Years ago when I was still on LAPD, a hostage situation developed in a large metropolitan city. The suspect held the hostage in the typical configuration of a controlling arm about the neck of the victim while positioning himself behind the victim with a large knife pressed against her neck. Field Officer’s had responded and positioned themselves about the suspect and victim. While other events occurred surrounding this incident, a decision was made at some point, to engage the suspect. The Officer’s fired a number of rounds simultaneously, resulting in the demise of both the suspect and victim.
A similar incident transpired (if memory serves me well) in New York state a number of years ago. A coed was held hostage – a number of rounds were again fired – resulting in both the suspect and coed being killed. I believe it was an initial responding Officer who engaged the problem.
A hostage situation is unique. It requires a very specific set of mechanics in conjunction with perhaps dialogue, a comprehension of psychology and extreme mental composure on behalf of the individual engaging the suspect. It requires not multiple – but rather, a singular, precisely placed round, on demand, upon a narrowly defined and extremely unforgiving target. In short, it may be well beyond the capability of a field grade Officer possessed of nominal skill sets to resolve successfully. Square range “combat” qualification skills simply will not suffice.
Over twenty years ago I designed, fabricated and ultimately constructed our “hostage rack” at I.T.T.S. Over the past two decades, thousands have been exposed to this training device. There are multiple layers of complexity and methodologies we employ at differing levels of engagement on behalf of the shooter. The most notable result of this training is that of a former LAPD Metro Officer, Hector Feliciano (no relation to the singer that I am aware of.) Hector confronted a suspect holding a female victim with a pistol positioned low – pressed into the small of her back. The suspect controlled her with his non-firing hand about the neck. Hector utilized a Smith and Wesson 4506 .45 caliber pistol which he had thumb-cocked thereby bypassing the double action mode of the pistol. When the suspect was distracted, Hector instantly came up on target and engaged the suspect with a singular precisely placed round resulting in the suspect’s immediate incapacitation. There is a lot more to this incident than this article can accommodate but suffice it to say that the training prior to the event was realistic and timely. Should you Google [LAPD Mexican Consulate Hostage shooting] you will be able to actually view the incident itself and the shooting as filmed by a Spanish News crew.
Hollywood fare is engaging, entertaining and provides a brief escape from reality. If you’re Harry Callahan as portrayed by Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry, you can pull off point-shooting from the hip successfully – after all you’re Clint Eastwood right? In the real world this would be virtually impossible to accomplish. There are real fears, trepidation, hesitancy and doubts when one confronts a suspect holding a hostage. I have experienced this myself although fortunately, I was not forced to engage the suspect with a 1911.
There are fears about striking the very person you are attempting to rescue. Doubts about being able to deliver a precision shot when not “warmed up.” There is the question of sudden, erratic movements of either the suspect or victim and the total unpredictability of the situation itself. The subject of background, shooting policies, dialogue, volatile psychological moods etc. all come into play. To state that a hostage situation confrontation especially resolved with a handgun, is the most demanding and complex shot you will ever be required to undertake – is an understatement to the extreme.
As with anything in life that I can think of, perfection in any realm requires diligent, realistic practice on a continual basis. Hostage resolution demands level-headed instruction based on real world evolutions. It requires 110% adherence and faith and an unequivocal trust in the mechanics of shooting ie; the sights, trigger press and follow through. It especially demands an overextension of follow-through such that the firing cycle is not disrupted. It is an unyielding adherence to the mechanics which far transcends that which is experienced in simple square range drills or qualifications. It must also be instructed by those who understand such principles.
There are many things in life which we should not attempt. A flying-squirrel suit off of Mount Everest is one and surfing a 100 foot wave off the coast of Nazare Portugal are but two challenges which I would not attempt. Off Everest, I would be smushed flat within seconds and at Nazare I would become shark bait within the hour. Those who attempt such things are most probably better equipped than I to take on such challenges. Field-grade Officer’s possessed of nominal skill sets should probably not attempt a demanding hostage shot. This is a subject for supervision and tactical instructors to address. Not everything you confront can be solved by direct gunfire when absolute unwavering precision and mental composure in concert with experience, is called for. It is as equally important to know when not to shoot as it is – when to shoot and perhaps – this is even more so.
Officer’s generally attempt to do the right thing for the right reasons. I get this. However, there are certain field confrontations which exceed our capabilities. The ability to comprehend when one is “out of their depth” is essential and requires experienced supervision and instruction to relate to those not so experienced, when such a threshold has been realized. The best of intentions does not necessarily translate into successful resolution when the possessed skill sets are not commensurate with the intent.
Our training has always focused on adaptation. One cannot adapt if advanced skill sets beyond the simple basics have never been trained to or even addressed. SWAT will not always arrive on time and Hollywood is simply…well…Hollywood!