porter’s alarm bells went off. There was no explaining it right then—he just knew he was in trouble. He drew.
Suddenly, Randall’s right hand flashed into view as he spun to his right. His fingers were wrapped around the grip of a blue-steel, two‑inch .38. The small revolver spat flame as it came to a stop just inches from the startled officer’s torso. Pop! The sound lacked the distinctive crack of a gunshot, but there was no mistaking it for anything else. Porter was already pulling the trigger on his pistol but nothing happened. It wouldn’t fire!
Pop, pop! Randall fired at least two more times. Porter could feel one of the bullets slam into his chest. Like the blow from a sledgehammer, it threatened to knock him backward, but he stood firm. Without giving any thought to the vest shielding his chest, he simply accepted the fact that he had been shot and concentrated on returning fire. He kept pulling the trigger, but still nothing happened.
Frustrated and bewildered, a feeling of ultimate helplessness swept over him. Like an uncontrollable, slow‑motion nightmare, he was being shot to pieces at point-blank range and there was nothing he could do to stop it. He couldn’t shoot back. Fighting off the urge to panic, he decided there was only one course of action left. He turned and ran to the cover of his patrol car.
Stopping at the cruiser’s left-rear fender, Porter turned back toward his assailant. Randall was still standing next to the little fastback, apparently trying to decide what to do next. Porter leveled the pistol at Randall and squeezed the trigger. Again, nothing happened. He cocked his wrist to the left and checked the safety. It was off and the hammer was back. At some point he must have cocked it, but he didn’t remember doing it.
Once more, he aimed the weapon at Randall and pulled the trigger. Still nothing. He rolled the gun over to its left for a closer look. His hand was covered with blood, and the pistol grip underneath was split in two. Randall’s first round had struck him in the right hand. After blasting through the first knuckle of his index finger, it had slammed into the right side of the gun and disintegrated. Remarkably, the wound had not disabled his index finger. He could still pull the trigger, so that wasn’t the problem. He rolled the gun over to check the magazine. It was gone. The impact of the bullet must have dislodged it, causing the magazine disconnect safety1 to prevent the weapon from firing.
He tried to reach for a spare magazine with his left hand, but the hand refused to respond. He looked down. His left shirtsleeve was soaked in blood and the arm inside hung uselessly at his side. His hand and forearm were twisted into an awkward, unnatural position, with the palm rotated away from his body and swinging around behind his hip. One of Randall’s rounds had entered just below his left elbow and traveled upward, shattering the bone in his upper arm into fragments like broken pottery.
Having never been trained in one‑handed reloading techniques, Porter didn’t know how to get the gun back into action. He dropped his now‑useless pistol and started to reach for his backup gun, a cheap, .22-caliber pocket pistol in his right hip pocket. He paused, remembering that he carried the .22 with an empty chamber. Uncertain about the quality of the little gun, he had never felt comfortable carrying it with a round chambered. Certain that it would be useless to try to chamber a round one-handed, he left the gun in his pocket.
Randall was still standing next to the Mustang. Apparently, he wasn’t interested in trying to pursue an armed police officer into the uncertain darkness, but Porter couldn’t be sure about that. Unable to stay in the fight, he wisely decided to retreat. He quickly scanned the area and decided to use the drainage ditch alongside the highway as his escape route. The ditch would lower his profile and enable him to keep the patrol car and motel sign between him and Randall to mask his retreat. He took his left arm in his right hand, held it close to his chest, and scurried over to the ditch (Figure 1).
As Porter quietly worked his way down the ditch, he glanced back over his shoulder and saw Randall turning to leave. Randall eased himself into the driver’s seat of the Mustang, closed the door, and started forward. The sports car rolled up the driveway to the motel parking lot, made a casual U‑turn, and slipped back down the drive toward the street. After reaching the street, it turned right and cruised slowly out of view.
Not long after the Mustang disappeared from his sight, Porter saw the headlights from another vehicle approaching from the left. As it came into view, he could see that it was the other officer working the night shift, Stan Bradley. As a matter of routine, the two officers made a point of checking on each other when either of them called out on traffic. Bradley saw Randall leaving but the sight of Porter’s squad car parked in the darkened driveway, its roof lights still rotating, worried him. He wanted to check on his partner before doing anything else.
