88 Presents: High Threat Vehicle Engagement

This article was brought to you today in its entirety thanks to 88 Tactical of Omaha, Nebraska. 88 Tactical: those who respond, prevail.

We strive to dig knowledge from people who have a nugget or two of wisdom that may keep you safe or make you more proficient. Here’s another article from the fine folks at 88 Tactical, so lock your eyes on the page and get your learn on. Mad Duo

88 Presents: High Threat Vehicle Engagement

By Dustin Mowery, Lead Instructor, and Trevor Thrasher, Senior Instructor & COO of 88 Tactical

Typically, Law Enforcement officers only receive a few hours of training on traffic stops and static felony stops at the academy level. For the rest of their careers they have to “wing it” or, at best, receive training that simply rehashes basic academy lessons. Training must take place in the context in which the skills are used, so even the best flat range or room clearing training won’t benefit officers when they’re dealing with engagements in and around vehicles.

Faced with this reality, 88 Tactical developed its High Threat Vehicle Engagements class to give officers and others the core skills and experience they need to prevail when a traffic stop suddenly becomes a worst-case scenario, or when an engagement takes place in an area saturated with vehicles. After watching nearly every vehicle-related video we could get our hands on, we looked for patterns, high-probability incidents and high-risk events, detailed the effects of human behavior under duress and how it worked with or against the officer’s training. From there, we evaluated what did and didn’t work, and focused on what we could add to give students the tactical edge.

Keeping in mind that training time is limited, we narrowed our focus to a framework of situations and drills that would heavily influence an officer’s safety, such as traffic stops gone bad, “bail out assaults,” and what we call “car piles.” We saw how some traditional skills worked completely against an officer’s instincts and were thrown out the minute a fight was on, leaving the officer with nothing more than luck. We recognized the biggest bang for our training buck was more in the mental approach than the physical.

88 Tactical’s High Threat Vehicle Engagements class isn’t going to teach you “cool guy” theatrical shooting skills you’ll never actually need or use. Here are some core takeaways from the course based on our SMAARTS model, which is an acronym for Systematic/Synergistic, Mindset, Awareness, Avoidance, Readiness, Tactics, and Skill:


It really is as simple as treating each stop as if it is dangerous. Complacency kills and at a certain point, no tactic or skill can reliably save you if you let yourself get ambushed standing in the wrong spot, thinking more about what you are going to have for dinner than dealing with a potentially armed suspect. The biggest benefit of mindset is that it gets you proactively searching for threat cues and using good risk avoidance tactics from the start.


If you watch enough traffic stops, you learn that there are a few key indicators you might be about to face an assault. The threat evaluation, which is when you look for those indicators, should be done before you even turn on your lights and doesn’t stop during the entire contact. The purpose of the stop, driver behavior, vehicle position, where the driver looks, what they do with their hands, and even whether or not they use their turn signal, are key indicators of potential assault. Ignoring these and failing to take appropriate action is the same as walking into an ambush.


In many incidents where officers were killed or seriously injured, the officers failed to follow simple procedures designed to improve their safety. How many videos do you see of officers standing right in front of the driver’s window getting shot before they can react? How many times have officers had the wrong things in their hands at the wrong time? These are simple procedures and many have stood the test of time for good reason.


When you see a potential threat, what is the first thing you do, and just as importantly, what are you ready to do? Are you mentally and physically ready for a fight? If not, don’t bother turning on your lights and initiating the stop. Are you going to a shots fired call, active killer, or potential ambush situation with your long gun in the trunk? Is your sling “S rolled” and rubber banded to the stock? Where is your critical second magazine? We cover everything from equipment prep and ready positions to how to set your seat belt up for a quick exit.


Tactics must be simple and quick to execute.  This course prepares you with a set of immediate action drills which quickly put you into a superior tactical position. Students get to see first-hand what happens when bullets meet glass from the inside and outside, areas of a vehicle that provide good cover, and how to effectively use these areas to your advantage. Weapons handling and positional shooting is a huge issue, especially when dealing with multiple officers engaging from around the same vehicle.

Behavior is as important as tactics, and this course begins teaching with a behaviorally-driven response and bridges it into a high-brain tactical point of domination. High Threat Vehicle Engagements even covers aspects of immediate medical treatment including the use of tourniquets, and appropriate follow though to deal with downed suspects. Don’t rush to your death—after the fight, officers are too quick to move to the assailant’s car. When the fight ends, wait. Let the dust settle, and more importantly, take a breath. If you already have a good position of cover, use that to your advantage. You may have been hit, or the shooter may have moved. Check yourself, check your partner, check your surroundings, and top off. Wait for backup and work out an arrest plan.


When all else fails, you better be able to make the shot while not getting shot yourself. High Threat Vehicle Engagements covers 88 Tactical’s point, precise, and perfect shooting continuum, the combative marksmanship fundamentals of initiative-based tactics, shot avoidance, use of cover, rapid movement, and cornering as it applies in a vehicle-based environment. There is a High Threat Vehicle Engagements two-day end user course for civilians, plus two High Threat Vehicle Engagements courses for law enforcement personnel: a two-day end user option, and a four-day instructor class. In the instructor level course, students learn principles of video evaluation and actually set up and run their own drills based on real-world scenarios. Unlike many other courses, the students don’t simply learn how to regurgitate the material; they learn to create their own.


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One thought on “88 Presents: High Threat Vehicle Engagement

  • November 14, 2017 at 10:51 am

    I taught felony car stops and similar at a state police academy as an instructor on loan from a federal agency. One of the most novel means of causing the abandonment of an inoperative vehicle was by use of water cannon at the end of a Fire Department hook and ladder, ladder extension. The water cannon nudged a side glass until it penetrated and the flood began. Never a sorrier nor sadder lot of humans would emerge from the car as it rapidly filled with water, somewhat abraded by the high pressure. No barricaded inhabitants were ever interested in continuing hostilities. The advantage is obvious, no personnel are in immediate harm’s way! Due to equipment availability, this technique is available only in most urban areas, and is offered as an out of the box way to critically examine barricaded vehicle situations involving serious felonies.


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