When we fight predators, we must be fierce. More importantly, we must be smart. Attention and awareness are vital to officer safety in dangerous places and times. At a recent use-of-force class, a police supervisor recounted an old incident from when he was on patrol that's case in point.
An officer was checking a forest preserve park before locking the entry gate for the night. A single car remained, parked illegally on the grass. The officer called out on his PA for the driver to move. The driver took a long circular path, drove up behind the officer's squad car and then ran into it at slow speed. It was getting dark, but the officer could see the driver raise a revolver. The driver began to shoot at him.
The shooter expected the officer to walk into the ambush, but the officer's use of the PA thwarted the plan. The officer made a fast plan to reverse the attack inertia, stopped his car and jumped into the shadows. He saw the gunman jump out of his car, rush over to the squad car and point his revolver into the interior: no one home. The officer came out of the shadows behind him and with his pistol raised to the back of the attackers head, made his presence known. The offender slowly turned his head and then stuck the muzzle of his revolver under his chin and committed suicide.
The offender had been counting on the surprise of hitting the squad car to draw out the officer. But the officer responded not with emotion, but considered action. The officer had planned for such events in his mind many times. Not that he specifically expected this, but when faced with a situation that was out of the ordinary he didn't feed into it.
We should all be so vigilant. Unfortunately, human nature works against us. Routine and complacency are deadly adversaries. Remember the words of trainer Clint Smith, "If you look like food, you will get eaten."
Tactics to Consider
We often recognize the potential for danger and yet disregard it. We park in front of the bank, house or business on the alarm call. Nothing to worry about—until you're ambushed.
To avoid surprise and the deadly consequences of an ambush, we need to be alert and aware, as well as correctly and continually trained to respond, mentally and physically. It's not enough to think it or talk it, we have to actually do it and do it right—over and over. Consider the following.
Communication: If you know that you're heading into danger, try to get best information before searching for or advancing against armed offenders. Know who your back up is and where they're located. If you are calling in assistance, advise the route(s) to avoid. During any violent event, the radio can be useless due to multiple users. Clear the air for those who need it.
Identify yourself as police: Linking up with assisting uniformed officers can be difficult and dangerous, far worse with plain clothes. Carry and wear large external identification that clearly shows you are police. A badge or star worn on the belt is likely not going to be seen.
Avoid the kill zone: Beware of being drawn into an ambush. If it does not look right, slow down, appraise, hold position or move in another direction.
Don't create cross or "blue-on-blue" fire: Don't form a circle around the offender. This becomes what we call a "circular ambush" created by our own actions. Do not put the offender(s) into a linear "gauntlet": as they drive or run down the line, we will fire from either side into each other. Train in the "L" formation. This allows for clear, unobstructed line of sight and line of fire.
Observe 360 degrees: Don't just "look." Carry binoculars in your car on the seat next to you. Distance is protection. Look ahead and see what you can, and do not drive into erupting violence. Hold your distance and, where feasible, come in on foot. You will hear more this way.
Look for clues such as exhaust smoke, cigarette smoke and water from air conditioning to indicate people are in a car.
See in the dark: Night-vision technology can be inexpensive in the older versions. The advantage it affords is huge at night and in low light. Also: Let your eyes adjust to the dark. Make the time.
Keep low: Light, sound and movement give you away. During different times of the day, each one has different effect. Light and sound are critical at night; movement and sound more so in the day. Know this and plan your actions accordingly.
Slow down: Fools rush in, and speed kills in a number of ways. By rushing in, we may force an offender into action. Know when to push and when to hold.
Stabilize: Get control of yourself. Adrenaline is a very powerful chemical that drives us into unreasoned actions.
Buddy up: Never leave your partner. When you do, bad things are more likely to happen.
Breathe: Clear your mind and senses by using what Lt. Col. Dave Grossman and Bruce Siddle call "combat breathing": in through the nose and hold, counting to three. Press breath with the gut, out through the mouth, counting to three. Repeat as you can.
Move: Do not be a stationary target. Movement may entail using your squad car to break out of the kill zone or driving at the attacker to defeat his plan. It may also be on foot and moving hard laterally to avoid the bullet or the blade. Note: You must train on moving and shooting to be effective, first with sims, then with live fire.
Control the scene: Get control of other responding officers too. Many officers rush to the scene with no command and control. Identify officer and unit locations, and make a plan.
Set your perimeter: The perimeter must start big and can then reduce in size as the conditions warrant. You don't want to have the bad guys surprise you from outside the perimeter.
Gear to Survive With
Gear only matters if you have it with you.
