Police Officer Safety

Below are abbreviated versions of excellent articles on police officer safety from PoliceOne.com and the American Police Beat. To read the entire articles and more, or to subscribe to these publications, visit www.PoliceOne.Com and www.APBweb.com.


Policies put a choke hold on officer safety

from PoliceOne.com, by Lt. Dan Marcou, 4/12/2010

Should officers be trained in the application of (and defense against) neck restraints?

A lone officer was speaking to a mother next to a bassinette, which contained a sleeping newborn baby. The officer was gathering information about the location of her fugitive boyfriend, who according to reports had fled the state. Suddenly the officer noticed movement of the lacey fringe at the bottom of the portable bassinette. The officer cocked his head and spotted the fugitive hiding under a table behind the bassinette. Sensing he had been seen, the suspect exploded out of his hiding place, nearly knocking over the newborn’s small bed as he viciously rushed the officer.

The officer, who was a defensive tactics instructor, spun and positioned himself behind the suspect. He pulled a valuable play from his play book and instantaneously applied a neck restraint. As the officer applied pressure, he asked the suspect, “Do you want to go to jail conscious or unconscious?”

The wildly resistive suspect went immediately limp and replied meekly, “Conscious.”

After applying handcuffs to the suspect the officer was relieved to discover that the bassinette had been rocked violently, but it had remained upright and the infant remained sleeping like…a baby. Thanks to the effective technique no one sustained any injuries in what could have easily been a fatal confrontation.

1982 and ACLU – Prior to 1982, police officers across the nation were commonly trained in a number of neck restraint holds such as “the sleeper.” These techniques were used often to overcome active resistance. When trained properly and used properly neck restraints were effective in ending resistance without injury. In fact, neck restraint holds were at times life-saving techniques. The neck restraint was targeted for extinction by the ACLU…

Then, in 1982, while defending the use of L.A.’s version of the neck restraint, Chief Daryl Gates made his infamous “normal people” statement. This created a widespread furor about the use of neck restraints and there was an immediate and unprecedented backlash felt by police trainers nationwide… Chiefs and Sheriffs all over the nation drafted new policies banning the training and use of neck restraints.

Kansas City (Mo.) PD – The Kansas City, Missouri Police Department never buckled to the pressure and continued to use their three-level system of neck restraint, called the Lateral Vascular Neck Restraint®. Under the tutelage of the renowned police trainer James Lindell, the department continued the training and use of this tactic. Lindell founded the not for profit National Law Enforcement Training Center, which promotes a variety of excellent training, including Lateral Vascular Neck Restraint.

…the current president of the NLETC, Sgt. Charles (Chip) Huth, carries on his work and continues to train law enforcement officers. He confirms: “The Kansas City, Missouri Police Department has used this technique for 40 years without serious injury, death or litigation.” Sgt. Huth explained that the reason for this success is, “It is not the primary goal, when using the LVNR®, to render the suspect unconscious.”

In fact, he added, “About half submit in level one of the application where there is minimal compression and minimal restraint.”

For anyone who has ever had the hold placed on them either in training or on the street, they understand, but for those who have never experienced the hold Sgt. Huth explains, “It is very difficult to overcome the technique and suspects can sense that.”

Supporting Research – The Canadian Police Research Center studied neck restraints and came to the conclusion that there “is not a medical reason to routinely expect grievous bodily harm or death following the correct application of the vascular neck restraint.”

On the other hand, policies that restrict the use of neck restraints of any kind put officers in a bad position, because the dynamics of a close quarter combat are such that officers in a struggle for their life often naturally find themselves with an arm around a suspect’s neck applying pressure, even when they have never been trained in any proper application of this technique.

For an officer trained in the “strict methodology of Lateral Vascular Neck Restraint,” on a department which has not prohibited its use, this technique is fight winner.

Police officers are sent daily into a world where they find themselves in perfect positions to be able to end struggles safely and effectively with neck restraints, but only a small percentage have been trained in their use.

… With proper training of the technique this can be an effective way to regain control of a violent suspect.

