Lessons From a Police Ambush

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On January 7, 2016, Officer Jason Harnett, from the Philadelphia Police Department, come under fire as he sat in his patrol car. The attacker, Edward Archer, emptied 13 rounds into Harnett's vehicle, hitting him three times.

Initially, Harnett spotted Archer from the corner of his eye, advancing on him with a gun. The attack happened so fast, Harnett had only a split second to react. During the trial, Harnett testified that his first instinct was to take cover. However, due to his size and the equipment mounted inside the vehicle, Harnett had little room to maneuver.

As Archer continued to fire into the vehicle, three rounds ripped into Harnett's left arm. Trapped inside his squad car, Harnett had only one option left. He had to attack the attacker. And fast!

With his left arm hanging lifeless at his side, Harnett managed to open the door slightly with his right hand, kicking it fully open with his left foot. He then scrambled free from the car, drew his gun with his right hand and opened fire as Archer fled the scene.

Harnett radioed for help with his uninjured arm, then engaged in a foot pursuit until Archer was apprehended by authorities some blocks away.

Thankfully, Harnett is alive today. We should all take a moment to thank God that heroes like Jason Harnett exist. We should also for the lessons these stories can teach us if we're willing to learn. Here's a few that stuck me:

1. It happens fast. Harnett said he had only "a split second" to respond from the moment he saw Archer to first shots fired. If you're familiar with Boyd's OODA cycle, then you know that the person who makes the right decisions faster tends to prevail in combat. One way to shorten the decision-making process is through proper training.

2. React to ambush. Essentially, there are two ways to respond to an ambush - break contact or assault through the ambush. Yes, you read that right: assault through the attacker. Harnett's first inclination was to take cover during the attack. There's nothing wrong with seeking cover, but you can't stay there. Even if you're in a good position, you can't stay there indefinitely. If you can't break contact, you have to close with and neutralize the threat. In this instance, Harnett was in a terrible position. His only option was to assault through the ambush. However, he had to fight his way out of the vehicle first before he could mount his counter-attack.

3. Firing one handed. I've heard it said, "it's a handgun, not a hands gun." Shooting two-handed is a luxury no one can guarantee you. It wasn't available to Officer Harnett that night. Research from police involved shootings indicate it's not uncommon for officers to fire their weapon one-handed during a gunfight. It happens more than you think. Can you shoot, reload and clear a malfunction one-handed? The data suggests we should.

4. Fighting from unorthodox positions. Flat ranges are good to build fundamentals, but you have to progress from there if you want to build true tactical skills. Grab a blue gun or clear and make safe your carry weapon. Practice dry-firing from unorthodox positions. This includes moving from different points of cover or from a position of disadvantage.

May God grant us the courage, skill, and strength of character to fight and prevail over those who would do us harm.

Stay sharp,

Mark Booher