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The Mindset Behind The SWAT OIS in Seattle

If you have not seen the video, check it out below (and follow the Officer Involved channel).  It shows a hostage-type situation where a guy takes a small child/baby hostage and a few SWAT officers show up which led a single officer to shoot a single suppressed round into said hostage-taker, missing the baby.  A bunch of things happened all at once and the social media sphere has been pretty vocal about this, I wanted to explain a few concepts we see in the video.

At around 2:01 in the video, the body camera wearing officer either makes contact or sees the hostage-taker start to run.  At that time the SWAT officer you see in the photo above runs out in front and tries to catch up to the hostage-taker behind the houses.

At around 2:12 you hear a single "tschk" sound which came from the suppressed rifle the above SWAT officer was using.  It was almost simultaneous with the body camera wearing officer's verbal commands.  Clearly, the SWAT officer had made the correct decision to shoot as he reasonably believed the hostage was in immediate danger of death or serious injury.

2:17 you hear an officer repeatedly saying "stop stop stop" and "slow down" - this is extremely important and I'll get to that further in this write-up.

At 2:20 you hear "pick the baby up" which should be self-evident, but is it?

2:24 you hear an officer tell radio "shots fired" calmly.

2:28 sounds like the cavalry arrived and you hear "are you ok?"

From the onset of the video to the conclusion was around 30 seconds, time in motion of the short foot pursuit to OIS was about 10 seconds.  That's ten seconds of a short sprint to a single very important shot, well placed, and a situation de-escalated immediately.  Likely this situation went on, before and after, for many minutes which included driving code to and having to consider the possibilities of a small child/baby being hurt, all the way to post incident considerations.  That would spike anyone's heart rate.

Learning to make very accurate shots during stressful situations is extremely important, and it is not something that can be done by just doing square range theatrics and drills.  It requires the experience of force on force, confidence in your ability to make a very low probability shot with the weapon system you are using, and the training to put it all together while under stress.  That training is usually reserved for those who have real-world experience because there is no way to really get that type of experience otherwise.  Force on force is as close as it gets but it won't ever substitute the real deal.  That doesn't mean you cannot perform well in reality if you have never been exposed to it before, it just means you have a higher probability of experiencing the perils of higher heart rates, questions of confidence and your overall ability to perform through it all.  Every new officer goes through this type of thing early in their career, some overcome it, some do not.

I have written a bunch of articles on how heart rate and use of force intertwine for LE, I readily refer to stress during a high stress situation as "riding the wave" of adrenaline and that's exactly what is happening here.  The SWAT officer who was in front likely had an upped heart rate as soon as he arrived at that location with the other officers, the moment they began to chase the hostage-taker, the stress of the foot pursuit likely bumped up that officer's heart rate some more, remember it's already higher than normal.  Having personally experienced these types of situations, responding to violent crimes in progress, I can tell you without hesitation that each of the officer's heart rates was likely spiking at this point.  But they weren't at the ceiling yet.

The moment the SWAT officer shot the hostage-taker he began to be pushed by the wave, he either surfs the rest of the way in or he gets overcome by the wave, dragged under its current.  The SWAT officer is going to have a radical spike in his heart rate at that time, it's inevitable and completely normal.  He may not have the ability to think critically at this point and he may be completely overcome by one of the many condition black supported temporary conditions.  He may have tunnel vision, auditory exclusion or inclusion, he may have enhanced sensory perception, and that's just to name a few of the things which happen each time anyone goes into this type of high heart rate state.  He did the best possible thing he could have in this situation after shooting the hostage-taker, nothing.  He just stood there, covering the hostage-taker, and waited for his backup to show up, so an officer who was not riding the same adrenaline wave as him to take control of the scene.  This is why it is important, especially in an LE setting, for another officer to literally "slow it down" because once the threat has been stopped there needs to a calculated response.  The best possible thing was to have the situation slowed down.  Every officer there was likely riding a wave of adrenaline of some kind, it is important to understand that because their reactions, the statements made are important and indicative of this.

One of the officers told police radio that there were shots fired, that's good because others didn't do it, the reason is that they weren't thinking about it.  Their brains were focusing on and prioritizing other things.  One of the officers made a statement to "pick the baby up" this is also important because if no one said anything they may not have done that right away.  They may have just tried to handcuff the hostage-taker first.  When you watch some videos of officers dealing with armed individuals, sometimes you see the second or third officer kick or move the weapon away from the bad guy, that's because the primary contact officer is often not thinking about it as they already took action, this is why having backup officers is important.  Slowing things down make sure everything works properly, it shows real-world acceptance of responsibility for their actions.

None of the above is to say that the officers were incapable of doing anything on their own or once they have discharged their weapon, it is to point out that another officer coming in and slowing things down is a good idea and just as important as directly engaging in the situation, to begin with.  Handling the scene, giving officers direction, rendering medical and everything else that goes into that is just as important.  Remember some states will always grand jury an OIS-officer where someone is shot.  So maintaining the scene/evidence is a must.

Training is the way.

There is an absolute need for training and developing an offensive (feeder) mindset.  This is particularly important because if you look at the concepts around training, you are constantly doing something, repetitively, and you may never actually use those skillsets which you put so much time into.  However, when you do need those skillsets, you are either extremely confident in their application and your ability to apply them or you may hesitate.  The SWAT officer likely has had to make those types of semi-quick low probability, but a high requirement for accuracy, shots in training often, probably over numerous times in his training throughout his career.  All of that training culminated in a single shot, taken after a few seconds of action, that's it.  Years of training, likely thousands of reps, all done for one moment, all done for one single trigger pull.  Consider the outcome if the SWAT officer had missed his target? Consider the outcome if the SWAT officer had hit the child/baby because of a lack of consistent training and a weak mindset?  Situations like this are why you should take your training seriously enough to understand that you need more than square range theatrics.  You need more than simple drills and gun games.  There has to be a verified and logical mindset behind the drills you shoot and the reps you make.  This type of situation is completely applicable to anyone who carries a firearm every day.  You simply need to consider the consequences of failure to train properly and work to develop the proper aggressive mindest.