Thoughts on How to Avoid Being Identified as a Threat: Part 01

| October 21, 2015 | 18 Comments

If you’re reading this, you aren’t a typical gun owner, and you aren’t even a typical student of fight-focused training.

You’re reading this article because you believe there is a chance that you’ll be a first responder in the event of an active shooter situation.

I recently wrote about a multi-layer approach to telling good guys from bad guys. The natural follow up question was: “how do keep from being identified as a bad guy?”

I am working with some very talented people about this, but I’m going to give you the short answer:

You DON’T.

Every action carries risk. If you decide to get involved in a violent confrontation, whether you use your tools to escape from an active shooter or actively going on the counter-attack, you run the risk of being killed by accident.

There are several things we could do to minimize the risk of misidentification, but none of them, even if combined, grant you a magical shield of safety.

If you choose to act, someone could kill you. That someone might be the bad guy you see, or the bad guy you don’t. It might even be a good guy — law enforcement officer, security guard, or other armed citizen.

That being said, some of you are going to go into the scrum anyway. Here are some ways to avoid being identified as a threat:

  • Don’t point guns at people unnecessarily, especially women and children.
  • Lead from the front, don’t direct the rear. Following people from behind with an exposed firearm may look like someone herding hostages.
  • Consider a “tape loop” of things you would say ahead of time. We train to say the following:
    1. “GET OUT OF THE WAY!”
    2. “Don’t move!”
    3. “Drop your weapon!”
    4. “Get away from me!”Compare these things to what active shooters have said in the past. There is no profanity, no heavenly inspirational phrases, no anti-law enforcement or anti-establishment rants. All of these phrases were selected because they are affirmative without being aggressive, and defensive without sounding defenseless.

Some ideas I want to test, as part of my developing work with people more qualified than myself:

  • Does moving with a purpose (e.g., from concealment to concealment, using Sul instead of port arms or High Sabrina, staying low) help identify you as a good guy, bad guy, or neither?
  • Does shouting “HELP!” or “POLICE!!” help identify you as a good guy, bad guy, or neither?
  • At what point do we change our “profile?” Meaning, is there a point where we should be loud, and a point where we should be quiet? Does our profile change our risk of being identified as an aggressor?

Here are some suggestions from others (mostly law enforcement and/or firearms instructors) that seem worth consideration:

  • Immediately surrender to police, even before they see you. If you see or hear them coming, holster / lay down your weapon and lie face down on the floor with your arms out and ankles crossed.
  • Immediately and fully comply with police as it pertains to the current tactical situation. Identify yourself. Give information about the aggressors, if you made contact, if you gave aid to wounded, etc. Expect to get handled roughly, this will be “an exciting moment.”
  • Don’t carry a PDW or SBR. Law enforcement is probably more likely to associate handguns as a weapon carried by a CCW, and an SBR / PDW with an active shooter. Think about this point real hard, and be willing to accept the risks if you choose to carry more than a pistol.

Something I am not currently considering is an article of clothing that may identify me as a good guy. A popular suggestion is the “CCW Sash” made by DSM Safety Banners, but others have suggested a vest or panel that says POLICE on it.

The reason I don’t like the sash or similar is because there is already a lot of stuff going on when you deploy your PDW / SBR. In live fire and in force on force training I’ve learned every little motion adds up to be a lot longer than we perceive.

I’ve written repeatedly that a bag-carried weapon is not for fast deployment. It’s a counter-attack or force multiplier tool that needs to be accessed from cover and with time.

Would you have time to throw a sash or a vest on? If you’re already digging around in your bag, you may be in a situation where you do.

For me, it just seems like an extra thing to wear and worry about. I’ve already discarded the idea of a sling, for example.

At least one of my readers has a large POLICE patch attached to the inside of his EDC bag. If he deploys his PDW / SBR, then the POLICE patch is visible. I have reservations about this approach. At the very least, it’s only useful if someone can see you from whatever side the patch is on.

I have also discarded the idea of telling someone to call for help and telling the police I’m a good guy. I am not going to trust a random person to correctly identify me and also believe I’m there to help. Even then, it’s up to the 911 operator to pass along the information correctly to a dispatcher, who then has to relay it to the responding officers accurately.

If there’s someone I do trust that could call and identify me correctly, they’d better have a blaster in their hands instead helping me get out.