In the meantime Porter had seen Bradley coming and cut back toward the driveway to meet him. Still clutching his severely wounded arm, he ran up the sloping lawn toward his partner. He watched Bradley stop briefly next to his parked police car and then pull around it and head up the driveway toward the motel parking lot. He headed that way, and was just emerging from the shadows onto the lot when Bradley braked to a stop and looked right at him, a look of relief sweeping over his face. But the expression suddenly turned to one of shocked concern as Bradley took in Porter’s broken and bloody condition. “Oh shit, are you alright?” he exclaimed.
Stepping up to Bradley’s cruiser Porter calmly announced, “I got shot. Call me an ambulance!”
Then, as Bradley finished calling for the ambulance, Porter’s speech became more rushed, “He just left about a minute ago! He’s drivin’ a brand-new Mustang—a red one. An old white guy in a red Mustang.”
Bradley was tempted to go after the shooter, but Porter needed help and he didn’t want to leave him alone. He put out the description on the radio and, stepping from the patrol car, said, “Ray, sit down! Sit down and rest!”
Porter refused. He was anxious to retrieve his gun and asked Bradley to accompany him back to his patrol car to get it. After finding it near where he had dropped it, he gave it to Bradley as evidence and sat down in his patrol car to wait for the ambulance. Slowly, the pain began to set in as the fire department arrived on the scene. Then, as one of the firefighters cut away at his left sleeve, he started to feel lightheaded. Fearing he would pass out, he reached over and turned on the car’s air conditioner. Despite the cool 45‑degree weather, he cranked it up full blast and made up his mind he wouldn’t allow himself to lose consciousness.
Within minutes, Porter was en route to a nearby hospital. In the meantime, officers from a number of surrounding agencies were closing in on Randall. After eluding capture for less than 25 minutes, he was stopped on a highway about six miles from the shooting scene. He had reloaded his weapon and was carrying a large stock of spare ammunition, but offered no resistance. Leaving the gun on the right-front seat, he timidly exited his car, raised his hands, and surrendered without a fight.
It was later determined that Randall had just stolen the Mustang from the Ford dealership, and was having trouble locating the headlight switch when Porter first spotted him. He was also wanted in two other states on drug trafficking, possession of stolen property, and weapons charges. He was subsequently convicted of Assault with Intent to Kill and Auto Theft, and sentenced to 23 years imprisonment.
After recovering enough to return to work on light duty five months later, Porter made a valiant effort at rehabilitation, but too much damage had been done to his left arm. He was forced into medical retirement and is currently working as an independent security consultant.2
Discussion & Analysis
Holding a suspect at gunpoint can create a dangerous false sense of security. While it is far better than leaving your gun holstered, it is important to remember that it will not guarantee you the first shot. Officer Porter learned this harsh lesson the hard way. On the other hand, we can’t overreact simply because we believe a suspect may be armed. The key is to be ready without overreacting, and to use sound tactics that will enable you to respond quickly and effectively if he attacks.
The following analysiswill address this point in greater detail, as well as a number of other key lessons from this incident—lessons that can save lives. We owe it to Officer Porter and all our other fellow officers to learn as much as we can from these lessons. Before you read the analysis, however, review the following discussion questions and work through your own answers
- Although he couldn’t remember why afterward, Officer Porter drew his gun, cocked the hammer, and released the safety just before Randall turned and shot him. What does this indicate about the role of the subconscious mind in alerting us to danger and enabling us to respond quickly? Discuss the importance of trusting our instincts.
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- Officer Porter allowed Randall to approach him while he was still sitting behind the wheel of his cruiser. Fortunately, Randall didn’t use the opportunity to attack, but Porter would have been highly vulnerable if he had. How dangerous is this kind of situation? What are the best options for dealing with it?
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- Officer Porter didn’t allow Randall to enter his patrol car when Randall approached the passenger door. What impact did this have on the situation?
