Station Attacks

Most assaults on cops are borne of desperate bids to evade justice. But what of those who go so far as to engage and assault cops on their home turf? What makes these time bombs tick? Revenge, for one.

Author Dean Scoville Headshot

When Lamar D. Moore strode into the Detroit Police Department's 6th Precinct this January, he didn't look demonstrably different from any other lobby patron. It wasn't until Moore raised the shotgun he'd concealed along the left side of his body that all hell broke loose.

Aiming the shotgun at the nearest target, Moore fired at an officer seated just beyond the doors, center-punching the officer's bulletproof vest.

Two more sergeants immediately engaged Moore from an adjacent hallway with their sidearms, forcing the assailant to back-pedal to the middle of the station lobby where he swung the shotgun in their direction and fired.

With only a desk counter separating themselves from Moore, Commander Brian Davis and a fourth sergeant engaged Moore with their sidearms. Lunging over the counter, Moore closed the distance between himself and the officers to mere inches.

The station desk area quickly became a shooting gallery with handgun and shotgun rounds being exchanged at point-blank range.

With two fingers shot off and disarmed, Davis twisted around a smaller desk in a desperate bid to put distance between himself and Moore. Moore pursued him. With little cover and out of sheer desperation, Davis grabbed a trashcan and heaved it at Moore.

At that moment, the officers' rounds finally took effect and Moore collapsed. He was later pronounced dead while being transported to an area hospital.

Hunting Cops

Satan made me do it. It was an accident. It was self-defense. Because it was easy. Such rationalizations provided by many cop killers don't provide much insight into their motives, though most assaults on cops are borne of desperate bids to evade justice.

But what of those who go so far as to engage and assault cops on their home turf? What makes these time bombs tick?

Revenge, for one.

Certainly, it appears to have factored into the shooting deaths of three law enforcement officers during an attack inside the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia.

Having been branded a snitch by his associates after being interviewed in connection with a triple murder, the suspect was apparently intent on clearing his bad name when he rode an elevator to the third floor of the D.C. Metro PD headquarters.

As the man entered the department's Cold Case Unit, Sgt. Hank Daly looked up from his desk. The suspect shot and killed Daly before turning the gun on [FBI] Special Agents Michael John Miller and Martha Dixon Martinez. Before dying, Martinez was able to return fire and wound her assailant. The suspect retrieved Martinez' firearm, which he then used to kill himself.

Revenge also appears to have been the motive for a series of attacks last year on the Hemet (Calif.) Police Department. Bombs were placed on department vehicles, a firearm was rigged to fire at a passing patrol unit, and a rocket was launched at one of its buildings. Members of a local biker club whose grievances were with the department's gang suppression unit were eventually taken into custody.

But there are other reasons for such attacks.

Youthful offenders such as Valentino Mitchell Arenas, the teen who shot and killed California Highway Patrol Officer Thomas Steiner outside a Pomona, Calif., courthouse in 2004, often acknowledge their crimes as desperate bids to ingratiate themselves with a gang. Long-held resentments of authority figures have also proven to be flashpoints for violence against police, for militant minority groups, anarchists, right-wing militias, and other underground elements.

More problematic are the lone wolf shooters who strike without warning. Absent some previously documented manifesto, rant, suicide note, or threat, the motives of many are left to be inferred in the aftermath of their deaths, which may be part of their design.

According to David Klinger, associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Missouri at St. Louis, police officers have to be aware that the same suicidal individuals who phone in phony calls and the classic "suicide-by-cop" situations may show up at police departments as well. Interdicting such threats is difficult, but police officers have to stand their ground. And this includes those suspects whose primary agenda is to assassinate cops.

Earmarking this latter demographic is a greater proclivity toward preparation. Determined to maximize their opportunities for kills, they may carry multiple firearms and extra ammunition, and wear ballistic protection.

Last August, 29-year-old Patrick Gray Sharp towed a trailer loaded with explosives into the parking lot of the McKinney, Texas, police station before setting his Ford F150 pickup on fire and firing more than 100 rounds at police headquarters from a field across the street. Amazingly, the trailer didn't ignite and nobody was killed, except for Sharp who eventually put a bullet in his own head.

In March, John W. Futrell allegedly entered the criminal investigative division of the Grant Parish (La.) Sheriff's Office armed with a rifle, handgun, and knife, as well as extra magazines of ammunition for each firearm. Authorities say Futrell opened fire, wounding Dep. Barkley Roberts in the chest before being wounded himself by return fire from sheriff's deputies.[PAGEBREAK]

Regardless of assault-prompts, target selection is emblematic of the same linear thinking Willie Sutton displayed in explaining why he robbed banks: Because that's where the money is. Why do aspiring cop killers attack police stations? Because that's where the cops are.

