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Tragedy in the Carolinas

By Dave Smith

On March 25th and March 31st the States of South and North Carolina had a total of four officers killed in two incidents. The first, in Moncks Corner, South Carolina, involved a domestic call that ended in the shooting and ultimate deaths of Officer Lonnie Wells and Corporal Marcus Stiles. The next shooting and duel killing occurred in Charlotte, North Carolina and took the lives of Police Officers Sean Clarke and Jeffrey Sheldon, who were responding to a disturbance call.

We all know how routine the two calls are and how deadly they can often become. This is why it is a good time to review the “conspiracy of excellence” that must permeate an agency to help reduce the risk to law enforcement officers handling these types of ambiguous and often violent calls.

While we have few details of the incidents above, the sacrifice of these four should cause us all to rededicate our efforts to make these calls easier to manage, and reduce the risk to all involved.

The first link in the chain of events involving these calls is the Dispatcher/Call Taker and too often they are taken for granted and not trained in the pivotal role they play in gaining information from a witness or complainant who is reporting an incident. They should be trained in what a responder needs to know and how to ask questions to truly determine the potential threats to their charges.

Just as routine erodes officer safety practices, routine can cause call takers to become lackadaisical when gleaning information that may enhance a responding officer’s safety. An example came from an attendee who ended up in an armed confrontation with a subject that didn’t own any weapons. This was the question asked of the complainant, a battered wife, “does your husband own any guns?” No, was the correct answer to that question, but the correct question was, “are there any weapons in the house?” since the family was storing several firearms for a relative. These were the ones used against the officer who ended up winning because of his When/Then mindset.

Another critical safety element in responding to ambiguous or obviously dangerous calls is the dispatcher who is able to visualize the area of the call and the relative position of the responding officers. Many agencies have technology that makes this relatively simple but the dispatcher has to be given license to give input when they perceive it is necessary: Is backup delayed? Does this location have a history the dispatcher is familiar with? Is a plainclothes officer responding?

The next link is, of course, the responders themselves. Winners don’t wait for trainers or supervisors to tell them they are developing bad habits or becoming complaisant with their officer safety practices, they constantly monitor themselves. They also are willing to do a “tactical intervention” when they see one of their fellow officers doing things that are either bad habits or bad tactics. This isn’t just about making your brothers and sisters safer, it is about making them better backups for you, increasing your odds of winning.

Finally, the critical element of excellence in an agency is a supervisor cadre that absolutely cares about their people and not only backs them up physically but mentally as well. Confront bad habits when you first see them in your people before they become ingrained in their day to day practices. Go over incidents from such sources as PoliceOne.com and Officer Down Memorial Page as an antidote for the effects of routine on performance. Involve dispatch with critical incident debriefings so they not only get closure but also gain insight into the perspective of responding officers.

You will notice I haven’t included a training officer in this link. Most agencies in our nation don’t have full-time trainers and the truth is…we are all responsible for training. The definition of training is the long-term modification of behavior, and it will happen with or without a trainer. We are all responsible for helping each other and it is, frankly, the very definition of supervision. Supervisors are, therefore, trainers by definition and should be expected to make sure the officer safety link is working properly.

The shootings in the Carolinas should remind us that no matter what we do we will still suffer the loss of our brothers and sisters and we need to make sure we do everything possible to create a conspiracy of excellence within our own organization.


2007 ILEETA Training Conference and Expo
April 17 - 21, 2007
Chicago Area

The International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA) will conduct its 2007 International Training Conference and Expo at the new Westin Chicago North Shore, located at 601 North Milwaukee Avenue, in Wheeling, Illinois in the Greater Chicago Area, April 17 through April 21, 2007.

Developed for criminal justice instructors, this conference has a two-pronged focus; keeping officers alive and safe from harm, and improving instructional delivery to criminal justice professionals. There will be a multitude of valuable topic offerings for instructors, training officers, and training administrators.

Additionally, the ILEETA Expo will offer a forum where criminal justice professionals can interact with manufacturers and distributors to gain information and learn about cutting edge technology affecting the products and programs used in the criminal justice training field.

For more information and to register, please visit the 2007 ILEETA Conference registration and information page

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