Officer Down: The Peter Soulis Incident - Below 100 - LawOfficer.com

Officer Down: The Peter Soulis Incident

 


 

Brian McKenna | From the December 2008 Issue Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Officer Peter Soulis was monitoring traffic from a service station parking lot when he spotted a Toyota pull onto the lot with its lights off. The driver drove to a spot directly in Soulis' line of sight, turned the Toyota toward the street and stopped. Ignoring Soulis, he sat eyes straight ahead, focused on the small strip mall across the street. It was almost midnight, and the only business still open in the mall was a sandwich shop.

Soulis decided to investigate. The lot was dimly lit, so he left his headlights off as he pulled forward and stopped behind the Toyota. After angling his car to the left for cover, he logged out on his MDT, grabbed his heavy-duty flashlight, and stepped out into the cool night air. The driver never took his eyes off the strip mall.

Soulis, a safety-conscious, 38-year-old officer with 11 years on the job, worked for a large metropolitan police department in a city with more than its share of violent crime, but the driver didn't look like a trouble-maker and appeared only to be drunk. Still, Soulis knew better than to take anything for granted. Waiting to turn the flashlight on until he got closer, he cautiously moved to a spot about 10 feet behind the Toyota.

Suddenly, the driver lunged to his right and down. Without conscious thought, Soulis drew his gun a .40 caliber Glock 22 as he moved to his left and shined the light into the car. "Show me your hands!" he shouted.

Slowly and without looking at Soulis, the driver sat up and raised his hands. He didn't say a word as he kept his eyes riveted straight ahead.

At Soulis' command, the man slowly exited the car with both hands in full view. Soulis was now standing well off to the left of the Toyota with his flashlight aimed into its front seat. Glancing past the driver, he spotted a beer lying on its side on the floorboard, its contents foaming out onto the carpet. He relaxed a little at the sight of the open beer, but kept his guard up.

Soulis kept his light on the driver as he reholstered and ordered him to come to him. Obediently, the driver stepped forward and handed Soulis his driver's license. After frisking the man for weapons and finding none, Soulis checked the license and identified the driver as Tim Palmer, a 27-year-old from a small town located many miles from there.

"What are you doing on this lot?" Soulis asked.

Palmer started fidgeting as he replied that he was waiting for some friends and had stopped to use the station's pay phone. Soulis knew that was a lie. Palmer had never gone near the pay phone.

He decided to run him for warrants but suspected he might take off on foot. After ordering Palmer to return to his car, he walked backwards to his cruiser, sat down, and tried to run him on his MDT. But NCIC was down, so there wasn't much he could do. He decided to ask for permission to search the Toyota and take it from there.

In the meantime, he noticed Palmer was nervously glancing around in every direction as he sat waiting in the Toyota. Although not particularly alarmed, Soulis didn't like what he saw. Becoming increasingly convinced that Palmer intended to run, he lit up the car with his spotlight, headlights and takedown lights.

At first, Palmer turned away from the blazing light, but then he adjusted his inside mirror and fixed his eyes on Soulis. Now even more distrustful of Palmer, Soulis opened his door to start his approach, only to see Palmer's door also swinging open. Moving quickly to make contact before Palmer could run, Soulis stepped out of his car and started forward.

He'd gone barely 10 feet when the alarm bells went off. No fear or panic, but his senses were crying out for greater caution, and he changed his approach. He circled around the back of his cruiser and moved up to the passenger side of the Toyota.

As he stopped alongside the car's right-rear fender and looked inside, every instinct told him Palmer was armed and waiting for him. The man was sitting behind the wheel, hunched forward with both feet firmly planted on the floorboard, his eyes glued to the mirror and his right hand thrust between his legs. His left arm was locked straight down along his left side, pressed down onto the floor next to the open driver's door as he readied himself to spring into action.

Soulis' first thought was to go back to his car and call Palmer out, but he would have to retreat across open ground to do that. Confident his position gave him a solid tactical advantage, he drew his gun as he shouted, "Show me your hands, and get outta the car!"

