Survival Lessons Learned from Assaults on OfficersBy Calibre Press | Jan 29, 2020
Part 1 of a 2-part series
In their iconic FBI report, In the Line of Fire: Violence Against Law Enforcement, researchers Dr. Anthony Pinizzotto, Edward Davis and Charles Miller revealed a wealth of officer survival insights they surfaced after evaluating 40 shootings and other serious assaults on police. Since its release in ‘97, focus on the report has diminished but the information it contains is just as valuable as it was when it first appeared.
In the first installment of this two-part series, designed to keep these life-saving lessons at the forefront, we’ll share a collection of tips included in a section dedicated to “procedural and training issues.” Part two will follow with the remainder.
1. Respect the value of good tactical procedures. The “best example” of correct procedures found in the study, according to the researchers, involved an officer who conducted a nighttime traffic stop.
The officer directed the driver to a well-lighted location, radioed dispatch with the stop site and the plate number, properly positioned behind the offender’s car, used his spot to illuminate the car’s interior and approached cautiously, keeping his eyes on the driver’s hands. When the driver grabbed a handgun off the seat and turned it toward the officer, the officer was able to respond instantly. He fired first, then sought cover behind the vehicle.
“The officer’s adherence to proper approach procedures, coupled with his observation and quick action, possibly saved his life.”
2. Incorporate the unexpected into your training scenarios. To illustrate “what can result when an officer’s training is lacking in some significant element,” the report cites an officer who responded to a bank holdup alarm.
Arriving at the bank, the officer made a tactical error by immediately entering the vestibule. A robber at the counter inside saw him and fired several shots at him. The officer fired back, then retreated to his unit for cover. The robber left the bank, followed the officer and fired several more shots at him.
“The officer expressed shock at what had transpired: he was not prepared for the offender to pursue him; he expected him to flee. Although trained to seek cover, the officer was never trained to face the possibility that he would be pursued and attacked after taking cover. He was not mentally prepared to fend off an attack. He didn’t know how to respond.”
3. Design and practice “quick action” drills. One of the interviewed officers was directing traffic when someone yelled, “Hey, Officer!” The officer turned and found a gunman pointing his weapon directly at the officer’s head. The subject appeared to be trying to site in on the officer’s forehead to place a bullet between his eyes.
The officer immediately lunged forward and deflected the weapon with his hand. He was still shot and severely wound in the jaw—but not facing the dire consequences of letting the gunman place the round where he had planned. Quick action likely saved his life.
4. Remember: Female bystanders can be dangerous. On a traffic stop discussed in the report, the driver was accompanied by a female passenger, his girlfriend. The approaching officer, herself a female, reported that she paid no attention to the passenger because she “did not view the woman as a threat.”
During contact with the driver, a struggle that went to the ground ensued. The girlfriend handed the driver a firearm and started to move behind the officer to disarm her. The driver rose to his feet and pointed the gun at the officer. The officer, in turn, drew her service weapon and the two fired simultaneously. The officer was wounded but kept fighting. She delivered four rounds to her attacker and put him down.
Later, the girlfriend said, “The policewoman never paid attention to me or gave me a command.” The researchers observe: “Only the eruption of gunfire and observing her boyfriend lying on the ground seriously wounded stopped her from her plan to disarm the officer.”
5. “Condition Yellow” (alert/aware) should be your normal mindset. A radar officer was going through the motions of his last ticket for the day. He was thinking about buying some lumber on the way home for an off-duty project. He was suddenly attacked…something he never expected. He told the researchers: “It came from nowhere. I couldn’t believe it was happening.”
Frame of mind “is of crucial importance” to officer safety, the report says. This officer, and some others on vehicle stops, “considered these contacts ‘routine.’ This attitude may have prevented them from detecting warning signals, which might have prevented the attacks.
“The officers infrequently considered the fact that someone they stopped for a minor infraction of the law would consider taking their lives in an effort to escape.”
6. The announcement of arrest – regardless of how seemingly ‘minor’ the offense – is a high-risk moment. Several of the assaults studied occurred when subjects “were advised they were being placed under arrest., or arrest was mentioned or implied.” Up until that point, “the offenders were completely cooperative. Avoiding arrest appeared to be the sole motive for committing the assault.”
When mention of, or movement toward arrest enters the picture, be highly alert and prepared for anything.