In light of the terrible and tragic loss of a Pa. police officer who was shot dead as he sat in his patrol car responding to a domestic call, it’s important to consider a few points relative to ambush avoidance. Although we do not yet know the specific details of this particular incident and are not in a position to comment on what exactly may have happened here, well known trainer John Farnam has some general insights that should be noted.
“There are several things to keep in mind relative to officer survival principles when in a patrol unit,” Farnam told PoliceOne. “One of them is to remember that sitting in a stationary squad can put you in a ‘sitting duck’ position. You’re in a confined space, your location is very easily identified and if you’re in a nighttime or other low-light setting, you may be illuminated by your MDT screen or, worse yet, an activated interior light, thus making target acquisition much easier for a would-be assassin. If you’re in a squad, my advice is to keep that squad in motion. It’s much more difficult to hit a moving target.”
Situational awareness is also critical, although admittedly challenging, Farnam observes. “Today’s officers are constantly driven to look down in their squad cars; at their computer screens, cell phones, personal computing devices and/or their radio or patrol unit gear. As challenging as it can be, it’s imperative to resist falling into the trap of keeping your head down for prolonged periods of time when in your squad, particularly if you’re at the scene of a call. Be sure to consistently glance up and around. Look through your windshield and side windows and check all of your mirrors to spot anyone approaching.”
Lastly, solid tactical positioning is crucial to your safety. “I cannot comment on where this officer was specifically located, but I feel it’s important, in general, to remind officers to consider how and where they approach a scene. Again, noting that I am not commenting specifically on this incident, it’s important for any officer who makes a practice of stopping his or her squad directly in front of a potentially violent scene, particularly if their exit from the vehicle is going to be delayed, to stop doing this. The less obvious your initial presence and approach in a situation that may prove volatile, the better.”