Soulis had planned to shoot through the back window if Palmer drew a weapon, but for reasons he still doesn't fully understand, he moved forward and to his right, stopping alongside the passenger door, not more than two feet from the window. Instantly, he realized he'd made a grievous blunder. Grinning with blood lust, Palmer lunged across the seat and shoved a Smith & Wesson Sigma up into firing position. Before Soulis could react, the S&W barked flame, driving a 9mm solidly into the center of his chest. The impact knocked Soulis back slightly, but his vest stopped the bullet.

Palmer was out of the Toyota a split-second later, firing the gun at him over the roof. There was no other cover nearby, so Soulis went down onto one knee behind the front fender to put the Toyota between them. But, at the same instant, two rounds crashed through his left arm, one just above the wrist and the other dead center on the forearm. Another struck him in the left thigh, although he wouldn't become aware of it until later.

Soulis was shooting back now, pumping rounds through the windshield into his assailant. Palmer went down immediately, and Soulis used the opportunity to seek better cover. The only decent cover nearby was his patrol car, so he started backpedaling in that direction, Glock at the ready and eyes scanning for Palmer's return as he moved. Then, spotting the cruiser out of the corner of one eye, he turned and started to sprint toward it. He had barely completed the turn when Palmer opened fire again. One round missed, but another tore through his left shoulder and exited his left bicep. He kept moving until he reached the back of the car, where he dropped to one knee and got back into the fight.

Palmer was scurrying back and forth down the driver's side of the Toyota, shrieking with rage and stopping sporadically to fire, but Soulis was more patient. He held his fire, waited for Palmer's head to pop into view, and then took a shot each time it appeared. Although Soulis knew he was getting hits, Palmer seemed impervious to his gunfire.

Soulis was also becoming apprehensive about his wounds. The bullet hole in his left wrist was an ugly, swollen mess that made him wonder if he would have enough dexterity to reload, and the one in his thigh was spewing blood all over the back of his cruiser. Believing his femoral artery had been hit, he pressed his left hand down over the wound, but that only caused the blood to shoot out another, previously unseen bullet hole. He feared he would bleed out before he could stop Palmer.

Soulis also heard a woman screaming across the street, leading him to believe he may have hit a bystander. He later learned she'd only been screaming in fear, but at the time he could only think of having hurt one of his citizens, and the idea angered him. It also had an unexpected effect it made him focus on the importance of stopping Palmer before someone else got hurt.

With these thoughts came an unexpected calm, followed by a new resolve. Up to this point, he'd been fighting a commendable, though primarily defensive battle. But now, infused with the realization that Palmer had to be stopped and that only he could do it, he went on the offensive. Now the predator, he resolved that Palmer would never leave the parking lot, even if he had to take more hits to stop him.

Soulis' gun wasn't empty yet, but he knew better than to take the offensive without reloading. As he ejected the partially empty magazine and slapped in a fresh one, he saw something he hadn't expected. Apparently, Palmer had seen the ejected magazine hit the ground and assumed Soulis had either collapsed or run out of ammo. He left the cover of the Toyota, and advanced toward Soulis. Unaware that he was approaching a conscious and fully armed police officer who knew how to capitalize on an opportunity like this, Palmer walked toward the cruiser. Soulis waited patiently, tracking the man's approach by watching his feet under the cruiser.

Palmer hesitated when he reached the cruiser's right-front fender, as if to consider moving over to the driver's side. Soulis knew he'd have trouble tracking Palmer if he came around that way, so he decided to make his move without delay. He lunged out from behind the car, thrust the Glock up into firing position, and opened fire. His first two rounds hit Palmer center chest, rocking him back on his heels. Palmer flinched as two more rounds hit center mass, and then started backpedaling toward the Toyota. He was still holding his gun, but never raised it to fire.

After reaching the car, Palmer dove over the trunk and dropped out of sight. Soulis paused, and then cautiously started forward again. As he moved closer, he spotted Palmer crawling up into the Toyota's front seat and starting the engine.