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- Should Officer Porter have ordered Randall to return to his car? Why? Inasmuch as he did so, what could he have done to reduce the risks? What other options did he have?
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- Despite the fact that Officer Porter was holding a cocked pistol with its safety off, he didn’t have time to pull the trigger. What does this demonstrate about Action v. Reaction? What does it say about the level of safety afforded by holding a suspect at gunpoint? What else can you do to help ensure your safety when doing so?
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- Discuss the tactical options for dealing with close-range armed attacks. What is the value of moving in closer when anticipating such an attack?
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- Discuss various one-handed reloading techniques. Why is important for officers to be trained in these techniques?
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- What does this case illustrate about the importance of choosing an appropriate backup gun?
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- In what ways did Officer Porter’s attitude and actions exemplify winning mindset?
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Officer Porter handled himself admirably in many respects. He picked up on the danger signs quickly, and acted accordingly. A less perceptive officer would probably have been caught with his weapon still holstered, but Porter was alert enough to see the danger and draw before Randall attacked. Unfortunately, circumstances prevented him from returning fire, but his quick action may have saved his life anyway. It is difficult to determine what effect Porter’s drawn weapon may have had on Randall’s actions, but it may well have caused him to rush his shots in an effort to put Porter down before Porter could return fire. An officer with a holstered weapon would have presented a much lesser threat to Randall, thereby giving him time to place his shots more carefully. Since two of Randall’s shots missed, there is no telling how much damage he could have done if he had had time to shoot more accurately.
It is also important to note that Officer Porter was not consciously aware of the reasons why he felt the need to draw. In retrospect, we can see that Randall’s behavior was suspicious enough to give Porter cause for concern. Indicators that something was wrong included the manner in which Randall was operating the Mustang when first spotted, the fact that he waited to pull over, his initial effort to enter Porter’s patrol car, and his unusual silence. Moreover, the screwdriver in Randall’s pocket and the fact that the Mustang appeared to be new were indicators that the vehicle was stolen, especially considering the fact that Porter had first spotted it near a Ford dealership. Later, the evidence of pending violence increased when Randall’s hand disappeared from view as he leaned into the car. Still, none of these factors alone presented clear evidence of danger.
Instead, Porter’s subconscious mind pulled them all together—and possibly other indicators, still unknown at the conscious level, as well—and concluded that danger was imminent. This is the beauty of the subconscious mind. It picks up subtle cues, quickly assesses them, and if they add up to spell danger, instantly communicates that conclusion to our conscious mind as fear. Like Officer Porter, we must recognize and trust this fear response and act on it by preparing to deal with the possible threat. To do otherwise deprives us of one of our greatest defense mechanisms
Return to Question 1
Allowing Violators to Come Back to Your Patrol Car
An element of this case that didn’t adversely affect the outcome but is well worth consideration is the fact that Randall was allowed to walk back to the patrol car unopposed. This creates a situation that leaves officers highly vulnerable to one of the common and brutally effective tactics used against them during traffic stops: While walking toward the squad car, the motorist suddenly pulls a gun and opens fire before the startled officer—still stuck behind the wheel and in a difficult position from which to return fire—can take any action to defend himself.
The first step in dealing with this threat is awareness and planning. Since it can happen anytime and is much more dangerous if you are caught off guard, it is important to be ready for it at all times. Make a conscious effort to anticipate the possibility on every stop you make, no matter how nonthreatening it may appear to be, and have a plan in case it happens. Once this thought process becomes habit, it will become part of your routine even when you are not consciously aware of it.
On the other hand, we must remember that ordinary motorists sometimes approach officers on traffic stops out of anxiety over being stopped, because they mistakenly believe it to be a courtesy to the officer, or for other harmless reasons. Criminals also do it of course, often because they have something to hide, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they intend to attack. Therefore, your preplanned response should be nonthreatening while also enabling you to respond effectively if attacked.
Usually the best option is to back away. In fact, many streetwise officers routinely back up any time a motorist tries to approach them uninvited. Besides rapidly creating distance, this tactic clearly conveys the message that you are alert, tactically savvy and prepared, which may change the motorist’s mind if intended to attack. It may also catch him by surprise and force him to re-think his attack plan, thereby buying you more time to counter the threat. At the same time, it is low profile enough to negate allegations of inappropriate behavior from harmless motorists.
