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Mark Clark

Mark Clark

Mark Clark is the public information officer for a law enforcement agency in the southwest. He is also a photographer and contributor to POLICE Magazine.
Patrol

Why Are Cops Dragged to Death?

It happens more often than it should; what is it that leads to an officer's body being helplessly pulled alongside a suspect's moving vehicle?

April 15, 2010  |  by - Also by this author

Every time it happens, I find myself wondering why. Why did the cop allow himself to get dragged down the street by a car?

I could list some of the more recent incidents, but will instead suggest readers do a Google search if they're unfamiliar with any. My intent isn't to embarrass particular individuals. Besides, they don't need to be cautioned on the matter: They've been there, done that. It's the next poor bastard that wants to reach inside a car I'm worried about.

Even if I don't recall reaching inside a subject's car while he was seated inside it, I do recall having subjects place their left hand out the window where I'd cuff them. But at the time my rationale was that if they hit the gas and took off they'd only tear the hell out of their wrists, particularly if it was an older model with a window frame. I could always buy another set of cuffs.

Still, I've probably broken all the officer safety rules at one time or another, so I can't be too pious, and reaching inside a car might well have been one of my mistakes.

But let's think for a second about all the things that can go wrong.

First, if you're actually extending your arm inside the compartment area, odds are it's on the driver's side. Odds are also very good you might be thinking about grabbing the keys. Odds of the suspect grabbing your arm and taking you for a ride? That's the real handicapper.

Unfortunately, there are few things sadder than the sight of some dude in a police uniform doubling as a hood ornament with nary a Hal Needham or Buddy Joe Hooker in sight.

Officers have been dragged and killed reaching inside cars. Occasionally, it's their own vehicle they're seeking to stop when it's been stolen by some opportunist.

But they say that if man had been meant to fly God would have given him wings. It follows that if he'd been meant to run zero to 60 in five seconds, he'd have made him more fleet of foot.

But that patently isn't the case. Let's look at the fastest man in the world, Usain Bolt (sorry, Barry Allen). On his best day with the wind at his back, Bolt - a man capable of getting to what, maybe 25 to 30 m.p.h.? - would still end up going ass-over-teakettle trying to keep up with a '74 Chevy Vega.

Given these facts, one might reasonably wonder why cops would want to find themselves doing the yabba-dabba-do thing.

Cops generally know better than to leave themselves vulnerable. They use things like cover and concealment, factor in the so-called 21-foot rule - which should probably be closer to 37 given recent research - and know better than to leave themselves backlit against their headlights.

Which begs the question: What happens to their officer safety when they're at the driver's door?

Why do they reach inside the driver's window, simultaneously exposing their right-handed sidearms and leaving their limbs up for grabs? And once trapped, they're faced with the prospect of immediately disengaging themselves - say within a few seconds - or hanging on for the ride of their dear life thereafter.

And even if an officer is able to get a pretty good grip (I'm not about to sell adrenaline short), the driver can try to scrape the officer's ass off by brushing up against oncoming traffic or fixed objects on the opposite side of the street. Need I mention how difficult it is to hold on when someone suddenly slams on the brakes?

And as more and more cars evolve with push button ignitions, might the temptation to reach inside become even greater?

I wonder if ego doesn't get involved.

I can just imagine an officer saying to himself, This SOB isn't going along with the program? I'll show him.

For as well trained as an officer can be, his or her emotional response to a situation can find an otherwise intelligent person doing stupid things. This becomes problematic when, in the course of inhuman events, the officer's hand is playing into the dirtbag's.

Whatever the man (or woman) is doing inside the driver's compartment area, there are preferable options. Get yourself out of the kill zone. Take cover and contain the car. Go in vehicle pursuit. Shoot his ass. (Disclaimer: Not all options are equally applicable).

The main thing is, the next time you think about reaching inside an occupied car, remember that there are some places the long arm of the law just shouldn't go.

Tags: Vehicle Stops


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