Identifying the Limits of Firefight Performance
Threat Pattern Recognition Firearms Training System
Bruce Siddle, 2013
Officer James Cahill is recorded as the first NYPD officer to be shot and killed in the line of duty. According to the NYPD Memoriali, Officer Cahill’s murder occurred in 1854 and from a distance of 3 feet while investigating a burglary. Three years later (1857), the NYPD started issuing firearms. Nine years later ( 1866), 15 officers were murdered at close proximity within 0-6 feet with either a firearm, knife or club.
A Century later, a 1981 NYPD SOP 9ii reported 254 (NYPD) officers were killed in :firefights between September 1854 and December of 1979. Of the 254 officer fatalities, 205 (80. 7%) were killed within 6.feet.
The 1981 report also included a “sampling study of 4000 firefights” between 1929 and 1979. The sampling study included firefights where officer’s survived and officers were murdered. Once again, the sampling study discovered 51 % of all firefights occurred at close proximity –specifically between O and 10 feet. The 1981 report summarized the sampling study with the obvious.
“as the distance between the officer and assailant increased, so did the officer’s chance for survival. The obvious conclusion is that the most dangerous situation, is one in which the officer is in close proximity … ” ( 1981)
The 1981 SOP-9 report was a significant piece of research, and is now well established within the law enforcement and military training communities. The report reflects a broad view linking distance and officer firefight fatalities; 70% of all fatal firefights occur between 0-10 feet. The most compelling facet of this report was the constancy of the data over a Century of time.
Between 2010 and 2012, the research team began reviewing the FBI Law Enforcement Officer Killed and Assaulted (LEO KA) Reports against the context of firefight patterns that were human factor oriented. Using the FBI LEOKA reports, a refined analysis model was applied to the time period of 2001 through 2010.
During the 2001-2010 period, the FBI LEO KA documents 541 _officers were feloniously killed 111• Of the 541 victim officers, 496 were killed with firearms”‘ –51. 9 % of the victim officers were killed within 0-5 feet, and another 19.2% were killed between 6 and 10 feet. (See TPR Table 1.)
TPR Table 1
The 10-year analysis inunediately produced a l 0-year pattern (Distance/Officer Fatalitie.?) consisting of 50/20/20 variance emerges. (50% +/-at 0-5 feet, 20% +/-at 6-10 feet, 20% + at distances greater than 10 feet.)
The same analysis was repeated over a 30-year period (1981 and 2010). Again, a consistent 50/20/20 distance/officer.fatality pattern emerges as seen in TPR Table 2.
TPR Table 2
By combining the NYPD SOP-9 and the FBI-based TPR Table 2 research, the 50 / 20 / 20 Officer Fatality I Distance pattern could be tracked going back l 59 years.
In the fields of behavioral psychology, evolutionary psychology, motor learning behavior and human factors, the significance of distance is often linked to response time and accuracy. In the case of a lethal firefight, the distance between the assailant and a fallen officer provides investigators with a distance / response time / accuracy research template. As the 50 /20 / 20 “model” was significant finding, for it identified the related fatal officer statistics that needed to be researched.
Thus, a third analysis examined the location of the officer’s fatal wounds. Wound patterns is indicative of the targeting time the assailant had to kill the officer. The FBI LEOKA research team understood this dynamic, and in 2001 expanded the scope of.fatal wound location.
As represented in TPR Table 3, the 1981 through 2000 FBI fatal wound research indicates 33.3% of the victim officers were shot in the head, while 38.1% to 43.9% of the victim officers were killed from.front upper torso wounds. But a new dynamic evolved in the last decade …
Between 2001 and 2010, the FBI research (TPR Table 4) shows 51% of the officers were killed with front head wounds, 27.9% were killed with upper torso wounds, and 12.4% died from fatal side of the head wounds. Thus, a 50/20/20 (+/-)fatal wound pattern once again emerged between 2001 and 2010. More to the point, assailants have adopted a pattern of head-hunting!
