Below 100: The choices we make often make us
The laudable and lofty goal of keeping police officer line of duty deaths under 100 in 2011 may not have been achieved, but we should never falter in our ongoing effort of increasing officer safety
In April of this year I attended the ILEETA Conference in Chicago as I usually try to do. As a trainer I find the gathering a “must see” opportunity to meet with other trainers and take in some of the fantastic training that is available out there on an international level.
As part of that training I attended the Below 100 instructor certification course. If you are not aware the Below 100 initiative it was designed to remind police officers of five basic principles:
• Wear your seat belt
• Watch your speed
• Wear your vest
• W.I.N. (What’s Important Now)
• Remember: Complacency Kills!
Below 100 is an initiative started by Law Officer to reduce the number of line of duty deaths in the year to fewer than 100, with the input of some of the top trainers in the country..
Saddened Before Dawn
I was visiting Bob “Coach” Lindsey and his wife at his home in North Carolina. Coach is an internationally-recognized LE trainer. We had gotten up before sunrise and were sitting on the porch talking. As we awaited the coming light over the eastern mountains Coach checked email on his laptop. We continued to talk and then he stopped and said, “100.”
He didn’t need to say anything more I knew what he meant. We were both saddened by what he read. On July 20th it was reported that Deputy Rick Daly had been shot and killed the previous day in South Carolina making him the 100th officer killed in the line of duty in 2011.
The email notification read from ODMP (Officer Down Memorial Page) as follows:
Deputy Rick Daly was shot and killed while conducting a traffic stop near the intersection of East Fayetteville and Walker roads. A fugitive squad in an unmarked car identified a teenage suspect wanted on armed robbery charges and called on Deputy Daly in his marked cruiser to execute the traffic stop around 3:00 pm.
As Deputy Daly approached the passenger side of the vehicle where the suspect was, the suspect exited the vehicle and fired multiple shots that struck him in locations not protected by his body armor. He was transported to the hospital where he succumbed to his wounds.
The suspect fled the scene and remained at large for several hours before he was captured by a tactical team with the aid of a canine.
Deputy Daly had served in law enforcement for 25 years. He is survived by his wife, son, daughter, four grandchildren, and mother.
The Situation Dictates the Tactics
My first question was, “Why was he doing a traffic stop and approaching a vehicle containing an armed robbery suspect?”
I wasn’t on scene and I have learned over the years not to try and second guess the actions and choices of others in critical situations. I can only imagine why the choice was made. Regardless of the reason the results speak for themselves. Andy Casavant says, “The situation dictates the tactics.”
In other words, base your choice on the worst possible outcome not the best based on what you know at the time of the stop. There are three kinds of vehicle stops (hopefully, this is a review for all of you):
• Unknown Risk
• Intermediate Risk
• High Risk
Unknown Risk stops are your standard traffic stops. We do them everyday. They are an Unknown Risk because at the time of the stop we have a low level offense as our reason to conduct the stop, but whether or not a greater risk exists is unknown.
We stop the car and do our approach cautiously. As the number of officers killed on traffic stops continue to rise I strongly suggest that you do a passenger side approach. I know for some it is tough to break tradition. But cops hit by cars aren’t tough to break. Watch the car cam videos and you can see the results of officers who choose to stand on the driver’s side — especially when traffic is heavy and at highway speed — so please, take the passenger side.
An Intermediate Stop is done when something about the car or its’ occupants sets off that little alarm in your head — furtive movement inside the vehicle, multiple occupants, high crime area, etc. Using the Intermediate Stop we maintain our distance and call the driver out of the car and back to us.
Again the words of Andy Casavant: “Bring them to you.”
As they exit the vehicle you can do a visual frisk and determine if a physical frisk is warranted. Conduct your business with the driver with them standing in front of your squad, while you stand on the passenger side, with the car serving as a barrier between you. You have the suspect and the suspect’s vehicles — and passenger(s) — in view as well. Have them place their ID on the hood and then have them step back as you approach and then you can get the documents. This will give you a barrier and a reaction gap during the records check and subsequent questioning.
If the situation allows for it, backup should be present. In turn, each passenger is brought back and put through the same process if the situation dictates it.
A High Risk stop is done when you are dealing with Felony Suspects and at the end of ALL pursuits. You want to wait until you have available back up on scene before initiating the stop. A greater distance is maintained between the squads and suspect vehicle. I suggest about 15-20 yards in case of gunfire. As Andy Casavant says, “Closer is not always better.”
The first two squads on scene park side by side to provide a cover position for all officers. If you do not have back up on hand when a vehicle stops or wrecks you have two options. Create distance and wait for backup or get out your long gun and hold the situation at gunpoint until help arrives. The situation and circumstances will dictate your choice.
The High Risk Stop dictates that officers have their guns drawn — I suggest a minimum of two long guns if four officers are conducting the stop. Using the PA, each suspect is talked out of the car one at a time. A visual frisk is conducted before they are brought back and cuffed and searched by an assisting officer.
The Choices You Make
So, deciding which type of stop (tactics) to do is dictated by the situation. If all you have is a traffic violation, do the Unknown Risk Stop. If the actions of the occupants or the vehicle cause concern that doesn’t rise to a level of a High Risk Stop do the Intermediate Stop. When dealing with felony suspects in vehicles (with exceptions like Felony DUI) and at the end of ALL pursuits maintain you distance and bring the suspects to you using the High Risk Stop tactics. If after attempting to bring them back to you in an accident scene where that is not an option at sometime you will have to go forward to make contact with the suspects.
Your department policy or state statutes may vary — make it work for you. We may be past the 100 mark but we each need to do our part to eliminate avoidable in the line of duty deaths. You go a long way towards meeting that goal by letting the situation dictate the tactics. Understand the risk level on a stop and choose the correct stop techniques to employ. You can live or die by the choices you make.
I write this article as a reminder to each one of us to bear in mind the options that we have. I think Massad Ayoob said it best, “To ignore the lessons learned from a police officers death is to spit on the graves of the martyred officers.” The lesson here was written in blood in a place called Newhall, California more than 40 years ago. Learn from history or history WILL re-teach you the lesson. If you are not familiar with the event I am referring to Google “Newhall Massacre.”
We may have failed to keep it below 100 in 2011 — as this column appears on PoliceOne, we have reached 131 deaths. We need to keep it from rising any further, and only you can do that. This article is dedicated to the memories of Officers Alleyn, Frago, Gore, Pence, and now Daly.
- Officer Safety