How much ammo do you need? No one can say. I know an ambushed officer who exhausted 37 rounds in a nine-minute shootout. He shot dry, and responding officers passed him a shotgun. You can't expect that others will supply you or even get to you in time. As they say, you can't have enough ammo, unless you are on fire or attempting to swim.
You have to decide what's enough. A single magazine for your pistol or patrol rifle is not. As a note, I find plain clothes officers and administrators carrying no other ammo than that in their pistol or revolver. For street officers who make use of outside vest carriers, be sure to have a mag pouch on your gun belt: If the vest carrier is stripped off in a fight or any other reason, you have no extra ammo.
If the fight is known, get your rifle or shotgun. Remember: Handguns are carried as defensive close-range tools. A long gun is most often the best tool of choice in a deadly force event.
Carry a tourniquet/pressure bandage and know how to use it. EMS is not coming until the "scene is secure." Your job: Defeat the threat and treat yourself. Otherwise, you might bleed to death under cover. Practice application of the tourniquet until you can do it blind and under stress. Also: Check out Dr. Andrew Dennis' new book Officer Down: A Practical Guide to Surviving Injury on the Street.
Tactics for Winning the Fight
If struck by a knife or bullet or fragments into your arms or legs, your first response is to finish the fight, according to Dr. John Wipfler, ITOA tactical EMS cochair. Look for who just attacked you and finish the fight. Then look for accomplices, maintaining 360-degree threat awareness. Medical issues are secondary to your immediate safety. Up to a 30-second delay in treatment is acceptable for any injury in a high-threat situation, says Dr. Wipfler.
When you're done shooting and the immediate threat is defeated, and while behind hard cover or in concealment, keep scanning while applying your tourniquet. No need to look at your injury until the scene is later safe and the cavalry has arrived. Put the tourniquet high on your arm or leg, and twist the windlass until it's tight and painful. You should be able to do this in less than 15 seconds. Once the tourniquet is in place, you will not die from that injury. Most officers will be fully alert and ‘in the game' at this time.
Arrange transportation and further medical care at a tactically-appropriate time. No rush to leave, especially when the situation is still volatile.
Don't allow other officers to risk their lives and possibly die by rushing to help you. Stay behind hard cover, communicate, and wait for the situation to be contained. You have two or three hours to get to the hospital. Think and act clearly. If a medic or fellow officer is present, most penetrating trauma injuries to the arms and legs can be treated with a compression bandage (OLAES, EB, others), but you won't want to take the time to figure this out until the gunfight is over.
Remember: A tourniquet is painful, but it can save your life and possibly the lives of your fellow officers who don't need to rush to save you.
An ambush can happen anywhere. Complacency goes a long way in getting police into trouble. You must work against it vigilantly. If you can detect an ambush before it happens, this is best.
If you are ambushed, you will fall back on how you were trained and the mental exercises you have played out for response. Never give up. Eliminate the threat entirely and don't assume that the obvious threat is the only threat. Accomplices might be lurking out of sight.
Bottom line: Complacency kills, and those who win have prepared to win.
Ambush & Below 100
By Dale Stockton
I define ambush as a surprise attack by a determined assailant who is lying in wait and often ready to die in their effort to kill or injure.
When Below 100 was first rolled out, I heard some well-meaning officers say that we had failed to address the topic of ambush. To the degree that an officer can prevent or thwart a true ambush, Below 100 clearly provides the best approach through three of the five tenets. Specifically:
1) Wear your vest. Armor works, but only if you wear it. An ambush will not give you a second chance to make that decision.
2) Situational awareness is an imperative. Perhaps no concept or phrase provides a better approach than WIN: What's Important Now? You must continually reassess your environment and the situation you are dealing with. If you come under a sudden attack, a WIN mentality is the best chance you have of working through and winning (not just surviving) a deadly confrontation.
3) Remember: Complacency kills! Lessons from the fallen emphasize the truth of this statement. And prison interviews of both those who have killed officers and those who would have killed if given the chance underscore that the difference between vigilance and complacency is often the difference between life and death.
Ambush is an important topic but it does need to be put in perspective so as not to take away from other areas that have proved even deadlier for officers. According to the FBI, eleven officers have died in the last two years as the result of ambush (six in 2013 and five in 2012). During that same two-year period, sixteen officers died of duty-related heart attacks according to ODMP (ten in 2013 and six in 2012).
It's not that ambushes aren't deadly. They are. But there are other areas that are even more deadly and officers can have even greater influence in regard to both prevention and outcome. Consider this: Which do you have more control over, your health or a surprise attack? Moreover, if you are in good health you are better prepared to respond to whatever befalls you on the street—including ambush.