Survival Lessons Learned from Assaults on Officers

February 4, 2020

Part 2 of a 2-part series

In the first installment of this series, we dove into an iconic FBI report, In the Line of Fire: Violence Against Law Enforcement, authored by law enforcement researchers Dr. Anthony Pinizzotto, Edward Davis and Charles Miller. This groundbreaking publication, first released in ’97, revealed a wealth of officer survival insights they surfaced after evaluating 40 shootings and other serious assaults on police.

Although time has passed, the life-saving value of the information in the report has not. In this second installment we share the remaining lessons learned from their work:

7. Communicating full information to dispatch works to your advantage. One officer who was attacked during a traffic stop was injured so badly he was barely able to speak. He was able to let dispatch know he was injured, and that was about it.

Because that officer habitually supplied the nature and location of all his stops to dispatch when he initiated them, however, the dispatcher was able to immediately broadcast a description of the suspect vehicle and, more importantly, knew precisely where to send an ambulance.

The attacker was captured a short distance from the scene.  The officer, although bleeding profusely when help arrived, was saved. He credits his “proper notification to the dispatcher with saving his life.”

Another officer in the study pointed out an additional advantage of full communication on a traffic stop.  “The officer stated that other patrol units in the area monitor these broadcasts and very often ‘roll by’ the location of the stop. This makes assistance more readily available when required. The visible presence of additional units may deter a suspect who is contemplating an assault.”

8. Communicate with your partner, too. Two officers from a municipal department were trying to make an arrest for “drinking in public.” The subject rabbited and a foot pursuit ensued.

During the chase, the suspect drew a handgun, turned and fired at the officers. One officer dove for cover and was surprised when his partner did not.

“The officer who sought cover was the officer who saw the handgun. He failed to convey this information to his partner. The officers had never practiced sharing information during any of their training sessions. Simple communication skills could prevent injury.”

9. Remember to monitor your environment. One evening two officers stopped a driver for a minor traffic infraction in what amounted to an “open-air drug market,” where numerous civilians were on the street. The guy they’d stopped was a well-known drug dealer who conducted his narcotics business in the immediate vicinity.

Both officers exited their unit and were standing at the rear of the suspect vehicle while one of them wrote a citation. The driver was standing nearby. An associate of the driver approached out of the passing crowd and immediately fired several rounds at the ticketing officer, who was seriously wounded and fell to the ground. His partner fired at the fleeing gunman but missed.

After the attacker was captured later, he remarked that the assault was “easy to accomplish,” as both the officers were focusing their attention on the violator. “Neither officer was aware of the offender’s presence until his shots were fired.”

10. Control your suspect before he or she controls you. Several offenders told the researchers that they felt the victim officer “should have taken control of them at some earlier point in the contact, thereby avoiding the assault situation entirely.” Instead, officers “allowed them to exit their vehicles and move about in unrestricted fashion.”

In some cases, officers apparently were reluctant to exert control because the offender “appeared passive” and cooperative “up until the moment of attack.” One officer who had stopped a stolen car allowed the driver to step out of the vehicle at will, rather than conduct a controlled, high-risk vehicle stop.

The officer and the suspect engaged in conversation which “deteriorated” as the offender became “increasingly aggressive.” By the time the officer realized he needed assistance, “it was too late.” Though he did attempt to return to his unit to call for help, he was attacked by the offender and disarmed.

The attacker said later he “felt he had the upper hand in the situation, as the officer appeared to be very tolerant and non-controlling.”

11. If you find one weapon or some contraband, keep looking. More than one-fourth of offenders reported carrying a second weapon at least part of the time. In most instances, the second weapon was a handgun.

“All offenders carrying a second weapon hoped to use it against a law enforcement officer or any other person who removed the first weapon from them.”

In some cases, officers stopped searching when they found contraband—even though the suspect also carried a weapon which they hadn’t found. “Officers interviewed stated they experienced problems in remaining focused while conducting searches.”

12. Learn first aid. During a confrontation that developed on a suspicious person call, an officer’s throat was cut from ear to ear. He saved himself from further injury by shooting the assailant.

Numerous officers responded to his call for help, “yet none of these officers attempted any sort of first aid.” The first person to render him any aid was an ER physician. This consisted of the single, simple act of placing a hand over the wound to stop the flow of blood.

The victim officer had received first aid training in the academy, but it had not been refreshed and reinforced in-service. He said that if he had responded to assist another officer, “he would not have administered first aid and did not think to self-administer a compression to stop the flow of his own blood.”

13. Incorporate decision making in your own use-of-force training. The researchers report: “While all the assaulted officers felt that it was appropriate to wrestle or tussle with an offender, some experienced difficulty in determining the point at which to progress to the next level of force.

“Many officers also had great difficulty recognizing the point at which they were actually fighting for their lives. Some officers had to make a conscious effort to recall their departments’ use of force policy prior to the initiation of necessary force. In some instances, that recall came too late.”

Some final thoughts from the authors of the report: “It is obvious from the results of this study that an arrest for what appears to be a minor infraction of the law might well result in a felonious assault against a police officer.

“During an unplanned encounter with a violator of the law, an officer does not possess, nor has he or she the means to possess, prior knowledge of the violator’s previous criminal history, previous criminal actions, and willingness to use force and violence against law enforcement personnel.

“While these types of individuals represent a very small portion of the total population, law enforcement must recognize that in order to serve and protect the larger community, they much first be prepared to protect themselves.”

Words to live by.

For many more powerful, potentially life-saving officer survival insights, be sure to read the Calibre Press book, STREET SURVIVAL II.

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