More on Pre-Assault Indicators

October 5, 2020

[Editor’s note: Be sure to check out the details on our new two-hour online course, available as a rental for your entire agency very soon: Spotting Pre-Assault Indicators]

In an earlier article, we discussed 10 non-verbal cues that can serve as warning signs that a subject may be preparing to attack you. In Calibre Press’s popular book, Street Survival II: Tactics for Deadly Force Encounters,  three other important precursors to attack are discussed; Verbal threats, failure to comply and verbal hiccups.

Here’s what the Street Survival II authors have to say about each:

Verbal Threats

These are simple but sometimes dangerously overlooked. If someone says to you, “I’m gonna kick your …!” for crying out loud, pay attention to that! It doesn’t matter if they’re 135 lbs. soaking wet, they’re still indicating that they’re prepared to fight you. Too often officers miss some type of weapon in searches, which can make even the smallest individuals dangerous. Besides, in many cases, people who utter such threats haven’t even been through a pat down. They know more about what they intend to do and what they’re capable of doing than you do. Pay attention!

Failure to comply

Often, people will complain, refuse or otherwise delay after you have given them an order. Sometimes it’s simply because they’re intoxicated or they just don’t think you have the authority to issue such orders. However, as in the following instance, it may be an indication that they’re not going to comply because doing so would initiate a trip to prison.

On New Year’s Day several years ago, in Estill, SC, an officer responded to a call from a convenience store about a man harassing store patrons directly outside the establishment. The suspect regularly wandered around town and was no stranger to police. The responding officer arrived at the shop and met with the store clerk who told him that a man wearing camouflage clothing and a red bandana tried snatching groceries from customers.

The officer left the shop and a short time later, spotted a man fitting that description. The officer drove his squad toward the man, got out and ordered him to stop. The suspect refused and continued to walk away. The man was holding a cell phone to his ear and had his right hand in his jacket pocket. The officer issued several additional commands but the suspect simply refused to comply. The officer closed the gap between them and warned the man that he would be Tasered if he didn’t do as the officer ordered.

Suddenly, without warning and in less than a half of a second, the suspect pulled a 9mm handgun, pointed it at the officer and began firing. Eight shots were fired in rapid succession and the officer was struck three times. One bullet completely severed a vein in his neck. Another round struck the officer in the upper torso. In addition, he suffered two broken arm bones. According to prosecutors, at least two of the eight rounds were fired at the officer while he was lying on the ground and another two were fired as he ran for cover behind his squad.

The officer was wearing a camera that recorded the entire event. Still shots from the footage, which are included in Street Survival II: Tactics for Deadly Force Encounters, show the lightning-fast moments when the suspect pulls his right hand from his pocket, produces a handgun and points it directly at the officer.

Thankfully, the officer recovered and returned to duty. It took a jury less than 45 minutes to render a guilty verdict and the suspect was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

This chilling incident serves as a powerful reminder that refusal to comply may be a sign that an individual is planning, or at least contemplating an attack and/or a sign that he may be calculating his chances of defeating you and looking for an opportunity to do it. Recognize this danger, let the suspect know you recognize it and control the situation.

Verbal Hiccups

People planning an attack will often give clues through the words they use or don’t use. Our theory is that while they’re planning what to do or evaluating their chances of defeating you, they’re mentally preoccupied, which often causes glitches in their responses and their sentence structure.

Our strong suggestion is to keep conversations pointed and simple. Don’t ask compound questions. Ask single questions about one topic at a time. This should eliminate long-winded responses that are distracting and evasive.

Watch for an absence of vocalization such as no response to a question or incomplete or incoherent sentences. Pay attention to stuttering or hesitation in responses. These can indicate an unwillingness to give complete information, lying or a mind that’s occupied with something else, such as thoughts of fighting or running.

Unanswered questions can indicate a problem. In the 1992 case of South Carolina Trooper Mark Coates, Mark patted the pocket of the man he stopped, Richard Blackburn. The trooper asked, “Is that your wallet?” His eventual murderer responded, “Ain’t no money in there.” Notice that he didn’t answer the question.

Finally, note any changes in conversational cadence. In the Coates case, Blackburn answered many questions immediately and clearly, with no hesitation or stuttering until the trooper inquired about searching the car. The driver knew there were drugs under the seat. “I just want to take a quick check in your vehicle, real quick. You got a problem with that?” the trooper asked. Blackburn’s response, “Well, no, not really, you know, it’s all right with me, ya know,” showed a distinct cadence change. Minutes later, the trooper was shot and dying.

Pay attention to such verbal hiccups. The key is to know what to be listening for and again, to pay attention. They are unwittingly and unconsciously giving you information, but you have to know what you’re listening for and actually listen for it.

For more information on Street Survival II: Tactics for Deadly Force Encounters, which is currently on sale, visit the Calibre Press store at:

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