How to Combat That Which You Don’t Know Is There?

Getting beyond the mantra of "See something, say something" to stem a deadly tide

By David Magnusson  |   Feb 21, 2019

First, the Stats

I am highly concerned about the rising rates of ambushes/unprovoked attacks on law enforcement officers. You should be too. Moving forward in this article, I will drive home something that hopefully resonates with all of you. But first, some sobering statistics: From 1987 – 1996, 701 officers were feloniously killed in this nation. Of those, 76 were ambushed; 10.8%

From 1997 – 2006, 562 officers were killed feloniously in the United States. That is a welcome reduction from 701 officers a decade earlier (19.8%). Of the officers killed, 93 of the 562 total were ambushed. The percentage increased from 10.8% a decade earlier, to 16.5%.

Almost terrifying is the increase in ambushes and unprovoked attacks that took place during the decade of 2007 – 2016. The total number of officers feloniously killed again declined over the previous decade. From 562 to 509, a decline of 9.4% occurred, and an even greater decline from two decades ago (27.3%). However, of the 509 officers killed—105 or 20.6%—were ambushed. Ambush percentages almost doubled in two decades.

Okay. We have a problem. The question that must be answered is “why”? From there we might figure out how to combat this problem.

Demographics?

Much has been written about the demographics of the offender and the fallen officer. I never took great liking to these types of statistics. There may be a commonality to offenders. Most are men. Most of the officers are men too. Ages vary. I suppose there is some worth from things that may jump out. However, ambushes/unprovoked attacks tell me that there is no one offender to watch out for. That’s the point: The threat is unspecific.

It is knowing before we even make contact with a person that he or she is going to snap. It is knowing, as we drive to a location, that for the first 50 times we have been in that area all was good and uneventful, and the upcoming one will be terrorizing.

There is just no way to know what lurks around the corner. There is no way know who lays in wait for a squad car to pull up. So what can demographics show us? We have to assume it can be everyone and no one, all at the same time.

Now What?

The only statistic of consequence is to fully realize that these incidents are climbing, and climbing sharply.  We cannot remain in Color Code Red for any extended length of time. But we cannot return to Color Code Yellow anymore. The statistics demand that we take notice. So here’s the rub: How do you take notice of something that you cannot see? How can you react to something that may not exist, though statistics show that it does, somewhere?

Is it enough to tell each other to “watch your six”? It seems to me that much more needs to be done. Some strategy needs to be employed in order to reverse this trend of ambush and unprovoked attacks.

Who Can Help?

On 12 September, 2001, a New York advertisement executive came up with “See something, say something.” It became the mantra of all New York City transportation. Nearly 18 years later, I believe there needs to be further revision that would encompass terrorism, mass shootings, school shootings, ambushes, and a wide array of other crimes including opioid sale and usage.

People see something. But they also hear something and/or read something. They know something. Now they have to do something. These ambushing killers do not exist in a vacuum. It is obvious that their anger, their rage, their disdain for law enforcement did not just materialize out of thin air. And because of that, someone knows something but either missed some signs or just chose to ignore them. Yes, some just snap. But most do not go from “zero to 60.” There is something there that flew under the radar.

Law enforcement must drive this point home to the communities they serve. Most mass shooters (including those who lay in wait to attack people) often tell their plans, or parts of their plans, to an uninvolved third party. They leak out information. We must teach people to listen for that, and then report it.

We, absolutely, must have our ears open to such information as it arrives. Though we don’t know where the next threat comes from, we all agree it is out there, somewhere, and it will happen again. Waiting for it, is no strategy but neither is a full militarization of law enforcement.

Conclusion

I fully believe that answers, the methods that will stem this increasing tide, will come from the community. We must drive that message home to them.

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David Magnusson

David Magnusson

Magnusson is retired as the chief of Havelock (N.C.) Police Department. He spent 30 years with the Miami Police Department, retiring there as a major. He is a graduate of American Military University with a Master's in Military history. Chief Magnusson also boxed as an amateur for twenty-six years.
David Magnusson

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