Book Review – Officer Down, Code Three (Pierce R. Brooks, 1975)

Over the past year I’ve been developing a new course for KR Training, Historical Handgun, that teaches the history & evolution of defensive handgun skills.  Part of that effort has been seeking out and reading old books on shooting, purchasing copies signed by the authors when possible.

“…officer down, code three” was recommended to me by John Farnam during a pistol class I took with him in December 2017.  John referenced this book as the first significant book on police tactics.  The book Street Survival was published in 1980 and was more widely used and better known than Brooks’ book.  Brooks was the detective in the famous “Onion Field” incident, which was documented in a book, and dramatized in a 1979 movie.

The book is mainly a series of case studies, with the actual names of the officers changed, describing ten deadly errors Brooks identifies as common mistakes cops make that get them killed.  I’m going to go through the list and comment on them from the perspective of an armed citizen, since they are as relevant to personal defense of an armed citizen as they are to law enforcement officers.

1. Failure To Maintain Proficiency & Care of Weapon, Vehicle and Equipment


I covered this topic in detail in one part of my Beyond the One Percent blog series.  In part 4 of that series I discuss the Dunning Kruger effect, where people with limited ability perceive their skills as better than they are, and how that causes the typical armed citizen to (1) mistake meeting state minimums as “enough training”, (2) be unable to define realistic standards of skill appropriate for personal defense and (3) fail to schedule and structure their own practice sessions to re-evaluate their skills and maintain them to a practically useful level.

The correct approach every armed citizen should take is:

1) Take the state mandated training and get a carry permit.

2) Identify (or research) the set of skills and standards that a majority of private sector schools, particularly top tier trainers, or major national programs, use as their standard for “acceptable skill to be reasonably well prepared for armed defense”.  (Those standards, regardless of source, are always going to be higher and include more skills than any state minimum carry permit program.)

I and my team have written extensively on our thoughts on minimum proficiency levels and readers of this article are encouraged to dig into those articles as part of their research.  Our Three Seconds or Less shooting test is a simple 20 round drill that many find useful as a baseline practice drill.

3) Confirm that you can meet well chosen standards using the gear you actually carry, including shooting the exact ammo you plan to carry. Not practice ammo.  20 rounds of the exact brand, caliber, bullet weight, and power level that you have chosen as your carry ammo.

4) Re-test yourself against those standards once a year, and do additional practice (dry or live fire) as needed, to keep your skills to a practical minimum level.

This is the same process law enforcement agencies apply to their officers, who have to qualify annually, at a minimum. Many departments now require officers to fire a minimum number of rounds in practice every month, because shooting skills are not a “one and done” thing.  They require frequent repetition to maintain.


Keeping your vehicle in good working condition is also important. Regular maintenance, gas and fluid levels, tires, lights.  You are higher risk of dying in a car accident than from criminal attack.  Your vehicle, like your firearm, is life-safety equipment and should not be neglected.  Distracted driving, particularly use of cell phones while behind the wheel, is particularly risky and should be avoided.

Other Equipment

Flashlights, tourniquets, knives or any other item carried daily should be periodically inspected.  Batteries lose power, edges dull, belt clips, hinges and screws on folding knives and holsters can rust, loosen or even come off.  Sweat, grime, dust, rain and day to day carry can cause wear. The time to be aware of those problems is not when you need the gear for its intended life-saving purpose.

2. Improper Search and Use of Handcuffs

In the book, Brooks recounts several incidents where those taken into custody, who were not properly handcuffed or searched, produced or obtained weapons and killed officers.  In October 2017, a Texas Tech University campus police officer was killed in an incident just like the ones Brooks describes in the book.

In the unfortunate event that an armed citizen’s interaction with a police officer includes being handcuffed and searched, perhaps following their involvement in a justified shooting, it’s useful for the armed citizen to understand why the officer is doing something that the citizen may feel is not necessary or appropriate.

3. Sleepy or Asleep

The medical and law enforcement professions both suffer from an institutional attitude that overtime is expected, and personnel are frequently required to work long shifts or additional shifts.  Despite significant research showing that fatigue can lead to the same level of poor decision making that chemical impairment can, there are still many people in both professions on the job making life or death decisions, sometimes with a body jacked up on legal stimulants (energy drinks, caffeine, nicotine) supporting a brain in desperate need of rest.

The same problem exists for armed citizens, without the qualified immunity those in uniform may be granted, should a questionable decision or action be made in a sleep-deprived state.

A criminal skilled at victim selection will likely notice sluggish behavior, inattention and other indications a person is tired.

