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He Who Ignores History...

Epic-scale gunfights in law enforcement history offer still-relevant lessons for law enforcement officers.

April 20, 2011  |  by Chuck Haggard

Author George Santayana may be best remembered for his wisdom, "the one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again."

In my 24 years as a police officer, I find that we in law enforcement often fail to abide by Santayana's admonition.

The first two weeks of April bring us anniversaries of two of the most pivotal events in modern officer survival study (I'd much rather prevail than survive in fights, but that's a topic for another blog post).

I'm referring to the Newhall firefight on April 6, 1970, which led to the deaths of four California Highway Patrol officers, and the FBI Miami shootout on April 11, 1986 where two special agents were killed and five of the six other agents on scene suffered gunshot wounds of various severity.

These events have a great deal in common, including lessons to be learned about training for the fight, gunfighting in general, felony/high-risk car stop tactics, mindset, preparation, use of body armor, use of long guns, back-up guns, pre-attack indicators, fight-or-flight response, wound ballistics and tactical communication.

Unfortunately these two incidents also have something else in common — most cops have never heard of them. In my travels and contacts with LEOs from around the country, it appears these fights, although epic in scale, have been nearly forgotten.

This is a tragedy. The lessons learned in these incidents were paid for with the blood of good men, and the lessons learned in these two fights are still very important for cops in 2011.

Part of what led me to think of this subject was being in roll call with some of my troops, and talking about the rise over the past few months in LE deaths due to felonious action, and the number of bad guys who seem to want to take the fight to us.

During this discussion, one of my newer guys made a comment about how things had never been this bad before. I was forced to point out the Newhall and Miami fights, because I knew he had been taught the lessons of these events. I also talked about what coppers in the late '60s and early '70s had to deal with, incidents such as the attacks on police stations by various counterculture groups, the SLA/Patty Hearst events in Los Angeles, and the various riots such as Watts.

It took me a minute to realize that I was the only person in the room who knew what I was talking about. I really felt old when I realized that the North Hollywood bank robbery fight with the LAPD was starting to seem like ancient history to my newer officers.

How many of you have heard of the Norco California bank robbery?

What about the Texas Tower incident?

How about the SLA safe-house gunfight?

Have you studied the active shooter incident and virtual one-man Mumbai attack that occurred in New Orleans in 1972?

The fights that modern LE finds themselves in are the exact same fights that our brothers and sisters have found themselves facing since guns were invented. The "Ten Deadly Sins" of law enforcement, which were written in the '60s, are the same errors that are getting good cops killed in 2011.

Want to know how far back the heavily armed and armored active-shooter taking the fight to LEOs really goes? It didn't start in Los Angeles in 1997, and it didn't start in the "Roaring '20s."

Try doing a internet search for a guy named Ned Kelly for a real history lesson. Knowledge is power has always been true, which is true to this day.

Lt. Chuck Haggard is a 24-year veteran of law enforcement and active officer with the Topeka (Kan.) Police Department.

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