Soulis stopped and fired two rounds through the back window. The first missed, but the second hit Palmer in the upper back, driving his head forward into the steering wheel. That seemed to have done the trick, but then Palmer sat up again, dropped the transmission into reverse, and started backing up. With no time to ponder how Palmer had absorbed so many hits, Soulis took aim and emptied the magazine into his assailant.

Palmer rolled over to his right and dropped the gear shift lever into drive, causing the car to lunge forward into a chainlink fence a few feet away, where it came to a stop. After watching Palmer long enough to make sure he didn't get up again, Soulis called for backup and waited for help to arrive.

The Aftermath
Remarkably, Palmer had taken 22 hits from Soulis' .40-caliber Glock, 17 of which had hit center mass. Despite the fact that the weapon had been loaded with Ranger SXTs considered by many to be one of the best man-stoppers available Palmer lived for more than four minutes after the last shot was fired. His autopsy revealed nothing more than a small amount of alcohol in his bloodstream. Although Soulis could not have known it, Palmer was wanted for murder in a neighboring state.

Soulis made a full recovery and returned to work less than a month later. He has since retired, and now works for a national railroad as its principle special agent for counterterrorism. He also serves as an adjunct instructor for KFD Training & Consultation and Policecombat.com, which provide cutting edge training for police officers in advanced close quarters combative tactics and officer survival skills.

Discussion & Analysis
Soulis is quick to point out that he made a grave error when he moved up next to Palmer's passenger door, but he courageously overcame that mistake. Motivated by an unshakable commitment to winning and a warrior spirit, he went on the offensive and turned an almost certain defeat into an impressive victory.

This incident included many other important learning points life-saving lessons purchased with Soulis' blood. We owe it to him to learn as much as we can from them.

An in-depth analysis of this case reveals many other crucial lessons related to officer safety, including how to respond to danger signs, how to handle suspicious persons, the hazards of allowing a motorist to return to his vehicle, what to do when you suspect a subject may be armed, resilience to gunfire and how to win even in the most desperate situation.

A thorough analysis of this critical incident is below. Before you read it, however, review the discussion questions below and work through your own answers.

Stay safe.

Note: The incident recounted here is true, but the suspect's name was changed to ensure his family's privacy. In order to preserve confidentiality and clarity, some facts have been altered slightly, but the essential elements of the story remain unchanged.

 

Discussion Questions
1. Officers often fail to react properly to danger signs. What can you do to alleviate this problem?

2. Suspicious-person calls are more dangerous than many officers realize. How does this affect the way they handle them? Discuss ways to handle suspicious persons safely.

3. Should you ever permit a motorist to return to his vehicle? If we tell the motorist to remain outside his vehicle, what tactics can we use to maximize our control of him?

4. It's very dangerous to order someone to show you his hands if you suspect he may be armed because it gives him the opportunity to produce a gun. I recommend that officers issue the command, "Don't move or I'll shoot!" instead. Do you agree? Why or why not?

5. Subconscious thoughts sometimes cause officers to do things that increase their vulnerability. What can you do to correct this problem?

6. How can we prepare for the possibility that our gunfire may not stop an opponent immediately? What should our attitude be if we're hit by gunfire?

7. What can this case teach us about how to win in the face of a desperate situation like the one faced by Soulis?

8. In what ways did Soulis' attitude and actions exemplify winning mindset and warrior spirit?

Analysis

Danger Signs
A careful analysis of this case discloses a number of critical danger signs, some of which were more obvious than others. The first of these appeared when Palmer pulled onto the parking lot with his lights off and focused his attention across the street. Although there could have been an innocent explanation for this behavior, it was still suspicious enough to call for caution. Later, the threat increased when Palmer lunged toward the floorboard during Soulis initial approach. Although Palmer immediately became compliant when Soulis pulled his gun on him, it is important to consider the fact that he continued to stare straight ahead afterwards. This was rather unusual, and although often overlooked by many officers such behavior is a significant danger sign. In the experience of several of the officers interviewed for this column in the past, people who deliberately ignore or turn away from officers often wind up attacking them later.

