P1 Book Review: Officer Down! Lessons from the Streets by Brian McKenna
By Chuck Soltys
For more than 20 years, author Brian McKenna has been reviewing officer-involved shootings and writing about the incidents in his “Officer Down” column, featured in the Police Marksman and Law Officer magazines. McKenna now brings his articles together in his new book, “Officer Down! Lessons from the Streets.” Featuring the most significant and interesting incidents he has studied, from the first chapter — a look into the infamous murder of four highway patrolman known as the Newhall Incident – through the last chapter — how a lone officer defeated his assailant after taking two devastating wounds from 12-gauge deer slugs — McKenna’s research and analysis is riveting.
Like most cops, McKenna (a retired officer with more than 33 years experience) will tell you he has never been personally involved in a shooting. But in another sense, he has experienced dozens of officer-involved shootings. Few people have studied so many incidents in such detail.
Anyone who has participated in the investigation of an officer-involved shooting knows just how difficult and sensitive it is to criticize an officer’s actions. In any incident, a thorough debrief is necessary. A productive debrief can identify things that went right, things that went wrong, and everything in between. Generally, those asking the questions were not present during the shooting, and all too often it can appear as though the interviewer is undermining the officers’ heroics. In this book, McKenna demonstrates how he has mastered the skill of critiquing incidents without undermining the actions of those officers involved.
Each chapter gives a description of the incident, analysis, summary, and study questions. McKenna’s writing style places you in the middle of the action, and he includes diagrams to provide additional understanding and to create a visual of the event. There are central training points highlighted in each chapter, such as the importance of a back-up gun, self-applied first aid, wearing body armor, using cover and concealment, and action vs. reaction. McKenna has a deep understanding of police tactics and equipment, and he finishes with a final chapter on how to maximize the training benefits of this book.
After working the street for a few years, most officers have been in situations that could have resulted in shootings. Poor tactics can unnecessarily precipitate a shooting and sound tactics can prevent one. Many officers will not even be aware of the mistakes that caused a shooting or the decisions that avoided one, which is what makes this book even more valuable. McKenna’s work has saved officers lives, prevented crippling injuries, and spared officers and their families the emotional aftermath that accompanies an officer-involved shooting.
To be as accurate as possible, McKenna interviewed some officers that prevailed and also conducted extensive research when officers were killed. In some instances, the officers’ names or minor details have been altered out of respect for and/or protection of the officer, but none of the essential facts have been changed.
These are all real life stories that can be painful to read. The incidents also remind us of the dangers of this profession and how, to some degree, complacency has its effect on every cop. We owe it to those officers whose names are etched on the wall in Washington D.C. to read and absorb the lessons that were paid for in blood and loss of life.
This book would undoubtedly be a best seller at major book retail stores, but McKenna has confirmed that it will only be sold in law enforcement circles and used to enhance the abilities of officers to safely do their jobs. Academies and in-service training programs would benefit greatly from dissecting this book chapter by chapter, discussing the training points in class or at roll call.
If you are a law enforcement trainer, “Officer Down” is an absolute must-read. If you are an officer on the street, this book, next to your body armor, might be the cheapest and most valuable insurance policy you ever buy.