4) Relaxing Too Soon

Earlier this year we had a student attacked while sitting in their vehicle, in their driveway.  The individual was sitting in the vehicle, watching a video someone had sent to their phone, instead of waiting until they were in the house to view it.  It’s very natural and normal to feel safe once you get back to your own property, particularly if there’s no one visible as you pull into a driveway.   In this case while the student was distracted, this provided opportunity for an attacker to walk up the vehicle, open the door and attempt to pull the student out of the vehicle.  The student fought back with unarmed skills and pepper spray and was successful in driving the attacker off.

5) Missing the Danger Signs

This video shows quick examples of many different pre-attack cues. The sooner you observe those behaviors, the more space and time you will have, which can avert the situation or provide you the advantage you need to win, should the situation escalate.  There are many good videos on youTube on many channels pointing out these types of cues in footage of actual incidents.

6.  Taking a Bad Position

Distance and cover are good. Standing in the open is bad.  If your training and practice does not include shooting from cover, and learning to move to cover while shooting a threat, that’s something you should move to the top of your “to do” list. We teach those skills in our Defensive Pistol Skills 1, DPS-2 and DPS-3 courses, among others.

7. Failure to watch their hands

Hands hold weapons. Weapons are what harm you.  Action is always going to beat reaction. If two shooters are equally skilled, the one that starts first is going to win, because even someone waiting on the ‘go’ signal typically takes 0.25 second to react to the stimulus and start acting.  Reaction time increases when the stimulus is not expected. Draw time decreases when the person starts with a grip on their gun.  So in the worst case scenario, if an attacker already has a grip on a gun in their pocket or waistband, and you don’t being to draw until you see the already out, that person may be a full second ahead of you, if the situation is a contest of nothing but draw speed.

In a potential attack situation, watching the hands decreases reaction time, because the decision to draw, pending observation of the ‘go’ signal, has already been made. The decision to fire should be separated from the decision to draw, to prevent shooting someone that moves their hands quickly but ends up grasping something that’s not a weapon.  This happens more frequently to law enforcement officers than armed citizens, but still an issue to be concerned about.

8. Tombstone Courage

One of the most common problems we see in force-on-force scenarios is a desire by armed citizens to move forward to the threat, to pursue or to get closer when confronting a potential attacker, or trying to stop an attack in progress.  This happens because of proxemics.   Moving closer to be more intimidating is a natural response – but it’s not always good tactics.  The best way to learn and practice use of good tactics is scenario based training against live opponents.  The building blocks can be learned in live fire drills, but interaction with other people, in real time, as they react to you, cannot be simulated by any kind of live fire drill.  Here’s a real world example of bravery and good intentions ending very badly for the armed citizen.


9. Preoccupation

Brooks defines this as “Worrying about personal problems while on duty”.  Substitute “while in public” and it applies to armed citizens.  The biggest modern preoccupation is obsession with the cell phone.  Jeff Cooper called this Condition White.    There are tasks that require full attention.  When you have to perform those tasks, having additional layers of security: locks, doors, distance, other eyes/ears watching (human or canine) can be used to mitigate the risk of being lost in thought, unaware of your surroundings.

10. Apathy

“It’ll never happen to me” is not a self-defense plan.  Whatever reason someone has for not carrying a gun, or not carrying pepper spray, or not getting training to be prepared to fend off an attack, I probably have a student incident counter example. If I don’t, other trainers do.  Age, gender, neighborhood, physical appearance, race, time of day, gun-free facility, and any other factor you can think of. None of them are guaranteed to reduce your risk to zero.

Leaving your gun in the car is not “carrying”.  Taking a class one time and never practicing the skills you learned in class is not “being trained”.  Target shooting (standing still in one spot shooting with no plan and no time pressure) is not “practice” for defensive pistol use.

It’s almost New Year’s Eve, when people make resolutions to do better the next year. Mostly those resolutions are forgotten or abandoned within 30 days.  But even if you do one dry fire session, or get in one real practice session, shoot one match, or take one class, while you are motivated, that’s better than no effort at all.  The boost in skill you’ll get from even one focused session will stay with you longer than it will take to gain back the weight you’ll lose on that diet you’ll fall off of by spring.

My signed book

In many cases, particularly with older and out of print books, the signed copies that are available were originally signed to someone else, and often there’s a story that goes with the signed book.

The copy of Officer Down I purchased originally belonged to Robert Posey, who was Dean at the Eastern Kentucky College of Justice and Safety Technology when the book was published.  Posey now has an auditorium named after him, and many other honors, as noted in this history of that college.


Nothing is new.  All 10 of Brooks’ factors are as relevant today as they were in 1975.