On November 29, 2009 — three years ago exactly — four Lakewood (Wash.) police officers were murdered in cold blood by a paroled felon who had been bailed out of jail less than a week prior to his ambush attack at Forza Coffee.
Four LEOs dead in an attack that reportedly lasted less than 60 seconds.
In memory of Sergeant Mark Renninger, Officer Ronald Owens, Officer Tina Griswold, and Officer Greg Richards, let’s honor these fallen warriors by thinking deeply on the topic of ambush attacks.
The LEOKA Numbers
In the past three years for which we have FBI LEOKA numbers available (2009 to 2011) 45 police officers were killed in ambush situations. In that same period, 688 officers were assaulted in ambush situations.
The percentage of officers murdered in ambush situations has gone down each year only because the total number of officers killed has increased while ambush deaths has remained exactly the same (15 each year for three consecutive years).
During ILEETA 2012, I recorded an interview with my very good friend and PoliceOne colleague Dick Fairburn on the topic of ambush attacks.
We talked about the increasing frequency of ambush attacks on officers, the different types of ambush attacks, and some thoughts on fighting your way through an ambush.
Check out the video and pick up the remainder of this column below.
Dealing with an Ambush
At Roll Call...
What did you take away from that video? There are probably dozens of teaching points in that eight-minute conversation. I encourage you to take at least one of them to share at your next roll call.
Here are just a few elements to consider (add your own “takeaways” in the comments area below):
• Ambush can happen anywhere, anytime, to anyone, so don’t let “routine” degrade your awareness (without getting paranoid or living in a perpetual state of condition orange) • Understand the difference between the types of ambush — unprovoked (impromptu) attack and deliberate (preplanned entrapment) • In an ambush attack — particularly one that is pre-planned and deliberate — the likelihood that you’ll be coming up against an assailant armed with a center-fire rifle increases dramatically • In a preplanned entrapment ambush, the assailant may have cached weapons and/or ammo in different places, and may (like in the case of Jeremiah Engleton in Pleasanton, Texas in 1999) dial 911 to lure officers into a kill zone • Even an impromptu ambush can be somewhat pre-planned (remember, that the bad guys do their own form of when-then thinking, and as shooters, they sometimes train harder and more frequently than the good guys) • There is an increase in the number of cluster-casualty ambush attacks — some ambush attacks seek to exploit the staggered arrival of solo officers, while others may seek out a group of officers assembled in one place o The foiled plot of the Hutaree (a.k.a. “the Michigan Militia) was to first ambush and murder a single officer, and then use bombs and rifles to ambush officers attending the fallen LEO’s funeral o In Washington, Maurice Clemmons actually performed both types of cluster-casualty ambush, killing those four cops gathered at Forza Coffee in Lakewood, and then trying to lure one-at-a-time victims to the abandoned “bait” vehicle in Seattle (thanks to Officer, Ben Kelly, Clemmons did not survive the day) • While an ambush is relatively easy to set up (even a pair of 12-year-old boys can do it), in many circumstances the attacker(s) will be ill-prepared to repel an aggressive, well-executed counterambush
Attacking the Ambush
To me, that last point bears further examination. As Fairburn wrote back in his 2010 column ‘Fighting your way through hell’ in a situation where the killer(s) have an obvious and overwhelming tactical advantage, charging the kill zone may not be a viable option, but sometimes your best chance for success is to seize back the element of surprise and attack your adversary.
After Maurice Clemmons executed Officer Griswold and Sergeant Renninger with fatal, close-range headshots, Officer Owens and Richards engaged their attacker. Ultimately, those two heroes also died, but not before one of them was able to put at least one hole in Clemmons’ abdomen.
After a two-day manhunt, Officer Ben Kelly of the Seattle Police Department came upon another would-be ambush by Clemmons.
Kelly observed the trap — a 1990 Acura on the street with the hood up and the engine running — and noticed a male approaching from behind and to the left of his squad.
Kelly exited his vehicle, recognized Clemmons, and issued verbal commands for him to stop.
When Clemmons failed to comply, Kelly attacked the ambush.
Remembering the Lakewood Four
We remember Mark Renninger, Ronald Owens, Tina Griswold, and Greg Richards every day, but on an anniversary such as this, our remembrance is perhaps deeper, more pronounced, and possibly more painful.
Anniversaries such as these can become an emotional ambush. Attack that, too. If you need to talk with someone, do it.
About the author
Doug Wyllie is Editor in Chief of PoliceOne, responsible for setting the editorial direction of the website and managing the planned editorial features by our roster of expert writers. An award-winning columnist — he is the 2014 Western Publishing Association "Maggie Award" winner in the category of Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column — Doug has authored more than 800 feature articles and tactical tips on a wide range of topics and trends that affect the law enforcement community. Doug is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers' Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA). Even in his "spare" time, he is active in his support for the law enforcement community, contributing his time and talents toward police-related charitable events as well as participating in force-on-force training, search-and-rescue training, and other scenario-based training designed to prepare cops for the fight they face every day on the street.
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