Three decades ago, when the Street Survival: Tactics for Armed Encounters book was released, the statistics on officers killed revealed that about seven percent of officers killed are killed in ambush — unprovoked and premeditated — situations.
Back in 1980, that was a startling statistic. Other figures back then were just as troubling: 19 percent died during disturbance calls, 18 percent during robbery arrests, and seven percent were killed effecting burglary arrests.
The FBI reported 15 officer deaths by ambush in each year of 2011, 2010, and 2009 and said that ambush-style situations were the biggest category of circumstances behind 543 officers feloniously killed between 2002 and 2011 — accounting for 23.2 percent.
2 Kinds of Ambush Attacks
The ambush-style killings recently in Colorado, Texas, California, and West Virginia certainly raise concern in the minds of police officers across the country. The FBI classifies ambush killings into two primary groups: “unprovoked attacks” and “entrapment and premeditated ambushes.”
According to the bureau, unprovoked attacks are “generally accomplished without hiding, however they can occur with or without cover.”
Entrapment and premeditation is a scenario “where the officer was lured into danger as the result of conscious consideration and planning.”
The recent killing of Officer Robert Hornsby in Killeen (Tex.) — where the suspect faked surrender — appears to fall into the second category.
So what can the average streetwise officer do to prevent an ambush-type assault? Plenty.
According to the FBI statistics, more than half of the officers killed by firearms annually were not wearing body armor when they were slain. Of those who were wearing their vests, most died from either head/neck wounds or were struck in those areas that were not protected by their vests, such as above the vest, profile (the vests did not have side panels), or below the vest.
There is no doubt that a vest is the best thing you have going for you in surviving a firearms ambush.
The majority of officers killed each year are killed while working single-officer squads and the vast majority of those were alone when they were killed. So the odds of surviving an ambush appear to be better if you have back-up present.
Taking your coffee break with another officer or having someone there when parked to catch up on your paper work or filling out your time book will make you safer. You may want to consider sharing the experience with another officer from a bordering sector.
Forget about those citizens who’ll instantly think that you’re just “screwing off” on their dime. Preventative officer safety issues (like body armor, back up, or two-officer meets) should not be issues for discussion with non-cop types.
Being aware of your surroundings can also help prevent ambushes. This past May, Bardstown (Ky.) Police Officer Jason Ellis was on his way home around 0300 hours when he stopped to remove some debris from the roadway.
We’ll never know what Officer Ellis saw seconds before he was shot multiple times. However, what is known is that he never had time to remove his gun from his holster.
Likewise, it isn’t known what subtle indicators might have been present before a black-clad gunman shot two LAPD detectives outside the Wilshire Division stationhouse this past June. However, staying in ‘Condition Yellow’ throughout your shift, even while on your way home or walking into the stationhouse, can never be enforced enough.
Lastly, become a smaller target. I was one of the first bosses to deviate from the time-honored tradition of street lieutenants wearing white shirts. It didn’t take long after my promotion to feel the estrangement from my brother and sister officers at the scene of night time “shots fired” call to realize that in the ambient light environment of a city street that a white shirt and shiny shield make for great target acquisition.
After that, navy blue shirts became the order of the day for all graveyard officers, regardless of rank.
Think about your uniform for a moment. Sure, those merit pins and marksmanship badges look great on your dress blouse, but are they really needed for everyday wear?
Your hat might be important when reporting to the brass or for parade detail, but on a dark night, walking to your squad or to the parking lot, is it really necessary?
As these incidents reveal, no officer is totally immune from being ambushed. The nature of police work is one where danger is all around you. When you pin on a shield, a star or a badge, you also pin on a target.
Like never before, today’s streets, roadways, alleys and even parking lots can be deadly. But with a mindset focused totally on your surroundings, by utilizing back-up, by thinking tactically during lunch or coffee breaks, staying alert and aware while walking to and from the stationhouse or while performing seemingly mundane tasks, you can stack the odds in your favor against potential ambush situations.