I read Mr. Tony Blauer’s 15 August 2017 article titled “Lessons from a Vicious Ambush.” As usual, Mr. Blauer was spot on. But even more importantly, I learned something new that gave me reason to pause and reassess my own methods of dealing with such situations.
I believe I’ve always been pretty tactically sound with the various undercover, “jump-out” type units I worked in throughout my career. But resting on one’s laurels is a recipe for disaster. Training, regardless of one’s abilities, must be constantly refined. There is nothing I can add to Mr. Blauer’s article or his expertise.
What I am focusing on in this article, is what I shared with my department the day the video was released. The video was frozen at the precise moment that the offender shot the police officer. This article is based on what I told my troops that day.
The Face of Intent
Take a look at the photo. What do you see? It’s incredibly rare to get such a clear picture of an offender at the very precise time that he/she made the decision to try and take a life. So, look at the photo once more. Look into the eyes of the person that is going to try and take your life. Chances are, this would all be a blur at this point if you were the officer pursuing this offender. But the facts remain the facts whether you clearly saw this person or not. Look at the person again. What do you see? What jumps out at you?
The offender doesn’t necessarily have the look of evil in his eyes, does he? He looks like someone who you may have called to by name and he merely turned around to see who is calling him. His face his not contorted into a mask of rage. His forehead is not even cringed or his jaw tightened.
The offender is looking directly at where his gun is pointed. There is a slight cant to the gun, but speed of draw and firing was of the utmost importance to him. We have all heard a million times “keep your finger off of the trigger, until you are ready to fire.” Clearly, the offender was ready. There was no second guessing. His actions were going to be fluid. He was not going to be denied.
And even with all motions going on, as the offender was prepared to fire his gun at a police officer, he remained on his cell phone, gingerly holding it as would any “normal” person—that is, any person who was not about to attempt to commit murder.
Beyond all the training issues, what I find most striking and terrifying, is how easily and nonchalantly he seems to be able to try to kill another human being. He remained on the phone as if he was waiting on hold with the cable company.
Many cops hold a preconceived notion of what evil looks like and how it acts. I think this case shows the limits of our imaginations. A person walking away from an officer, or even running from an officer, is not, in and of itself, evil or dangerous at all. The person yelling and ranting in anger over perceived mistreatment is not a danger just because of the tone. And a person who is matter-of-fact, calm, and seemingly engaged in other mundane actions, is not necessarily harmless.
Law enforcement must fully realize that there are many people who have absolutely no issue taking a life if they feel threatened or even bothered. Just knowing this and fully embracing every eventuality sets the table very nicely for Mr. Blauer’s article, which I highly suggest you read again.
Perhaps this is more a lesson in sociology than it is in police tactics. I acknowledge that. But I also submit to you that the criminals, particularly those prone to violence, are the most attuned sociologists in the field. They are expert in how to use and interpret body language. They know how to deceive and curry favor. They know when and how to attack, and kill if it suits their ends. It is our job to protect our communities from such people, and to do that we must acknowledge that they, however rarely, do exist.