Recently, HBO aired an outstanding documentary about the life story of Vince Lombardi, Green Bay Packers coaching legend. Another coaching great, John Madden, told the story of attending a Lombardi-taught coaching clinic as a young coach.

Madden said Lombardi spent eight solid hours teaching the Packers' unstoppable power sweep run play. Eight hours teaching a single play.  With the utmost respect and reverence, Madden said that's when he realized, "I don't know a damn thing."

What Madden learned from Lombardi was the great lengths some are willing to go to be successful. A valuable lesson applicable not only to football, but to all of life's endeavors. It begs the question — how much time and effort are we willing to devote to being "the best."

We can apply this lesson to suspect searches. There are a number of universal factors I'll call to your attention:

  • Suspect searches are among the most common assignments in law enforcement.
  • Suspects will either fight or flee.
  • Fleeing suspects will hide.
  • Fleeing suspects often fight to effect escape.
  • All suspect searches are dangerous and sometimes deadly.
  • All street/field LEOs will be involved in suspect searches during their careers.

Fight or flight is an instinctive behavior pattern among all living creatures and the very nature of law enforcement, especially suspect searches, creates this adversarial dynamic. This dynamic turned deadly overnight in Cleveland.

Police pulled over a suspicious vehicle, and a passenger came out shooting with a TEC-9 pistol (and 30-round mag). He fled on foot as numerous officers responded to assist and conduct a yard-to-yard search. 

Officers cornered the suspect, who fired again, wounding an officer in the thigh and striking a zone car only four inches above an officer's head.  Officers shot and killed the suspect.

March 21, 2009 was the deadliest day in Oakland Police history. After two motor officers were shot and killed, information led officers to an apartment building. When SWAT made entry, the suspect, hiding inside a bedroom closet, opened up with an AK-47, shooting and killing two OPD SWAT sergeants and wounding a third before being shot and killed by return fire.

On the morning of Jan. 20, two Miami-Dade Police detectives were shot and killed; a third detective was wounded; and the fourth detective killed the suspect by return fire. The officers were experienced members of a career criminal unit, conducting a search for a suspect in a previous murder.

What these and so many other deadly confrontations have in common is they all involve suspect searches. All the officers involved in the preceding incidents were experienced, well trained, armed and equipped.

And in these three incidents alone, a total of nine people, including six police officers, were shot and killed. 2011 appears to be picking up where the deadly year of 2010 for police left off. And it's only Jan. 24.

What John Madden learned from legendary coach Vince Lombardi echoes in the prophetic, haunting words of former Ashtabula County (Ohio) SO's SWAT Team Leader, Terry Thorpe:

"When you aren't practicing, somewhere, someone is, and when you meet him, he will win."

To this, I'll add, You will meet him, and you will win."

Related:

Duty Dangers: Into the Hearts of Darkness

Searching for Hidden Suspects

Author

Robert O'Brien
Robert O'Brien

Robert O'Brien

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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