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Approaching and handling the dead

A violent suspect who's been shot and goes down, apparently dead, needs still to be handled with a high level of caution. More than one offender who has been well perforated with seemingly fatal rounds has unexpectedly revived and reattacked before he could be hauled to the morgue.

As PoliceOne reported recently, the driver of a minivan, who turned out to be a multiple murder suspect, shot himself in the head during a traffic stop in West Allis, Wis. The bullet narrowly missed the officer involved when it blasted through the driver's rolled-up window after exiting the suspect's skull.

Immediately taking cover behind his patrol car, the officer, Rick Orlowski Jr., could see the driver slumped slightly toward the passenger side in the front seat, apparently lifeless. But no chances were taken.

Orlowski coolly advised incoming units how best to approach the scene for safety and perimeter control in the event a threat unexpecedtly reactivated, Training Capt. Jerry Ponzi told PoliceOne. Although nearly a dozen units responded, no approach was made to the minivan until a tactical plan was in place.

Traffic Lt. Larry Warwick explains:

"Binoculars were used initially to confirm that the driver appeared to be DOA." Then a three-man team, all wearing body armor, carefully approached behind a ballistic shield. Det. Steve Fabry, a SWAT team leader, carried the shield, with no weapon out. SWAT team member Jeff Zientek had a shotgun on target, and Officer Mike Wroblewski was likewise ready with his .45-cal. semiauto service weapon.

From the passenger side, the team could see that the driver and his gun posed no immediate threat. Finding the van's doors locked, the team used an expandable baton to break out a rear window in the sliding door. "This was done to keep the immediate crime scene-the driver's area-as uncontaminated as possible," Warwick says.

Only after the driver was verified dead were ETs permitted to begin their forensic work.

As a standard precaution, some departments advise officers also to handcuff suspects who appear to be dead. Several years ago this was done after responding officers shot and killed a gunman who had gone on a murderous shooting rampage inside a McDonald's restaurant near the California-Mexico border.

Civilians were startled to see graphic photos of his handcuffed corpse, but tactically savvy officers understood perfectly.

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