Reasons to Reconsider – Neck restraint holds are being taught in traditional martial arts, in mixed martial arts, and unsanctioned street fighting clubs all over the nation. American teenagers learn how to apply the hold as they recklessly play “The Choking Game,” where they put each other out with a variety of strangle holds for the thrill of feeling light headed.

Since the ability to apply this hold is so widely known outside law enforcement it may be time for agencies that prevent trainers from addressing this technique to reconsider that stance. Officers who have never been trained in how to escape a strangle hold are ill prepared to survive such an assault.

Since the public is being taught the sleeper in many venues, the question that should be asked by administrators across the country is, “Should our officers be trained in the app lication of and the defense against neck restraints?”

Domestic disturbance calls: Always dangerous and sometimes deadly

from American Police Beat, by Craig W. Floyd, 11/30/2007

When a woman called the Beaufort County (SC) Sheriff’s Office on January 8, 2002, to say that her friend was being held by a man against her will, Lance Corporal Dana L. Tate, Sr. and Corporal Dyke “A.J.” Coursen raced to the scene…

The woman inside the home, Kimberly Blake, had been physically abused by the man who had fathered her child. When Deputies Tate, 43, and Coursen, 35, arrived on the scene, the man hid in a bedroom closet with a high-powered SKS assault rifle. As they searched the bedroom, Deputies Tate and Coursen were each shot multiple times and killed. The man briefly escaped, but was soon found and ultimately sentenced to death – small consolation to the families of Deputies Tate and Coursen.

Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner reflected on the loss of his two deputies, saying, “These officers…paid the ultimate price.” He added, “A domestic call is probably the worst call an officer can get because emotions run so high.”

The records of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) tend to support Sheriff Tanner’s assertion about the dangers associated with domestic disturbance calls. Since 1855…546 other officers in the United States have suffered the same tragic fate.

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A look at the FBI’s report on law enforcement officers assaulted and killed confirms the fact that no assignment poses more uncertainty and danger to an officer than a domestic disturbance call… In 2005, 30 percent (17,534) of the 57,546 assaults on law officers occurred during disturbance calls…The next highest category, “Attempting other arrests,” resulted in only 17 percent (9,602) of total assaults against officers.

In addition to the highly emotional state of the crime victim and assailant in domestic violence situations, alcohol or drugs are also often involved. In fact, of the 547 officers killed during domestic disturbance calls throughout history, alcohol and/or drugs were a contributing factor in more than one-third of those cases…

Roughly three out of every four officers who died during domestic disturbance calls were shot to death, but there have been some unusual exceptions. On February 6, 2004, Orange County Deputy Sheriff Mariano Lemus, Jr., responded to a domestic disturbance call and was bitten by a suspect later confirmed to be infected with the Hepatitis C virus. Deputy Lemus contract the disease and died a year later. In 1976, Medina County, Ohio, Deputy Joseph Baca responded to a domestic disturbance call and became involved in a fight with the suspect. Although he was not injured by the suspect, he did receive several bee stings during the struggle. The stings caused a fatal allergic reaction and he died.

It was one in the morning on December 28, 1985. Meridian, Mississippi Police Officer Alma Walters, 29, had just arrived on the scene of a domestic disturbance call. She had been in the house before. It was the home of John Lanier, 29, and his 51-year-old girlfriend, Catherine Smith. Lanier had fought with Smith because she had hidden his vodka bottle. Lanier became enraged and pushed his girlfriend out of the house. Smith called police and Officer Walters responded.

Officer Walters told Lanier to go for a walk with her to cool off. Lanier testified at his trial that he had been drinking and taking drugs for 18 hours prior to his outburst of anger. When they got to the driveway a fierce struggle occurred. Officer Walters was beaten badly. Lanier took her gun and dragged her inside. Moments later a back-up officer arrived and Officer Walters bravely warned her colleague to stay outside, yelling, “He’s got my gun.” Lanier then took the gun, placed it at the back of Officer Walters’ head and pulled the trigger, killing her instantly.

When asked to comment on the case a couple of years later, Meridian Deputy Chief Steve Thomas said, “Domestic disturbances have always been and still are the most potentially dangerous call of a police officer.”

