Photo: Kelly Bracken

Photo: Kelly Bracken

On PoliceMag.com we have these search aids called keyword tags at the bottom of each story as we post it on the site to help you search our online content for stories of interest. It's not unusual for us to add several new keyword tags each week. Usually, this is because some incident good or bad has happened to a law enforcement agency that we haven't covered yet. But sometimes it's because some issue in law enforcement is trending. I'm happy to report that we recently added the following keyword tag: "civilians helping officers."

The prevailing wisdom in this country is that the people have turned against the police. Statistically and anecdotally, there is evidence that the prevailing wisdom is wrong.

In October a Gallup poll concluded that 76% of the American public have a "great deal" of respect for police. That survey had a 4% margin of error. So the number could be as high as 80%.

Talk is cheap. Statistics and surveys can be easily skewed. So it's easy to be skeptical.

But in the first two months of this year, at least six civilians stepped up to help law enforcement officers under attack. Some of these incidents involved deadly force.

On Jan. 12, former Mexican police officer Leonard Pennelas-Escobar was in a single-car accident outside of Phoenix on Interstate 10. Arizona Department of Public Safety Trooper Edward Andersson responded. Trooper Andersson was setting up flares on the highway to get people to slow down when Pennelas-Escobar shot him and started beating him. Passing motorist Thomas Yoxall saw the trooper under attack and stopped. Yoxall drew a handgun and ordered Pennelas-Escobar to stop. When Pennelas-Escobar continued the attack, Yoxall shot and killed him. It's quite likely that Yoxall saved Trooper Andersson's life. Arizona DPS Director Col. Frank Milstead called Yoxall an "amazing guy."

Two other recent incidents in which civilians came to the physical aid of law enforcement officers didn't involve deadly force, but the people involved put themselves in harm's way to help officers gain control of situations that could have easily turned deadly.

In San Francisco of all places, bystanders helped an officer under attack by a homeless man. The incident, which occurred Feb. 19, began when the officer approached the man who was reportedly high on drugs and exposing and touching himself in front of a grocery store. The man began wrestling with the officer and knocked him to the ground. Bystanders saw what was happening, ran across the street, and pulled the man off of the officer.

This incident is remarkable because of San Francisco's reputation, which would make you think citizens might side with the homeless guy against the officer. It’s also important to note that the city's officers do not have TASERs and have recently been prohibited from using carotid restraints. So this officer had few options to counter this attack and was fortunate the bystanders answered his calls for help.

Another unlikely example of civilians being Good Samaritans for officers occurred last month in Baton Rouge, LA. In this Deep South city, where multiple officers were ambushed and murdered last summer and protests closed downtown streets for weeks after a fatal officer-involved shooting, an African-American citizen came to the aid of a white officer under very serious attack.

And she was an unlikely savior. Vickie Williams-Tillman is 56, and she's not a large woman. She's a hair over 5 feet tall and petite. The officer she helped, Cpl. Billy Aime, towers over her. But while driving to a local store on Sunday Feb. 18, she saw Aime under attack and took action. "I could see in his eyes he needed help," she told the Advocate newspaper. "I did what God needed me to do."

What she did was jump on the back of a 28-year-old man who was reportedly attacking Aime with his own baton and trying to take his gun. She helped Aime end what could have been a deadly gun grab attack. She has since been hailed as a hero by the local government and the Louisiana House.

So the next time you hear that the people no longer support you, think about these Good Samaritans. They not only showed their support for these officers. They took action to help them, perhaps even preventing tragic duty deaths. They are heroes, and they deserve the thanks and recognition not just of law enforcement but all Americans.

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