Embrace the Ripple Effect

The loss of multiple officers in a single incident results in a ripple effect that almost always results in significant departmental changes, and is never forgotten. This ripple effect often reaches far beyond the effected agency itself.

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The back-to-back Oakland and Pittsburgh murders of seven police officers sent shockwaves throughout law enforcement. Shockwaves that continue to be felt, but nowhere more so than in Oakland and Pittsburgh where the tragedies happened.

Since the shootings, Oakland PD and Pittsburgh PD have had little time to mourn their fallen comrades. The nature of policing is a never-ending 24/7 cycle, and officers from both departments go out on the street every day, handling their assignments.

However, it's far from business as usual. How could it be? OPD and PPD just suffered the worst tragedies in both departments' histories. The death of any LEO is tragic enough, leaving an indelible impact on the entire department for years to come.

But the loss of multiple officers in a single incident results in a ripple effect that almost always results in significant departmental changes, and is never forgotten. This ripple effect often reaches far beyond the effected agency itself.

Here are a few examples:

  • 1970 Newhall, CA—4 California Highway Patrol officers KIA during a shootout with 2 felony stop suspects. Became known as the "Newhall Incident," and changed high-risk stop procedures, not only in CHP, but also throughout LE.
  • 1993 Waco, TX—4 ATF SRT agents KIA, 16 WIA, in a bloody shootout with heavily armed, barricaded Branch Davidian cult. Became known as "Waco," the biggest loss of SRT (SWAT) lives in LE history, having a deep impact on high-risk raid tactics throughout LE.
  • 1968 Cleveland, OH—4 CPD officers KIA, 12 WIA, in a bloody shootout with heavily armed militants in a running multi-block gun battle. CPD created a new Tactical Unit (evolved into SWAT), began using an armored vehicle, and authorized 1,200 officers to purchase and carry .30 cal. M-1 carbines (state of the art at the time). Authorization lasted 10 years, until rescinded by politicians.
  • 1997 Los Angeles, CA—North Hollywood shootout, 11 LAPD WIA, in a massive shootout with two heavily armed and armored suspects, who were the only ones to die. As a result, LAPD obtained 600 .223 cal. patrol rifles, in supervisors' vehicles, for use by select, trained officers. Also resulted in many other LE agencies nationwide obtaining patrol rifles for their agencies.
  • 1999 Littleton, CO—Columbine High School active shooter massacre. 15 dead, numerous wounded. Resulted in a total overhaul and change in the way LE responds to active shooters—a change that continues to evolve today.

The Oakland and Pittsburgh tragedies occurred amidst an unprecedented wave of deadly active shooter incidents across America that left more than 50 people dead, with others wounded, and entire communities scarred and scared.

Oakland and Pittsburgh have had an equally powerful impact on all of LE across America. If this could happen to Pittsburgh and Oakland, it could happen anywhere, to any of us. If so, are we ready—or not?

I have no doubt that right now many LE agencies are taking long, hard looks at their tactics, procedures, policies, training, equipment, and weaponry. In law enforcement, we learn from each other—or at least we should.

So, what have Pittsburgh and Oakland learned from their worst days in history?

An in-depth article by Richard Lorg in the May 3, 2009 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Pittsburgh looking at equipment, police training changes after shootings," provides insight into changes now underway in Pittsburgh PD. Changes that may ultimately reach the state level.

Pittsburgh PD is looking to obtain 46 .223 caliber patrol rifles for first responders. Prior to the April 4 shooting, PPD relied on 39 SWAT officers for 24/7 coverage citywide. The article also notes that Philadelphia PD obtained 444 patrol rifles after an officer was killed by a bank robber with an assault rifle.

PPD is also looking at upgrading current level II body armor to level IIIA, along with obtaining ballistic shields for patrol. Along with updating the current annual six-hour state mandated active shooter (quad) training.

Finally, PPD SWAT is researching armored rescue vehicles tailored to saving downed officers. A number of you may have seen the photos of bullet hits (none penetrated) on PPD's BEAR ARV. A sobering reminder that the casualty toll could have easily been much higher.

Just as with PPD, there are developments within OPD also. The most striking of which is OPD SWAT has been in "stand down" mode (not responding to incidents) since March 21. The reason is obvious. OPD SWAT lost two sergeants/team leaders, who were killed in the final shootout inside the suspect's apartment.

Covering for OPD SWAT since March 21 is Alameda County Sheriff SWAT. I know of at least two callouts (barricades) they've handled in the interim—Apr. 28 and May 5. Both were resolved without incident. This is a testimony to the close working relationship and mutual trust between both OPD and ACSD. It's something that doesn't happen by accident, and instead requires lots of hard work by both teams to reach this level.

During this interim, OPD SWAT has been busy selecting and training two new team leaders and the team is expected to be good to go soon.

In the ultimate case of adding insult to injury, Oakland's mayor announced the layoffs of 140 police officers in October—a full 17 percent of an already severely understaffed force in a city with one of the nation's highest crime rates.

Despite the tragedy and adversity, the brave, dedicated police officers of Oakland and Pittsburgh will get back up, dust themselves off, and fight on to serve and protect the public. And so will the rest of us.

About the Author
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SWAT Sergeant (Ret.)
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