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October 16 : 2012  
Editor's Notebook: Magnified Optics in Law Enforcement Operations
Magnified optics for just "snipers?" Here's a photo depicted two life-size 2-dimensional "threat" targets, at a scant 35 yards with no magnification. What's in the left target's "hand"?

The current rage in combat optics has to be the zero magnification reflex and/or holographic sight. They're quick to acquire on close range threats, easy enough to use, have long-lasting batteries and are quite durable. There's a lot to like. As my current operation requires no response to community threats but threats inside a fairly small dwelling, the zero-mag serves the purpose quite well.

That's not to say that the zero-mag unit can't be called on for long distance hits. It's proved itself on that count. But, to steal a quote from Trijicon's Frank Martello, LE Programs Supervisor, "A good shot isn't always a good shooting." To have a full mission profile capability, you have to do more than just hit a target.

For it to be a good shooting, the shooter must be able to tell why the shot was taken. In modern Use of Force parlance, "C.Y.A." doesn't mean what you think it means. "C.Y.A." is a question - Can You Articulate?

Why did you take that shot? In the words of another trainer, you saw the actor had A.O.J. - he had the ability to kill or cripple, was capable of delivering that force immediately and he acted in such a way to convince you that he was going to use that force now - Ability, Opportunity, Jeopardy.

In the first photo, above, you have exactly zero information to make that judgment. It doesn't help that we down-size the photos for the wire either. Trust me, this was an exercise set up at the Crucible, the famous Virginia training center for a range of government and non-government students. I couldn't see what either photo-target was "holding" - and I was there.

At fifteen yards, we could confirm that we were seeing photos of humans downrange. With no magnification, there was no ID capability in this environment.

At fifteen yards, we were marginally better with no magnification. You could begin to describe the person. Had they been holding, say, AK47s or RPGs, we likely could have seen them. In the daily police context, it's the threat you don't recognize that gets you into trouble.

The problem, simply stated, is Rule 4: Be sure of your target. You have to visually confirm a reason to shoot before you can shoot. By the time we just walked up to see what threats the targets offered, our media group was pretty convinced: for threat ID, we must have magnification.

This photo, depending on how it comes across on the wire, clearly shows our bad guy on the left to be holding a pistol. By then we were easily close enough to get shot to pieces.

The Rule 4 problem is an "everywhere, every day for everyone problem." It's not for Designated Marksmen, snipers, scouts - but a problem for everyone who is armed. You might think Trijicon has an interest in agencies buying their optics.

They do.

But they also try to advance the state of the art. If, by selling the concept of magnifying optics to the police, they help the police make better force decisions, it helps everyone. Other companies make optic sights too.

So much for room combat, I hear you say. No way to do that with a magnified optic of 3- or 4x. Well, we had a selection of the outstanding Daniel Defense M4-style carbines with Trijicon ACOGs on board. The objective lens was taped over and we did some close range (25 yards and in) shooting. With an illuminated reticle and shooting both eyes open, you'd be surprised how well the concept works. IMO's David Fortier shot impressive close range clusters so equipped - showing his existing skill with the platform and the viability of the ACOG in room combat applications.

Besides, how often do you just see the criminal offender standing inside a room or down a hallway like a cardboard target? Never? That's my experience. You see the toe of a shoe protruding past a door; or a gun muzzle leaving a shadow across a wall. You see bits and pieces. Bits and pieces are easier recognized by magnification.

Now we don't indiscriminately "hunt" with the optic on the carbine - therefore, hunting with the muzzle. That's a Rule 2 issue - Don't allow the muzzle to cover anything you don't intend to shoot. It's one thing to glass the side of the mountain for a goat - use binoculars. It's another thing to, in response to a "shots fired" call, deploy with the carbine and seek a threat with the combat optic. Remember, we violate Rule 2 never - but when it's possible we may, the weight goes to Rule 3: Keep that damn finger off the trigger.

For my visual cross-dominance and resulting from refractive surgery, I found that using the ACOG as a close combat sight is going to take some work. There is variance based on how you see and that's something you must test individually.

Three gunners might put a reflex outboard on a slanting Pic rail - or use irons in that format. There's an ACOG that ships with a RMR - Ruggedized Miniature Reflex - atop as in the photo. Tom Beckstrand zaps a close range target using the RMR atop the ACOG. Notice how his head is up. Lower your head, putting your eyes behind the ACOG and you're in business for distant targets.

The magnified optic with reflex capability is here to stay. It's the ticket for police operations when distance to target could be ten feet or three hundred feet down a school hallway during an active shooter event.

Pay your nickel and take your chances.

--Rich Grassi

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