FEATURED IN BELOW 100
Today, April 12, 2012, has been a dark day for law enforcement. A Stanislaus County (CA) deputy sheriff was shot and killed while serving an eviction notice. Hours after the killing of the deputy, five officers were shot in Greenland, N.H. One was killed and the condition of the other officers has not been released.
Both of these situations are still evolving as I write this and the shooters are not yet in custody. Initial reports are that both of these officers were killed by a subject wielding a high-powered rifle.
During the first week of 2012, three officers were killed by long guns. These weapons present a unique threat to cops because they allow for a distance attack that often defeats body armor. While this may seem like an impossible advantage to overcome, there are things you can do.
Make the most of the information you have. If a domestic violence call involves “a man with a gun” or “an armed subject,” see if dispatch can find out if a long gun is involved. (Dispatchers: Make this part of the protocol). Consider premise history, whether automated or in someone’s memory—if you know something, say something.
Cover means something capable of stopping bullets. If you have it, use it. Concealment helps to hide you and makes target acquisition harder, but cover is always preferable. And it’s a great idea to have the mental awareness of available cover in the event things go unexpectedly bad. Knowing there’s a big metal mailbox five feet behind you when a subject steps out with a gun is a good thing.
Use Body Armor
One of the terrible realities of rifles is that they often defeat soft body armor. Notice that I used the word “often.” That’s because sometimes soft body armor is just enough to give you that edge.
One of the most compelling armor saves I’m aware of is that of Officer Britt Sweeney, Seattle PD, who was struck in the upper back by a rifle round fired by a gunman in a passing car. The first round he fired grazed the top of her head and a subsequent round struck the top of her vest as she instinctively dove for cover. The angle of the vest presented by her position and the ballistic protection of the vest combined to deflect the round upward rather than allowing it to penetrate into her body. She was able to exit the vehicle and fire rounds at the suspect as he sped away. Read "Courage Under Fire" for more information.
Body armor works, but only if you wear it! Choose the highest level of protective capability that you will always wear and use the trauma plate if one’s available. Remember: A vest that stops almost anything is worthless if it’s in the trunk.
Here’s a tactical tip that may increase your chances. It’s much harder for a person with a rifle to track you when you’re moving sideways to their position than when you’re coming straight on. If you approach straight on, it’s pretty easy for a suspect to gain target acquisition and simply wait until you’re in range. However, if you’re approaching from the left or right, the bad guy has to swing his weapon to accommodate for your movement. Not only does this make that first shot less certain, it might just give you an opportunity to spot the movement or reflection of the weapon. Watch for this.
Another tip is to use lighting to your advantage and be aware of how you look as a target. This takes a conscious effort because human nature is to think solely in terms of how we see something rather than how we appear. Consider this: Have you ever had the sun at your back and noticed the oncoming traffic? You can see every detail in their car and the driver is often shielding his eyes because he’s virtually blinded. If you combine this type of situation with some of the above tips, you will definitely tilt the scales in your favor. Be aware of what’s behind you because the human shape is unique. If you’re silhouetted, you’re a much better target than if there’s background that’s similar in color and lighting to your appearance.
If you think a long gun is involved, put it out to other officers. This may be indicated by observation, information from witnesses, the sound of the gunfire, the distance from which the rounds are coming, the damage of the rounds, etc. Other officers need to know so they can take appropriate steps to minimize their vulnerability.
They’re much more common than they used to be, but they can help to even the odds. However, this only works if you have a chance to get the gun into action. Make sure you’re very familiar with the securing mechanism for the weapon and that you check the gun at the beginning of every shift. You do check your equipment regularly, don’t you?
The Bottom Line
Gunfire from long guns is particularly deadly. Have the awareness and put the odds in your favor whenever possible.