All About Guns Cops Fieldcraft

DEADLY DEA By Bob Pilgrim

As an FBI agent, I was fortunate to be “loaned” to the DEA for three years in a training capacity. My tactical training and survival unit was supervised and populated by some of the finest agents I’ve ever known. Three of its members, Chuck Franklin, Victor Cortez and Frank White were legends.


The Bureau’s Firearms Training Unit (FTU) consisted of many talented and dedicated agents, but was plagued with a stagnating attitude of the “not invented here syndrome.” They were reluctant to even consider outside ideas especially from the private weapons training sector. Fortunately the DEA believed in training and frequently sought knowledge outside of the organization, resulting in the discovery of a lot of good ideas out there. As a result, DEA’s tactical and firearm’s programs were enriched and moved into the 21st century.


As a Marine returning from Vietnam, a veteran federal investigator told me, “If you want action on regular basis, join DEA. They get into more gun battles with desperate dopers than any other agency and they have some of the toughest agents in the business. They kick butt all over the world.”

After two infantry tours and an extended advisory billet in SE Asia I wasn’t interested in more run and gun. After becoming an FBI agent instead, I discovered the DEA admonition was true. It’s even reflected in the differences for new agent Academy dress. DEA candidates dress like Darth Vader, with black BDU trousers, black combat boots and gray golf shirts. FBI agents look like models for the Lands End catalog. The NARCO hunters approach training with a military mindset.

Students double time everywhere and stand when an instructor enters the classroom. They’re told it’s not a question of if, but only when you will exchange rounds in anger with a criminal — some within weeks of a field office assignment. — Fiftyone federal agents have been killed in the line of duty.


DEA Unit Chief Frank White, a Silver Star awarded air-borne veteran of Vietnam, had six gun battles to his credit be-fore arriving at Quantico. He also took over Operation Snow-cap, which sent Special Operations trained DEA agents to fight cocaine production and shipment in Latin America.

DEA agents are also wearing body armor, helmets and carrying assault rifles into the jungles of SE Asia and poppy fields of Afghanistan to take America’s war on drugs to the sources of production. Drugs and terrorism go hand in hand and DEA is intimately involved in fighting entities financing logistics and operations through drug sales. DEA agents have developed some of our most outstanding counter terrorism informants.


I thought it might be interesting to compare DEA’s stats with NYPD’s experiences in 2005. In 2005, NYPD had 35,000 members. While some may accuse me of comparing apples to oranges, I thought it would be an engaging exercise if only for academic purposes.





As the week ends, Thursday saw the most shootings for DEA with 13 and Sunday was a close second with 12. So much for those critics that claim government workers shut down for the weekend. Friday was third with 10 incidents. Compared to NYPD with 123 incidents in 2005, Saturday was their most active with 24 occurrences.


The beginning of colder weather ushered in the majority of armed encounters with September accounting for ten gun-fights followed by eight in May. December grabbed the three spot with only six. Obviously, in some parts of the world where these battles took place our winter is their summer.

NYPD experienced 16 shootings in October and July was next with 13.


The vast majority of the gunplay, or 42 engagements, occurred during the day while the remainder took place at night. While most peoples’ work day was ending, DEA was just getting started and managed to contact violent suspects 17 times between 1601 and 2000 hrs. From there on to midnight, another 11 were accommodated, but 0801 to 1200 actually garnered second spot with 12. The Big Apple’s finest got most of their trigger time on the graveyard shift from 0400 to midnight with 38.


Handguns dominated as the agents’ weapon of choice during emergency response in 49 incidents. The 5.56x45mm rifle or carbine over-shadowed the 9mm sub guns in 26 and six incidents respectively. Shotguns still enjoy life in the DEA and were broken out for six engagements.

However, long guns were used to fire more rounds in anger than handguns with 176 versus 157 respectively. Sub guns came in a distant third with 64 directed at hostiles and shotguns launched the contents of 16 shells at suspects war-ranting deadly force.

NYPD used pistols in 156 conflicts, revolvers in 4, and submachine guns and shotguns in one each.


Conversely, the bad guys opted for pistols or revolvers and peppered the LEOs with 11 rounds, followed by some type of rifle/carbine with seven shots and shotguns accounting for four.


Dogs figure prominently in these confrontations and when I was working with the DEA, 25 percent of the shootings involved K-9s. In 2007 there were 31 encounters with dogs and 75 shots were fired. Three years ago, NYPD officers fired 93 rounds at the land sharks.


DEA still encounters most of their resistance during the execution of search warrants followed by arrest situations with 25 and 10 discharges respectively.





Unintentional discharges reflect poorly on the weapons discipline of any agency. Unfortunately, they are the second most prevalent cause of weapons firings in DEA — noting an increase from 2006 to 2007 by a factor of five. DEA agents caused eight, and four were attributed to other personnel for a total of 12. Ten handguns and two rifles were involved.

Most occurred during care and cleaning and unloading procedures prior to firearms storage. Eight involved Glocks and one each with a Colt Commander and Smith and Wesson revolver. NYPD had 25 “accidental discharges.”


Vehicles were used by suspects in 10 assaults and the majority occurred during buy/bust ops. Deadly force was employed primarily in cases where the suspects were able to defeat the attempted vehicle containment techniques.


We shoot at people not cars. The car may be the target, but the person operating it is the X – ring. With the small arms available to law enforcement, the automobile is a virtual armored vehicle and the suspect enjoys a substantial amount of projection. Except for bonded ammunition, 5.56x45mm is not effective on auto glass and steel.

A fleeting target, vehicle glass must be compromised first before rounds can be effective against suspects. The only time the Israeli police use full automatic fire from shoulder weapons is when they encounter a hostile moving vehicle.

Gather intelligence and plan ahead for K-9 avoidance and or humane neutralization. Use non-lethal means if possible. Firing at a relatively small, rapidly moving and highly determined threat invites potential fratricide.

No matter how experienced you are, no one is above safety and safe weapons handling. Treat all guns as if they are loaded all the time. Check and recheck and keep your finger off the trigger unless you are preparing to fire. Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction or in the direction that it will do the least amount of dam-age should it go off. Never dry fire in the office and never dry fire when live ammunition is present.

Search warrants are particularly dangerous, because the fruits of the crime must be seized to make the case or culminate in an arrest. As a result, speed is often essential after the element of surprise is derogated. Speed can sacrifice control and lead to tactical mistakes that are advantageous for your adversary. Instead, try to gather enough evidence by other means and serve an arrest warrant in-stead. Careful. Hurry.

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