Bottom line: it’s your bottom on the line

Even if we did all of these things there’s no guarantee we won’t be mis-identified. Being the first responder to an active shooter will always be risky.

Think about your acceptance of risk ahead of time, formulate a plan for reducing “blue-on-orange” mis-identification, and train, train train.


About the Author:

Short Barrel Shepherd Short Barrel Shepherd is a regular guy and works to make Web sites and mobile apps easier for people to use. He spends his free time attending fight-focused firearm, knife, and combatives training, motorcycling, writing, and playing games. His daily carry is a Glock 19 pistol and an AR15 .300 Blackout pistol in a backpack.

18 Comments on "Thoughts on How to Avoid Being Identified as a Threat: Part 01"

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  1. CR Williams says:

    “Does moving with a purpose (e.g., from concealment to concealment, using Sul instead of port arms or High Sabrina, staying low) help identify you as a good guy, bad guy, or neither?”

    Given the reported behavior of active shooters in most (not all, but most) incidents, it at least identifies you as someone knowledgeable and experienced which can differentiate you from ‘first-level’ active shooters (which so far is most of what we see in the US). In general it depends on the ‘totality of circumstances’ as to whether you can be properly identified as good to bad in other’s eyes as well as their own experience and knowledge about the matter.

    Covert and semi-covert ready and movement-carry positions should also be considered not just to help keep you safer but to reduce the possibility of the threat seeing and firing on you sooner than you need them to or someone knocking the gun out of your hand in passing or trying to seize control of it.
    Excellent thoughts, here.

  2. thebronze says:

    Gun-work is inherently very dangerous. There’s just no getting around that fact. The only thing you can do is to try and mitigate the risks as much as possible. However, you can’t mitigate them down to Zero.

  3. EMP-Tactical says:

    In terms of identifying items, I suggest two things to create just enough pause to cause the type of hesitation that could help to identify you as good guy. One would be “concealed carry” badge that could either be worn around the neck, or flipped out and hung on the front pocket. And, the other would be a patch with 3-8 Letters that can serve as an official looking acronym without actually saying FBI, POLICE, MARSHALS, SWAT, SHERIFF, etc. Letters in the right white font on a hat, a shirt, a vest, carrier, and jacket looks “government official.” Yet, you don’t run the risk of being accused of impersonating an officer. For instance, I use a patch on a hat, jacket, and shirt that says EMP-UNIT. Coupled with a concealed carry badge, one looks somewhat official.

    • Visionque says:

      Get CERT trained and wear their vest. Take training and become a CLEET certified security guard. Wear a security guard badge on your belt. Wear a blaze orange vest with SECURITY on it. Get EMT training. Wear a vest with EMT on it. First option is free. Second and third options costs a little but will give you a part time job on weekends.

      • Dr David Dale says:

        What is CERT training. I would like to learn more about it.

      • Ricebrnr says:

        I am on a CERT team and have toyed with the idea of using my CERT vest in such situations. I am going to guess most teams have prohibitions on wearing CERT gear at non CERT events besides the firearms aspect.
        More importantly what are the chances you’ll have that vest on you when a critical incident happens. My CERT gear is in my car. If I am near it, likely I am already away from the danger and not likely to run back into it unless me or mine are in it.

  4. Chris H. says:

    The biggest thing about stopping an active shooter is closing with the person as quickly as possible. If you decide not to run, not to hide, then the only option is immediate suppression. If you have time to go to your car or truck for a long gun then you have time to call 911. Put in a blue tooth and communicate, that is the key. In a high stress situation its loud, its hot, its hectic. Put yourself in law enforcement shoes, they are showing up looking for a guy with a gun, DONT LOOK LIKE THE GUY WITH A GUN.

  5. B R Kurtz B R Kurtz says:

    Speaking as a Cop, my first reaction is to get the “job” done before police arrive. Depending on your location that could be several minutes. Next dont worry about searching for every Bad Guy. You just need to clear your escape route. Let the Police do the search and clean up for the rest of “them”.

