In an ambush situation, your survival may come down to you spotting a fortuitous glint off of a scope and taking cover or your assailant missing with his first shot. You'd best be ready to make the best of them. Prior planning and mental conditioning can help.
Officers are trained to anticipate, be flexible, and have a backup plan. All come into play during an ambush, says Bank Miller, director of law enforcement and civilian training at International Training in Dilley, Texas. Miller notes that an officer facing the prospect of an ambush has to ask five questions:
- When do I move?
- Where do I move? (to and from)
- How do I move?
- Where am I the most predictable?
- Where am I the most vulnerable?
As the former chief firearms instructor for all DEA firearms and tactical training at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., Miller has studied all manner of officer-involved shootings, including those where an officer was unable to get off a round. He knows that there have been many instances where an officer was killed despite being tactically sound. Still, he cautions against a fatalistic attitude.
Miller notes that officers can do things well before they arrive at some fateful location. He adds that situational awareness and being aware of the potential for an ambush can go far toward evading one.
Inside Your Car
As discussed earlier in this article, many officers are shot at while in or near their vehicles.
Consider this example: Responding to a domestic violence call in 1997, Riverside County, Calif., deputies James Lehmann and Michael Haugen parked their patrol car a considerable distance from the location. As they exited their unit, they were ambushed by a sniper who shot them with an M1 rifle. One deputy was shot in the head and the other in the side. Both were killed so quickly that neither was able to radio in the incident.
To counter a lone gunman, consider having units approach from opposite ends of the street at the same time. By dividing the sniper's attentions, you also mitigate his element of surprise, something that is lost with the first gunshot. But if officers pull up in the same direction and/or arrive at different times, they are playing into a suspect's hand.
Thomas recommends that two-man cars make separate approaches on foot, and avoid any tendency to bunch up together.
"It's preferable, especially if you have multiple officers, to not seek cover together when that cover is available," Thomas explains. "If you have officers in different areas and you have single or multiple threats, you have an advantage over that sniper because you can fire from different angles. Also, if you are more advanced and you have some understanding of bound and cover techniques, you can actually move from one point to another by being separate and bounding and covering from one location to another.
"It gives you better tactics to move from one place to another because if you're shooting at somebody who's shooting at you, the ideal is to be able to shoot from cover and then relocate and shoot from another position," Thomas continues. "Because after you shoot your rounds and that person sees where your muzzle flash is coming from, he can easily wait for you to pop back up."
Thomas cautions against continued engagements with the suspect from a stationary position. "You don't want it to be like a game of Whack a Mole where the bad guy can hold his sights on one spot and wait for you to come back up," he says. "That was determined to be one of the problems with Dep. Hagop Jake Kuredjian's 2001 shooting in Santa Clarita, Calif. Because he was firing from the same place, it was easy for the suspect to get his sights on where Kuredjian was and fire the shot that killed him. You want to look for multiple sources of cover on your approach."
Bank Miller advises that distance between yourself and the shooter plays a part in how you respond to the threat.
"Consider this," says Miller. "A near ambush is considered contact distance to 25 yards, and a far ambush 25 yards and beyond. In a far ambush, return fire and seek cover, then call in the location and ask for assistance. Be sure to provide all the information you can, as we don't want our fellow officers driving up into the ambush.
"In a near ambush, the tactic is to counter-attack the attacker, if possible. This takes a lot of nerve, meaning you will be shooting back at the person who just tried to kill you. The dynamics change once you can get bullets going at the attacker. The reason for this maneuver is that the person shooting at you will try to assault you immediately if he thinks he missed you since he feels he has the edge."
Illumination is no small concern: 70 percent of officer-involved shootings take place in low- or no light. You may have no more than a muzzle flash with which to gauge where the attack is coming from. Take cover and concealment accordingly.