Unfortunately, the significance of these danger signs diminished greatly in Soulis mind when he spotted the open beer on the floor of the car. This is a common problem. When apparent threats appear to be unfounded in light of new information, we tend to relax under the assumption that the new information is more reliable than our initial instincts. It is better to assume that our original concerns were warranted, and proceed accordingly until those concerns are clearly proven to be false.

Palmer s behavior became more suspicious while he waited for Soulis to run his name through NCIC. His excessive head movements, efforts to watch Soulis in the mirror, and attempt to increase his mobility by opening of his car door were all suspicious actions that, when taken together, revealed a high potential for danger. This fact was not lost on Officer Soulis, of course. In fact, it was his instinctive recognition of the danger that triggered his decision to approach Palmer s car from the passenger side, a decision that may well have saved his life (more on this later).

But why did it take so long for Soulis alarm bells to go off? The answer lies in human nature. Although we have a powerful built-in survival instinct that identifies subtle danger signs and then alerts us to them through feelings of alarm or fear, we tend to base our responses to this instinct on past experience. Since we rarely, if ever, get hurt when investigating suspicious behavior, we learn to let our guard down, effectively becoming victims of our own success.

In this case, for example, Officer Soulis suspected that Palmer might be involved in some kind of criminal activity, but, based upon his past experience, he didn t feel particularly threatened by him. Instead, he focused primarily on the possibility that Palmer would run, and responded accordingly. As a result, like many officers, he initially missed the true significance of Palmer s suspicious behavior. Fortunately, his instincts alerted him to the danger in time to do something about it, but if we aren t careful, the warning can come too late.

This problem can be significantly alleviated by making a commitment to put officer safety first. This is not to say that we should be any less aggressive in fighting crime or confronting violent offenders. To the contrary, we have a duty to confront violence with courage and an unwavering commitment to public safety, but our focus must always be centered on safety first.

We must constantly scan for danger signs while asking ourselves, What is there about this situation that makes me vulnerable, and what can I do about it? Then, when we detect anything that increases our vulnerability, we should compensate by taking cover, changing to higher-risk tactics, calling for backup, etc. It isn t always possible, or even desirable, to employ high-profile tactics, but we can at least raise our awareness level and start planning a response in case something goes wrong.

Like physical behaviors, thoughts can become habits through repetition. If you make a conscious effort to make safety your top priority on every call, it will eventually become a habit that crowds out other, less desirable thoughts and emotions, like tendency to rationalize danger signs away or the desire to rush ahead when we notice something suspicious. It takes commitment and a little effort, but safety awareness can eventually become an integral part of everything you do.

Suspicious Vehicles and Persons
During the most recent period in which statistics are available (1997-2006), suspicious person calls led to the felonious deaths of more police officers than any other circumstance except ambushes (18.9 percent of the total), and were tied with unknown-risk traffic stops for second place in this grim statistic. Of the 562 officers feloniously killed during the period, 64 (11.4 percent) were killed investigating suspicious persons. For officers working alone, the percentage is even higher. Of the 291 unassisted officers feloniously killed during the period, 42 of them (16.2 percent) died while investigating suspicious persons.

These dismal statistics should not be surprising when we consider the fact that suspicious person calls are fraught with ambiguity. In most other high-risk situations, the officer is clearly aware of the risks, has some idea of what he is up against, and can justify the use of high-risk tactics. But most suspicious person calls must be handled in a lower-profile manner, and with very little information on the actual risks involved. The danger, when it exists, is often obscure or veiled in vague suspicion.

Nevertheless, suspicious person calls are often downplayed as routine. In many departments, only one officer is dispatched unless there is information to indicate that a specific risk exists. And even when backup is sent, it is not uncommon for officers to disregard their assist unit while still en route to the scene. Suspicious person calls must be taken as seriously as any other high-risk activity. Use backup, including Contact and Cover, be on your guard, and employ sound tactics to establish and maintain control of the situation.

Fortunately, Officer Soulis was a safety-conscious officer who knew the importance of altering his tactics when his instincts warned him to be more cautious. Otherwise, it is very likely that Palmer would have been able to open fire on him at pointblank range as soon as he stepped up to the driver s door. By approaching the Toyota from the passenger side instead, he made himself a harder target and put himself into position to duck down next to the car for cover.