Ambush: Awareness means avoidance

from PoliceOne.Com, by Richard Fairburn, 4/05/2010

For the last 15 years, I’ve tracked two trends in the FBI Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA) annual reports: the number of officers killed each year by rifles and the number of officers killed each year in what the FBI defines as an “Ambush” situation. The LEOKA report breaks down the ambush category into two sub-categories: an “Impromptu Ambush” or a “Deliberate Ambush.”

An impromptu ambush involves a felon springing a sudden and essentially unplanned attack on an officer. An example of this type…occurred in Wisconsin on April 28th, 1994.

In Pursuit – While being pursued from their latest bank job by Captain James Lutz of the Waukesha Police Department, the Oswald father and son bank robbery team made a sudden 90 degree right turn. When Captain Lutz rounded the corner in hot pursuit, he found the two suspects out of their stopped vehicle. A Springfield Armory M1A rifle can hold a total of 21 rounds of 7.62x51mm ammunition (20 round magazine plus one in the chamber). The Oswalds quickly fired all 21 rounds into the Captain’s squad car. Just for good measure, the Oswald son then walked back to the Lutz’s car and fired a head shot from a handgun to ensure the Captain was dead. Following a wild chase, multiple carjackings, a breached roadblock, and a spectacular encounter with a large tree, police captured the Oswalds an hour after they had ambushed and murdered Captain Lutz.

A deliberate ambush generally involves one or more officers being suckered into a bogus call, like the one near Pleasanton, Texas on October 12th, 1999.

Bogus Call – An Atascosa County Deputy Sheriff responded to the second domestic violence call of the day at a home in a rural subdivision. On the first call, a man was taken into custody for domestic violence. This time, as the Deputy was exiting his vehicle, the freshly bailed out criminal cut him down in a hail of 7.62x39mm rifle bullets, followed by a couple of shots from a 12 gauge shotgun. Within two minutes, a second Atascosa Deputy arrived as backup and was killed just as quickly with the same weapons. When the two Deputies failed to respond to radio calls, a Texas DPS Trooper was dispatched to the scene. The trooper saw the downed Deputies and called in the report while attempting to back away from the scene. The suspect, who had then concealed himself in a nearby brushy area, opened fire on the trooper, wounding him in the head and hip.

Minutes later, a Pleasanton PD Patrolman and a retired US Border Patrol Agent reached the wounded trooper’s vehicle and they were both wounded as they attempted to reach the trooper. Two civilian passersby assisted the wounded patrolman and agent resulting in one civilian being wounded. During an extended exchange of gunfire with many officers, the suspect self-inflicted a fatal gunshot wound, ending the bloody day. A subsequent investigation determined the second call to the home was bogus and they found the suspect had cached ammunition in likely ambush spots.

Though the numbers vary considerably, anywhere from 11 to 20 percent of the officers killed by gunfire each year die in one of these ambush scenarios. In the deliberate ambush category, the felons often choose center-fire rifles to give them the advantage of distance and penetration.

Last year we saw several ambush killings… in the Autumn, it was the four Lakewood, Washington officers killed in a coffee shop. That suspect, Maurice Clemmons, later staged a second ambush, luring a Seattle officer with an apparently disabled vehicle. Thankfully, the Seattle officer was on high alert and the ambush backfired on the killer.

Cooper’s Colors – Hopefully, you maintain yourself in Condition Yellow whenever you are working. You must maintain yourself on a high state of alert whenever you are dispatched to a call, or when pursuing someone on foot or by vehicle. When anything seems out of place, shift to Condition Orange, until you are satisfied there is no threat. Alert officers make this shift from Yellow to Orange several times each shift, without going mad or developing a “hair trigger” mentality. You may even shift to Condition Red when a potential threat presents itself without firing your weapon.

The “Color Code” of situational awareness developed by Jeff Cooper is widely taught, but I’ve found many officers who have received inappropriate instruction on its use… In a future column I’ll give you the pure version of [it], “direct from the horse’s mouth.”