TPR Table 3
Its is important to remember the head-hunting data is reflective of a 10 year pattern, in lieu of 30 years as with the other research categories. Yet, IO years of data reflects 248 fatal officer firefights — a number that cannot be considered insignificant. How do we interpret this research? Three “gunfight dynamics” must be contemplated with more research.
First, the trend of wearing body armor outside of the uniform for comfort, cannot be easily dismissed. In the post September 11 era, officer uniforms have become more “tactical” and the habit of wearing body armor on the outside of uniforms has become “trendy” under the auspices of comfort. But in the process, officers are clearly advertising the unprotected body parts.
Second, the subtleties of combat marksmanship distinguishes between two training models that both fall under the definition of precision. Hit accuracy — is the targeting of a silhouette sized target within 6-10 feet. Hit accuracy can be very fast, and can take as little as .3 seconds to raise and fire a weapon. However, hit accuracy is in reality nothing more than directional accuracy that consistently produces a 70% (+) shooting score on a man-sized target.
The goal of tactical precision accuracy is to stop a threat to an officer or an innocent third party immediately. Medical science has provided law enforcement/military with a battery of targets to instantly stop a threat, also known as a T (Terminal Zone). These targets encompass the head, neck and upper chest which holds the heart and major blood vessels. A secondary TZone target is the pelvic bowl, which when fractured, collapses the threat to the ground and results in the assailant’s inability to return fire with accuracy.
T-Zone precision is controlled precision. As such, precision is a coordinated neuromuscular event requiring cognitive (conscious) oversight to coordinate the precision of a (complex) motor skills. Thus, the conscious brain is actively involved in alignment of hundreds of micromotor skill adjustments affecting balance, posture, the visual system and the muscles controlling the coordination of the upper body, wrist, hand and fingers. But the combined cognitive and neuromuscular coordination, takes time — about 2 seconds — to hit a head size target at 6 feet in a time-compressed reactionary environment that has potential lethal results for the officer or innocent third parties. Time, therefore, is essential to precision.
The study of time in fatal officer firefights is challenging. The vast majority of fatal firefights the officer is alone. Relatively few events are dash-cam or third party recorded. What is learned about the officer fatality is gleaned from the crime scene evidence, the radio logs, blood spattering analysis, fatal wound location and the location of the officer’s firearm.
The latter — location of the fallen officer’s weapon — is a critical evidence in the determination of officer response capability and response time. A holstered weapon is indicative of four variables;
1. the officer failed to recognize lethal assault indicators.1. the officer failed to recognize lethal assault indicators.
2. the officer did not have sufficient threat recognition time to react.
3. the officer was a victim of the Startle/Freeze Response — a mechanism of the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) that triggers an involuntary freeze response.
Evidence illustrating the officer was pulling his weapon or fired a round short of aiming (a round fired directly in front of the officer), would indicate the officer had time to recognize the threat but lacked the time to evade and return fire with precision. And recovering a weapon that had been fired multiple times, indicates the officer was reacting to a perceived lethal force threat — but did not have the cognitive capability — time — to return fire with precision.
Beginning with the 2001 FBI LEOKA, the FBI began tracking officer responses to a firearms assault. The FBI categorized these responses in the format of Failed to Return Fire, Attempted
to Return Fire, and Returned Fire. The below TPR Table 4 (Officer’s Attempt to Ret11m Fire) reports 52% of the officers failed to return fire, 20.8% attempted to return fie, and 26.8%
returned fire. Once again, the FBI Officer Response research indicates a 50 I 20 I 20 (+/-) pattern.
TPR Table 4
Its important to note each 50 I 20 I 20 pattern has a +/- variance. But even with the variance, 50 I 20 I 20 pattern is consistent across 3 cornerstones of fatal officer firefights; distance, fatal wound location, and officer response. When applied against human factor research models, the FBI LEOKA research linked distance and ti111e as key cornerstones to studying officer firefight fatalities.
