Force Science News #216:

Readers' opinions, experiences, findings on blue-on-blue tragedies

In this issue:


I. Readers' opinions, experiences, findings on blue-on-blue tragedies

II. Notable court cases: OIS breath testing & alleged excessive force


I. Readers' opinions, experiences, findings on blue-on-blue tragedies


Our recent report on blue-on-blue research conducted by trainers for the Kansas City (MO) PD [Transmission #215, 10/27/12], prompted many reader responses, commenting on personal experiences and opinions and offering other experimental findings. Here's a representative sampling from our in-box, edited in some cases for brevity and clarity.


"Halo" position found most effective for badge display


During early evolutions of our force-on-force active-shooter training, we inserted two plainclothes (PC) officers into a scenario where contact teams respond to a dynamic, high-stress, active-shooter event.


Armed with handguns, the PC role players were instructed to take a two-handed, barricade shooting position as though they were covering a threat downrange as contact teams maneuvered from their flanks or from an uprange direction. The PC officers were told to always face away from advancing contact teams, to not make any furtive movements or point their weapons in the teams' direction, to comply with any challenges or directions, and to identify themselves only when challenged.


They carried their badges on belt, around the neck, in hand near their weapon, and in hand up in the air.


It was very concerning to find that within the first 20 scenarios, due to the stress of the responders looking for unknown multiple armed adversaries, our PC role players were misidentified as suspects and fired on an estimated 95% of the time without first being challenged. Their badges were not seen.


When we changed the PC officers' positions slightly so their badges would be more visible, we found that they still were not readily identified and still were consistently fired upon by first responders.


Badges on belts were not readily identified because responders were focused on the PC officers' weapons in hand. Badges around the neck were not readily identified because responders were focused on the PCs' weapons and hands; in the role players' shooting stance, the neck badges were not visible. A badge held in the support hand next to a PC officer's weapon was not readily identified because responders focused on the PC's weapon and shooting stance. Even when we took away the PC officers' weapons, they were fired upon because responders identified their shooting-stance behavior and thought the badge being pointed was a gun.


The most effective badge position we identified was when the PC officers' held their badges high above their heads, rotating the badge around like a halo. This allowed the badge to be presented in all directions, as close to 360 degrees as possible.


Contact teams were less apt to engage these PCs because they recognized the position as less threatening, even though the PC held a gun in the other hand. This position drew the attention of contact officers and bought enough time for them to focus on the raised hand holding the badge.


The responding officer's distance, lighting conditions, and vision limitations are all contributing factors in effectively identifying a badge being held by a PC officer. But the most important factor in a PC being misidentified is his/her displayed behavior. LEOs are very good in identifying certain behaviors as consistent with armed threats.


Among the lessons we learned:


  - Train first responders that not everyone holding a gun is a suspect.

 - Establish a challenge protocol to limit the likelihood of blue-on-blue error. We were able to significantly drop the instances of role-players being shot down to 50% after stressing the importance of challenge procedures.

The longer the PC presents himself holding a gun or displaying armed behavior, the higher the likelihood of being misidentified and fired upon.

 - As a PC choosing to respond to an armed threat, we recommend keeping your weapon concealed as long as possible as you maneuver to a position of advantage. Only present the weapon when you absolutely, positively have to engage bad-guy threats. After engaging and conducting necessary after-action procedures, immediately holster, conceal the weapon, move to cover, and be prepared to "halo" your badge.

 - Open up all trainees' situational awareness to understand they are an UNKNOWN person when in plainclothes and their behaviors when holding a gun may be perceived as a threat to other first responders (uniformed as well as plainclothes and off-duty).

We are still trying different strategies and are constantly updating our curriculum in a effort to be more effective. I would appreciate any insight or recommendations others may have.