Another option is to accelerate around the violator’s car and stop up ahead. This has the advantage of being faster, because you don’t have to take the time to find reverse, which can be difficult under stress. You also don’t have to watch where you are going while accelerating backward or worry about whom or what might be directly behind you. But it also has disadvantages. You risk pulling out in front of traffic coming up from behind, and there is also a chance that you might accidently run over the motorist as you accelerate forward. This isn’t a problem if he is already shooting at you of course, but it becomes a tragedy if he is just walking back to your patrol car. In most cases, it is probably best to back up or immediately exit your unit, as will be discussed later.
If you have already come to a full stop behind the violator’s vehicle when he starts to walk back toward you, you will have to immediately decide whether to accelerate backward or forward, and then instantly shift into reverse or drive from park. This takes time, especially if you have trouble finding the right position for your shift lever under stress. To remedy this problem, consider getting into the habit of leaving your transmission in drive or putting it into reverse after pulling up behind every motorist you stop, or at least those who seem suspicious, and then leave it there briefly while you assess the situation further. Don’t shift into park until it appears safe to do so. In the meantime, you can glance up into your mirror to check your escape route for any potentially dangerous traffic or other obstructions. Similarly, you can shift into reverse or drive later on if you start to feel uneasy or otherwise believe you may be in danger.
Unfortunately, it isn’t always possible to create distance by driving forward or to the rear. There may be obstacles in the way, or, like Officer Porter, you may be distracted. In his case, he was busy correcting the license plate information but other distractions can come from other radio traffic, people in the immediate vicinity, hazardous traffic conditions, inclement weather, etc. Regardless, when you can’t move your squad car to create distance, it is imperative to exit it as quickly as possible. At the same time, keep a close eye on the motorist and be ready with a plan in case he attacks. This isn’t always easy under stress; it takes practice. Practice getting out from behind the wheel quickly, drawing your gun, and taking cover. Since you can’t know ahead of time where an assailant may be standing when he attacks, it is best to practice taking cover behind the driver’s door, at the rear of your unit, and at various other spots around it. Unless this is included as part of your department’s firearms training program, consider practicing it on your own, but make sure to use AirSoft, SimunitionsTM or inert plastic training guns for safety reasons.
Depending upon the circumstances, it may be necessary to draw while still behind the wheel. Again, this is something every officer should be trained to do, not only because of the occasional need to do it during a traffic stop or high-risk call, but because of the risk of an ambush. Ambushes seem to be taking more police lives every year, and it is not at all unusual for them to be perpetrated while the officer is sitting in his patrol unit. At the same time, police cars are getting smaller and their front seats more cluttered, making it even harder to get out and return fire before it’s too late. These concerns make it necessary to train to shoot from behind the wheel. This can be done at the range using a junked vehicle equipped with discarded or simulated radios, MDTs, radar units, dash cams, etc. Since there is a risk of injury from an accidental discharge while drawing from behind the wheel, start with slow deliberate draws using inert plastic training guns and work your way up to full speed. Then do the same with AirSoft and/or SimunitionsTM and finally with live fire. One concern with this training is the cost of destroying large numbers of expensive windshields, but there are two ways to alleviate this problem. One is to remove the windshield altogether and shoot through the empty opening, and the other is to use secondhand windshields donated by local auto glass repair shops.
One last point regarding drawing while seated in a patrol car: While there are a number of good reasons to carry a backup gun (e.g., disarmings, attempted disarmings, serious weapon malfunctions, etc.), one that is often ignored is the advantage it offers when drawing from behind the wheel. If carried on your vest cover under your shirt (or in a pouch on an external vest), you can draw it from chest level, which limits the things that can get in your way to just the steering wheel. In addition, it eliminates the need to release the seatbelt (see below), which can hamper your draw when drawing from your duty holster. Other carry positions for backup guns will also alleviate this problem to some extent, but the vest carrier is by far the best of them. It also has the advantage of being among the easiest to draw from when in other body positions, as long as you rig your shirts so they will remain closed with VelcroTM instead of zippers or buttons. Sew two or three pieces of VelcroTM under the flap of the shirt, between the second and fifth buttons. If the shirt closes with a zipper, simply leave the zipper down to about the fifth button, and let the VelcroTM hold the flap shut. This will eliminate the need to unzip the shirt before drawing. Button-down shirts require a little more work, because you must remove the buttons first, and then sew them back on over the button holes before installing the VelcroTM.