Mitigating the Threat

Law enforcement personnel are routinely trained in tactical protocol designed for a variety of field situations. Mitigating the threats posed to them in-house has to be a multi-pronged approach, with consideration given to the following concerns:

  • Architectural barriers
  • Safe practices
  • Identifying threats
  • Establishing a will to survive
  • Protecting the home turf

The idea of fortifying stations or precincts will doubtlessly find its detractors. After all, for the last decade or so emphasis has been placed on creating client-friendly venues for the public to interact with their protectors. Some administrators would argue that lobbies and parking lots need be accessible to the public and that the odds of a police station coming under attack are remote.

But the odds are not as favorable as they once were. While a vast majority of police, sheriff, and federal offices will not come under attack anytime soon, it is increasingly likely that more will. Nor can an agency take any comfort in having been "pre-disastered."

A few years before Moore launched his assault on Detroit's Precinct 6, a suspect entered the department's 9th Precinct and opened fire.

A former Detroit 6th Precinct officer notes that officers working the desk area have historically been at an architectural disadvantage. "When sitting at the desk, you can't see persons entering the station below their waist," he says. "As they get closer to the desk the view gets worse. I've worked that desk many times and I can't tell you how many times there were officers working behind the desk with no weapon and with no body armor. When I got stuck working the desk, I tried to keep my eyes on persons entering the station, but it was impossible to watch everyone. I always knew something like this was possible and that we were at a disadvantage."

Don Alwes of the National Tactical Officers Association believes that the law enforcement community needs to show greater initiative in addressing such threats.

"Police departments should take these things more seriously than they do," Alwes says. "You've got to be able to prevent someone trying to attack. You have to be able to defend against them by establishing security measures against them."

To that end, Sgt. Eren Stephens of the Detroit PD Public Relations Office notes that the department is looking at a variety of possible chances to enhance officer safety within and without its precincts. Other agencies have tightened security both inside and outside their facilities, employing private security to monitor police parking lots and parking structures. Video surveillance systems give inside personnel a means of monitoring people before they cross lobby thresholds while metal detectors can detect threats without officers having to physically engage subjects. Smoked-glass and ballistic-resistant windows offer additional layers of protection. (See "Fortifying Police Stations.")[PAGEBREAK]

Staying on Your Toes

All the architectural safeguards in the world can be for naught if red flags are ignored, notes Alwes.

"Unfortunately, look at how many people are in condition white," Alwes explains. "In some places, they'll even take off their guns to prevent scuffing furniture or tearing up the chairs. That's crazy. It always comes back to mindset."

Brian Muller of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Emergency Operations Bureau echoes Alwes' concerns, particularly as they relate to officers coming onto and off of shifts.

"Just because you punched out on the clock doesn't mean kings x (time out)," Muller notes. "Your day's not over until you're secured and locked in your house. When you're walking in the parking lot and you don't have all your gear on, you're a little more vulnerable. Cops have a tendency to let their minds shut down a certain degree. But you're not off the playing field, so to speak. Just preplan and think about it."

Thinking Outside the Box

In 2005, a full year before he opened fire at the Fairfax County (Va.) Police Department, killing Officer Michael Garbarino and Det. Vicky Armel, Michael William Kennedy told friends that he planned to shoot up a police station.

But whatever value such intelligence might have afforded was squandered: No one thought to communicate it to authorities until after the tragedy.

Perhaps a series of public service announcements could speak directly to recipients of such information, educating viewers on the import of taking such threats to heart and encouraging the alerting of authorities of prospective attacks on law enforcement, workplaces, public schools, and universities. Friends, families, and relatives of those identified as having made such threats should be encouraged to exhibit vigilance with their firearms, and edified of any prospective liability that they might incur otherwise.

Officers also have to remain vigilant for potential red flags and act on them. This may include conversations initiated by people asking them what they would do if they suddenly came under violent attack. "Unfortunately, we tend to do better looking back on situations in identifying markers or red flags than we do in the moment," says UM-St. Louis' Klinger who served as an officer with the Los Angeles Police Department.

