Deadly Reminders of Survival CommandmentsBy Calibre Press | Jan 19, 2020
One of the critical officer survival commandments we discuss in the nearly 400 pages of our book Street Survival II (available through our Web site and Amazon) is the fact that just because a suspect is down—for whatever reason—and appears to be incapacitated, ready to surrender or die, you should not relax. At that point you’re entering one of the two most dangerous phases of any encounter; the approach and the arrest.
Even in situations where no shots are fired and there is no evidence that the suspect has a weapon, your final approach is fraught with peril. Any diminished level of tactical awareness before taking a suspect into custody makes you dangerously vulnerable and can have fatal consequences, as it sadly does year after year.
Here are a few incidents that each contain inherent lessons related to this. They serve as crucial reminders of how quickly things can go wrong:
— After a gun battle with a suspect who shot a woman, officers kicked open the door of the bedroom from where he had been firing and found him lying on the floor, apparently dead. As they walked toward him, they relaxed and holstered their guns. Suddenly, he rolled over and rose up with a weapon in his hand. He shot both officers before they could react.
— In North Carolina, a small-town police chief arrested a man with a sawed-off shotgun driving a suspicious looking car. Having recovered one weapon, the chief did not think to look for more. The suspect had a second gun hidden in his clothing, which he drew and fired, killing the chief.
— In Arkansas, a state trooper single-handed apprehended three jailbreakers and handcuffed them as they laid calmly face down on the ground. However, his technique for handcuffing multiple suspects was improper and as he was getting the prisoners to their feet, one of them drew a .357 Magnum and shot the trooper dead.
— In Washington State, a young patrol officer was placing a man under arrest in connection with a disturbance complaint when the suspect suddenly made his move, snatched the officer’s duty weapon and fired five fatal shots into him at close range.
— Undercover officers in Atlanta order three teenagers up against a van after spotting them breaking into autos. They appeared to be unarmed, but as the officers approached, one suspect whipped out a hidden handgun and blasted a fatal shot into one officer’s head.
— In Texas, a sheriff’s deputy arrested a teenager for burglarizing a service station but failed to search him thoroughly before putting him in his patrol car. On the way to the station, the suspect pulled a .22 cal. handgun shot the deputy in the head and the chest and fled in the squad.
— In the southwest, a patrol officer was trying to arrest a man on a simple outstanding traffic warrant. As he focused on the suspect, a second suspect, whom he hadn’t seen, rushed him from behind, knocked him to the ground and fatally shot him in the chest.
— The inability to maintain control of a suspect during an arrest can endanger others as well. In a west coast university town, a middle-aged sergeant was trying to handcuff a prowler he’d arrested when the suspect started a scuffle. Before the officer could regain control, the suspect snatched the sergeant’s duty weapon and killed him with a shot to the head. The suspect was then attacked by a civilian witness with a hand axe. He was still able to shoot and wound the Good Samaritan. He then ran into a nearby home and took two hostages. He shot and killed one hostage—a 4-year-old girl. The rampage ended four hours after it started when officers surrounding the home killed the suspect.
As we point out in Street Survival II, there are two things you must remember.
First, as a rule, you must forever remember that no matter how cooperative or “harmless” a suspect may appear, things can go sideways in an instant. You must believe that any suspect could be dangerous at any moment and you must resist complacency. A rigid dedication to sound tactics and solid officer safety protocols could save your life, or someone else’s, at any time.
Second, remember that the approach and arrest are both dangerous endeavors. Just because the smoke has cleared and you appear to have “won” the fight until that suspect is fully in custody you’re still in the midst of a battle. Believing that winning the fight ends the fight is a serious mistake.
Please learn from these officers’ incidents and stay safe. It’s the best tribute we can give them.