Return to Question 2
When the need arises to exit your car quickly, whether during a traffic stop or any other activity, it is crucial to remove your seatbelt without delay. However, taking your belt off takes time, especially if you get entangled in it and/or have trouble releasing the latch under the stress. This is why many officers refuse to wear seat belts in spite of the very real danger of becoming involved in an accident. In fact, far more officers are killed in car accidents than at the hands of criminals, yet many officers unwisely persist in leaving their seat belts off for fear of being trapped in them. Still, being slowed down by your belt is a legitimate concern not to be ignored.
These two conflicting concerns create a serious predicament that often results in unnecessary police deaths. But there is an answer. First, learn how to release the belt quickly, smoothly and reliably without getting caught in it. This can be done by running your left hand under the shoulder belt as you reach across your chest and release the buckle. Keep hold of the buckle as you pull it away from your waist along with the lap and shoulder belts, and then sweep them away to your left and let go. With practice, the shoulder and lap belts will reliably drop between the driver’s seat and door, where they will be out of the way as you exit. Next, get into the habit of releasing the belt early when stopping. Make a practice of releasing it when you reach about 10 mph so you will be free of it by the time you come to a full stop. By doing this every time you stop your car, both when on duty and off, it will become second nature, thereby substantially reducing the risk of being trapped by your seatbelt. Besides helping you exit your cruiser more quickly, this will give you greater confidence in your ability to avoid being trapped inside, which will in turn help you stick with the habit. That one simple habit may do more to help you make it to retirement than just about anything else you can do.
Allowing Violators to Enter Your Patrol Car
Another important factor in the outcome of this case was the fact that Officer Porter didn’t allow Randall to enter his patrol car. Far too many officers routinely make themselves vulnerable by letting violators into their vehicles, but Porter refused to fall into that trap.
No one knows why Randall declined to fire through the window, but it isn’t uncommon for shooters to be reluctant to fire through barriers of any kind, including glass. His decision may also have been influenced by uncertainty about whether he could hit Porter at that angle and range, or by the realization that Porter might accelerate away when he pulled his gun. Another good possibility is that he planned to shoot Porter after he sat down next to him. Then, when Porter refused to allow him to enter the car, he had to stop and rethink his next move. Often even a small disruption like that will be enough to throw an opponent off to the point that he will delay his attack, change it, or even abandon it altogether. In this case, Randall may well have decided to wait for a better opportunity. Regardless, Porter is convinced that Randall was armed and intended to shoot him after he opened the door, and he is probably right. It is to his credit that he didn’t allow him to do so.
Return to Question 3
Allowing Motorists to Return to Their Vehicles
Nevertheless, by ordering Randall to return to the Mustang, Porter made it much easier for him to unobtrusively reach for his gun while pretending to sit down. If he had ordered Randall to stay where he was instead, and then carefully exited his patrol car while keeping a close eye on him, he would have been a much better position to watch his hands. This might have discouraged Randall from pulling the gun, or at least allowed Porter to detect and respond to the attack sooner. If Porter had also kept the patrol car between the two of them, he would have been in an even better position to return fire without being wounded. There is also the possibility, though remote, that Randall didn’t have the gun with him when he walked back to the patrol car. Porter is convinced this was not the case, but it is still possible that Randall left the gun behind. If so, Randall might have never gotten the chance to initiate the attack.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that Officer Porter ordered Randall back to the Mustang, and he isn’t the first officer to have made that mistake. Every officer has probably done the same thing at one time or another. Since it happens so often, it is important to examine the options for handling it as safely as possible.
