Thursday, January 06, 2011

Line of Duty

Ralph Painter, the police chief in Ranier, Oregon, was killed yesterday, apparently in a struggle with a suspect at a car stereo store. The Chief was in his mid-fifties, the force he commanded only five officers strong, town of 1800 people. First LEO to die in the line of duty there in the town's history.

A terrible thing.

Story here.

When Guru Plinck has classes at his house in Washington, my preferred route is via Hwy 30, which winds along the Columbia through several small towns on the Oregon side. During rush hour, it's faster than the interstate, and a much more pleasant drive. 

The bridge into Washington is from Ranier to Longview, and you get a good look at Ranier because the speed limit through the little town is 25 mph. More than a few times I've driven through speed traps there. Goes from 55 to 40 to 25 mph in the space of a few hundred yards and if you try to blow through town at anything faster than 25, you are apt to get pulled over.

When I heard the story on the local newscast yesterday, the basic narrative was that the suspect was screwing around with a car being worked on that wasn't his. Employees called it in, the Chief came to check it out. A struggle ensued, the Chief was shot, officers from Ranier and some of the other small towns converged and shot the suspect. 

The shooter, from Kalama, a tiny town just down the road on the Washington side, had a record of  mostly-car stuff, DUIIs and speeding -- and was apparently a drinker and a dope-smoker -- plus there was a malicious mischief charge, but no indication of violence at this level. The picture of him shows a well-built jock, though not that big, and I'm willing to bet he was stoned on something when this went down. 

The tone of the story suggested to me that the kid -- he's 21 -- managed to get the Chief's weapont. Subsequent reports support that. And the arriving back-up fired at least eight times, plus or minus, and the not-severely-wounded suspect was transported to a hospital in Portland, where he is expected to survive. A picture of him being herded cuffed into a unit indicates he wasn't shot too bad. 

Witnesses say as many as thirty officers showed up.

Again, that fight-or-flight stuff. Eight rounds, probably more. Why isn't the shooter dead? Because when the adrenaline flows, the hands shake. There were windows across the street being blown out, the local preacher says they hit the floor just before rounds came through, spraying them with glass.

It's still speculation at this point, but if the suspect managed to get the Chief's gun, what an awful tragedy that is. 

It is tragic in any event.

The stats indicate that of LEO's killed by gunfire in the line of duty in the U.S., about one in ten or twelve is shot with his or her own service weapon. They make special retention holsters to stop this -- the Blackhawk is advertised on gun night on the Outdoor Channel frequently. Safariland and Uncle Mike's also make these.

There are apparently four levels of retention for sidearm holsters, from Level I to Level IV, with IV being the most effective. Level I is supposed to protect against a snatch and grab attack for at least five seconds. According to Massad Ayoob, no officer with a Level III retention holster has ever had his weapon taken from one and used against him. Apparently Level II is what most departments who require these mandate. 

There are other devices connected to the gun itself, though I'm not sure how reliable they are. There's a safety for revolvers that requires a magnetic ring or the gun won't fire. And fingerprint readers built into the grips. Guns with manual safeties have saved lives, though most nines and forties these days don't have those -- no Glock does.

Good retention holsters run from thirty to forty-five or fifty bucks. From LEO's to whom I've talked, such devices aren't popular because they believe it will slow them down too much if they need to draw in a hurry. Come the dill, you don't want to be fumbling with your fucking holster, trying to claw your piece out, and I can understand that. But if you are apt to be wresting with somebody, the old advice to newbie officers is that there is always a gun at the scene of every arrest -- yours ...


Dave Huss said...

We used a class three, and Steve, it just wasn't that big of a deal. Took a little muscle memory to get use to, but it was yours, and if you weren't an idiot, you played with the thing until you were comfortable with it. I don't advocate absolutely EVERY piece of safety gear that comes down the pike, but some things are a minimum.
Condolances to the guys family, the department, and the community. Always hate to lose a good guy.

Captain Tightpants said...

If you will permit me to offer some additional info/minor corrections to your post with all respect sir:

A Level One holster is considered to have no "retention" beyond that of the securing device holding the weapon in the holster (i.e., the flap, thumb snap, etc) - this is what must be able to "resist" a pull for a five second duration. A Level Two will have an additional item beyond this, a Level III two additional etc. However, do not think of a Level I holster as being particularly secure to a determined grab and struggle - especially during the multiple movements and risks of a close-quarters encounter.

Generally, for most concealed carry applications (NOT police duty belt, but other police applications apply) a Level One or Two holster is sufficient - particularly if one trains as a student of arms to maintain awareness of yourself and others so that an adversary cannot gain or maintain an unchallenged grip upon the holstered weapon.

