The year 2007 was not kind to American law enforcement. According to preliminary reports 186 state, local and federal officers were killed in this country. Marking a 34 percent increase from 2006, the year shaped up to be the most violent year for police in this country since the 1970’s. Of significance is armed assault against police, which had seen a 34 percent increase since 2006.
There is a new breed of hyper-violent criminal on the streets today—armed, violent and with no compunction to open fire and no concern of getting caught. With broken criminal justice and correction systems burdened by more than two million inmates currently incarcerated in federal, state and local prisons and jails (more than 13.5 million will be incarcerated over the course of the year), and a recidivism rate greater than 67 percent, we have a constant stream of violent parolees and probationers being released upon society only to be re-arrested.
Virginia Tech’s Cho Seung-Hui unleashed a torrent of violence, killing 32. In Cleveland, 14-year-old Asa Coon shot four students before committing suicide when confronted by Cleveland Police. In our nation’s prisons, which have turned into modern gladiatorial training grounds, we have the Aryan Brotherhood, MS-13 (Mara Salvatrucha), Black Guerilla Family and the Mexican Mafia. Society is inundated with violent TV, movies and video games, an increase in single-parent households and readily available legal and illegal drugs: All in all, the future does not look bright…or safe.
The Unusual Suspects
Item: 15-year-old Tyler Dumstorf sniped and killed Deputy Frank Denzinger and seriously wounded Deputy Joel White of the Floyd County Sheriff’s Office in Indiana with an M1 Garand as they stood talking with his mother in her driveway reference a mother/son domestic call.
Item: Officer Norvelle Brown, eight months out of the St. Louis academy is killed by a 15-year-old lying in ambush, wanting to “kill a cop.”
Item: Responding to a domestic violence call Corporals Abel Marquez, Scott Garner and Arlie Jones were shot and killed in Odessa, Texas by 58-year-old Larry White, armed with a 12-gauge shotgun.
Age, race, gender, size or nature of the call doesn’t matter. This last year officers were killed and assaulted on all types of calls by all manner of suspects. Certainly shots-fired or man-with-gun calls raise officer’s awareness levels, but we must remind ourselves that there are no “safe” or “routine” calls. Indeed, younger suspects or previous non-violent contact with a suspect can often times lull us into a false sense of security. For instance, when Corporal Bruce McKay of the Franconia Police Department in New Hampshire attempted to vehicle-stop 24-year-old Liko Kenney and the suspect drove off, it was not the officer’s first contact with this suspect. Previously Corporal McKay had to use force to subdue Kenney during another traffic encounter. This time was different though. McKay used his push bumper to force Kenney’s car to a stop. Corporal McKay approached Kenney and used his pepper spray on the suspect then, sadly, turned his back and walked away. Liko Kenney produced a semi-auto pistol and shot the officer multiple times before driving over McKay, killing him.
Further, gang members present unique violent problems for law enforcement today. According to the recently published U.S. Justice Department report, Violent Encounters: A Study of Felonious Assaults on Our Nation’s Law Enforcement Officers, “gang members either inflicted or attempted to inflict injuries on officers with greater severity than appeared warranted under the circumstances. Not only were these offenders without remorse for their actions, but they appeared to take pride in the assaults on law enforcement officers.” One gang member in the study replied when asked about involvement in shootings, “It’s hard to count them. I mean, I’ve been in so much stuff.” He went on to say that his gang tired of watching the news to see who they shot because they shot so many people.
In times past, we could say that offenders we met on the street would have little to no firearms training or experience. Such is not the case today. The Justice report indicates many receive some type of firearms training and about half the suspects studied reported being in shootings prior to the incident in which they were arrested for assaulting an officer. Previous studies describe some of these suspects as street combat veterans with five or more previous shootings in their lifetimes.
Officers Must Always Be “Switched” On
“Life is a live-fire 360-degree environment,” someone once said and officers must be ever vigilant as the late-great Col. Jeff Cooper advised to, “constantly scan their environment and what comes into it as the threat it presents to you.” You never know what you might walk into. Officer Charles Cassidy from the Philadelphia Police Department was killed when he walked into a store that was being robbed. Projecting readiness and awareness does a lot to prevent officer assaults as suspects peg you as a “hard” target, but actually being mentally and physically prepared cuts down your response time substantially when the attack comes. Additionally, suspects will frequently “tell” you of their intentions by virtue of their body language. Suspects will “set” their bodies prior to an attack. If you’re “switched on” you perceive this body language and suspect preparation—but if you’re “switched off” you miss it possibly until the attack is already underway. Anticipating resistance and attack is not paranoia in today’s violent culture…it is simply accepting that you work in a violent profession and you may be assaulted anywhere, at anytime.
Mindset and the mental aspects of winning against the hyper-violent are as much as 90 percent attributable to officer survival, yet appear in less than 50 percent in surveys of police, according to the recent book Mindsighting: Mental Toughness Skills for Police Officers in High Stress Situations (Michael Asken, PhD; 2005). As the author points out, these mental skills are seldom practiced by officers. Simply talking about survival or winning against all odds is not the same as actually practicing the visualization, mental rehearsal, physical skills practice and force-on-force training that imbeds winning into your very core.
