Tactical Mythbusting: Revolver Brass in the pocket

Stop me if you’ve heard this favorite tale of the Tactical Timmy. It generally goes like this: “cops that trained on a square range were found dead after gunfights with brass in their pockets, because their square range training had always had them picking up their brass. So when the REAL FIGHT(tm) happened, they picked up their brass and were killed.”

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I’ve heard this tale so many times I can’t actually recall where I heard it first. It did however come up again recently in a discussion of Tactical Timmy’s and their Turtle stance, so I decided to actually do some research into the subject. As it turns out, like so much of Tactical Timmy lore, it’s probably wrong.

One of the most often linked to posts regarding the brass in the pocket is an essay by Dave Grossman, the author of Killogy. LTC Grossman is notable for his backwards and incorrect views on violent video games; he is a proponent of the incorrect view that video games help train people to become violent killers. As such, I regard everything he posts with a grain of salt, and take careful pains to verify any information he presents as fact. Here is an excerpt from one of his essays where he mentions the “brass in the pocket” issue:

After the smoke had settled in many real gunfights, officers were shocked to discover empty brass in their pockets with no memory of how it got there. On several occasions, dead cops were found with brass in their hands, dying in the middle of an administrative procedure that had been drilled into them.

In the words of the internet, “citation needed.” However, because of his reputation, no one ever really challenges this statement, despite the fact that it seems so ludicrous. So we continued to research this and see if there were ever any factual reports of this happened.

This search lead me to the Newhall Incident, a fairly famous shooting involving the California Highway Patrol in the 1970s. Without recounting all the details, it would seem that this incident is by and large the genesis of the “spent brass in the pockets of dead cops” story. It had been reported by various non-official sources that one of the fallen officers, Officer James Pence was found with spent brass in his pocket. However, this was not the case, as Massad Ayoob noted in his excellent February 2013 article “New info on Newhall.”

Since the incident, it was said Officer James Pence was found with six spent casings in his trouser pocket, having been trained to pocket his brass before reloading.

In September 2011, Mike [Woods] told me the LASD file included a scene photo of Pence’s six spent .357 casings lying on the asphalt where he fell. By third quarter 2012, he was able to show me that evidence photo. I can now accept Pence did indeed eject his empties in his desperate attempt to reload and get back in the fight.

So the actual evidence photo disproves the famous myth of revolver brass found in the pocket. At this juncture, with evidence strongly on our side, we can absolutely call this one 100% busted…or can we?

In his Handgunner article, Ayoob mentions that former Border Patrol officer Bill Jordan wrote in the 1960s of officers finding spent brass in their pockets after a gunfight with no recollection of picking it up. Unfortunately, that information is anecdotal at best, and as we’ve seen with the Newhall incident, anecdotal evidence from 2nd and 3rd hand parties isn’t reliable.

The bottom line is this: there are no verifiable incidents of dead officers being found with revolver brass in their pockets after a gunfight. The next time someone tries to use this saw to “prove” some point about “bad muscle memory”, just drop some facts on them. Ask them where they heard it. Get sources, get sites. Don’t let bad information go unchallenged.

11 thoughts on “Tactical Mythbusting: Revolver Brass in the pocket”

  1. The point of the story is that you will revert to your training in the heat of battle which is true regardless of if the story is accurate or not. In my department we have to spark test our taser everyday at the beginning of shift as a part of the functions test. To do this you remove the front cartridge, lift the safety then pull the trigger. Some of my fellow officers have been in fights where when they went to deploy their tasers, they removed the cartridge, lifted the safety lever, pointed it at the suspect and pulled the trigger only to realize that they were holding the cartridge in their hand to due to their daily ritual at the beginning of their shift. It’s the same result that the story tries to teach.

    1. In Lt. Col. Dave Grossman’s book On Combat. In it, Lt. Col. Grossman wrote about an officer who he knew that practiced disarming suspects of their handguns and would hand it back to his practice partner to practice more. If I remember correctly, the officer came face to face with an armed robber in a convenience store and disarmed him but then began to hand it back based on muscle memory.

    2. Applying Caleb’s logic, it is obvious your story isn’t true. I did an internet search and found no evidence that ever happened.

