You Can Get Killed Just Because of Your Uniform

The idea of targeting cops is hardly a new one. Indeed, it may have reached its apex during the late sixties and early seventies with the advent of counter culture revolutionary groups such as the Weathermen, Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army.

Author Dean Scoville Headshot

Within the past couple of weeks Sarah Jane Olson was paroled in California and allowed to move to Minnesota. Sarah Jane—her real name is Kathleen Ann Soliah—is the sociopath and former Symbionese Liberation Army (S.L.A.) member who was erroneously paroled a year ago due to a clerical error. The mistake was noted and she was re-booked into custody. Thank God for small favors.

Nine years ago, Sarah Jane was convicted for conspiring to kill LAPD officers by planting pipe bombs in their patrol cars back in the mid-1970s. The size and sophistication of the explosive was such that, had Sarah Jane succeeded, more names would have been added to the LAPD memorial wall and quite probably some civilian lives would have been lost, as well.

Not that these latter losses would have been without precedent. No, Sarah Jane may have been deprived of her victory that August day in 1975, but she can comfort herself with the knowledge that she succeeded in inducing a miscarriage by kicking a bank teller at at the Crocker National Bank in Carmichael, Calif. in the stomach during an S.L.A. robber. She can also include on her résumé a conviction for the murder of Myrna Opsahl. Opsahl was shot to death by S.L.A. member Emily Harris because she was slow getting down on the floor during the same robbery. Opsahl was in the bank depositing money collected at the church where she worked.

Think about that. Some 34 years ago, this bitch coldly and calculatingly kicked a pregnant woman in the stomach and attempted to plant an explosive beneath a patrol car so that officers could have their limbs blown off and flambéed.

That Sarah Jane was able to evade capture for 23 years as witnesses died off and memories eroded sickens me. Now she abstains from speaking with the media for fear of her family’s safety.

Sarah Jane’s law enforcement targets were lucky that her explosives were found when they were.

Orange County (Calif.) Sheriff’s Dep. Brad Riches wasn’t so fortunate.

Riches was killed when a gunman sprayed his patrol car with an AK-47. Minutes before the shooting, his assailant had entered the 7-Eleven fronting the parking lot with the weapon, taking time to calm the night cashier that he would only use the weapon on the cops.

These incidents are reminders of the ugly price cops stand to pay simply for wearing for the uniforms they do.

Though the motivation to attack and murder police officers varies among the suspects who commit these deplorable acts, other cases from California and Michigan serve as reminders that simply wearing the uniform may make you a target.

A uniformed California Highway Patrol Officer (Thomas Steiner) was fatally ambushed outside of the Pomona Superior Court after testifying in traffic cases. His killer later admitted that he killed the officer for no other purpose than to gain notoriety within his street gang.

Sterling Heights (Mich.) Officer Mark Sawyers was ambushed in a shopping center parking lot while writing a report in his patrol car. He died the following day. The motive for the shooting? The suspect wanted to obtain the officer’s handgun.

The idea of targeting cops is hardly a new one. Indeed, it may have reached its apex during the late sixties and early seventies with the advent of counter culture revolutionary groups such as the Weathermen, Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army.

How do you optimize your chances for preventing ambush attacks?

As veteran firearms expert Jeff Cooper noted in his book, Principles of Personal Defense, neither weapons nor martial skills are your greatest weapons, but the combat mindset.
Col. Cooper articulated a color code to describe the escalating mindsets an individual may possess during a violent assault.

White: Totally unprepared for attack.

Yellow: Relaxed alert. You’re attuned to the possibility that you may have to defend yourself, and are situationally attuned to your environs.

Orange: A threat has been identified on your radar, and you actively seek to identify the threat and commit yourself to a definite range of well defined actions.

Red: The shit has hit the fan and the fight is on.

I believe that most on-duty officers, at least early in their careers, are accustomed to conducting their on-duty business in a state of condition yellow (and in the case of some rookies, often condition orange).

It would be wrong for me to infer that any one of the officers killed in the described attacks might have mitigated their fate had they been in condition yellow or orange in the seconds prior to the assaults that ended their lives. Indeed, some of them might well have been in such a state.

But it would be equally wrong for other officers to assume that such mindsets are fruitless.
People often use the expression “watch your six.” For years I had a contextual sense of what it meant, but only recently found out how the phrase evolved. It gave me a better appreciation for it: In aviation terms, 12 o'clock refers to the direction directly in front of the aircraft's nose. Six o'clock is the blind spot directly behind him.

It was that six o’clock spot that two black militants from the Black Liberation Army exploited when they killed NYPD Officers Rocco Laurie and Gregory Foster as they walked down a sidewalk. Having passed Foster and Laurie, the killers simply turned around and shot them from behind, killing them for no reason other than they were cops.

Through the years cops have been victims of bad timing. One officer just happened to be on a sidewalk when a man who was fleeing a kidnapper desperately ran toward him. Before he had time to react, the kidnapper opened fired and killed the officer. More recently, another cop was standing in a fast food line when his assailant walked up behind him and shot him in the head. And each time the officer’s identifiable uniform factored into his death.

As last weekend’s tragedy in Oakland illustrates, experience, training, and confidence can be overcome by the determination of one brutal son-of-a-bitch. Doubtlessly, many of you have thought about the incident as you’ve conducted your traffic stops and arrived on your calls for service this week.

But I wonder how many cops have thought twice before entering their own 7-Eleven or donut shop—and whether or not there might be someone waiting to kill them, for no other reason than the uniform they wear.

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