But there is another tactic that would have given him an even greater tactical advantage, and it is widely applicable to just about any suspicious vehicle or person call: Take a position behind, or at least next to, your car or other cover, and order him to come to you. This enables you to maintain a relatively safe position while forcing him to move across open ground into an area that you control. Besides giving you a significant tactical advantage, it also gives you the psychological advantage of letting him know who is in control.

At night, most officers also use their vehicle lights to illuminate and disorient the subject while they stay behind the lights for concealment, but there is another option to consider when, as in this case, the suspicious person is inside a vehicle. Instead of lighting him up, turn all your lights off, and then order him to turn his dome light on and roll up his windows. This creates a one-way mirror effect that makes the subject clearly visible from the outside, but prevents him from seeing out because of the interior light reflecting off his windows. However, since the mirror effect decreases as the amount of outside light increases, make sure to assess the outdoor lighting before using this tactic.

Regardless of the light conditions, make the subject come to you, and use backup whenever possible. Suspicious persons can be very dangerous, and must be handled with the utmost caution.

Allowing a Motorist to Return to His Vehicle
Since Officer Soulis didn t find any weapons on Palmer when he frisked him, we can be reasonably certain that Palmer left his gun behind when he initially got out of his vehicle. Therefore, it is very likely that he armed himself only after returning to the car, which highlights the seriousness of allowing a motorist to return to his vehicle.

Armed persons often leave their weapons behind when they exit their cars, because they know they may be frisked and don t want to get caught. Later, if allowed to return to their vehicles, they can access their weapons while the officer is using his MDT, talking on the radio, or otherwise distracted, and then attack immediately, set up an ambush like Palmer did, or just wait to see what the officer does next. In the meantime, the officer may have let his guard down after his initial contact with the motorist proved harmless, leaving him even more vulnerable to attack.

In view of these risks, most would agree that motorists should not be allowed to return to their vehicles. Nevertheless, officers frequently disregard this important safety rule. This is probably because we feel more comfortable when we can limit the mobility of the people we are dealing with. This has some merit, because it is difficult to keep an eye on someone while checking identification, using the radio, etc. So, in an effort to inhibit the motorist s ability to launch an attack, we sometimes try to restrict his mobility by telling him to go back to his car.

This problem is best handled by staying out of your patrol car when dealing with someone who is out of his vehicle. Tell him to stay between the two vehicles, and then move to the back of your cruiser. Depending upon the circumstances, you may prefer to use roadside cover, or to move the right side of your car, open the passenger door, and stay behind it.

Once you are behind cover, watch the motorist closely while conducting your investigation. When checking his identification, raise it up high enough to be able to quickly glance back and forth between it and the motorist, but not so high that it blocks your view of his hands. The same holds true when checking other documents, filling out a ticket, or completing a field interview report.

Another advantage of staying outside your car is that it requires you to use your portable radio instead of your MDT to run computer checks. MDTs are dangerous when dealing with suspicious persons, because you must take your eyes and attention off the subject while using them. This is one place where technology can be dangerous let the dispatcher handle the computer work.

Permission to Move
There was one danger sign that was not mentioned in the earlier discussion on the subject, and that was Palmer s position in the driver s seat while he waited for Soulis to approach him. Even though Soulis didn t see a gun when he looked inside the Toyota, he instinctively knew that Palmer was armed and waiting for him. Without conscious thought, he prepared for combat, but then he made the all-too-common mistake of ordering Palmer to show his hands. This command is universally given in such situations, probably at least in part because that s how it s done in the movies, but there is another reason that is more basic to human nature. We say it because we want to know.

Unfortunately, however, this response is exceedingly dangerous, because it gives the subject permission to move his hands at a time when your safety demands that he do the exact opposite. By ordering him to move, you create the expectation in your own mind that he will raise his hands and that both of them will be empty. This leaves you mentally unprepared to react if he draws a gun, and, since action is always faster than reaction, he will invariably get off the first shot.