  2. As a deputy sheriff in the late 70’s the Newhall shooting led to a change in the way brass was handled. Prior to Newhall you would shoot your string then eject the brass into a bucket in front of your firing station, after Newhall we began to clear the cylinder and reload. I can recall a range trustee (prisoner working the range) asking us to use the brass bucket, we just kept on dumping it all over the place.

    1. Thanks for the relevant comment! The CHP’s page on the Newhall incident also mentions that the post-shooting analysis changed training protocols for many California agencies. I guess I could have texted you and asked if it affected LASD.

  3. Exactly how does a picture of a dead cop with brass on the ground beside him prove no brass is in his pocket?

  4. Will you rise to the occasion? Or fall back on your training? That is the point. If LTC Grossman made up the incident and put it on paper as fact – that definitely dings his credibility, as you have pointed out. In his book On Killing he points out that besides brass in the officers pocket it might also be found in the officers hand. Not everyone trains like Jerry Miculek. Some Depts might stand on the firing line shooting slow fire waiting for everyone to be complete and then dump the brass into their hand – very foreseeable in the past. Anyone that has stood in the arena of actual combat will tell you that you fall back on your training.
    The myth of Officer Pence and Newhall has been busted with crime scene photos, but what about “[…] We know this was a problem long before Newhall. Bill Jordan wrote in the 1960s of at least one Border Patrol gun battle in which officers found their pockets full of spent revolver brass when it was all over”. -that was taken from the Newhall link in your essay above.
    Calling Bill Jordan’s example anecdotal is the same as calling the Newhall incident anecdotal. Why not research that example as well to show more examples of a myth busted.
    If officers routinely put brass in their hands or pockets after shooting it could very, very well happen during a firefight.
    You fight like you train. Magic does not happen during combat. Luck might, but not magic.
    In regard to the video game essay, LTC Grossman goes onto to say that violent video games can desensitize young minds that may not play outside as much today as young children did in the past, these same young minds that may never be exposed to firearms for hunting and have never seen a rifles ballistic effect on an animal. He also points out that the repetitive hand and eye coordination training of moving an electronic iron sight, reticle or cross hair consistently and pulling a trigger can correlate to a similar response if picking up a real weapon. Anyone seen the SIRT training pistol?
    I have nothing against video games, but I will not let my 5yr old play Call of Duty 10. I will let him take an animal first and eat the heart.
    If it is fact or opinion the writer should state the truth and use references.

    Caleb, I respect your shooting skills and enjoy your writing and the Power Factor show. This essay caught me off guard. I am not a LTC Dave Grossman fanboy. It seems your essay is charged more from your different point of view about video games with Mr. Grossman than it is about firearm training and combat history. I enjoyed your “call out” of the dude selling the “60 min dry fire shooter improvement x 45million percent” a lot more.
    Nice work in the Steel Challenge.

    1. Thank you for disagreeing with me in a reasonable, adult fashion. It’s rare on the Internet for that to happen. Sincerely, thank you.

      I don’t hide the fact that I don’t think highly of Grossman’s work. I think much of it is representative of the same mindset that blamed Dungeons and Dragons for teen suicide in the 90s, and in many ways is similar to the mindset of an anti-gun person.

      However, in this incidence, Grossman isn’t really the target of my ire so much as I’m frustrated with the all to common trend of unverifiable anecdotes being taken as gospel if repeated often enough. I want hard evidence, I want proof. I did actually want to read further into the Bill Jordan story of Border Patrol officers with brass in their pockets, but it’s quite difficult to verify.

      1. “[the]…common trend of unverifiable anecdotes being taken as gospel if repeated often enough…”

        GODWIN’S LAW! GODWIN’S LAW!

        😛

  5. I first read of the “brass in pocket” in the Newhall shooting in Charles Remsberg’s book “Street Survival” published by Calibre Press in 1987. That book and it’s companion “Tactical Edge” were very common in police training circles in the late 1980’s into early 1990’s and still have their adherents today.

    It wasn’t so easy to fact-check a story back then. Even now, most people will accept anything they hear without stopping to think about it unless it obviously goes against their common sense and experience. I heard a much bigger mistake taught in my police academy class, to wit: “When your car is moving 60mph it is moving as fast as the sound waves from your siren.” I asked, “Sorry. Did you just say that the speed of sound was 60 mph? ” and got the answer YES.
    I bet Chuck Yeager was disappointed.

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