Final Tour: A Deadly Summer Continues

Gunfire deaths remain high as we head into September

By Dale Stockton  |   Sep 1, 2016

Ten officers were lost during the month of August, exactly half the loss that was sustained in July. Five officers were lost to gunfire and five died in vehicle-related incidents. The loss of these officers brings the total loss for 2016 to 79. Now eight months into the year, we’re 7% lower than this same time last year.

Thirty-seven officers have died as the result of assailant gunfire during 2016, with more than one third (13) of them happening last month. Overall, gunfire deaths are up more than 60% compared to this same time last year. Many of these deaths have been targeted attacks against police in general, as opposed to taking place during an enforcement contact or other police initiated contact. Vehicle related deaths (31) are down slightly (6%) compared to last year.  The frequency of heart-attack related LODDs is significantly less than what we were experiencing in 2015 at this time (four thus far vs. fourteen).

After a summary of how our losses occurred during August, we’ll review 2016 trends and information that all officers, especially those involved in training, need 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 August.

Sergeant Shawn Miller, 47, West Des Moines (Iowa) Police Department, was killed in a motorcycle crash while returning from the Dallas County courthouse. He had just testified in a hit-and-run case and was traveling on Highway 169 when a vehicle turned left in front of him. Sergeant Miller was unable to avoid a collision and struck the side of the vehicle. Sergeant Miller was an Iowa National Guard veteran and had served with the West Des Moines Police Department for 26 years. He was posthumously promoted to the rank of sergeant. He had previously served with the Iowa Department of Corrections and is survived by his wife and three children.

Officer Justin Scherlen, 39, Amarillo (Texas) Police Department, succumbed to injuries sustained 11 months earlier when his patrol car and another vehicle were involved in a head-on collision that trapped Officer Scherlen in his vehicle for an hour. He was transported to a local hospital in critical condition and subsequently underwent numerous surgeries and ongoing rehabilitation efforts. He suffered an injury-related complication and died while on a family outing in New Mexico. Officer Scherlen had served with the Amarillo Police Department for 11 years and served on the agency’s Honor Guard and Dive Team. He is survived by his wife and four children.

Special Agent De’Greaun Frazier, 35, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, was shot and killed while conducting an undercover narcotics operation in Jackson, Tenn., at approximately 2:00 p.m. The subject of the investigation had Agent Frazier and an informant drive to Brianfield Cove where he told them he could obtain an ounce of cocaine. The subject left the vehicle and when he returned, he attempted to rob Agent Frazier and the informant. Agent Frazier was shot once in the back as he attempted to exit the vehicle. The subject fled on foot but was arrested at a home approximately half a mile away. He was charged with murder and attempted aggravated robbery. Agent Frazier had served with TBI for only six months and was assigned to Jackson-Madison County Metro Narcotics. He had previously served with the Millington Police Department for six years, the University of Memphis Police Department for four years, and had served with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office as a reserve deputy. He is survived by his wife and two children.

Corporal Bill Cooper, 66, Sebastian County (Ark.) Sheriff’s Office, was shot and killed after he and several other officers responded to a domestic violence call involving an armed subject. The subject opened fire on responding officers with a rifle, striking Corporal Cooper and wounding the Hackett Police Department’s chief. Corporal Cooper was transported to a local hospital where he succumbed to his wounds. The subject later surrendered and was taken into custody. Corporal Cooper was a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and had served with the Sebastian County Sheriff’s Office for 16 years. He is survived by his wife and son.

Agent Manuel Alvarez, 37, U.S. Border Patrol, was killed in a motorcycle crash on the Tohono O’Odham Nation Reservation south of Sells, Ariz. He and another agent were conducting a dirt bike patrol of rugged land when their motorcycles collided, resulting in Agent Alvarez sustaining fatal injuries. Agent Alvarez had served with the Border Patrol for 13 years. He is survived by his wife and four children.

Officer Jose Chavez, 33, Hatch (N.M.) Police Department, was shot and killed while conducting a traffic stop at approximately 3:40 p.m. One of the vehicle’s passengers exited and opened fire on Officer Chavez, wounding him. Another officer who witnessed the incident called for assistance and pursued the subjects at high speeds for several miles. The subjects carjacked a vehicle at a rest stop near Radium Springs, and then continued to flee. They were taken into custody after officers deployed a tire deflation device. Two of the subjects were identified as fugitives wanted for murder in Ohio. Officer Chavez was transported to University Medical Center in El Paso, Texas, where he succumbed to his wounds. Officer Chavez had served with the eight-officer Hatch Police Department for two years. He is survived by his wife and two children.

