Final Tour: July 2016

Gunfire deaths are up more than 80% during this very deadly summer

By Dale Stockton  |   Aug 2, 2016

Twenty officers died in the line of duty during the month of July, making this the deadliest July in more than a decade. The loss of these officers brings the number lost in 2016 to 70. Now seven months into the year, we’re at the same rate of overall loss that we were this same time last year.

However, this year—and especially this month—the stats are dramatically different than what we saw last year because of the spike in gunfire deaths. Thirty-three officers have died as the result of assailant gunfire this year with more than a third (13) of them occurring during July. Gunfire deaths are up more than 80% compared to this same time last year. Perhaps most troubling is that the gunfire attacks on police during July were often targeted attacks, rather than evolving out of some type of police contact or enforcement action.

The only good news to report is that vehicle deaths are slightly lower (7%) than this time last year and the frequency of heart-attack related LODDs is significantly less than what we were experiencing in 2015 at this time (4 vs. 11).

After a summary of how our losses occurred this past month, there will be important information regarding 2016 trends and what every officer needs to know to stay safe. On behalf of everyone at Calibre Press, I extend the deepest condolences to those who have lost an officer.

Listed in order of occurrence, following are summaries of the losses for July.

Sergeant David Elahi, 28, Sterlington (La.) Police Department, was struck and killed by a drunk driver while he and two other officers were conducting a traffic stop on a highway at approximately 5:00 a.m. All three officers were standing on the shoulder of the roadway when an approaching car crossed over the fog line and struck them. Sgt. Elahi was pronounced dead at the scene while the other two officers were transported to a local hospital with injuries. The drunk driver was charged with vehicular homicide and related offenses. Sgt. Elahi had served with the Sterlington Police Department for five years. He is survived by his child and expectant fiancée.

Deputy Paul Clark, 55, St Francois County (Mo.) died from complications of injuries sustained on October 27, 2015, when he was intentionally struck by a stolen vehicle near Desloge, Mo. He had conducted a traffic stop of a vehicle and was attempting to identify the occupants. Deputy Clark asked one of the occupants who was unable to produce identification to walk back to his police car with him. The man suddenly jumped into a truck that was parked nearby and attempted to flee. The man swerved towards Deputy Clark, striking him and throwing him several feet into a ditch on the shoulder of the road. The man, who was wanted on a federal probation violation warrant, was arrested after leading other officers on a pursuit. Deputy Clark sustained a broken back and suffered complications as a result of the injury. He died at home on July 4, 2016. He is survived by his wife, two children, and grandchildren.

Officer Mark McCullers, 43, Southern Methodist University (Texas) Police Department, drowned when his vehicle was washed away in torrential flooding while he was working an off-duty assignment at a construction site in Highland Park at approximately 1:30 a.m. The construction site was near the banks of Turtle Creek and a severe thunderstorm caused the water level in the creek to suddenly rise and rush down the adjacent roadway. Officer McCuller radioed for assistance when a wall of water struck his car and began to wash it away. He tried to exit the vehicle and reach safety but he was caught in the flood waters and is presumed to have drowned. Despite a massive search his body has not yet been located. He is survived by his wife and six children.

Senior Corporal Lorne Ahrens, 48, Officer Michael Krol, 40, Sergeant Michael Smith, 55, Officer Patrick Zamarripa, 32, all of Dallas (Texas) Police department and Dallas Area Rapid Transit Police Department Officer Brent Thompson, 43, were shot and killed by a single assailant as they were working to keep peace during a protest in downtown Dallas. As the demonstrators walked down Main Street, the gunman opened fire striking a total of 12 officers. The subject was ultimately cornered in an adjacent parking garage and barricaded himself inside for several hours while he spoke to negotiators, telling them he had purposely targeted white police officers. He was killed when the Dallas PD Bomb Squad used a robot to deliver an explosive device to his location and then detonated it.

Corporal Ahrens had served with the Dallas Police Department for 14 years and had previously served with the Los Angeles County (Calif.) Sheriff’s Office for 11 years. He is survived by his wife and two children. His wife also serves with the Dallas Police Department. Officer Krol had served with Dallas PD for nine years and had previously served with the Wayne County (Mich.) Sheriff’s Office for four years. Sgt. Smith was a U.S. Army veteran and had served with Dallas PD for 27 years. He is survived by his wife and two daughters. Officer Zamarripa was a U.S. Navy veteran and had served with Dallas PD for six years. He is survived by his wife, 2-year-old daughter, and stepson. Officer Thompson was a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and had served with the Dallas Area Rapid Transit PD for nine years. He is survived by his wife, six children, one granddaughter, and three grandchildren. His wife also serves as an officer with the DART Police.

