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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.

Tags: FBI Miami Shootout, California Highway Patrol, Active Shooters, Police History, Patrol Tactics, Gun Battles, Norco Bank Robbery

Comments (8)

Displaying 1 - 8 of 8

parapyropig @ 4/20/2011 7:57 AM

I've never heard of the Norco Bank incident.

Poignant, relevant & needed to be said. Good show. 100% WIN.

resq14 @ 4/20/2011 2:36 PM

+1 Thank you for taking the time to share.

Davesam25G @ 4/22/2011 12:28 AM

Very well done indeed...and most needed; forwarded along! Officer Down, Code Three." [Hardcover] Motorola media services 1975 Onion Field LAPD Detective Inventor of VICAP; (Pierce R Brooks) “(My Book) yellowing and coffee stained and a couple of pages stuck - now, Dunkin jelly donut. Mr. Brooks went on to become DPS in Lakewood Colorado. My first hardback book was “The Patrol Operation, IACP 1970.”

JJ Golliday @ 4/22/2011 2:31 PM

I remember well when I went to the Academy and was taught about the Norco and Newhall incidents. I started my career in 1980 so that explains why these incidents are familiar to me. However, I agree that the incidents should not be forgotten but taught to others to gain knowledge. JJG

Captain David @ 4/23/2011 10:26 AM

When the Newhall assistance call came out it was my longest code 3 call in my career. From West LA. After I arrived, along with what seemed to be a few hundred other cops, the news was devastating, heart wrenching, incredible and brought tears to the eyes of many. No one I talked to could ever believe 4 CHP could be gunned down like they were. There were guys who packed .357's at that time. Four!

That story should be read every month in all of So. Calif.

John Watts @ 5/5/2011 8:38 PM

A COPS biggest enemy is "ROUTINE". I'm a 27 yr CHP retired. I was working WLA when Newhall went down. I believe that incident started the ball rolling in changing enforcement tactics. To give you an idea how crazy it was before Newhall, We carried 870s with a paper seal on the breach. If you broke the seal, well you had to write a memo explaining why!! We have come a long way but don't let "ROUTINE" ruin your day.

Adrian Stroud @ 6/17/2011 5:27 AM

Great article, I often quoted those exact incidents as an FTO to my young charges. Do you remember when the terrorist Thomas Manning killed N.J. State Police Trooper Phillip J. Lamonaco? We dealt with that in the Northeast.

Timothy Beamer @ 5/5/2012 1:56 PM

When I went thru basic academy in '89, we talked about the Miami incident and watched actual footage that was taken during the start of the incident. I learned more from riding with veteren cops than what the basic academy taught us. I guess thats why its called Basic. After going thru a patrol rifle instructor course at O.P.T.A, I'll take a CAR-15 or a Mini 14 over a shotgun anyday. I would probably have a Springfield M1A with a 16-18" bbl if I was out in the sticks alot during my shift. IN '89 we were limited to 9mm's or wheel guns so I used an Italian made Beretta 92 which never missed a beat but in June of '91 they authorized 40's or 45's so I moth balled the Beretta and went to a '70 series Colt Commander. I gave up the mag capacity for stopping power and still carry a Colt to this day after 23 years on the job.

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