Training is the Key
During the past 10 years an overemphasis was placed on “community policing” and training courses that were of a “kinder-gentler” mold. If money came into a department it revolved around the “broken-windows community policing model” or cultural diversity or sensitivity training, not to prevent the officer’s “broken arm.” This was a tremendous disservice to law enforcement. Additionally, police firearms training has been in large part directed to state or agency qualification shoots, which have little to no resemblance to the up-close and extremely violent nature of most armed encounters. Couple the inappropriate training with the infrequency of once-or-twice-a-year firearms training in most agencies, and the result was a deplorable hit rate in actual police shootings.
Training is the key and it must be relevant, realistic and repetitive. Dare I say it, it must be hard! Training of all kinds: suspect control, emergency response driving, firearms and tactics must actually prepare officers for the physical and mental actions, decisions and judgments they will make on the streets. We must remember that “The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed on the street.” Police administrations must funnel budget monies towards hands-on training. All too often, courses and training are denied until after a civil suit (which has been the driving force in police training over the last 10 or more years). The problem with this mindset in terms of firearms and tactics training is that frequently it is paid for in officer’s blood.
As a model, most police tactical teams approach firearms and tactical training correctly. They have identified core, critical tasks that tactical operators must perform and then drill them repeatedly. Like football games, it is the basics mastered that win violent police encounters. Tactical teams master the basics and then engage in force-on-force training using Simunitions, paintball or airsoft. The goal is to have training as close to operational conditions as possible. Officers are then exposed to mock violence that inoculates them somewhat to the fight-or-flight reflex they will experience in actual incidents.
The So-Called “Arms Race”
With the upswing in officer deaths making the news as of late, we hear about suspects using “high powered assault rifles” against police and the resultant need of officers to engage in an “arms race” with offenders by equipping their troops with rifles. No officer wants to face a suspect armed with an AK-47, but oftentimes rifle attacks are committed by suspects armed with hunting type rifles and certainly the .30-06 that 15-year-old cop killer Tyler Dumstorf used to shoot two deputies in Indiana was of a higher ballistic capability than the 7.62x39mm AK. The truth is that rifles were used in three officer deaths in 2005 (out of 50 killed by firearms) and eight officer murders last year (out of 46 officers shot and killed). Handguns have always been the firearms most used against law enforcement and everything from .25 ACP to .40-cal. pistols and revolvers have been used this year against cops. The ability of handguns to be concealed is the reason they are used. As Pierce Brooks wrote in his seminal police training manual, …officer down, code three more than 30 years ago, officers fall victim to concealed weapons because they frequently fail to search or, search poorly, suspects. Telltale signs of carrying concealed, i.e. bulges around the waistband and touching or readjusting the concealed firearm, are ignored by officers who are not “switched on.”
With all the above said, I am still a strong advocate of police carbines and have been training instructors and operators for my agency and the state academy for a number of years. This is not an “arms race” with criminal suspects for indeed we will always, based on the confines of the law, have restraints placed on us (suspects can fire indiscriminately without regard to bystanders, indeed can and do “hose” an area with fire). Rifles are desirable for law enforcement primarily because of their increased accuracy potential and their ballistic performance. Given the right quantity and quality of training (training being the key…see above) an officer armed with an AR-15 or M4 is a force to be reckoned with. Suspects Platt and Matix in South Florida, and Philips and Matasareanu in North Hollywood showed law enforcement the need for police carbines. Clint Smith of Thunder Ranch led the way in developing the training for the urban rifle programs in existence today. Rifles had been in police armories for years. Indeed when I came on the job M1 Carbines, M1 Garands and even an occasional B.A.R. (Browning Automatic Rifle) sat unused in many a police department arms vault. S.W.A.T. teams had transitioned from using M16’s when most formed in the late 1970s, to HK MP5 submachine guns (still an excellent entry weapon for hostage rescue and narcotics search warrant in my opinion). Now, many agencies throughout this country are seriously looking at implementing a patrol carbine program. Realistic and repetitive training are vital to fielding a competent rifle-armed officer, with the industry standard of at least three solid days of training making that possible.
Officers must also consider carrying a second or “back-up” pistol or revolver. Since high-capacity semi-auto pistols have come into vogue, the practice of carrying a second weapon has fallen out of practice. A concealed second pistol accessible to either hand is insurance in case your duty pistol is taken from you, or lost, or malfunctions and cannot be put back in service. Officers are encouraged to carry and train with a duty-equivalent-caliber pistol (a worst case scenario is not the time for a mouse gun).
Defeating Hyper-Violent Suspects
Success in prevailing against society’s most violent is dependant on many factors, a holistic method, if you will: First, an officer who is constantly assessing his environment and the people within it in preparation for sudden attack or resistance. An officer who is mentally and physically prepared to deal with violence, that has been there before in realistic training conducted on a regular basis. An officer who is properly equipped with less-lethal weapons and understands that if they fail there is always a Plan B that will prevail. An officer that carries a duty pistol capable of stopping an assailant and able to deliver that fight-stopping accuracy on target based on firearms training that properly prepares them, regardless of the situation. An officer who has the capability of arming himself with a police rifle and is well schooled in its use. And finally, an officer who knows that he will win regardless of what is thrown at him. These are the traits and components of defeating the hyper-violent. We can and we must accept that the threat is real, and understand what is required to win.
The year 2007 was not kind to American law enforcement. According to preliminary…
by Jim Dillard / May 1, 2008