Many of us have encountered suspects who feign surrender. And while most of these scenarios are resolved safely, others present dangers that can get us hurt or killed.

When we're apprehending a suspect who is surrendering, we're at our most vulnerable. This is precisely what suspects are counting on, and they'll look for an advantage to escape. It's known as fight or flight, and can often be fight and flight.

This scenario was at play in late January, when two St. Petersburg (Fla.) Police officers were ambushed while searching for a suspect in an attic. Officer Jeffrey Yaslowitz, 39, and Sgt. Tom Baitinger, 48, were fatally shot providing cover to a U.S. Marshal.

Suspect Hydra Lacy Jr. was lying on his stomach with his arms out as if he was about to surrender in the moments before the Jan. 24 gun battle that left two police officers dead, according to news reports of the incident.

Lacy's ruse was intendend to give the "impression" that he was obeying the arresting officers, so he could ambush them with a hidden gun.

"They did it right," Mayor Bob Foster has said. "They had compliance. They used mirrors and flashlights (to search the attic). They didn't go willy-nilly into an attic to put themselves in harm's way." Foster also told TV interviewers Lacy was hit by a shot from a TASER about the time he feigned his surrender.

Police Chief Chuck Harmon is reserving judgment until all the facts are in, as am I. In the meantime, we should review Mayor Foster's "surrender" account.

If Lacy was feigning surrender, he knew the only way out of the attic was through the police. Fight and flight is a form of "bustout" seen many times before — particularly in hostage situations. "Bustouts" usually end in shootings.

We know action is always faster than reaction, which is why we utilize cover (something that stops bullets) over concealment. So if a suspect shoots at us, cover both protects us and buys us time to defend ourselves.

Years ago, my department had a veteran defensive tactics instructor, with a multiple-degree martial arts black belt. One of his favorite things was to ask anyone to try and "beat him to the punch" [literally]. No matter how many tried, no matter how good, fast, experienced they were, they never "beat him," and they got themselves punched. Same with gun draws.  Action is faster than reaction.

Consequently, police need to design, and employ, tactics that effectively take away suspects' action advantage. This includes the use of cover, suspects facing away, hands up (as in "reach for the sky"), proning, kneeling, officers with multiple cover angles, lights in eyes, TASERs, chemical agents, and less-lethal.

With the St. Petersburg shootings, we'll know the details when the investigations are over, and revealed in debriefings.

One rule of thumb is make suspects come to you with empty hands, and covered by multiple officers. Even then, there's no assurance suspects won't try something desperate. However, this probably will buy you that life-saving split second that allows you to survive and prevail.

Suspects' hands must be always be in full view and empty. Sounds simple enough, but this isn't always true.

Resist the urge to head toward the suspect, including when it appears suspects are surrendering. It might be exactly what suspects want you to do. To lure you onto their turf, so they can attack you.

Take a good, long, hard look at your surrender tactics. Then, test them repeatedly in force-on-force, Simunitions training. You'll learn very quickly about the effectiveness of your tactics in the "real world."

Think hands and cover. And always remember that no arrest is ever over until it's actually over.

Related:

Slain Florida Officers Ambushed by Gunman Hiding In Attic

Author

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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