For duty belt use a Level II is the minimum recommended, and I personally do not instruct or recommend anything over a Level III. Level III and IV holsters are found more in the inventories of agencies (and private security) who are more afraid of their officers actually drawing the weapon than of them using it when needed.

With training a competent user should be expected to grasp the pistol, release all mechanisms, draw, acquire sights and fire on a target inside of 1.5 seconds. If you cannot do this with the holster, repeatedly, and under stress, it is time to look at what you are carrying.

Of course, YMMV, and I am just offering my opinions and experience after twenty years of working with various types. I've seen (and carried) the gamut from cloth to leather to polymers; had holsters which would lose the pistol before you realized it & others you had to fight the gorram thing more than you did the bad guy. We are fortunate today to have a wealth of options, technology and real-world experience which has changed the playing field & made defensive arms carriers safer than ever while still allowing them to access the tools when needed.

Like everything in the school of arms, the holster you carry is a compromise between factors of concealment, accessibility, retention and ease of access. What I needed in the military jumping out of helicopters and airplanes is different than what I used as a street cop, and is different from what I need when carrying concealed at a social function. Examining your needs and tailoring the tools to the task is always superior to the "one size fits all" approach.

Sorry if I got on a soapbox, and edit/delete as you wish sir!

Steve Perry said...

Works for me, Cap. Past a tension screw or a thumb snap, concealed carry doesn't seem to need the same stuff.

Jim said...

I'm a working cop, and my duty holster is Level II or III depending on exactly how it's set up. I admit; mine probably rides closer to Level II. Fastest I've ever drawn was when I was charged by a rabid woodchuck; I drew on the move, and my gun was in my hand like magic. Practice ingrains the motion and muscle memory takes over. I can't tell you how many times I've drawn over the years... Off duty gear is pretty consistently Level II; the features to raise the retention level restrict concealability, in my experience.

Weapon retention is a skill that takes practice and refresher training. I'm not a fan of the methods taught in a lot DT programs because they consist of either deflect the grab (if you see/sense it) or try like hell to keep the gun in the holster. I'm more impressed with methods that carry the fight back to the grabber pretty aggressively, while still working on keeping it. Or just plain shoot 'em if they guy is grabbing at your gun while it's out. (Hey, he's trying to disarm me, I'm in mortal danger if he succeeds.) I like Captain Tightpants's comments about Level III and IV holsters...

As to the various other gadgets... I'm not a fan. I think that the Glock is a damn near ideal cop gun. No external safety to deal with. (I don't know a cop who hasn't at least once tried to fire a shotgun with the safety on, for example.) No decocker to deal with later. And damn hard to get screwed up enough that it won't go bang at least on the round in the chamber. Add any of that other stuff, and the gun gets less likely to go bang when it needs to. The various rings/fingerprint readers/whatevers all seem likely to fail when they're most needed. (This from the guy who had to take a cabinet door off when the magnetic catch wasn't working right after child-proofing...) There are good arguments for magazine safeties that keep the gun from firing if the magazine is dropped or safeties that keep a gun from firing if it's out of battery... but I still hang up on the idea that the more there is to make the gun less likely to go BANG, the more there is to go wrong when I need it to go bang!

The chief here was doing his job, like so many other tiny agency chiefs who where both the chief hat and have to hit the streets. It's worth remembering that most agencies in the US are smaller than 20 officers...

perlhaqr said...

I'm not a cop, but my open carry rig is still a level 2 retention holster. I have, in fact, one of the blackhawk units. (Sorry, BLACKHAWK! ;) )

Given the position of my hand during my drawstroke, hand in the firing grip on the gun while it's still in the holster, trigger finger indexed along the slide of the gun, this puts my trigger finger in the precise position required to hit the release button on the retention holster, allowing me to draw.

Obviously, this is something one should practice. I didn't go with a level 3 holsters, because those units were all a.) twice as expensive, b.) built on a canted belt platform to allow the weapon to clear body armor and thus stuck out about a half a foot from my body, and c.) less adjustable than the blackhawk unit.

As for the fancy techno-wizardry, well, maybe I can see it for police, who put themselves in contact with criminals all day, but I'm sure not going to put any of it on any gun I own.

My Krav (CKM branch) instructor is an ex-LEO, and teaches a course in weapon retention and other LEO specific tactics. (Using Krav to detain rather than maim and run away, mostly.) We all put yellow guns or real guns with yellow barrels in our holsters, and spent time trying to take them away from each other. Then we spent time just wearing the gear, with the instruction that we should randomly try to take other people's guns away. I was pleased by how difficult that is to do from the "wrong" side. :)