Below 100 & Ambush

How an officer safety initiative addresses this deadly threat

By Dale Stockton  |   Aug 31, 2015

thumbnailimage.imgA true ambush is something that understandably strikes fear into the heart of everyone who wears a badge. After all, an ambush is a surprise attack perpetrated by someone lying in wait, who is often willing to die in the attempt. As a result, officers are limited in their ability to prevent an event of this nature.

It may come as somewhat of a surprise that perhaps the most effective way to proactively address an ambush is by embracing Below 100, a common-sense officer safety program that focuses on areas under an officer’s control. How could a program that espouses the notion that “if it’s predictable, it’s preventable” have relevance to ambush? Actually, three of the five Below 100 tenets have direct bearing on whether you will survive an ambush attack.

The Tenets

Below 100 states clearly: Wear your vest.

We all know body armor works—but only if you wear it. Nearly four thousand officers have been saved by body armor but even with this level of demonstrated effectiveness, some officers still choose to go without armor. The recently released preliminary LEOKA report for 2014 states that only 35 of the 46 officers murdered by firearms were known to be wearing body armor. And even those who do use armor will sometimes go without when they’re involved in an activity or situation that they deem less risky (such as an admin assignment or training day).

Remember, if you’re recognizable as an officer (including operating a marked or obvious police unit), you should be wearing armor. Armor definitely increases your chance of prevailing in an ambush situation. Wear it.

W.I.N.–What’s Important Now? The Below 100 tenet of W.I.N. squarely targets situational awareness and prioritization.

There’s so much in our environment that competes for our attention that it’s easy to become distracted. We routinely counsel citizens to pay attention and not use their cellphones when walking through a parking lot or unfamiliar area. This should be doubly true for a law enforcement officer. Talking, texting and typing on the MDC are all tasks that take your attention away from your environment. You must continually think “W.I.N.–What’s Important Now?” and focus on the task at hand. Doing so can save your life.

Remember: Complacency Kills! A common element in ambush attacks is that the attacker will set up in an area where officers are known to frequent. This allows for the suspect to observe the regular comings and goings prior to the attack. It also permits the attacker to wait for the opportune moment—in other words, when the target drops his/her guard.

Attacks in and around police stations and other areas have happened with some degree of regularity. Granted, it’s difficult to maintain a level of vigilance when you’re on common ground that you generally control but it’s imperative that you have an awareness of the potential for attack.

Everyone associated with the facility should be in the mode of looking for someone hanging around or something that seems out of the ordinary. Don’t ignore that inner feeling, it’s there for a reason. Complacency can turn even your “secure facility” into a deadly trap.

Conclusion

By all indications there was nothing Deputy Darren Goforth could have done to escape his awful fate. It’s a tragic truth of police work that sometimes good people, doing the right thing, die. And that’s why it’s imperative to take control of those aspects under which we have some control.

Condolences to the Goforth family. Now let us honor his service by doing our best every day.

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Dale Stockton
Dale Stockton is the former editor in chief of Law Officer magazine, and a 32-year-veteran of law enforcement. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy, the California Supervisory Leadership Institute, the FBI Southwest Command College and holds a graduate degree from the University of California School of Criminology, Law and Society. He has served as a Commissioner for California POST, the agency responsible for all California policing standards. Stockton has been nationally recognized as the most widely published public safety photographer and writer in the country and taught college level criminal justice classes for 20 years. He has presented nationally at conferences in partnership with the National Institute of Justice and International Association of Chiefs of Police. Stockton is a founder, core instructor and current board member of Below 100. You can follow him on Twitter @DaleStockton.
Dale Stockton

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