"Police intelligence has to be up to speed in terms of what threats are out there," Klinger adds. "When someone says, 'I'm going to kill you,' that needs to be logged and documented. Some agencies have hazardous persons files or databases with people who might fight officers that respond to their residences or businesses. You might want to extend this notion to keeping track of those who might be inclined to go out of their way to take on the police with gunfire."

Today, threats may be communicated through various media and social networks such as Facebook and online video sites like YouTube. Before its removal, the Facebook page of McKinney, Texas, gunman Patrick Sharp showed a man holding a number of firearms and a caption that read, "I love guns more than toothpaste." A caption accompanying the image of a shot-up steel plate read: "What if that was your face?"

Never Say Die

Should officers find themselves under attack, they have to have the presence of mind to successfully fend off such attacks by exploiting cover, taking the fight to the suspect, and exhausting every possible means to prevail.[PAGEBREAK]

Detroit Commander Brian Davis seemingly did as much in taking out police station shooter Lamar Moore. Davis reacted to the threat immediately, retrieving a firearm from a fallen officer and engaging Moore. When a shotgun blast crippled his hand, Davis lost the firearm but not the will to survive. He characterized his picking up and throwing the trash can as a distraction, something to buy him a precious split-second or two. It paid off as his rounds eventually took their toll on Moore.

Davis' admirable and courageous example is something to be emulated, but even he says that he could have further aided his cause: "I should have remembered to use the gun in my ankle holster."

Horrors to Come

There may be additional inducements for America's criminals taking the fight to cops on the horizon. And when it comes to the efficacy of inhibiting cops from doing their jobs, they need look no further than the continent to our south.

"Look at Brazil," says Alwes. "In Sao Paolo, the gangs have taken over 40 percent of the town by using terrorist tactics. They have literally put themselves in a position where the government says, 'If you don't attack us, we won't attack you. You do your own thing.' The criminal elements have adopted terrorist tactics because they work. It will probably be a matter of time before the gangs in our country try to do something like that."

Islamist terrorists are another concern. Various factions, including al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Hamas, have repeatedly targeted law enforcement agencies, their employees, and applicants throughout the world.

Many of the tactics for these attacks have come from the 40-year-old "Mini-Manual," a terrorist handbook that emphasizes targeting the police and attacking police stations, jails, and patrol vehicles. With thousands of such attacks having been made in the Middle East, Asia, Northern Ireland, and Mexico, one has to wonder about the prospect of spillover violence in this country.

Perhaps it has already happened.

On March 30, an improvised explosive device was thrown into a Rio Rancho patrol car while it was parked at an Albuquerque apartment complex. Fortunately, no one was injured.

Lessons Learned from Station Attacks

Patrol Commander Howell Addison of the Grant Parish (La.) Sheriff's Office says that in light of the March attack on his agency's station a number of security precautions have been addressed and more have been planned.

At the time of the shooting, civilian dispatchers vacated their workstations for greater cover. This understandable exodus nonetheless left the station unable to field citizen calls or dispatch units. The relocation of the dispatch center toward a rear area of the building-already under consideration-has been green-lit.

Other measures addressed the prospect of insulating personnel both visibly and architecturally. Mirrored glass and key-coded doors have been installed. Also, a minimum of two detectives are now on hand during regular business hours, with lobby doors locked thereafter (people can still be buzzed in by personnel). Ballistic vests, while not obligated, are available to personnel working office assignments.

The booby-trap attacks last year on the Hemet (Calif.) Police Department likewise resulted in changes to that agency's normal operations.

Hemet PD Lt. Duane Wiseheart says working with a 50-year-old facility required considerable retrofitting: Security barriers were placed around employee parking areas and a fenced in sally port was installed for prisoner transport. In the aftermath of a bomb being discovered on a detective's car, the department issued mirrors for officers to scan the undercarriages of their patrol units prior to entering them.

Recognizing the potential for attacks to migrate elsewhere, Hemet dispatchers ceased broadcasting calls for a six-month period so as to mitigate the chance that someone monitoring their frequency could exploit a legitimate call for service to a targeting advantage. Calls dispatched via MDTs also reflected greater attentiveness to detail; officers assigned these calls handled many as potential ambush situations.

Whether or not they drove take home police cars, Hemet officers varied their routes going to or coming from work as well as when and where they ate their meals to avoid coming under fire.

"We hadn't experienced that next level of aggression," Wisehart reflects. "But we were expecting it and preparing for it."

These conscientious efforts paid off: Suspects in the attacks were taken into custody and not a single Hemet officer was injured by the booby traps.


Fortifying Police Stations

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Author Dean Scoville Headshot
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