Public Safety Officer Michael Ventura, 33, Town of Salem (Wisc.) was killed when his patrol car left the roadway and crashed into a ditch, causing him to be ejected from the vehicle. The patrol cars emergency lights were on but the reason for their activation is unknown. Officer Ventura was flown to a hospital in Milwaukee where he succumbed to his injuries. Officer Ventura had served with the Salem Department of Public Safety for two months and had previously served as a corrections officer for several years.

Security Supervisor Joe Zangaro, 61, and Court Officer Ron Kienzle, 63, Berrien County Sheriff’s Office (Mich.) were shot and killed inside the Berrien County Courthouse by an inmate who was attempting to escape at approximately 2:25 p.m. The handcuffed inmate attacked a sheriff’s deputy and shot the deputy with his own weapon. The inmate then used the deputy’s gun to shoot and kill Supervisor Zangaro and Officer Kienzle as well as wound a woman who was struck in the arm. The inmate tried to take hostages but was shot and killed by court bailiffs.
Supervisor Zangaro had served as the Berrien County Trial Court’s director of security for 10 years, having retired from the Michigan State Police after 25 years. Officer Kienzle had served with the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department for 10 years after retiring from the Benton Township Police Department.

Officer Marco Zarate, 52, Bellaire (Texas) Police Department, was killed in a motorcycle crash while pursuing a vehicle that had been involved in a shoplifting incident. He was responding to the call at approximately 1:30 pm and attempted to stop the suspect vehicle in the parking lot. The vehicle fled with Officer Zarate in pursuit. Officer Zarate’s motorcycle struck a landscaping trailer and he crashed. The vehicle he was pursuing continued to flee but the driver was eventually taken into custody. Officer Zarate was a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and had served with the Bellaire Police Department for seven years. He is survived by his wife and three daughters.

Officer Mari Johnson, 55, Texas Department of Criminal Justice Corrections, was murdered by a male inmate inside of the Robertson Unit in Abilene, Texas. Other officers found her unresponsive near the prison’s kitchen at approximately 3:00 a.m. The officers provided medical aide until she was transported to Hendricks Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead.
Officer Johnson had served with the Texas Dep’t of Criminal Justice for seven years.

Corporal Montrell Jackson, 32, Officer Matthew Gerald, 41, Baton Rouge (La.) Police Department and Deputy Brad Garafola, 45, East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office, were shot and killed by a subject outside a convenience store shortly before 9:00 am. Officers had received reports of a subject walking along the roadway carrying a rifle. As responding officers arrived in the area they were ambushed by the subject. Corporal Jackson, Officer Gerald and Deputy Garafola were killed and three other officers were wounded, one critically. The subject was shot and killed by other officers.

Corporal Jackson had served with the Baton Rouge Police Department for 10 years. He is survived by his wife and infant son. Officer Gerald was a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who had served three tours in Iraq. He had been with the Baton Rouge Police Department for less than one year and is survived by his wife, daughter and step-daughter. Deputy Garafola had served with the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office for 24 years. He is survived by his wife and four children.

Correctional Officer Kristopher Moules, 25,  Luzerne County (Pa.) Correctional Facility, died after he and an inmate fell down an elevator shaft during a struggle inside of the Luzerne County Correctional Facility. The inmate, who was in jail for failing to register as a sex offender, attacked Officer Moules. The two crashed through an elevator door and fell several floors to the bottom of the elevator shaft. Officer Moules was transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead. The inmate also died as a result of the fall. Officer Moules had served for Luzerne County for 10 months. He is survived by his parents.

Captain Dave Melton, 46, Kansas City (Kan.) Police Department, was shot and killed while searching for an armed subject who had fled from other officers responding to a shots fired call at approximately 2:00 pm. As officers arrived on scene several subjects exited the vehicle they were in and fled on foot. One of the men was apprehended immediately. Officers began searching the area for the other subjects. Capt. Melton was fatally shot when he encountered one of the outstanding subjects. Capt. Melton served with the Kansas City Police Department for 17 years and had previously served with the Wyandotte County Sheriff’s Office for nine years. He is survived by his three children and expectant girlfriend.

Sergeant Craig Hutchinson, 54, Travis County (Texas) Sheriff’s Office was shot and killed when he interrupted a burglary at his home at approximately 1:20 am. It was end of shift and Sgt. Hutchinson, who was still in uniform, contacted dispatchers via radio to report several subjects running out of his backyard. Responding deputies located Deputy Hutchinson approximately ten minutes later in his yard and suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. The subjects fled the area and remain at large. Sergeant Hutchinson had served with the Travis County Sheriff’s Office for 32 years and was scheduled to retire in two months. He is survived by his wife.

