'Rocking' the cops: Assault by any other name is still assault

Police professionals know about the consequences of even small head wounds — none of which are pleasant — but Border Patrol agents may know best about a rock’s impact with the head

The decision by U.S. Border Patrol Chief Mike Fisher — back in November of last year — to disagree with the Police Executive Research Forum’s patently dangerous suggestion that Border Patrol Agents not use lethal force against rock throwers is probably the most critical show of support of frontline Border Patrol personnel in recent memory.

Imagine the pride Border Patrol Agents felt when their Chief vocally supported his agent’s right to preserve their own lives and the lives of others who may be the targets of thrown rocks and other potentially deadly objects. Chief Fisher seemed — at that time — to  put to rest the ridiculous notion that lethal force shouldn’t be an option against an offender wielding a rock as a weapon. 

But political pressure persisted, and the issue came up in headlines around the country last week, with most media sources choosing to report that Chief Fisher’s four-page memo “Use of Safe Tactics and Techniques” somehow contradicts his position in November. It doesn’t — it was a mere reissue of Border Patrol’s existing use-of-force policy, with a reminder to stay safe. What this latest news does do, is to provide an impetus for us to more fully examine the issue of ‘rocking’ for what it really is: assault. 

A Potentially Deadly Threat
Conduct an experiment by placing a watermelon on the ground 10 feet in front of you and throwing rocks the size of a baseball at the fruit. Take a good look at the damage. Now imagine that’s your skull. Not pretty is it?

Police professionals know about the consequences of even small head wounds — none of which are pleasant — but Border Patrol agents may know best about a rock’s impact with the head.

That’s why I’m so confused about PERF’s impetus for even posing the question about the use of force — up to and including lethal force — by officers being assaulted with thrown rocks. The organization’s Board of Directors is a ‘who’s who’ of upper echelon police leaders from various agencies — they should have known that the question was flawed to begin with, or was there a political motive involved? 

Of course, the media wasn’t any more informed. Most headlines read “Border Patrol can still kill rock throwers, chief says.” 

Border Patrol use-of-force policy says nothing of the kind — nor has it ever, nor would it ever. 

Chief Fisher never said anything even remotely similar to that sort of sensationalized headline. What he said — among other things — was "just to say that you shouldn't shoot at rock-throwers or vehicles for us, in our environment, was very problematic and could potentially put Border Patrol agents in danger." 

The problem is, some seem to think that NOT responding to deadly force with deadly force is a valid paradigm, otherwise, why the question? 

What’s next? No one should use lethal force when facing a suspect wielding a knife? A baseball bat? A crowbar? A hammer? A wrist rocket? Would any law officer feel comfortable with this paradigm? Would any innocent third party or current victim of the same assault? Would any of their spouses, significant others, family members, children? I think the universal answer is understandably and unequivocally, no. 

Another hard fact lost in the chaos surrounding such ‘rocking’ events is that each event is actually an assault. The word ‘rocking’ merely describes the means by which the assault is carried out and typically, even the most inscrutable media outlets, biased rights groups and even citizens, won’t ask the real question: what is/was the intent of someone assaulting an officer with thrown rocks? 

Why ‘intent’ is never discussed is clear — even asking the question would lead many reasonable people to believe that the suspected rock-thrower is committing a crime. Why else throw a rock at a law enforcement officer? 

If someone is throwing rocks, bottles, bricks, and/or other projectiles at, say, your children, would we simply assume the other party is merely trying to communicate? 

I’ve seen firsthand the damage that a thrown rock can do to a skull, as well as other body parts. 

I’ve seen what thrown rocks do to windshields, side windows, hoods, quarter panels, spotlights, and other objects. 

The damage to property is the cost of doing business and as with any inanimate object, it’s an offense that doesn’t deserve lethal force. The same can’t be said for the damage it does to a human being. I defy anyone to stand still and have rocks — usually the size of a bocce ball — lobbed at them with nothing but a rolled-up newspaper with which to defend themselves. 

That’s effectively what PERF and the media would prescribe. 

How about you? 

About the author

Thane Gallagher is a senior law enforcement officer who has worked in various patrol assignments throughout his career, from this nation’s rugged back country locales, to pavement laden urban highways. In addition to his enforcement duties, he’s also a certified EMT and Field Training Officer. As an FTO, Gallagher (along with his partner) developed a more modern tactical approach and training model to teach newer personnel how to conduct highway interdiction operations. For three years, Gallagher was assigned as a Task Force Officer within a gang/narcotics unit. As a Task Force Officer and in addition to the usual investigative caseload, he was often consulted by other federal and local agencies for guidance and investigative support on a wide variety of immigration, identity theft, and document fraud issues. He’s currently assigned to highway narcotics interdiction, within a special operations group. Concurrent with this assignment, Gallagher also helps train officers from various local agencies to conduct this specialized operation, by combining the application of industry standard field tactics with the analysis of behavioral indicators in the motoring public. 

Gallagher served four years on active duty with the U.S. Coast Guard, while assigned to patrol various locales from the Bering Sea on one of the service’s largest high endurance cutters, to the Channel Islands off of Southern California on small patrol boats. Gallagher not only specialized in search and rescue operations, but he became a certified Maritime Law Enforcement Officer (Boarding Officer) early in his military career, which is where he first whet his appetite for enforcing the law. Gallagher participated in and/or led as the primary officer, hundreds of boardings throughout his Coast Guard career, making arrests for everything from boating under the influence, to narcotics smuggling on the high seas, to poaching and/or unauthorized fishing in protected waters, to felons in possession of firearms.

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