Officer Shannon Brown, 40, Fenton (La.) Police Department, succumbed to injuries sustained when he was struck by a vehicle while conducting a traffic stop. He was writing a citation when a vehicle struck his patrol car from behind, pushing it into him and causing a severe leg injury. He was transported to a hospital but ultimately succumbed to his injuries six days later. The elderly driver of the vehicle that struck Officer Brown was cited for failure to yield to an emergency vehicle. Officer Brown had served with the Fenton Police Department for three years and had previously served with the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office for 10 years. He is survived by his seven children and parents.

Officer Tim Smith, 30, Eastman (Ga.) Police Department, was shot and killed while responding to reports of a subject carrying a firearm at approximately 9:30 p.m. Officer Smith made contact with the subject along the railroad tracks adjacent to an intersection. The man opened fire on Officer Smith, wounding him. Officer Smith was able to return fire and informed dispatchers he had been shot. The subject fled the scene but was apprehended two days later. Officer Smith had served with the Eastman Police Department for more than 5 years. He is survived by three children, two stepchildren and his fiancée. Officer Smith’s murder occurred two days before his 31st birthday.

Officer Kenny Moats, 32, Maryville (Tenn.) Police Department, was shot and killed after responding to a domestic violence call at a home at approximately 4:00 p.m. Patrol units had responded to the home earlier in the day for a domestic dispute and returned when dispatch received a call stating one of the subjects was now armed. Officer Moats, who was assigned to a drug task force, and another narcotics detective responded to the scene to assist the patrol units. They parked their vehicle approximately 70 yards from the residence and assisted one person from the home before taking cover behind their car. As they waited for patrol units to arrive, the subject opened fire from a garage, striking Officer Moats in the neck. The other detective as well as a responding Blount County sheriff’s deputy returned fire and took the subject into custody. Officer Moats had served with the Maryville Police Department for nine years and was assigned to the Fifth Judicial District Drug Task Force. He is survived by his wife and three children.

Officer Leander Frank, Navajo Division of Public Safety (Ariz.), was killed in a crash while responding to a call in Apache County, Arizona. He was traveling on Route 64, between Tsaile and Chinle, when his vehicle and another collided head on. Officer Frank was killed and the occupants of the other vehicle were injured.

Overview & Lessons Learned

So far in 2016, 37 officers have been killed by assailant gunfire, 31 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 Deaths: Only twice in the last 20 years have losses attributable to assailant gunfire exceeded those lost in vehicle-related incidents. However, if current trends hold, we are well on our way to seeing that occur in 2016. During the past two months, we lost 18 officers to gunfire. Perhaps most troubling is that several of this year’s shootings have 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. This also applies to that fancy department polo shirt with the embroidered badge. Bottom line: Body armor has already saved many thousands of lives. It only works if you wear it.

Many of the gunfire deaths involved high-risk activities, like responding to a subject with a gun, warrant service, and taking a wanted felon into custody. Police work always involves a degree of risk but some of our losses have occurred in situations where there was (or should have been) some realization of potential danger before the officers were killed. Different tactics, better cover or slowing a situation down may have saved lives.

Evaluate your tactics: As events unfold rapidly, take in all available information 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. Remember that concealment is not cover. 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. Always look for ways to have the advantage.

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.

Courageous conversations: If you know an officer who tends to push the envelope or take unnecessary chances, take the time to tell them that you care and that their family and department needs them. Point out that they’re actually endangering others who may have to come to their rescue. Enough said.

Vehicle-related losses: We continue to lose officers in vehicle-related incidents that are clearly preventable. Drive at speeds appropriate to your mission, and wear a seatbelt.

Fitness: Heart attacks continue to be the third leading cause of line-of-duty deaths for police officers.  Line-of-duty heart attacks have claimed the lives of four officers thus far in 2016 and 17 officers during 2015. This is not an “old guy” problem. Many lost have been in their 20s and 30s. Eat right, exercise, and give your stress some healthy release.

Honor the Fallen

We all have a responsibility to improve officer safety, both individually and across the profession. We must learn from the terrible lessons of the past so that we don’t continue to repeat deadly mistakes.

It’s clear that we can dramatically improve officer safety by simply exercising common sense. That’s the cornerstone principle of Below 100: It’s about every officer taking individual responsibility for officer safety. We must continually challenge ourselves to learn from our losses and prevent future tragedies. Remember the tenets of Below 100: Wear your belt; Wear your vest; Watch your speed; WIN–What’s important now?; and Remember: Complacency kills.

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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