Officer Down: dreaded words we never hope to hear, but hear them we do—with alarming regularity in 2007 (on track to be the deadliest year for police since 1978). Recent shootings indicate SWAT is not immune from this escalating violence against police. There was a time when only the hardest core criminal dared to take on SWAT teams. This is no longer true today. Listed below is a sampling of 2007 SWAT shootings in the U.S. and Canada.
This will not be a "Monday morning quarterback" column. I wasn't there, nor do I know all of the facts. However, there are still valuable lessons to learn from what is known at this time.
What follows is a short recap of several 2007 SWAT-related shootings:
- 10-17-07, Dallas, Texas: Dallas Police SWAT shot and critically wounded during 0600 hour multiple location drug raid. The lieutenant was part of the outside cover team, deploying a distraction device and breaking a bedroom window. A 19-year-old female shot the lieutenant in the neck, critically wounding him. Other SWAT officers pulled the lieutenant to safety, where two SWAT docs worked to literally save the lieutenant's life. He's expected to survive. The female suspect, who was holding an infant either during or immediately following the shooting, was arrested.
- 10-18-07, Rialto, Calif.: Rialto Police SWAT officer shot and killed during physical struggle with suspect during 0700 hour multiple location drug raid. The officer was medevaced to the hospital via helicopter but was DOA. The male suspect was arrested.
- 10-22-07, Austin, Texas: Austin Police Detective shot and wounded during 0619 hour drug raid. One officer evacuated the wounded detective, while a second officer provided cover fire. A 72-year-old male suspect barricaded himself, but was apprehended by SWAT. The detective was T&R.
- 8-22-07, Los Angeles County, Calif.: L.A. County Sheriff SWAT deputy shot and wounded during ADW search warrant execution. The deputy wounded is in stable condition.
- 8-2-07, York, Ontario, Canada: York Regional Police Constable – member of Special Services Unit & Emergency Response Unit, killed 0500 hours. He was dragged, pinned, and thrown from a vehicle during an air-bag theft stakeout.
- 4-25-07, New York: N.Y. State Trooper Mobile Response Team officer accidentally shot and killed by "friendly fire" during shootout with suspect in previous N.Y. Trooper shooting. The officer was evacuated from the house and the suspect was killed during a shootout. His body was discovered after fire engulfed the house.
- 4-5-07, New Jersey: FBI Agent accidentally killed by "friendly fire" during bank robbery stakeout while jumping out of a van.
- 3-2-07, Laval, Quebec, Canada: Laval Police Constable detective shot and killed during 0500 hour multiple location drug raid. A second detective was wounded. The suspect was wounded and arrested.
Here are some preliminary observations from the preceding incidents.
One thing all of these incidents have in common is a willingness of the suspects, regardless of age, to attack police, including SWAT. 19-year-old females and 72-year-old males are not typical police shooters, effectively dispelling the myth of the stereotypical young male shooter. This reinforces the necessity to secure all persons during SWAT operations for the safety of all participants.
Five of these incidents were during the early morning, five were raids, and three involved multiple locations. Raids are inherently dangerous, and multiple locations expose police to more suspects. Early morning raids are designed to catch suspects while sleeping or when they are not as alert. But remember, many people (especially bad guys) sleep with their weapons close at hand. It only takes them seconds to arm themselves. The vital raid elements of "surprise, shock, speed" can, and sometimes do, work both ways. Always be ready for anything to occur.
SWAT operations, especially raids, require officers on the move with "locked and loaded" weapons. The risk of "friendly fire" is dramatically reduced through strict adherence to firearms safety rules. Moving with weapons in hand (on foot and in vehicles), in the heat of the moment, is an especially vulnerable time for accidents. Always remember, NO fingers on triggers unless you're intending to shoot right now.
All those officer down/medevac drills we do are paying off and saving officers' lives. The Austin Police Chief credits such training for saving the life of the detective wounded in a recent drug raid. Per the chief, "The officers did what they were trained to do. One officer pulled the detective to safety, while another officer provided cover fire." Officer down/medevac drill training needs to be Standard Operating Procedure.
SWAT docs and TEMS are proven life savers, and becoming the gold standard for on-scene emergency medical care in SWAT missions. This is evidenced by the two SWAT docs who recently saved the above-mentioned Dallas SWAT lieutenant's life, and who treated four wounded Dallas SWAT officers during a February 2006 drug raid. These SWAT docs were in the right place, at the right time, because someone decided that's where they needed to be.
The above incidents involved respected, experienced, highly trained agencies and officers. If it could happen to them it could happen to any of us, at any time. Always remember, there's no such thing as "routine."
Most of us can readily cite personal experiences of tragedies and near misses. The real question is whether we learn from them, because there will always be a "next time."