Studying the Cop Killers

Greg Ellifretz over at Active Response Training had a great post today analyzing the 2011 FBI Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA) report. The LEOKA report, which I was not previously aware of, compiles stats and case studies of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty, as well as stats about assaults on cops.

Greg’s post does a great job of breaking down the statistics, so I strongly encourage you to read his post. I wanted to talk about one specific case study from the piece of the report which summarizes the circumstances of each officer who was killed, and about some lessons we can learn from it.

Here’s the FBI’s summary of the incident:

An off-duty, unarmed deputy sheriff with the Marin County [California] Sheriff’s Office was shot and killed in an unprovoked ambush shortly after midnight on July 19 in Petaluma. The 49-year-old deputy, with more than 9 years of law enforcement experience, was trying to help a friend whose ex-boyfriend had recently threatened her and her family. The veteran deputy went to his friend’s residence sometime between 11:30 and 11:50 p.m. to offer assistance and guidance. About 20 minutes later, the deputy and his friend were informed that the ex-boyfriend had entered the property on foot. The deputy went outside to ask the ex-boyfriend to leave when the man produced a 10 mm semiautomatic handgun and shot the deputy twice at close range, striking him in the front upper torso/chest, the rear upper torso/back, and fatally in the front of the head. The ex- boyfriend found one of the residents in the house, held her at gunpoint, and threatened to shoot her if he did not locate his ex-girlfriend. The suspect forced his hostage outside and into a garage. While the ex-boyfriend was attempting to force the hostage into a vehicle, a resident in the house armed himself with a firearm and shot the ex-boyfriend once in the upper body and once in the lower body, killing him. The hostage and other residents were not injured. The 28-year-old ex-boyfriend was on parole at the time of the incident for making terroristic threats. He was known to use, deal, and possess drugs, and he had a prior criminal record that included violent crimes, drug violations, weapons violations, and police assault. Both the victim deputy and the suspect were pronounced dead at the scene.

What can we learn from this tragedy? Here are a few lessons I took away:

  • Your weapon won’t protect you if you aren’t carrying it. This incident took place in Marin County, CA, reportedly a very difficult place for private citizens to get a concealed weapons permit. But off-duty law enforcement officers can carry, even in gun-hostile jurisdictions like this. It saddens me greatly that this officer, who was among a relatively small number of people who could legally carry a concealed firearm…and he wasn’t carrying. This decision cost him his life. The lesson for me is simple: If you can get a CCW permit in your jurisdiction, you owe it to yourself and your family to have one and to carry whenever you possibly can.
  • An armed citizenry is effective at stopping crimes. After the (unarmed) deputy was shot, the report says, another resident in the home retrieved a firearm and fatally shot the cop-killer, ending the threat. Had it not been for that individual, it sounds entirely too likely that the female hostage and others would have died. This is an important lesson for those who say “the cops will protect you” – in this case, the unarmed cop was killed and, had the resident not been armed, it’s likely others would have died before anyone could have made a 9-1-1 call.
  • You can’t rely on only carrying when danger is expected, because you can’t always see danger coming. We’ve all had experiences of being asked – or offering – to help our neighbors. Did the deputy in this case expect that helping his neighbor would turn deadly? I doubt it, or he wouldn’t have gone over there unarmed, without a vest, and without backup. But that’s just it: Real life doesn’t give us scary music to let us know when trouble’s coming.

Please know, I’m not trying to cast blame on the deputy in this case, or to minimize the tragedy of his death. As tragic as this incident is, though, it would be even more tragic if the rest of us can’t learn anything from it.

I encourage you to read the whole LEOKA report, but especially the incident summaries. Look at each one carefully, and see what lessons you can draw from what happened that might help keep you safe.

Photo credit: stock.xchng (by je1196)

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