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Wolf Pack: Multiple Assailants

Surviving attacks by multiple assailants.

November 01, 1996  |  by Joel Johnston Jr.

On Halloween night 1995, a police officer in the Greater Vancouver, Canada area was dispatched to a call involving a citizen who was being assaulted by a group of youths. Upon arrival, the uniformed officer moved to intervene and protect the victim, when he was blindsided with a punch to the head and knocked to the ground.

Suddenly, the officer was surrounded by an aggressive, hostile group of youths more closely resembling a "wolf pack' than a group of local high school kids. This time the officer was lucky; cover showed up in time to successfully disperse the pack and make the arrest.

All too often, however, the results are not so favorable. Officers have been severely beaten, disarmed and shot with their own weapon. In this day and age, multiple-assailant are the rule rather then the exception.  Incidents in which groups of assailants have attacked and seriously injured or killed their victim are on the rise and causing fear among law-abiding citizens.

The assault usually grows out of a minor confrontation or criminal plan that rapidly escalates out of control, leaving the victim maimed or even dead.

Police officers should command enough respect to deter a group of individuals from spontaneously attacking. But statistics tell a different story. In fact, 40 percent of all assaults against police officers are by two or more assailants. Bad guys are willing to roll the dice and gang up on cops more than ever before.

Use-of-force context

Probably one of the most vivid images of a multiple-assailant attack was captured on a dash-mounted video camera in Garrison, Texas, in January 1991. Constable Darrell Lunsford was questioning three individuals at a roadside stop when he was suddenly and viciously attacked. He was taken to the ground in three seconds and killed with his own weapon 11 seconds later. Lunsford stood 6-feet-5-inches tall and weighed 280 pounds. Clearly, a multiple-assailant situation is a potentially deadly encounter and one you cannot afford to lose.

Could those assailants have fled the scene without killing the officer?  Was it easier for them to achieve their short-term goal by killing him? Are you justified in rapidly escalating your force response in dealing with multiple assailants? The answer to all of these questions is yes.

Because a multiple-assailant situation is a deadly force encounter, it is essential to consider the amount of force you are willing to use. You must understand your force-response justification and be prepared to articulate this justification before the courts.

There is considerable empirical evidence to support the fact that multiple-assailant attacks arise out of seemingly routine situations to encounters. They escalate rapidly and if not successfully contained, can result in serious bodily injury or death. The federal statutes relating to the use of force specifically authorize you to protect yourself from this type of attack. There is no time for a guarded, measured response when dealing with a "wolf pack". As little as 14 seconds can make the difference between life and death.  

The pack mentality 

Several things occur within a group that do not occur in one-on-one confrontations. In a group, there is an unstated pressure or agreement to support each other. There is also a feeling of reduced risk and greater anonymity within a group, and with that comes a reduced sense of accountabil­ity. Additionally, there is peer pressure to keep pace with the group and perform and participate equally.

People in groups are often said to descend several rungs on the evolutionary ladder and behave in a more crude, Neanderthal fashion.  Many of these dynamics suppport and explain the behavior of multiple assailants. This "pack" mentally is one of the factors that causes violence to escalate rapidly and in such an uncontrolled manner. This is also why seemingly "nice kids" turn into something quite different in a violent group dynamic.

When does a group become a potential "wolf Pack"? As police officers, it is part of our job to routinely deal with groups of people. While most of them could not be considered wolf packs, you should always be aware of what is going on around you.

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