Sgt. Michael Harding

Tactics & Survival Training Unit

Los Angeles County (CA) SD


"The onus is on plainclothes officers"

I teach the in-service portion of annual requalifications to Plainclothes/UCOs. This year we have been reiterating the importance for identification of these officers. We tell them to YIELD to any uniform officer's arrival and to:


 - place themselves in the best location for initial arrival of uniforms (If in a partnership, one officer should locate him/herself to contact uniforms first to alert them before they reach the area where the second plainclothes may be with subject)

 - have badge out and held up high upon initial entry of uniforms

don't reach for badge (motion toward the beltline is never a good idea)

- do whatever the responding officer says (e.g., show palms of hands)

 - Prone self out first, then identify self after situation has calmed down (If plainclothes are yelling out their ID, they are not listening to the challenge from uniform officers).

We follow up with a scenario that reiterates all these points to really bring them home. We do NOT give this presentation to uniforms as we do not want to make them second-guess anything. The onus is on plainclothes officers.


Cst. Tracy Ophof

Certified Force Science Analyst

Skills & Procedures Unit

Calgary (Canada) Police Service


Research study really a training scar?

A note of concern about the badge placement research findings:


Officers are typically trained not to point their weapons at uniformed officers when involved in off-duty/plainclothes incidents. Yet, this test has plainclothes subjects pointing a gun at the student and the student is expected to recognize a small badge on the subject...and then decide not to shoot? So, they're training their officers not to shoot at someone who has a gun pointed at them? Shouldn't they be teaching their officers not to point their guns at uniformed officers instead?


I applaud their effort, but I think the end result may be a training scar.


When these unfortunate incidents occur, often times the uniformed officer is criticized for not identifying before shooting, when perhaps there was misidentification due to the actions of the plainclothes officer. There should be heavy focus on training officers in off duty/plainclothes incidents to make identification easier for uniformed officers by having obvious police markings (outer vest or raid jacket for on-duty incidents), by their actions (comply with commands and don't point a firearm at uniformed officers), and by verbal communication.


Sgt. Jason Wuestenberg

Training Bureau/Rifle Training Squad

Phoenix (AZ) PD


Front pocket beats neck chain for badge carry


There are several negatives to carrying a badge on a neck chain: the badge can flip to your back if you have to run or are in a physical confrontation, plus if you stand in a classic isosceles shooting stance, the badge can be hidden behind your arms.


For a decade now when out of uniform I have used my badge with its belt clip as a money clip. I carry it facing toward my body in my front pants pocket on my non-dominant side. If I have to hold someone at gunpoint with my dominant hand only, I can easily reach into my pocket and produce it with my support hand; it will come out with the badge facing forward.


Using it as a money clip, I just keep the badge palmed so no one can see it. My DL, credit cards, and cash easily fit under the clip, so there's no need to carry a bulky wallet to sit on. This may not be the best method for an undercover, I think it's a great solution for off-duty.


Sgt. Graham Dunne

Aurora (CO) PD


Big holder keeps your ID visible

As a former undercover officer I strongly recommend one thing if you choose to carry your badge around your neck. Purchase a holder that is wider than your badge, because neck holders tend to turn around uncontrollably as they swing away from your body. The badge does you no good if it is facing your chest.


While working undercover I also always had my "POLICE" ball cap in my car if needed. The more things that identify you as the police, the better.


Det. Jeff Wentz

Certified Force Science Analyst

Ontario (CA) PD


Some agencies favor florescent ID bands

A few agencies in Colorado issue off-duty ID wristbands or chest bands that are florescent with big bold POLICE letters. The South Carolina Risk Sharing Agency has issued them to all its police departments.


Ops. Cmdr. Robert White

Brighton (CO) PD


Blue-on-blue survival class coming up


Note: In an attempt to reduce mistaken-identity tragedies, the Essex County Police Academy in Cedar Grove, NJ, is hosting a day-long course on "Blue-on-Blue Confrontations: Avoiding, Handling, and Surviving Armed Confrontations Between LEOs." In recent years, at least five police personnel in the nearby New York City area have been killed when mistaken for suspects.