Instead, issue the command, Don t move or I ll shoot! and then move to a position of greater safety and/or order him into a position that puts you at a tactical advantage. This often means retreating to cover, calling for assistance, and then waiting for backup to arrive while you hold him at gunpoint.

The command, Don t move or I ll shoot! accomplishes four very important things. First, it makes it clear to the suspect what you expect, and what will happen if he doesn t comply. Second, it lets him know that you are the one in control. Third, it draws an unmistakable line in the sand in your own mind. It lets you know exactly how far you are willing to go before you pull the trigger, and helps you commit to that action if he chooses to challenge you.

Finally, it is a very simple command that clearly establishes your attempt to control the situation without violence. If he subsequently makes any aggressive moves and you are forced to shoot, it will be clear that you gave him every opportunity to submit without getting hurt, but he chose to disobey anyway. This can be important if anyone questions your justification for shooting, especially if the incident is recorded by a bystander, or on your dash cam or pocket recorder. On the other hand, if you tell him to show you his hands, he produces a weapon or worse yet, something that only looks like one and you are forced to shoot, it may appear to those who are ignorant about such situations that you shot him after he obeyed your command. Although it is not very likely that shooting someone under such circumstances would lead to criminal or civil liability, it is best to avoid putting yourself and your department into that kind of situation.

Unsafe Subconscious Reactions
Officer Soulis moved forward and to his right as he drew his gun and challenged Palmer, and as he is quick to point out it was a move that nearly cost him his life. While it is impossible to tell if he would have escaped injury altogether if he had backed up or stayed where he was, the fact remains that he became a much easier target when he moved into Palmer s line of fire. The question then is this: why did a well trained, safety conscious officer like Officer Soulis make such a move? He certainly didn t put himself at risk intentionally.

Most likely, he was motivated by the same subconscious desire that causes officers to order suspects to show them their hands. Like anyone else in a similar situation, he was anxious to find out for sure if his life was actually in danger. Subconsciously, he may also have wanted to make sure that deadly force was necessary, and/or wanted to get into position for a better shot.

This tendency to react in an unsafe manner under stress can be countered with proper tactics. For example, taking cover and ordering the suspect to come to you gives you confidence in the knowledge that you have the tactical advantage. This in turn reduces stress, which improves your reasoning capabilities and decreases the chances that you will act on subconscious urges without thinking. In addition, it often gives you more time to assess and react to perceived threats, which further reduces stress, clarifies thinking, and reduces the possibility that you will act in an unsafe manner.

Proper training is another way to avoid doing something subconsciously that puts you at greater risk. Good training preconditions your body and mind to react properly to various situations. Besides ensuring that you do the right thing, it also helps you avoid doing the wrong thing. In this case, for instance, it is unlikely that Soulis would have moved into Palmer s line of fire if he had experienced a similar situation during training. And the more realistic the training, the better. This is one of the major reasons why reality-based training with Air Soft or Simunitions weapons and properly scripted scenarios is so valuable. By allowing officers to execute the right tactics in a highly realistic training environment, it hard wires them to react properly instead of following dangerous subconscious desires.

Resilience to Gunfire
Palmer took an astonishing 22 hits, seventeen of which were to center mass, before succumbing to his wounds, and Officer Soulis was shot four times without suffering any serious adverse effects on his performance. These facts point out why it is so vitally important to understand that bullets don’t always stop their target, even when they strike vital areas in large numbers. While we it is important to be confidence in our firearms and our proficiency in their use, we must accept the fact that they may not incapacitate an assailant as quickly as we would like. We must be prepared to keep shooting until the threat is terminated, move to another location, go for another weapon, or otherwise adapt. Be ready to beat him over the head with your empty gun, gouge his eyes out, or even thrash his throat with your patrol knife, if necessary.

Also, keep in mind that if your opponent is hard to stop, so are you. Don’t worry about your wounds, because the odds are incredibly good that you will survive them. Less than ten percent of all gunshot wounds are mortal injuries, and most of those are instantaneously fatal, so it is highly unlikely that you will die if you are still alive after being hit. Human beings are amazingly resilient. They can overcome an enormous amount of punishment, especially if they are committed and have a positive attitude about their ability to heal.