As in other potentially dangerous situations, distance and cover are critical. In Officer Porter’s case, he would have been in a much better tactical position if he had increased the distance between himself and Randall and/or made use of available cover. For example, once he made the decision to allow Randall to return to the Mustang, it would have been better if he had stayed back by his patrol car. This would have made it harder for Randall to initiate his surprise attack with any reliable degree of accuracy. In addition, it would have given Porter time to assess the situation and plan his approach before committing to any further course of action.
Another alternative would have been to move to a position next to the right rear quarter panel of the Mustang. This would have created distance and enabled Porter to immediately drop below the Mustang’s roofline for cover. It would also have made it necessary for Randall to reach over the roof to get on target, which would have slowed him down significantly. Furthermore, if he had moved there quietly when Randall wasn’t looking, it might also have made it even harder for Randall to locate him. However, this tactic isn’t always advisable. Since it can expose you to attack from other occupants inside the vehicle, it is much more effective when the motorist is alone. When more than one occupant is seen or suspected, it is usually best to stay back at your patrol.
Return to Question 4
Action v. Reaction
This case graphically illustrates the critical differences between action time and reaction time. Despite the fact that Officer Porter was alert enough to draw when he did, he wasn’t able to fire before Randall’s first round disabled his weapon. As with any threat, he couldn’t respond to Randall’s attack until he saw the gun, recognized it as a lethal threat, decided to pull the trigger, and then acted upon that decision. Randall, on the other hand, had already decided what he was going to do and was already in the process of carrying it out before Porter even had the chance to perceive it. The time difference here can be measured in milliseconds, but milliseconds can be crucial in a gunfight, especially at close range where time is likely to be the single most important factor in the outcome.
This is a particularly important point, because it is easy to assume that you have achieved control over your suspect once you have him at gunpoint. True, this reduces your lag time to a minimum, but it doesn’t guarantee you a first shot as is so clearly evident in this case. On the other hand, this dangerous reality doesn’t justify the proactive use of deadly force simply because you believe someone may be armed. You must be ready to immediately respond with deadly force, but not overreact to the possibility. The best way to do this is to add sound tactics to the mix. Whenever possible, take cover, shift to a different position to make yourself a little harder to locate, do something to distract the suspect or throw him physically off balance, etc.
Return to Question 5
Close-Quarters Armed Attacks
Officer Porter moved into very close proximity to Randall, and then lost sight of his hands. Unfortunately, this is a very common problem. Whether by mistake or due to circumstances beyond our control (e.g., when inside smaller rooms, among crowds, etc.), it isn’t always possible to keep a safe distance, take cover, change positions, watch the suspect’s hands closely enough, etc. In such instances, often the best you can do is shift positions slightly and prepare to take appropriate action if necessary. The first step is awareness and preplanning. Make a habit of being prepared to counter a sudden close-range armed attack anytime you move in close to anyone, regardless how dangerous he may appear to be. Once developed, this habit will become part of your regular routine, thereby significantly reducing your response time if he suddenly turns on you with a weapon.
An important point to consider here is the concept of moving in closer to your potential adversary. Ordinarily safety increases with distance, but when in close, closer is usually better. This is because you can’t retreat fast enough to escape an armed attack that occurs at close range. However, by moving in closer you crowd your assailant, thereby making it harder for him to swing a weapon into position and easier for you to block his attack and/or knock him off balance. It also makes it harder for him to fully extend his limbs, which reduces the amount of power he can deliver with most blows. Moreover, any lateral evasive moves you make will be more effective because he will have to turn all that much farther to get on target.
It is also important to raise your hands to about waist level, palms forward as you move forward. This puts them in the best position to counter any attack that may come. If the suspect suddenly draws a weapon, immediately deflect it away as you charge into him, draw, and fire. Then keep firing until he is no longer a threat. Or if properly trained, you can blitz him with a series of rapid lethal unarmed techniques or, in rare cases, employ a disarming technique (see “How to Win an Extreme Close-Quarters Gunfight: REACT” starting on page 40 of the May/June 2013 issue of The Police Marksman for further). Such countermeasures are difficult and dangerous to execute, but the only other alternative is to try to outdraw him, and there isn’t time for that.
