A couple of years ago I wrote a short book about the shooting of Oscar Grant by BART police, early on New Year’s Day 2009. Unsurprisingly, I got a fair amount of online hate for not concluding that it was just another racist Oakland cop shooting a black man because he thought he’d get away with it. Does that happen sometimes? I’m sure it does – it’s pretty much inevitable that when you have a few hundred thousand police officers there’ll be the occasional bad apple. Did it happen at the Fruitvale BART station in the first hours of 2009? I really don’t think so. I think Oscar Grant died because BART police either didn’t understand how people work under pressure, or did understand but ignored it to save the price of a few holsters.
What went wrong in Oakland that night is a long and complicated story, but what it boils down to is that the BART police bought one holster for each of their Taser X26 weapons, instead of one for each officer as Taser International recommend. That meant officers were routinely handed a Taser in a holster that had been set up for someone else. The X26 holster can be set up a number of ways, but changing between them means removing five screws and needs both a screwdriver and a hex key. Officers, pressed for time at shift changes, usually just wore it the way it was already set up.
Unfortunately, the department had a vague policy on Tasers. The rules said you could set the holster to allow a draw with the non-dominant hand, or with the dominant hand but the weapon holstered on the non-dominant side of the body (in other words a cross draw). When officer Johannes Mehserle went on duty on the 31st of December 2008, he was wearing a cross-draw holster; his previous Taser experience was all with a straight draw using his left – non-dominant – hand. What seems to have happened is that when he decided to stun Oscar Grant he dropped his right hand to his belt to perform a cross draw with the Taser – and then muscle memory took over. Instead of grabbing the yellow plastic shock weapon, his hand automatically went to his SIG-Sauer P226, which he practiced drawing at least a dozen times a day.
If Mehserle had his own Taser holster, set up the way he preferred, the Grant shooting – and the expensive mayhem that followed it – would probably never have happened. He’d have been able to practice drawing the Taser the same way he did the pistol, and when he took the decision to stun Grant – which he did; eyewitnesses heard him shout, “Stand back! I’m going to tase him!” – he’d have known to use his left hand. That hand would have been drilled to grab the Taser, so that’s what it would have done.
It doesn’t matter how good your equipment is if you can’t use it properly, so practice is essential. The main benefit of practice, once you’ve mastered the basics, is that it builds muscle memory. Every time you change something – how you set up your holster, where you keep your spare magazines – you need to launch into a concentrated program of practice. If you don’t then, when you’re under stress and getting it right in a hurry matters, the old muscle memory will surface. Practice will create the new instincts you need to use your new setup. So, if you’ve bought a new vest, or moved your ammo pouches around, then you’re going to have to spend some time dry training with it. Otherwise, you risk spending some time in jail listening to the neighbourhood burning outside, because you heard a bang when you expected a zap.
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.