A lone officer has once again demonstrated exactly where the rubber meets the road in law enforcement. A municipal officer, a state trooper, a county sheriff’s deputy, and as in this case a national forest ranger, can accomplish in one field contact success that can often elude a multi-agency task force.
John McCluskey and Casslyn Welch were the focus of an international fugitive alert. It was their dream to become Hollywood darlings, a modern day version of “Bonnie and Clyde,” who in real life killed ten law enforcement officers with a variety of weapons including their favorite, the Browning Automatic Rifle.
The Field Contact
One lone U. S. National Forest Ranger on patrol spotted a campsite with an unattended campfire. He made contact at the site with a tattooed rough looking male, who appeared nervous and fidgety. The ranger noticed a Nissan, which was backed into some bushes, in a manner indicating an attempt to conceal the vehicle. It was stolen. The ranger must have been the master of “disarming dialog,” because he was able to clear the initial contact, without arousing suspicion in the stone cold killer he was speaking to. John McCluskey was a wanted escapee from prison and a murder suspect.
The Ranger repositioned himself, confirmed his suspicions and called in additional units, which included a SWAT Team. The suspects were approached and from a position of advantage they were allowed the opportunity to surrender. Few on this team of highly trained reinforcements called to the scene by the “lone ranger,” believed the offer to surrender would be accepted.
Casslyn Welch initially accessed a handgun, which had been hidden in the small of her back, but thought the better of it and dropped the weapon. McCluskey surrendered after having left his weapon out of reach in the tent. He later confirmed that his weapon was the “murder weapon.”
This incident is an example of excellent police work from beginning to its successful conclusion. It reinforces how effective and important self initiated field contacts are. The officer was able to keep an open mind on this stop and realized he was dealing with much more than an unattended campfire. The lone ranger managed to mask his suspicions so effectively that the suspects not only did not trigger a gun fight, but they also did not feel threatened enough to relocate. Wow!
This is evidence of how field contacts are a proactive and powerful tool and at the same time dangerous. The officers that choose to make many of these come to realize that they can be at a tactical advantage, during these stops if they mentally prepare for the worst on each stop realizing anything can happen. The advantage is derived from having come crashing suddenly and yet nonchalantly into a criminal’s world at a time and place, when the criminal is unprepared and unaware. The advantage the criminal has is they know exactly who they are, what they are doing and the officer has to play by the rules and determine the truth, without prematurely alerting the suspect that, “the jig is up!”
Field contacts are a little bit like a chess game. While playing chess you respect the skills of your opponent, knowing that every move is potentially dangerous to someone, who is not paying attention constantly. You take time to put yourself in a superior position every time you move, while trying to keep your opponent unaware of your intentions. You realize that every piece on the board presents a potential threat. You learn how to use all your tools to move forward skillfully, but with caution.
There is one huge difference though, that was clear in this example in Arizona. What officers do every day is not a game. U.S. Marshall David Gonzalez shared with the media, “We were convinced this was going down into a bloody shootout.”
One could ask, “Why did no one get shot in this deadly encounter?”
No one was injured in this encounter because when McCluskey and Welch were called upon to surrender, they had a moment to consider all viable options. Facing a heavily-armed SWAT team calling from the darkness in the cover of the heavy forest, they just had to realize it this was checkmate.
Everyone at PoliceOne would like to congratulate those brave officers in Arizona who went into the dark unknown and were triumphant.
For all officers, who use the self initiated field contact to make the community they are sworn to protect a safer place, please remember this: “Field contacts are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get.”
Stay Safe, Stay Strong, Stay Positive.