In car police cameras have radically altered our understanding of officer safety. In the past two decades, the videos coming from squad cars have made a huge impact on how instructors present training in the academy and have made lasting impressions on the psyche of many a rookie and seasoned cop.
Before the widespread use of video cameras in police cars, trainers had to rely on the involved officers to relay the events. Unfortunately, not all of the officers survived the confrontations to tell what happened. Those law enforcement officers who were successful still suffered from perceptual narrowing and other effects of the incident, which prevented them from always giving a clear picture of the incident.
As I have mentioned in other articles, the dash cam video of South Carolina State Trooper Mark Coates murder made a significant impact on how I looked at law enforcement, and how I handled myself on the road. Likewise, videos showing the murders of Nacogdoches County (TX) Constable Darrell Lunsford and Laurens County (GA) Deputy Sheriff Kyle Dinkheller also changed me forever. These videos, and many more, changed how many trainers taught traffic stops and the use of force.
Yes, some officers feel that in car police cameras can be a tool for administrators looking to screw them. It is an unfortunate reality that there are weak-minded pencil pushers wearing the uniform who will carry grudges against officers. Heck, I’ve got my own stories if you want to talk over a beer sometime. Ever see End of Watch? Van Hauser was right: ”[insert department name here]‘s got a big fucking cock” and they will screw you. I get it.
But, overwhelmingly, police benefit from in car cameras. Looking at the videos from just the perspective of officer safety training, we have learned so much during the past 20 years.
Consider this recent dash cam video from Ohio. Two police officers in Middlefield make a “routine” traffic stop on a car for running a stop sign. A daytime stop for a relatively minor infraction – no problems right? Watch…
The officers make the stop and there is a short delay between the vehicles stopping and the officers approaching the driver. During the delay, the driver of the stopped vehicle exits the car with an AK-47 and begins shooting at the officers. One officer was hit in the left hand and lost her index finger. The second officer suffered minor injuries to his left thigh.
According to reports, one of the officers had only been on the department for one month. I am guessing that even though she had prior experience with another agency, she was still in field training. Also according to reports, she was riding in the passenger seat of the patrol car, but moved around to the driver’s side. This was perhaps done so she could make a driver’s side approach even though the other officer had been driving.
When the criminal exited his vehicle and began firing on the officers, it appears that both of them were on the same side of the patrol car.
What are the lessons in this traffic stop shooting? Here is what I see…
- Passenger Side Approach – I am a huge fan of the passenger side approach for several reasons. Sometimes it throws the vehicle occupants off balance when you are not where they are expecting you. This is typically easier to pull off at night. I also like this approach because it keeps you out of traffic. Notice the van that passes the officers on the left at the start of the stop? Idiots in cars clip cops all the time. Plus, if the stop goes sideways, you can retreat with less fear of falling into traffic.
- Don’t Bunch Up – I’ve spent a lot of time training recruits, which I am assuming what was going on here. However, standing together before taking control of the situation is not a good idea. Rookies can do stupid things, but the one-month officer had experience, so I can’t imagine that there was a need for the senior officer to stay in her hip pocket. Bunched up you are a single mass of target. Splitting up confuses the attacker because he is now having to make decisions: where are you, which of you is the more significant threat, etc. If he is thinking, it’s messing with his ability to fight.
- Communication – Excellent communication between the officers. With a brief pause in combat one officer tells the other to cover her as she attempts to radio for assistance. Her directions were concise and left nothing to doubt. Both officers knew what they were going to do. With that information, they ended the confrontation successfully.
- Never Give Up – All of my former recruits can tell you my GOAL and RULE. My GOAL was to go home at the end of the shift the same way I came in: same number of holes, fingers and toes. But the RULE was, no matter what, we will be going home. As I said, we might have to stop off at the hospital to get something stitched back on, but we were going home. These officers implemented my RULE. Both were injured, hell one officer had a finger blown off, but neither gave up. By staying in the fight and being smart, they put the criminal in the ground and both of the officers got to see their loved ones again. DO NOT EVER GIVE UP!
The officers performed exceptionally well in horrible circumstances and should be held as heroes for their actions. They did as well as any of us could in the same circumstances. The video shows a significant part of the incident, and from it we all can learn from the event. If we ever find ourselves in a similar scenario, we have the benefit of their example to help us overcome our attackers.
In car police cameras help make this possible. Make sure yours are turned on and working properly when you hit the street.