Close-proximity dangers are anything but new to the law enforcement profession. Generations of officers have known intuitively to “watch the hands”, “maintain the Reactionary Gap”, or to disengage to create distance when the officer’s intuitive silent alarm has been triggered. But the distance, wound location and officer response research appeared to be timeless and insensitive to 100 years of un-measurable advancements in training, tactics and technology? The research became even more compelling when the research was layered.
The nuances of timeless constancy evolved a new officer survival paradigm… What if the (50 / 20 I 20) patterns were indicative to the limits of human performance and not human error. If true, a vast majority of officer firefight fatalities were not subsequent to human error, and could be significantly reduced through nothing more than minor refinements — tweaks — to existing firearms training models.
Identifying the Limits of officer Firefight Performance
In 2010, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) and the Human Factor Research Group (HFRG) formed an alliance to study the dynamics of a lethal firearms
engagement (firefight). The central focus of the research was to apply a human factor research methodology to the sequential processes of a law enforcement firefight.
From a broad research perspective, applying the human factor research methodology would identify the assailant weapon draws, the assailant movement times and officer response limes. The research would also measure;
1. The difference between officer response times static and dynamic environments. Static officer response time would be triggered by a video scenario threat (assailant raising a weapon and firing) from a laser-based firearms simulator that had shoot-back technology installed. The dynamic environment would test officer’s response times in reaction to a (lethal force) video scenario that was complex, dynamic, time-compressed and had potentially lethal consequences. Thus, the researchers enhanced scenarios complexity to measure computational time.
2. The difference in officer response time in the context of hit accuracy and tactical precision accuracy. This research focused on the additional computation time an officer needs to hit a silhouette sized target, versus a T-Zone target that instantly stopped lethal assailant action directed to the officer or an innocent third party.
Research controls were established by using a laser-activated firearms training simulator with a shoot-back feature.
At the outset of the initiative, the FLETC/HFRG team agreed a law enforcement firefight was an sequential event that was triggered by an assailant’s threat indicators or lethal acts. The team also agreed to “follow the research”, instead of developing a hypothesis and developing a test model that pushed results in one of several directions.
The final research model became simple to execute; Identify the nature of lethal assailant “draws”, identify the associated assailant “draw” movement time, and measure the officer’s response time. This model would quickly determine if a law enforcement firefights were subject to the limits of human performance.
Time Motion Research:
The time-motion studies examined 4 firefight variables;
1. the time an assailant needs to raise and fire a weapon from the side of the leg, from an exposed and concealed weapon tucked inside of the front waistband, from a weapon tucked in the small of the back, and a concealed weapon drawn from the pocket of a hoodie.
2. the time an officer needs to raise a weapon from a high ready stance and fire with precision.
3. the time an officer needs to draw a holstered weapon and fire reflexively to attain hit accuracy.
4. the time an officer needs to draw a holstered weapon and return fire with tactical precision accuracy.
Each of the assailant draws was video-taped and contrasted to a chronometer that measured in the hundredths of a second. Officer response time was measured by using a laser-activated firearms training simulator with a shoot-back feature.
58 recruits at the end of their firearms training cycle were used as the control group. Each recruit participated in the same 7 video (threat) scenarios, each of which was designed to represent an unpredictable threat sequence that required officers to respond with speed or accuracy.
The fastest assailant draw (raising a weapon hanging by the side of the leg and firing) took as little at .37 and as long as .6 seconds.
Officer response time research fom a drawn high-ready stance, found officers could verify, attain threat acquisition and fire in as little as 1.08 seconds with a consistent accuracy of 29.7%. But when officers were told to respond with tactical precision accuracy — hitting the T-Zone -officer response time jumped to 2.26 seconds and produced an accuracy of 90.05%. The cognitive calculation time to attain precision accuracy added approximately 1.3 seconds.
Drawing a holstered added a marginal .1 – .2 of a second to officer response times. However, accuracy was clearly impacted by the addition of time; response times of 2.32 seconds produced accuracy scores of 85.8%, while response times of 2.61 seconds jumped the accuracy to 92.6%.
Implications of Time Motion Research:
1. An assailant’s movement time to draw and fire was as quick as .37 seconds. Note: .3 seconds is equal to the speed of an eye blink.
