Combating Contagious Fire

On September 28, 2016 members of the Philadelphia Police Department faced something no officer even dreams of encountering – a deranged individual on a rampage. On that Wednesday evening, 32 year old Christopher Sowell beat, choked and stabbed five people, including his own children, before being shot by nine PPD officers. Of course, the community has questions but most do not center on why Sowell was shot but why he was shot so many times.

Although the District Attorney’s Office continues its investigation, there appears to be little doubt as to whether or not the shooting was justified – just ask the terrified and injured who were on the receiving end of Sowell’s attack. It would be very reasonable to state the officers involved were justified under Pennsylvania Law, which allows the use of deadly force to prevent death or serious bodily injury to the officers or others. However, there are questions concerning why officers fired what some are calling an excessive number of rounds – 109 rounds to be exact.

But Police Commissioner Richard Ross has a possible answer – contagious gunfire.  Ross explained that the current theory is that a small number of the officers present observed and recognized a threat and reacted. Upon hearing the gunfire, other officers reacted by also firing their weapons – either because they believed they were under fire from the suspect or as a supportive action in response to their fellow officers being in what they perceived as a gun battle.  Although each officer fired only an average of 12 rounds, less than the standard 15 round LE Glock magazine, those rounds add up quickly.

range-trainingI know some of you are shaking your heads, wondering where Commissioner Ross came up with this crazy idea. But, if you have ever run a firearms range or experienced combat, you are probably thinking it’s not so crazy after all.  Anyone who has spent enough time on the line or shooting under stress has seen someone firing for no reason other than that the guy next to him was firing. We would like to say it doesn’t happen, but it does and it should be something you train for.

So, how do you train someone to NOT fire their weapon? The same way you train them to identify threats, shoot the correct target or conduct a host of other necessary firearms related skills – drills. Most “shoot, don’t shoot drills” are conducted one on one, the officer against targets or possibly a computer. But, if you have officers conduct this training together, or at least in close proximity, you can easily add a contagious fire component.

Simply offer each officer involved different scenarios, timed so one officer will be on guard or offering a verbal challenge while the other is engaging a threat.  The more officers conducting the drill at the same time the better; not only will it increase the stress level, but also increase the possibility of one or more peers falling prey to contagious fire.

Once you have identified the possibility for a problem, you can then adjust your training program accordingly to address the deficiencies – something which will go a long way in protecting you and your department should a citizen ever file a lawsuit.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Tom Burrell

Tom enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves in 1987. Following service in Desert Storm, he transitioned to active duty with the US Coast Guard. In 1997 he left the USCG to pursue a position in conservation & maritime law enforcement. Tom is currently a Captain and he oversees several programs, including his agency investigation unit. He is also a training instructor in several areas including firearms, defensive tactics and first aid/CPR. In 2006 Tom received his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Harrisburg Area Community College and in 2010 a Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State University.
Tom Burrell
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