Furthermore, worrying will only distract you from the only thing that really matters – stopping the threat. Keep fighting, and focus on nothing except winning until the threat has been eliminated. 

Body Armor
Palmer’s first shot struck Officer Soulis squarely in the center of the chest, and would probably have killed him if he had not been wearing body armor. Furthermore, if it had not been for the vest, even a nonfatal wound to his chest would probably have incapacitated him, leaving him defenseless against Palmer’s subsequent attacks. Body armor does more than just enable you to survive – it keeps you in the fight!

Winning Mindset and Warrior’s Optimism
Officer Soulis showed a fighting spirit and positive attitude in the way he responded to his wounds. He kept moving, shooting, and fighting in spite of them, and never gave up. Even when he thought he might die from his leg wound, he refused to let the fear distract him, and chose instead to focus on fighting back. In fact, the wound’s severe bleeding only served to stir his warrior spirit and focus his concerns on what Palmer might do if allowed to escape.

Officer Soulis also demonstrated the ability to think on his feet; to use mental flexibility to adapt to the rapidly changing circumstances of combat. When Palmer first opened fire, he dealt with the most immediate need first by returning fire and taking cover next to the Toyota. Next, he created distance and improved his position by retreating to his patrol car and fighting back from there. Then, as fight went on, he maintained cover behind his vehicle, and accurately returned fire that, had it not been for Palmer’s incredible resilience, would have ended the fight right then. Finally, as soon as he realized that his reload had made Palmer decide to finish him off, he took advantage of this dangerous new development by setting a simple but highly effective ambush.

This last point also dramatically showed that Officer Soulis possessed Warrior’s Optimism. Instead of focusing on how badly he was hurt, his frustrating inability to stop Palmer, the fact Palmer was closing in on him for the kill, or any other negative thoughts, he focused on what he could do to win. He quickly assessed his limited options, recognized that they gave him the opportunity to go on the offensive, and – as is usually the case when warriors exercise optimism – it worked brilliantly. Rather than worry about what went wrong or the severity of the problem confronting them, warriors make the best use of their available resources, and do whatever it takes to win.

Officer Soulis never gave up. He kept fighting, he kept thinking on his feet in the face of grave danger, he went on the offensive when things were at their worst, and he stayed focused on what he needed to do to win. His example shows us what it takes to win, but more than that, it offers us an inspiring glimpse into the heart of a warrior.

Summary

  • Make safety awareness a habit. Always scan for danger signs and look for ways to compensate for your vulnerabilities.
  • Suspicious person calls are more dangerous than many officers realize. Use backup and exercise considerable cautious when handling them.
  • Instead of approaching suspicious persons directly, take cover and order them to come to you.
  • Don’t allow anyone to return to his car. Instead, order the motorist to stay between your two vehicles while you move to cover and conduct business from there.
  • It is very dangerous to order someone to show you his hands if you suspect he may be armed, because it gives him the opportunity to produce a gun. Instead, order him not to move, move to a position of greater safety and/or order him into a position that puts you at a tactical advantage, and call for backup.
  • Subconscious thoughts sometimes cause officers to do things that increase their vulnerability. This problem can be countered with proper tactics, and properly scripted reality-based training.
  • Gunshot wounds are not necessarily fatal. Keep shooting until the threat is terminated, and do whatever else it takes to win. Also, if you are shot, keep in mind that you can still win and then go on to recover from your wounds, especially if you have the right mindset.    
  • Always wear body armor.
  • When under attack, assess your options, and focus on what you can do to win.
  • Keep fighting, no matter what!

[1] F.B.I. (2007).  Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted 2006.  Washington, D.C., U.S. Department of Justice, table 19. < http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/killed/2006/table19.html > at 4 July 2008.

[2] Ibid, table 25.

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Officer Down: The Peter Soulis Incident


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Brian McKennaBrian McKenna, a 32-year police veteran, is a retired lieutenant from the Hazelwood (Mo.) Police Department and Law Officer's Officer Down columnist.

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