10 lessons from 53 Top Cop Award winners

We consider some of the lessons the 53 heroes have provided us by their achievements and by the examples they set as "Top Cops"


At the 21st annual ceremony of the 2014 Top Cops Awards — sponsored by the National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO) — law enforcement officers from around the country were recognized for their bravery and their heroism.

In all, 53 officers were honored — far too many to list by name in this space, so they are individually recognized in the sidebar to the left.

As we applaud each for their exceptional courage and extraordinary performance, we also want to examine their actions as a learning exercise.

 Incident #1
An FBI Hostage Rescue Team was recognized for the rescue of a five-year-old boy with Asperger’s Syndrome who’d been taken hostage from a school bus in Alabama. HRT confronted potentially explosive booby traps and rescued the boy from a 10-foot-deep bunker where he had been held. In order to save the boy, the agents entered and engaged the perpetrator, who was ultimately killed.

The Lesson
Teamwork and decision making are crucial skills. Teamwork is at the forefront of the FBI HRT (as it is for all tactical teams in the country). This team was patient when they needed to be, decisive when they had to be, and profoundly proficient in their tactics when the moment of confrontation happened.

Incident #2 
A Phoenix detective was instrumental in saving his colleague’s life when the officer was about to be shot at point blank by a bank robber exiting a bank. The detective fired six shots from a distance of 120 feet; he killed the suspect and saved the life of his colleague.

The Lesson
Yes, most officer-involved shootings take place at bad-breath distance, and yes, most firearms training (especially handgun) is done from the seven-yard line. But incidents such as these remind us that officers must also be prepared to make accurate, high-stress shots from extraordinary distances.

Incident #3 
A team effort by several officers from several responding agencies ended the assault by perpetrator Aaron Alexis at the Navy Yard in Washington DC. As two officers closed in on Alexis — taking up position near an area that had not yet been cleared — several officers engaged the suspect and Alexis was killed. Eight individuals from three different agencies were recognized at this year’s ceremony.

The Lesson
This event is an example of teamwork at its finest. Policing is largely an individual effort — cops operate single-officer squads and are trained to be independent as self-sufficient. But this incident (and others like it) underscore the value of working as a team — even an ad-hoc, let’s-go-right-now team.

Incident #4
One officer from the Miami-Dade (Fla.) Police Department was on “routine patrol” when he discovered a subject who had tampered with two 8,000 gallon storage tanks—setting a fire in an attempt to cause an explosion. The officer deployed his TASER and found it to have no effect in stopping the subject. A violent fight ensued, and despite suffering multiple stab wounds (from a screw driver!) and having his thumb bitten and almost severed from his hand, he gained control of his firearm and shot the assailant.

The Lesson
No matter how badly injured you may be in a deadly-force encounter, you can prevail.

Incident #5
Officers from the North Liberty (Iowa) Police Department responded to a domestic violence call in which the abuser refused to come out of the home. After repeated attempts to make contact with the suspect, officers kicked down the door and a violent gun battle ensued. Two sergeants were struck by gunfire. Another officer, also a paramedic, provided medical support. The perpetrator died from his injuries, and the victim survived the ordeal. The law enforcement officers were cited for their exceptional bravery and teamwork.

The Lesson 
Always remain vigilant. These types of calls are often volatile and rapidly changing situations that can be the most dangerous and, oftentimes, deadly for law enforcement officers.  It is critical to be on high alert and ready to respond instantaneously with a multi-faceted team approach.

Incident #6 
The Boston Marathon bombing was arguably the worst terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11. Three innocent people died, and 264 other were wounded.  A Boston police officer said of the incident and their response, “We did what we were supposed to do. That’s what makes us Americans and that makes us better than them.”

The Lesson
Cooperation, collaboration and effective communication are essential
when it becomes necessary for various law enforcement agencies to engage in a large scale effort to confront the challenges and imminent threats presented in a terrorist attack or other similar type situation.  Engage in ongoing preparation and training with counterpart agencies to always be prepared and ready

Incident #7
A domestic call in which an offender had badly beaten his girlfriend and stabbed her puppy to death hailed a response from the Mercer County (N.J.) Sheriff’s Office. After interviewing the victim, collecting evidence and taking her home to ensure her safety, the violent offender reappeared and ambushed the detectives. One detective advanced on the gunman, giving another officer the opportunity to fire back and strike the suspect multiple times — killing him.

The Lesson
Obtain vital information from the victim involved in a domestic incident
— collect necessary evidence and ensure the victim’s safety. In this situation, the detectives made the appropriate decision to take her home. If she had returned alone, she likely would have been killed because the suspect was waiting for her.

Incident #8
When an off duty NYPD cop heard the screams of his neighbor, a 10-year-old boy, calling for help, the cop discovered a man was assaulting the boy’s mother. The suspect then turned on the officer, and a violent fight ensued. The officer shot the suspect in the neck and stomach.  When the injured officer was hospitalized, the little boy visited and thanked him for rescuing his mother telling the officer he was thinking of becoming a police officer because the officer’s life-saving actions.

The Lessons
Cops are never off-duty
. In an instant, instincts and training kick into gear.

Incident #9 
Two officers of the Solon (Ohio) Police Department were honored for protecting each other during a deadly assault following a DUI stop. The driver sped away, a chase ensued, and the suspect fired at one of the officers’ cars, wounding the officer’s left arm. The other officer’s vehicle was struck by three rounds as he attempted to divert the subject which gave time for his colleague to return fire through his windshield.  The subject was injured, and his attempt to kill the officers ended on the hood of a cruiser.

The Lesson 
Officers can never let down their guard and must always be prepared to cover each other’s back. Teamwork is essential, and it can mean difference of life or death for the officers involved.

Incident #10
Grapevine, Texas police were recognized for their response to the stabbing of a detective by convicted felon Alberto Morales. Morales brutally stabbed a detective in the neck, throat, and shoulder with a sharpened piece of his eyeglasses resulting in a collapsed lung. After days of searching for the suspect (who had planned an ambush), he was found, but Morales charged the officers and went directly after another detective with two homemade sharpened spears in his hands. The detective held his ground and the other three officers fired and killed the suspect.

The Lesson
Always be mindful that things can turn ugly fast and be prepared to expect the unexpected without losing focus. As in most situations, ‘reading’ the situation is critical and teamwork is essential. 

About the author

Karen L. Bune serves as an adjunct professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia and Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia, where she teaches victimology. Ms. Bune is a consultant for the Training and Technical Assistance Center for the Office for Victims of Crime and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, U. S. Department of Justice. She is a nationally recognized speaker and trainer on victim issues. Ms. Bune is Board Certified in Traumatic Stress and Domestic Violence, and she is a Fellow of The Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress and the National Center for Crisis Management. Ms. Bune serves on an Institutional Review Board of the Police Foundation in Washington, D. C. She is a 2009 inductee in the Wakefield High School (Arlington, Va.) Hall of Fame. She received the “Chief’s Award 2009” from the Prince George’s County Maryland Police Chief. She received a 2011 Recognition of Service Certificate from Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker. She received a 2011 Official Citation from The Maryland General Assembly congratulating her for extraordinary public service on behalf of domestic violence victims in Prince George’s County and the cause of justice throughout Maryland. She received the 2011 American University Alumni Recognition Award. Ms. Bune appears in the 2014 editions of Marquis’ “Who’s Who in the World, and Marquis' Who’s Who of American Women.

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