Another useful tactic Officer Porter might have employed would have been to stand just to the left of the closing edge of Randall’s driver’s door and place his support hand on it. This would have allowed him to immediately slam the door on Randall when he first saw the gun. Besides catching Randall by surprise, slamming the door would probably have knocked him off balance and/or pinned him inside the door. It is unlikely that this would have prevented Randall from firing the first shot, but the door might have caught that first round or deflected it, which would have enabled Porter to return fire. In addition, by moving to a point outside of the door, Porter might have been in a position that Randall hadn’t expected, which would have made it harder for Randall to shoot as quickly and accurately as he did. Since it isn’t unusual to be standing near someone when he is entering or exiting a vehicle, this is a useful tactic to keep in mind.
Return to Question 6
Porter’s inability to reload one‑handed is another important element of this case. Fortunately, Randall didn’t renew the attack after Porter withdrew to cover, but Porter would have been unable to return fire if he had. He had never been trained to in any one-handed reloading techniques, and considering the intense level of stress he was experiencing, he could hardly have been expected to improvise one. With proper training, however, he could have bypassed the need to be creative, and relied on his prior training instead.
The simplest way to reload a semiautomatic is to return it to its holster (or put it into your waistband, a pocket, or between your knees if you can’t reach your holster), preferably butt forward to facilitate the reload, and reload with your now-free uninjured hand. You won’t have to chamber a round at this point if the slide is still forward, as it was in Officer Porter’s case, but that seldom happens. In most cases, you will have to release the slide, and most officers are trained to do so by jacking it. This works fine for two-handed reloads, but not with just one hand. In that case, the gunbelt, holster, shoe, or other object must be used to jack the slide, which takes extra time and may entail an awkward change of body position and/or a shift in focus away from the assailant. It also takes a lot of practice before it can be done reliably under stress. Another alternative is to press the slide release. This is slightly faster when reloading with both hands, and a whole lot faster when using the right hand only. However, it also requires considerable practice and is very difficult to do left-handed (unless the gun is equipped with an ambidextrous slide release). All this makes one-handed reloading a complex issue. Nevertheless, gunshot wounds to the hands and arms are common enough in police work that it is important to train for the possibility. Officers should be trained and frequently drilled in one-handed reloading with either hand, and in using the slide stop as well as the holster, gunbelt, etc. to rack the slide. Even then, so many variables can come into play that a simple fallback option is needed. That option is the backup gun.
When a hand or arm injury prohibits reloading, it is often easier and faster to draw the backup, especially when it is carried in an easily accessible location, like under your shirt or in a pouch on your external vest. Admittedly, this requires some fine motor skills, but not as much as reloading does, and it’s also faster. This is especially true when the gun hand is disabled and you must use your support hand instead.
Return to Question 7
Quality of Backup Guns
An element of this case that didn’t adversely affect the outcome, but which is well worth consideration here, is Officer Porter’s choice of a backup weapon. When a backup gun is needed, the situation is usually a desperate one demanding the immediate, unflinching use of deadly force. Therefore, the larger the caliber and the quicker the gun can be brought into action, the better. Backup guns should also be of high quality and simple to operate with either hand. These factors rule out cheap, small semiautomatics, or any other autoloader with an empty chamber for that matter, as was the case in Officer Porter’s shooting. In addition, because of the difficulty in operating most external safeties with the support hand, officers should avoid choosing automatics equipped with them as backup guns unless they are willing to practice extensively with them.
The selection of a backup gun should be based upon the understanding that the weapon will most likely be needed only in extremely tense, desperate, fast‑moving gun fights. Otherwise, it may turn out to be the wrong tool for the job. In Officer Porter’s case, for example, his backup gun was virtually useless to him when he needed it. Fortunately, this didn’t affect the outcome, but if Randall had been more determined to continue the fight, it might have proven fatal.
