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Lessons of Survival

May 01, 2008  |  by - Also by this author

For Want of a Nail...

Paying attention to little things can pay huge dividends. Things like good officer safety practices and wearing protective vests.

Things like making sure you have enough nutrition and rest. Remember, a shooting may occur first thing or at the end of a shift.

Cochise County, Ariz., deputy Tony Parrish found himself facing a shotgun-wielding suspect at the end of an enervating three-hour desert search. By keeping himself hydrated and his nutrition up with energy bars during the trek, he was able to immediately and effectively respond to a threat.

Nothing Is Routine

What is commonly referred to as a routine stop is nothing more than one which hasn't gone south. Treat each and every stop with respect. Officers have been killed by children and octogenarians.

Don't be predictable on your approach, whether to a car or to a house. Do the unexpected and keep potential assailants off guard. But remember that parking a little further away from the location is no guarantee-two Riverside, Calif., officers responding to a domestic were victims of a sniper attack despite having parked 75 yards away from the location.

Once out of your car, take an inventory of your environment. Know what cover and concealment is available should you suddenly come under attack.

Down Is Not Out

Jennifer Fulford was shot seven times, yet succeeded in killing both of her assailants. Despite being center punched by a suspect's bullet, Marty Alford was able to get off the ground, take the fight to the suspect, and take him out. When Freddy Williams was shot in the face, the injury only made him fight harder against the possibility of dying and not being able to raise his son.

Of course, what's true for you is also true for your adversary. The suspect is not necessarily done just because he or she has been shot. More than one officer thought he'd fired a round with mortal implications for the suspect and the suspects kept fighting. Mortally wounded suspects can still present a great threat, as they are often capable of firing additional rounds. Officers should not only continue to engage until the threat is over, but also continually move so as to avoid getting caught flat-footed and vulnerable.


Officer Ware was off duty and stopped at a red light when he was confronted by gang members, one of whom, Ronald Bickman, attempted to carjack him at gunpoint. Ware elected not to exit his vehicle to confront the suspect, as potential migratory gunfire would expose other commuters to potential injury.

Ware was nonetheless able to successfully shoot the suspect through his tinted driver's window while minimizing himself as a target. Ware subsequently covered and detained both suspects pending the arrival of Arlington Police Department officers.

Lessons learned:

Anticipate situations before they occur.

Develop contingency plans in case you find yourself engaged by a suspect in environments you frequent.

Continually reevaluate your situation, reconciling good officer safety tactics with the best interests of others who stand to be affected by your actions.


While visiting a mall with his wife, the off-duty Hammond engaged active shooter suspect, Sulejiman Talovic, in a fiirefight after Talovic had killed five and wounded several others with an assault rifle.

Using his Kimber .45 semi-automatic and various structural barriers to absorb incoming rounds, Hammond was able to prevent the suspect from killing or injuring any additional victims. Hammond's actions helped responding Salt Lake City police officers corner and kill the suspect.

Lessons learned:

Be mentally and physically prepared to act in an on duty capacity while off duty.

Let responding officers know of your involvement to avoid friendly fire situations.

Exploit best available cover and concealment.

Surviving the Aftermath

How will you react to a shooting? The psychological impact of one shooting cost two offi cers their careers: One for having hit the suspect; the other for having missed.

Can you live with the prospect of having to take another's life? You'd better be able to. Failure to do so can mean the lives of yourself, your fellow officers, and innocent citizens.

Some officers have been surprised by the number of investigative bodies that descended upon their shootings. A few that I have interviewed were even taken aback by having to surrender their sidearm. It can have great psychological impact on an officer when he or she is officially disarmed.

But remember, a shooting will not destroy you unless you let it do so. If you need help afterward, get it. If you don't, don't feel bad about it. Everyone reacts to a shooting differently. It doesn't make you a bad person.

Coping with the shooting and its aftermath is part of officer survival. And for the most part, cops do survive officer-involved shootings physically, spiritually, and professionally. Most of the officers that I have profiled in "Shots Fired" continue to work in their chosen field. They do so because they were able to deal with both the short-term and long-term implications of a shooting.

If it happens to you, you will be able to move forward as well. And if you study the tactics that other officers have used to prevail, then you will be ready when you have to shoot to save your life or the lives of others.

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