By keeping your alert system active, you can avoid many potential ambush situations. On any type of backup call, get there as quickly as prudence allows, then pause a ways out to look and listen. Even when the call is for an Officer Down — the most adrenaline-pumped police call of all — take a few seconds and a few deep breaths before blasting into the scene. In far too many cases, the first wave of backup units can become the second wave of victims. Even if the attack on the first officer wasn’t a deliberate ambush, the shooter may have taken up a position to whack you as you approach.

During any kind of pursuit, if you lose sight of the crook around a blind corner, do not bust around the corner blindly! Slow your pursuit and “peek” around the corner to see if the felon has pulled up short, waiting for you to round the corner…

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Pulling an ambush of either variety isn’t rocket science. Even the dumbest crooks can pull one off. In Jonesboro, Arkansas, two boys, aged 11 and 13 years, pulled the fire alarm to initiate a near-perfect ambush in which they killed five and wounded 10 at the Westside Middle School in 1998.

You must stay vigilant to the possibility of an ambush and avoid them whenever possible.

Know your enemy: Militant militias targeting cops

from PoliceOne.Com, by James “Jim” Guffey, 4/16/2010

Domestic militias know the customs of America and can blend in far better than any foreign terrorist.

… One of the dictums in the [Art of War by Sun Tzu] book was “Know your enemy and know yourself and in a thousand battles you will never know defeat.” With the news that has come out over the past several weeks concerning militia groups — particularly those that specifically target police — this dictum now appears to have more importance than ever before.

… I’ve studied militia and hate groups for years because I’ve always thought they were a more serious danger to the United States, and to law enforcement, that any foreign terrorist group. If you think about it, they are members of the social group, share the same social outlooks, know the customs of America, and can blend in far better than any foreign terrorist. In my book, this makes them far more dangerous. However, how much do officers really know about militia groups and what they stand for?

Probably not much.

… The first thing in dealing with any extremist group, then, is to follow Sun Tzu and know your enemy. When it comes to hate groups, the best place is the Southern Poverty Law Center. The best thing about their website is what they call the Hate Map. Looking at it I know that there are 28 separate hate groups in Pennsylvania and, around my hometown of Pittsburgh, there are six that could cause problems. There are two Black Separatist groups, a Racist Skinhead group, two White Nationalist groups, and a Neo-Nazi group. Once you know what’s around you, the next thing is to find out what each group stands for. This will be the focus of part two of this article (coming a couple of weeks from now).

After you’ve studied these groups and know what they stand for, the next thing might prove to be a bit tougher. You may have to swallow a little pride and understand that, on the whole, these groups train harder than you. They spend a significant portion of their waking hours brooding over what they perceive as a country gone bad and how to fix it — and usually by violent means.

This violent means, by definition, involves how to destroy you, the police. Many individuals in these fringe militia groups see you as the force that maintains the status quo. Many members of these groups have spent time in the military and pass their military training on to those who have not. Many members have spent time in a prison facility where they’ve done nothing all day but learn how to be better criminals and you can bet they pass this information along.

Next, you, the police, have to spend time improving your tactical skills. The important thing to remember is that these tactical skills are not necessarily physical. You’ve got to think tactically. You’ve got to think the whole time you’re out on the road because if you realize that an ambush is about to happen you can defeat the ambush before it is completely formed.

It’s particularly painful to come to the understanding that your enemy might not be who you think…you’ll find that two police officers taught much of the material to the Idaho militia in 1986. They were only asked to leave their department once their involvement became known.

Also, know that you cannot develop habits. As proof I’d ask you to check out two websites. One is COP FIND… This website allows people to put down where police like to park on a consistent basis. Someone who wants to locate a police officer bad enough need only register on cop find and look you up. Check out the site yourself and see what happens when you check your area.

The second one is similar, although not packaged as expressly for the function of “finding cops.” It’s called Trapster… The purpose of this site is to let its users “avoid cops” and not drive into speed traps. But again, if you think tactically — think like your enemy — then you can easily see how it can be used for nefarious purposes.

…I’ll be back in a couple of weeks with part two. In the meantime, stay safe.