    Calling 911 and describing will only confuse the responding officers who will have dispatch screaming clothing descriptions in their heads–do you really want your description mixed up with the bad guys? A badge might help (until the Bad Guys start wearing them too), but sadly a lot of cops shoot the “cop targets” by mistake in training. Also sadly most cops wont know Suhl from Port arms–better is to keep the gun hidden–YES I KNOW its slower but a hidden gun isnt a threat to a hyped up officer responding to an Active Shooter

    Get “It Done” and “get out” before the PD arrives

  6. van der lin says:

    so, I see no one pointed this you to you here, probably elsewhere, but i might suggest that if you want to not be confused w/ some muslim terrorist you might should shave the beard. Running around w/ that thing and an AK doesn’t look good for brother.

  7. Mike Love says:

    I shaved my beard and went back to high and tight haircuts, after ten years of looking like Phil Robertson, for that very reason. That and a white USMC ball cap will hopefully help in the fog of combat.

  8. Bob says:

    I know this is an old-ish article, but have you thought about carrying a police radio, so if one of these situations does occur, you could go straight to the source. This is probably illegal in most (if not all) states, but I would rather serve a misdemeanor then end up dead or serious wounded.

    • Short Barrel Shepherd Short Barrel Shepherd says:

      Hi there, I’m not sure about the legality of running a police radio, but from a practical concern it’s another piece of gear to purchase, learn to use, keep in the bag, and keep charged up.

      Also, I wonder how many active shooter communications go out in the clear instead of encrypted channels (which I am guessing WOULD be illegal to communicate on).

      Interesting idea, thank you for posting.

      • CR Williams says:

        Maybe a portable scanner instead of a police radio. As to what goes out clear, I was able to listen to a recent AS LE response on an Internet scanner site while it was in progress. Some of them still go clear.

        • Ricebrnr says:

          You don’t need to purchase a scanner. If you have a smart phone you can get an app and many safety services have live feeds. I was able to listen to the Boston Bombing aftermath in near real time. But as in the article, do you have time to deploy that and do you want that noise in your ear when you need to be looking and listening for the threat?

  9. DTSTACTICAL says:

    As a Professional Firearms Self-Defense Instructor that train alot with Law Enforcment Officers & Agency’s; I have a couple of sugestional imputs:

    1). Try to train with them at the local Department or Regional Academy. (They are always looking for volunteer cilivans to act as roll players for Force on Force Training, Shoot or Don’t Shoot seniero’s, and various other training classes). This will help you to learn their protocols, understand how and why they justify response to sititutations, meet new and seasoned officers that are assigned to the street and special units. The more they know you, the more both of you benifit from this type of training and drills.

    2). Get with the local Police/ Sheriff’s Department and find out who is incharge of their training. They may be able to give you some feedback on what they look for as far as an off dity officer in ghat type of situtation; maybe not right off the bat; but probably more willing to especially after they get to know you!

    3). The jacket with the hidden pocket patch is a good idea. I have one that says the word “AGENT”. I used to be a security agent and that was out title. Most think of Federal LEO’s when they see the word AGENT; but without any other words printed or displayed; it could in all reality be used to identify a Real Estate Agent. With using the words of Deputy, Sheriff, Police, Security, ect. you could easily be prosicuted for misrepresentation of Law Enforcment; Especially while in posession of any type of metallic Badge / Firearm combination.

    3). I usually wear clothes that are similar to what any Off Duty Officer or Deputy Sheriff would; and I always try to carry myself in a professional manor. (Strong Body Posture, No Baggy Pants, Always wear a belt, be groomed neatly, No Obscene tee-shirts, and try to maintain a professional demeanor at all times).
    The more you have that “Military / LE look”; the more it will be assumed. (Ya we all know about Concealed Handgun Permits and most folks probably have one; but…everybody that sees a person in public, thats in posession of handgun…… first thoughts are… Cop (Good Guy)?? or Crook (Bad Guy)?? Reason is thats all you ever see on TV. and the TV educates all of us, at all ages!
    Face it….You never see a show or any other positive immage on TV of any roll model civilian with a Concealed Carry Permit.

    4). Participate in a “Ride-a-Long” shift if the agancy has this program available. Most agencys/ Dept.’s do; as it can expose civilans to the actual Patrol side of the Law Enforcment career to see if they are serious about this as a career choice. (It’s a good way get in the door to gain some imput from some good Officer’s pertaining to identifying your self as a good guy and ya may even find yourself wanting to persue a new career path.)

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