5 Universal Survival Lessons Learned from Assaults on Conservation Officers

December 14, 2020

An interesting survey of conservation officers in the U.S. and Canada surfaced some important survival truths that are relevant for all officers. The project dove into the details of 379 violent encounters between offenders and conservation personnel during a three-year study sample period. Although focused specifically on conservation officers and conducted some years ago, the study yielded some survival lessons you should remember:

1. Stay alert to “personal weapons.”

The weapon most frequently used in the assaults studied was a “personal weapon”; that is, some part of the body—hands, fists, feet, head, etc.—“which can be employed as a weapon.” Personal weapons (sometimes combined with other weapons) accounted for 47% of the U.S. assaults, 49% of those in Canada.

That suggests that the old adage “Watch the hands” is really too limiting. When dealing with any subject, you have to be alert, at least in your peripheral vision, to his/her full body, watching for pre-attack warning signs and postures—like those explained in Calibre Press’s Spotting Pre-Assault Indicators and Read, Recognize, Respond courses— and you must maintain a good reactionary gap.

Firearms, the second most popular weapon, were used 25% of the time in the U.S., vehicles 21%, knives and other cutting instruments 1% and other weapons, including bottles and sticks, 7%.

2. Familiarity and previous non-violent encounters with offenders are not reasons for complacency.

In the U.S., at least 16% of the offenders were known by the officers they assaulted, either from previous law enforcement interaction or from a previous non-professional relationship. In Canada, the danger of the familiar was even more striking. There, 49% of offenders had a previous law enforcement relationship with the assaulted officers and 8% had previous non-professional contact.

Familiarity may breed contempt among offenders; it should never breed complacency among officers.

3. “Routine” patrol can quickly and unexpectedly become a high-risk activity.

The most common activity leading to an assault was “confronting violators without a warrant.” The second most common was what the survey described as “routine patrol.” The simple chore of checking hunting licenses, for example, led to 13% of the assaults in Canada.

What we repeatedly reiterate at Calibre Press can’t be said too often: So long as you are on patrol, you should be operating in Condition Yellow. Expect the unexpected…and when you least expect it, expect it.

4. Danger finds cops in daylight as well as darkness.

Where times were reported, 44% of the attacks occurred during predominantly daylight hours (0600 – 1800 hours) in the U.S., particularly in the afternoon, which accounted for 30% of the assaults. During the three years surveyed, only one 2-hour time period was without any assaults: from 0400 – 0600 hours.

Predominantly dark hours were marginally more dangerous in Canada, but even so nearly 40% of assaults occurred between 0600 – 1800 hours, with nearly 30% again occurring in the afternoon.

5. There is no guaranteed safety in numbers.

Nearly half the U.S. officers assaulted—47%—were working with at least one other officer at the time the attack occurred. In Canada, at least 63% of assaulted officers were working with partners.

Obviously, a significant percentage of offenders are not intimidated just because multiple officers are present. How many of the assaults might have been prevented, however, by proper Contact/Cover tactics isn’t known.

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