Budo Breakdown: Force Shy


This police shooting debacle in Georgia  has been difficult to watch for many folks. The question is begged: how on earth was this situation allowed to have gotten to this point in the first place?

The tendency to get very negative is strong here. Rather, let’s explore different tactical considerations in this event, and why the suspect was allowed to control this encounter, to the very end.

The Approach

Stuff happens, especially when you respond to a lot of stuff. Let’s assume that there was not prior information. of a man with a knife, that the responding officers did not have the luxury of setting things up beforehand (like less lethal launchables previously deployed, and rolling in  with that capability, and having even a brief plan and coordinated efforts.

The simple act of non-compliance in this case derailed everything.

The De-escalation

No problem with the verbals and the first few steps of retreat. But a line in the sand must be drawn when one’s own safety and the safety of the public is at issue.

The Rout

After that, basically once past the patrol car, this is not a tactical retreat, it is essentially a rout. Yelling the same things over and over again is not de-escalation, especially when there is no response or reaction to verbal commands.

Here we can see where the Fire department had staged – that indicates some prior information as to “man with knife” and the potential for injuries, already existing or that possibly could occur.

Something probably missed in the assessments of this incident: what if the guy decided to turn and run the other way. Back toward where people were?

Force Shy

If you point a gun at someone, anyone, you’d better mean it. Otherwise, don’t point your gun in the first place. This incident has some parallels to the Seattle Stabber situation previously covered in Budo Breakdown.

Force was threatened here – gunpoint – but it was clear there was no intent to actually use it until far too late. A significant element here is the officer’s force shyness. There could be any number of reasons for this force shyness, but it results in a high level of indecision.

We cannot be indecisive in such a situation. Indecision can even actually embolden the people whom we may use force against (as in pointing a gun) when they feel we don’t actually mean it. I think that was a factor here. The suspect is almost taunting them to shoot him – probably what he wanted in the first place

Other causes could be a misunderstanding of the situation, of the law, of overarching situational factors in this case (which, to be fair, we aren’t aware of), of liability, and various other things. An oppressive administrative atmosphere causing people to fear using force because they fear retribution, the endless media/social media assault on police use of force often devoid of understanding are other potential causes.

This is where being a professional – or at least trained and experienced at a professional standard – goes a long way.

Stopping the Threat

This is a valuable lesson for all police, and for armed citizens carrying guns for self defense:

Rounds, especially handgun rounds, don’t always put a threat down.

And as we can see, even if they do, they won’t always keep him down…

We should also take note of how rapidly things changed from his going down, to coming back up, and to then closing space for close quarters contact.

Close Contact

Close quarters combat happens, yes, even with guns, even after people have been shot. Many years ago I taught a course I called Close Contact – short for Close Confrontation Tactics. The idea was that since police shooting confrontations more often than not occur at close range, very often within contact distance, and that space can contract and extend based on situational dynamics, facility with these skills is a matter of officer survival.

All sorts of things can occur here, especially when one party is not skilled, not comfortable, and unwilling to be in this kind of fight.  A common factor across firearms training in both law enforcement and the private sector is that it is almost totally divorced from hand-to-hand combat. The few efforts to address “contact shooting” are still generally along the lines of this:

Screen Shot 2019-07-07 at 2.53.11 PM

Search it – you will find that even quality firearms instructors today teach methods that are little different – back on the heels, weapon projected, muzzle floating, and always against stationary targets that cause no disruption of balance, no movement, and no opposing pressure.  Despite much discussion to the contrary, many of the instructors teaching these things don’t do any realistic hand-to-hand combat training – never mind doing it with their guns. For sure, there are many fit firearms instructors, very good shooters, that do tell us that all ’round tactical preparation is extremely important, and yet when asked about hand to hand skills tend to answer in the same way as one instructor recently told a friend of mine that asked him this question:

“I’m not really a Defensive Tactics guy.”

The same instructors teach officers like the one in the video that was literally taken hostage here because he had no idea what to do when things rapidly collapsed to this range. The argument would not doubt be “well he shoulda shot him long before that!” But lets face it – he had shot him – looks like at least one round probably hit the guy- and he coulda shot him way back when, right in front of the patrol car, and this same thing could have happened.

Its All Okay In the End

In the spirit of the typical law enforcement incident debrief, we can at least say this all turned out okay in the end. Not because of training, not because of good tactics or decisiveness, but because eventually the suspect did what he probably intended to do from the beginning: force the officer’s hands to kill him.  No officer was killed and one was able to finally do what the situation demanded: a hostage rescue shot to save his own partner when the suspect was in bodily control of the latter, trying to take his gun. Something I can almost guarantee this second officer never trained.

We need to train better in order to handle things like this better.


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