Broward County, Fla.
Broward County Sheriff s Sergeant Chris Reyka, age 51, an 18-year veteran, was shot and killed in August 2007 at approximately 0120 hrs in the parking lot of a 24-hour Walgreen s. While checking two suspicious vehicles, he parked next to them, exited the squad and was gunned down by one of the vehicle s occupants. At press time, no suspects have been identified or arrested.
Deputy Chris Reyka. Reyka, 51, was shot and killed in Pompano Beach, Fla., Aug. 10, 2007.
Fort Smith, Ark.
Dan Martinez, age 33, a five-year veteran of the Fort Smith Police Department was shot in the head and killed by a suspect armed with a 9mm semiautomatic pistol. The slaying occurred as Martinez approached the door of a home to help a young mother retrieve her child. The residence belonged to the woman s ex-boyfriend, a guy arrested earlier that day. Martinez s killer, the brother of the ex-boyfriend, fled after the shooting.
Douglas County, Ill.
Douglas County Chief Deputy Tommy Martin was shot while investigating a home invasion. He spotted the two suspects while canvassing the area. Before Martin could exit his squad car, one of the suspects approached and shot him in the face. He succumbed to his wounds a month later. He had 29 years experience as a law enforcement officer.
Chief Deputy Tom Martin. Martin, 59, was shot in the face and torso, June 21, 2007, during a wild crime spree. Police say the spree began when two men fled from a police stop, robbed a house, stole a vehicle, shot Martin, and one took hostages at a bank.
Jefferson Parish, La.
Jefferson Parish Sheriff s Deputy Josh Norris, an 11-month rookie, was shot and killed while responding to a domestic disturbance with gunfire call. Norris had just arrived and exited his squad car. While proceeding toward the home, he was shot in the upper chest and killed. The round entered above his vest. Norris was 22 years old.
Bowie County, Texas
Bowie County Sheriff s Deputy Mike Page, age 34, was shot and killed after he pursued a hit-and-run suspect on foot. Page chased the suspect, who bailed out of his car after hitting a utility pole and running into nearby woods. They engaged in a struggle, and the suspect managed to disarm Page and shoot him in the shoulder with his own weapon.
The five incidents above occurred during a four-month period last year. They occurred in both small towns and big cities, and involved seasoned veterans and a young rookie. All are dead after making one fatal mistake investigating suspicious activity, serious crimes or fleeing suspects without waiting for a backup.
This month s Tactics column explores what the FBI calls the single greatest tactical error involved in police deaths every year: failing to wait for backup.
Back in 1992, the FBI published an exhaustive study of more than 50 representative police officer murders called Killed in the Line of Duty. Its authors, Special Agent Ed Davis and his colleague, Dr. Tony Pinizzotto, identified certain factors that brought the officers and killers together in these fatal confrontations. According to the study, a vast majority of the murdered officers made procedural errors that contributed to their deaths. Acting solo without backup showed up more often than any other factor.
It appears we haven t learned much in 15 years. The latest figures from the FBI indicate more than 35 percent of officers murdered over the nine-year period from 1995-2004 died from going it alone. Most, like Martinez, were making solo approaches to known offenders. Some, like Reyka, were checking out suspicious vehicles. Others were engaging in foot pursuits like Page.
Now, this might disturb officers who believe inadequate equipment or insufficient firepower are the most important officer-safety issues. And while I agree that patrol rifles, reliable portable radios and less-lethal weapons remain very important, statistics show these things don t top the list. Human error plays a more significant role than tools. We always knew tactics were important, but it appears that flying solo remains the single most important factor in officer murders.
Now, I know what you re thinking: Hey, backup s great, but I don t always have it available. And you re probably right. However, in the examples above, it appears sufficient officers were around to help the murdered officers if each had waited.
Example: Officers who responded just after the Jefferson Parish shooting actually used their squad cars as shields to recover the wounded deputy. Deputies who responded to the hit-and-run and foot pursuit in Bowie County actually located Page walking out of the woods after he was shot.
Next to Miami and maybe Tampa, the coastal area of Broward County near Pompano Beach is one of the most populated areas of Florida. It s just teeming with cops who are ready, willing and able to provide backup. A Broward County Sheriff s Office substation is located in Pompano Beach.
Even if you re a rural, single-officer squad working a one-man shift, you re never really alone: Your ingenuity, creativity, common sense, training and tactical knowledge of when to go for it, or disengage and/or redeploy, can be your partner or your backup on any given shift.
None of the examples I ve given required immediate police intervention. Martinez could have called for another officer to assist him. He actually spent some time talking with the young mother in a parking lot next to the residence before accompanying her to the ex-boyfriend s door. He had worked for four other police departments and was a former police chief before joining the Fort Smith Police Department. Reyka spent a few minutes checking the plates of the two suspicious cars before he exited his unit.
Martin was in his squad when he passed the two suspects. He was shot while sitting in his car. He had no idea the deadly duo was wanted for murder when he spotted them. I won t comment about Norris, the Jefferson Parish deputy who got out of his car and walked alone to the house to investigate a domestic with shots fired call, except to say that maybe it was his lack of experience that caused him to commit this deadly tactical error.
And finally, Page, if around, would probably be the first to admit that running down a hit-and-run suspect isn t worth dying for. When told about the incident, a fellow trainer said, Isn t that why God created K-9s? A wise man once said, No man is an island. Don t become a statistic for the next FBI Killed in the Line of Duty study.
Until next Time, stay safe.