2. Officer High-ready stance Response Time was 1.08 seconds with an accuracy of 29%. When accuracy was reinforced, response times jumped to 2.26 seconds producing 90.05%accuracy. Thus, the additional 1.18 seconds of cognitive controlled coordination increased accuracy by a 61 %.
3. Officer Response time from a holstered weapon was 2.32 seconds recording an 85.8%. When accuracy was reinforced, drawn holstered response times jumped marginally to 2.61 seconds for accuracy results of 92.6%.
The time-motion studies validated officers are subject the limiting factors of action/reaction/response time laws. Put simply — it is scientifically impossible for an officer to “out-respond” an assai [ant that has started the act of firing on an officer. If an officer respond from a holster, the assailant can fire in .37 seconds in contrast to the officer needing reflexively. If the officer is drawing a weapon, the officer needs 2.32 seconds. If precision is mandated — for whatever reason — the officer needs 2.61 seconds. In either case, the officer’s response time is behind the assailant by a 2 (+/-)second variance.
The action/reaction time research explains why officers are so easily killed at close proximity distances, and explains why assailants can easily target the officer’s head. It also explains why officer accuracy in a firefight is an oxymoron.
But what explains officer’s failure to “see” threat patterns developing at 6 and IO feet?
The human visual system consists of “layers” of inter-connecting visual receptors and visual fields that create a seamless and precise view of the world. The visual system is so effective, that every second of visual processing is an illusion. For example, man has a blind spot — a gap in visual field capture — that is automatically filled in by the brain. Additionally, the human eye is constantly jumping (saccades) to capture static and moving targets. The speed of eye saccades takes anywhere from .02 seconds to .2 seconds, with the total blink time taking .3-.4 seconds. Yet, we are never aware of the eye jumping or the constant blinking.
Seeing involves the transmission of light energy fom the exterior surface of the cornea to the inner surface of the Retina. These images are processed in the back of the eye through cells known as cones (designed to capture fine detail and color) and rods (designed to detect movement and light intensity.
The highest concentration of cones is found in the center of the Retina. Known as the Fovea/a, it has a radius of 0.6 degrees and is compacted with cones that detect green, red and blue. The Foveola gives us the highest degree of precision clarity. But at six feet, the Foveal Field of Vision is only 1.5 inches in diameter at 6 feet, and 2.5 inches at 10 feet.
Line of sight vision is referred to as the Central Visual Field. It is a product of the Macula. The Macula has a 5 degree radius and produces “clarity” — but not precision focus — to the central I 0 degrees of our visual field. The Central Visual Field is 12.7 inches in diameter at 6 feet and 21.1 inches at 10 feet.
Everything_ outside of the Central Visual Field is considered the Peripheral Visual field. The peripheral field is subsequent to the lack of cones in the periphery of the Retina. This area is only constructed of rods, which provide exceptional motion detection and contrast. However, the Peripheral field has zero cones — so there is no ability to detect precision outside of 12.7 inches in diameter at 6 feet and 21.1 inches at IO feet.
Focused Vision (aka Foveal Field of Vision) is only 1.5 inches in diameter at 6 feet, and 2.5 inches at 10 feet. The Central Visual Field is 12.7 inches in diameter at 6 feet and 21.1 inches at 10 feet. The peripheral Visual Field has no ability to detect precision focus.
When contemplated in the context of the “what can an officer see at 6 and IO feet”, the construct of the rod and cone configuration explains why officers routine state “I never saw …. ” They were telling the truth.
The following illustration accurately depicts the limitations of the visual system in the context of a firearms engagement.
Reel Dot: depicts the diameter of the Foveal Visual Field of Focus
Green Zone: depicts the diameter of the Central (Macula) Visual Field.
All objects outside of the green zone, are undetectable to the human eye at 6 or 10 feet.
The limits of human performance must be reconsidered in the valuation of officer firefight fatalities.
Note: The below targeting system is designed to compliment the cone configuration within the Retina. The configuration is designed to segment attention.