One survival tactic overlooked by officers who find themselves alone and in a bitter, undecided street struggle is to call for the back-up that is often standing all around them. Who could that be? Let’s look at the words of Sir Robert Peel, “The Father of Modern Policing.”
Peel proclaimed, “...the police are the public and the public are the police: the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties, which are incumbent upon every citizen in the interest of community welfare and existence.”
Quite often, when officers are in these lone street battles they are surrounded by members of the community, yet few officers have been trained to consider asking a bystander for help. They are not aware that many states authorize officers to request and even demand assistance from citizens who are then bound by law to assist. Some of these statutes allow for officers to arrest citizens who refuse or fail to come to their aid when so ordered.
Naturally, There Are Concerns
Liability — Someone right now is saying, “What about liability?” The answer to that should be, “Survivability of officers should trump liability concerns at all times.”
Inability — Citizens are not trained to know what to do and but many may have an inability and a willingness to assist by following simple directions. Keep is simple. “Sir, I need your help. I have this arm back in a position to handcuff. Can you get the other arm and bring it to the same position and hold it there so I can handcuff this person?”
Refusal — It is a fact that you often arrest bad guys where their friends are, not where your friends are. Some will refuse, many will assist. When a citizen refuses, some statutes not only authorize an arrest of this citizen, their refusal puts that person in a precarious position later if they wish to claim the officer used an inappropriate level of force after refusing the officer’s request for assistance.
There are many who work with law enforcement that may default to a stance of standing by and watching, but will likely leap to give aid if directed or requested. Fire fighters, probation and parole agents, security guards, and off-duty police officers will help when asked, but typically are trained to let you do your job unless asked.
Complainants are also a good source of assistance. They have a stake in the successful conclusion of the call and often will be willing to assist if you tell them what they should do.
A Word of Caution
When asking for assistance, be certain to identify yourself as a police officer and make it clear you are directing them to assist you. Then tell them exactly what it is that you want them to do.
A History of Citizen Assistance
In 1966, on the University of Austin Campus there was a citizen, who assisted Ramiro Martinez and Houston McCoy, when they confronted Charles Whitman, the tower sniper.
In 1970 a citizen picked up one of the four downed officers’ guns and drove off their attackers with gun fire in Newhall California, where those four officers died.
There were citizens who assisted — and even gave their lives — alongside police officers and fire fighters at the World Trade Center on September 11th.
In 2007, inside a Wendy’s in Salt Lake City Eric Fullerton, a Vietnam Veteran and former member of the 101st Airborne Division disarmed and restrained a vicious cop killer and held him until officers arrived to arrest the suspect.
This history of citizen action goes back to Lexington and Concord and in 1775. There are still many good citizens in this country who are willing to help when asked. Remember, however, that you must first ask them and then direct them.
Check your state statutes for a “Refusal to Aid Officer” statute. Discover if your state or province (for brothers and sisters in Canada) has one. Then consider adding this tool to your tool box when you need back-up “right now!” and there are no uniforms close. When you are alone and the situation is dire, you may discover that you are not alone at all. You may discover instead that you are surrounded by backup — would-be warriors in waiting — who are willing to help if you just ask.