The year is already off to an ominous start in terms of officer survival. As of January 27, there have been 14 line-of-duty deaths in 2010.

That figure, which comes from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF), represents a 75 percent increase over the same time 2009 when there were eight Line of Duty Deaths (LODD). So far in 2010 there have been five law enforcement officers killed by gunfire - a 400 percent increase over the same time in 2009 - a year that saw a dramatic increase in LE gunfire deaths over previous years.

Not included in the statistics are "close calls." During the recent mass murder in central Virginia, the suspect shot, disabled, and nearly downed a police helicopter participating in the massive manhunt.

Is this willingness to target law enforcement for attack merely a passing fad, or the start of an ugly new trend?  While it may be too early to know the answer, it's definitely not too early to take countermeasures to enhance officer safety.

In my previous blogs, I have talked about the violence of the 1960s and 1970s and the targeting of police during that radical era. During those years, it was like someone declared open season on police. There were more than 200 LODD's each year.

LE stemmed the deadly tide by creating concept called "Officer Survival," a combination of awareness, training, tactics, and equipment that continues to the present day. Officer Survival came at the too heavy price of four California Highway Patrol officers who were shot and killed in 1970 in an engagement that is now known as the Newhall Massacre.

Around the same time that law enforcement agencies were adopting the concept of Officer Survival other new lifesaving ideas were also being explored: Detroit pizza shop owner Richard Davis invented soft, personal body armor for police; the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) unit was created; and law enforcement began transitioning from revolvers to larger capacity semi-automatic pistols. Oh, and LAPD's new SWAT concept was becoming increasingly recognized as the best and safest way to handle high-risk law enforcement situations.

All of these ideas, inventions, and strategies finally began to reverse the alarming rise in LODDs in the 1970s. I hope I'm wrong, but I believe we're on the cusp of a new era of targeting police.

But before we discuss this further, we need to look at some relevant crime trends. Starting with murder and suicide. Not that long ago, murder and suicide were mostly separate from each other. Somewhere along the line, the two combined into the pattern we know today as murder/suicide: suicides taking others with them.

The next thing we need to discuss is so-called suicide by cop. Though the public and the media think this is a cut-and-dried concept where a harmless person poses a deadly threat to an officer so that the officer will kill him. It's a very dangerous situation for the officer. After all, the suicidal person does not wear a sign that says, "I'm committing suicide, not really trying to hurt you." In recent years, suicide-by-cop incidents have been on the rise.

Another major danger for law enforcement is active shooters. Whether they involve schools or offices, active shooter incidents very often combine elements of murder-suicide, suicide-by-cop, and sometimes sniper attacks. All of these incidents have the common theme of suspects determined to murder until they're physically stopped, very often by deadly force.

When such incidents as murder-suicide, suicide-by-cop, and active shootings occur, patrol first responders will always be involved, as will investigators.  Ideally, SWAT/CNT should also become involved.  However, often the circumstances, the timing, and other factors don't allow SWAT/CNT to respond.

So what can SWAT do to help? For the answer, we should look at SWAT's role in diffusing two of the deadliest threats to society in modern times: snipers and active shooters.

Snipers: SWAT was created by LAPD in large part to counter the then fast-growing sniper threat. SWAT proved so effective, within 10 years snipings had slowed to a mere trickle.

Active Shooters: This form of mass murder was first brought to our attention in the deadly 1984 San Diego McDonald's Massacre. Active shooters have wreaked havoc throughout America ever since.

However, it wasn't until the 1999 Columbine massacre that LE finally came up with a more effective active shooter response. Spearheaded by NTOA, SWAT realized time was not on our side with active shooters. Rapid, effective deployment by trained-by SWAT-well-equipped first responders who are often members of SWAT teams was needed instead.

Over the past 40 or so years, we have had to deal with the succeeding deadly societal threats of snipers and active shooters. For both threats, SWAT has played a major role in developing the tactics and response plans to more effectively deal with these deadly threats.

Whether as primary response (snipers) or as support (active shooters), SWAT has led the way in developing effective tactics to diminish/diffuse both deadly societal threats.

There's no crystal ball to tell us what the future holds for the next threat to society and to the police officers who serve society. However, if 2009's pattern of violence directed against police continues, we may be witnessing the birth of a new open season on police.

What's crystal clear is that SWAT's tactical responder and advisor role must remain in the forefront of any and all police response to society's next threat.


Robert O'Brien
Robert O'Brien

SWAT Sergeant (Ret.)

A member of the TREXPO Advisory Board, Sgt. Robert "Bob" O'Brien Cleveland SWAT Ret. is the founder of the R.J. O'Brien Group Ltd., a law enforcement training and consulting service that advises and trains a number of local, state, and federal SWAT teams.

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A member of the TREXPO Advisory Board, Sgt. Robert "Bob" O'Brien Cleveland SWAT Ret. is the founder of the R.J. O'Brien Group Ltd., a law enforcement training and consulting service that advises and trains a number of local, state, and federal SWAT teams.

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