The class will be conducted Nov. 20 by Lou Savelli, a retired sergeant from NYPD, who has been involved on both sides of multiple blue-on-blue confrontations during 25 years of street patrol, plainclothes/undercover operations, narcotics investigations, decoy assignments, gang enforcement, and terrorist investigations.


For more information, email or call 877-232-7500.



II. Notable court cases: OIS breath testing & alleged excessive force


Two recently published, force-related court decisions of interest, brought to our attention by Americans for Effective Law Enforcement, the nonprofit organization that monitors judicial actions affecting police and conducts training seminars on legal issues:


Case 1: Is an agency legally justified in requiring breath testing after an OIS?


Three unions representing NYPD personnel sued in U.S. District Court to overturn a departmental order that requires a breathalyzer test to be administered to any New York City officer involved on or off duty in a shooting that results in an injury or death.


The plaintiffs argued that the order mandates an "unreasonable search" and an "unconstitutional invasion of privacy" in violation of the 4th Amendment, and also is "unconstitutionally vague." They see it strictly as a ploy to collect evidence for use in potential criminal proceedings against officers.


Judge George Daniels disagrees. He has denied the unions' challenge and has issued a summary judgment in favor of the city, the department, and the police commissioner, all defendants in the case.


Daniels ruled that the primary purpose of the breathalyzer test was "personnel management--specifically, to deter police officers from becoming intoxicated and discharging their weapons," a concern of "substantial and practical interest" to the department. "[T]he immediate confirmation that alcohol is not involved [in a shooting] fosters public confidence and eliminates speculation of wrongdoing," he wrote, and ensures that "officers are fit for duty."


Breath testing takes only a few moments, is not unreasonably traumatic or intrusive, fits with well-established "special needs" that qualify for limited 4th Amendment exceptions, and is not "impermissibly vague," Daniels declared. Thus, the department's order stands.


You can access the full decision without charge by clicking here.


Case 2: Police vs. violent exorcist. Excessive force?


Two Phoenix cops muscle their way into a tiny, sweltering, barricaded bedroom where they've heard "a little girl screaming and crying" as if she's in severe pain or being tortured. Inside they find: blood-splattered walls, a shirtless, heavy-set adult male choking a three-year-old girl (now "silent and motionless"), and a naked woman shrieking in a corner, her face showing "evidence of a recent beating." The unarmed male has gouged her eye and is choking the child in an effort to "exorcize" their "demons."


To overcome his flailing and kicking resistance, the officers Tase him repeatedly, pulling the trigger on an X26 22 times in either probe or drive-stun mode before finally wrestling him into submission. He dies, from excited delirium with cardiovascular disease a contributing factor, according to the autopsy.


Excessive force? Of course the suspect's survivors--including the beaten woman--thought so. They brought a federal civil rights action seeking recompense for the officers' "unreasonable" behavior.


The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that there was "considerable" and "significant" force used to bring the suspect under control. But "there was no constitutional violation," the court's majority determined.


In their decision, the justices describe the special danger to officers in domestic violence situations, disagree with the plaintiffs that a Taser constitutes deadly force, argue that the circumstances would have indisputably justified lethal action had the officers chosen to take it, and confirm that the manufacturer's warnings about the risks of the X26 are fully adequate.


Worth noting: In a brief dissent, one of the circuit judges raised doubt about the safety of the Taser. He cited a journal article by Dr. Douglas Zipes, which asserted that Taser shocks to the chest can cause cardiac arrest leading to sudden death.


Force Science News #211 [8/23/12] discussed Zipes' report and quoted a Force Science instructor and prominent researcher to the effect that Zipes' work was seriously flawed. Nonetheless, it was predicted in our transmission that his controversial finding would "carry over into the legal arena." And here it has, perhaps for the first time.


To read this decision in full, click here.


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