Return to Question 8
The most obvious factor in Officer Porter’s survival was his use of body armor. The round to his chest hit just over his heart and would almost certainly have been fatal if not for his vest. Even if he had initially survived the wound, it is very unlikely he could have stayed on his feet for very long. Once incapacitated, he would have been at Randall’s mercy. This highlights a very important, but often overlooked, benefit of body armor. When coupled with winning mindset like that demonstrated by Officer Porter, it does more than protect the officer from many life-threatening injuries. Often, it will enable him to accomplish his single most important goal when facing a lethal threat—fighting back.
Officer Porter’s ability to stay on his feet and keep fighting was crucial to the outcome of this case. Besides forcing Randall to rush things, it enabled Porter to maintain some control over the situation. He didn’t go down or freeze up. Instead, he retreated to the cover of his patrol car, where he made a commendable effort to get back into the fight. This also kept him out of sight, which prevented Randall from knowing how defenseless he was. This inability to determine whether Porter was able to counterattack probably discouraged Randall from pressing the attack, which might well have saved Porter’s life. Moreover, even after Porter realized he couldn’t return fire, he maintained his composure. He stayed focused on what he had to do, calmly assessed his options, and took time to plan his retreat in order to make the best use of all available cover and concealment along his escape route. This kind of focus and cool thinking in the face of danger are essential components of winning mindset.
Return to Question 9
- Be alert for danger signs, and always trust your instincts.
- Always be ready to take appropriate defensive action in case a motorist exits his vehicle and approaches you while you are sitting behind the wheel.
- Always wear your seatbelt. Practice releasing you belt quickly, smoothly and reliably without getting caught in it, and make a habit of removing it before you come to a full stop.
- Never allow traffic violators to enter your patrol car.
- Avoid allowing anyone to return to his vehicle once he has left it. When this can’t be avoided, use proper positioning and cover to your advantage.
- Action is always faster than reaction. Remain vigilant at all times and remember that pointing your gun at a suspect doesn’t guarantee you the first shot if he attacks. The use of sound tactics is also crucial.
- Learn and thoroughly practice proper techniques for responding to sudden, close‑range attacks.
- Learn and thoroughly practice one‑handed reloading techniques.
- Carry a backup gun, and select one that is appropriate for the task.
- Always wear body armor.
- Always fight back no matter what!
- The incident recounted here is true, but the names of persons and places were changed to insure the privacy of those personally involved. Likewise, in order to preserve confidentiality and clarity, some facts may have been altered slightly, but the essential elements of the story remain unchanged
- For those unfamiliar with the magazine disconnect safety, it is a safety that prevents the gun from firing unless there is a magazine in it.
- A similar tactic to this one is when the assailant immediately jumps from his vehicle, often after suddenly slamming on his brakes while the officer is following him, and charges toward the officer while laying down a hail of gunfire. Options for responding to this threat are: exiting your vehicle and returning fire (there often won’t be time for this); returning fire by shooting through your windshield; backing away; speeding forward around the subject’s vehicle to a safer location; and running over your assailant.
- This article is an updated version of Chapter 2 of Brian McKenna’s book, Officer Down: Lessons from the Streets.
About the Author
Brian McKenna is a retired lieutenant from the Hazelwood (Mo.) Police Department, where he served in patrol, traffic, mobile reserve and training. He is a 32-year police veteran with a strong background in training at both the recruit and in-service levels, and served his department as lead firearms instructor as in various other training positions. He is a state certified police instructor, a Certified Force Science Analyst and holds a master’s degree in human resource development. Brian is a member of ILEETA and IALEFI, writes extensively on officer safety topics, and trains officers nationwide in winning mindset and other topics related to officer safety. His book Officer Down: Lessons from the Streets is based upon this column and is available for purchase at http://winningedgetraining.com/odnowavail.html. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at www.we-training.com.
Tell Us About It!
Police Marksman intends to run an “Officer Down” article by Brian in every issue. In order to find incidents that provide relevant case studies, we would like to draw from our largest available resource—you, the reader. If you have, or can obtain, factual information on actual incidents you think we can use please contact Brian at:
7412 Lynn Grove Ct.
Hazelwood, MO 63042
Tel. 314/921-6977 (call collect)