Book Review – Into the Kill Zone (David Klinger, 2004)

Into the Kill Zone cover photo

Professor David Klinger, currently teaching at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, served as a patrol officer in the Los Angeles and Redmond, Washington police departments, later earning degrees in sociology, justice and history. During his time in uniform he shot a knife-wielding criminal that was attaching his partner. His 2004 book “Into the Kill Zone: A Cop’s Eye View of Deadly Force” compiles excerpts from interviews with law enforcement deadly force incident survivors with commentary and observations about the ways using deadly force can affect an officer’s life.

Into the Kill Zone back cover crop
Into the Kill Zone back cover cropped

The book is divided up into five sections: Choosing the Badge and Gun, Basic Training, Holding Fire, Pulling the Trigger, and When the Smoke Clears. Choosing the Badge and Gun discusses the decision to become a police officer and accepting the responsibility to use deadly force, if needed, as part of that job. Basic Training covers the ways officers are trained, particularly with regard to survival mindset.

Holding Fire is the most interesting chapter, because it details situations where officers could have shot, but chose not to – in cases where not shooting was appropriate, and some in which it could be argued that firing was the best solution. The “draw but don’t shoot” problem is one that’s far more common, both for law enforcement and armed citizens, and sometimes gets forgotten in discussion of the more exciting details of incidents where shots are fired.

The Pulling the Trigger section focuses on what officers were thinking and experiencing during the incident itself: the decision to fire, reaction to being shot at (and/or shot and hit), and what they perceived as the shooting was happening. As with the other sections, the focus is more on officer interviews and individual stories and less on lists and data, as would be expected from a sociologist & historian. When the Smoke Clears explores the aftermath, from a personal perspective.

Overall Into the Kill Zone is a well organized, interesting read. For students of defensive shooting, most of the content will confirm what they’ve been taught in classes about mindset and psychology of individual armed combat. The book is available in Kindle and print editions from Amazon and other sources. While I wouldn’t list it as “essential” reading on this topic, (Deadly Force Encounters by Artwohl and Christensen and In the Gravest Extreme by Ayoob would be my top two), it’s certainly worth reading by any law enforcement officer or armed citizen interested in the personal side of the topics it covers.

The video below is a brief interview with Klinger on local television.