Officer Jonathan (JD) DeGuzman, 43, San Diego (Calif.) Police Department, was shot and killed as he and his partner conducted a traffic stop at approximately 11:00 pm. The officers were assigned to a gang suppression unit. While making contact with the vehicle’s occupant, both officers were shot in the upper body. Responding backup officers transported Officer DeGuzman to a nearby hospital in a patrol car, but he succumbed to his wounds a short time later. His partner was also transported to a local hospital in serious condition. The subject who shot the officers sustained a gunshot wound to the chest and was located hiding in a nearby ravine a short time later. Officer DeGuzman had served with the San Diego Police Department for 16 years.  He is survived by his wife and two children.

An Overall Look at 2016 & Lessons Learned

So far in 2016, 33 officers have been killed by assailant gunfire, 26 have died in vehicle-related incidents, four died as the result of a heart attack, two correctional officers died in assaults, one officer was lost in an aircraft crash, one was killed by accidental (friendly) gunfire, one died due to 9/11-related illness, one drowned and one succumbed to injuries after being thrown from a horse.

Gunfire

Only twice in the last 20 years have losses attributable to assailant gunfire exceeded those lost in vehicle operations. However, if current trends hold, we are well on our way to seeing that occur in 2016. During this past month alone, we lost 13 officers to gunfire and that’s worse than any July we’ve seen in more than 30 years. Perhaps most troubling is that at least four shootings involved a single assailant who took on multiple officers and some of the shootings appear to be targeted killings as opposed to evolving out of an enforcement contact.  Preventing attacks from a determined assailant who is willing to die while trying to kill officers is an incredible challenge. However, there are some things you can do to move the odds in your favor.

Body armor should be a given any time you’re in a recognizable law enforcement role. This includes training days and administrative or office assignments. If you’re in a plainclothes assignment, consider your armor as a highly recommended option and a mandate when working the field or making suspect contacts. That tie or suit coat offers zero ballistic protection. Avoid the “badge on belt and polo shirt” look unless you’re wearing armor. Bottom line: Body armor has already saved many thousands of lives. It definitely works but only if you wear it.

High-risk incidents: Many of the gunfire deaths that occurred earlier in the year involved high-risk activities like responding to a subject with a gun, warrant service, and taking a wanted felon into custody. Risk has always been a component of police work but some of these officers died in situations where there was (or should have been) some realization of potential danger before they were killed. Different tactics, better cover or slowing a situation down may have saved lives.

This is not intended as second-guessing specific actions or decisions made by those who have fallen but rather to challenge all officers to take the appropriate and reasonable steps to increase their odds of winning deadly encounters.

Review tactics: To the degree that an unfolding event allows, take in all the information possible and have an awareness of where other responding units are. Communicate a plan and a direction of approach that minimizes cross-fire potential. Don’t drive right into an evolving scene. Exercise caution when responding to in-progress incidents and tactically position yourself upon arrival to allow assessment before engagement whenever possible. Your tactical options and ability to perceive threats are much greater when you’re outside your vehicle and approaching on foot. Get there safely, park away from the incident, exit quietly and then listen for a moment.

Remember: Concealment is not cover and this is especially important when dealing with a subject who has a long gun. Consider additional resources as appropriate. If it doesn’t feel right, trust your instincts. If dealing with a subject in a house, consider having them come out to the curb to meet you.

Other considerations: Consider using a passenger-side approach during traffic stops and continually maintain a contact-and-cover style of engagement when working with other officers. If you’re not familiar with contact-and-cover tactics, take the time to do a Google search. It’s time tested and it works. Self-aid and buddy-aid have already saved countless lives. Make sure you carry a tourniquet and know how to use it. Just as important, make sure you can access it with either hand.

Vehicle-related Losses: We continue to lose officers in vehicle-related incidents that are clearly preventable. Half of all fatal police crashes are single vehicle and the primary collision factor is usually speed. Review of crash information and recent studies shows that approximately half of officers choose not to wear a seatbelt while on duty even though they wear a seatbelt off duty. This is an area that we can definitely improve upon. Don’t do it for yourself, do it for your family.

Fitness: Line-of-duty heart attacks have claimed the lives of four officers thus far in 2016 and 17 officers during 2015. Heart attacks continue to be the third leading cause of line-of-duty deaths for police officers. This is not an “old guy” problem. We’ve lost many officers in their twenties and thirties. Fitness has always been key to officer survival. Get your baselines (blood pressure, family history, cholesterol, etc.) checked and engage!

Honor the Fallen

Below 100 trainers believe the best way to honor our fallen is by training the living. The sad truth is that many of our losses, including some this past month, were preventable and, candidly, they just didn’t have to happen.

We all have a responsibility to improve officer safety, both individually and across the profession.

For more information visit Below 100. Special thanks to the Officer Down Memorial Page for their assistance in providing line-of-duty death information that forms the basis for the Final Tour series.

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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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