The Newhall shooting on April 6, 1970 resulted in the death of four officers with the California Highway Patrol and helped usher in a new era of officer safety training. The shooting, also called the Newhall Incident and the Newhall Massacre, pitted two hardened criminals against two pairs of relatively young officers. Sadly, poor training and planning cost those officers their lives.
In the wake of the shooting, many departments began to critically analyze their own firearms and officer safety training. The level of instruction at many agencies was found to be lacking, and improvements were attempted. The above video is a dramatized account of the Newhall Incident, recreated by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
If you are not already familiar with the Newhall shooting, here is a basic overview. The CHP received a complaint about two men in a car that had brandished a firearm at another motorist. The incident was relayed to officers working the area, who were in two-man units. One unit spotted the suspect vehicle and made a traffic stop. A second unit (with two additional officers) responded as backup.
As shown in the video, the first two officers started to approach the suspects and were shot and killed at roughly the same time the second unit was pulling in. The officers in the second unit were also shot and killed. A nearby citizen and former Marine, saw what was happening, attempted to pull one of the officers to cover and used the officers’ firearms to try to engage the suspects. The citizen was too late to save any of the officers and was forced to retreat just as a third unit arrived. The suspects then fled. One was later captured, and the second committed suicide as officers stormed the house in which he was hiding.
For an excellent breakdown of the events, read this news article based on the details taken from the CHP log of the events.
The video isn’t the most accurate depiction of what happens in a gunfight (for example, most cops don’t hear mood music during such an event), but it does give us a glimpse into what early officer safety training was like. Frankly, we’ve come a long way.
Ok, there are a variety of techniques that have been significantly improved upon since the filming of this video. For example, I would never recommend leaving a known armed subject on the ground while approaching a vehicle to clear it. Likewise, I would not walk him back toward me and my partner in the manner shown.
But, even with the “less-than-ideal” techniques illustrated in the video, the felony stop method was vastly superior to leaving cover and approaching suspected armed subjects. I don’t know if felony stops were taught to CHP officers prior to the Newhall shooting, but it is a technique, even done as shown, that might have prevented tragedy.
It should be noted that one aspect of the shooting that has been mentioned in many training classes didn’t actually happen. I’ve heard for my entire police career that at least one of the officers had pocketed his spent brass, rather than letting it drop to the ground, when he was reloading his revolver. This was used as “proof” that we fight as we train, and that trainers need to eliminate certain unnecessary actions from training to prevent engraining those actions into the officers’ unconscious response in a high-stress situation.
However, it appears that the brass-in-the-pocket thing was a myth. In a May 2012 article on PoliceOne.com, trainer Mark Schraer wrote that he researched that portion of the shooting and discovered that it never happened. It is amazing what we learn when we actually research the facts, instead of merely accepting “common knowledge.” I’m sure Galileo felt the same way.
The Newhall shooting was a very tragic event in the history of law enforcement, but much was learned from that awful event. It is up to us to honor those slain law enforcement officers by doing this job in the safest, most professional manner possible. Otherwise, their loss was for nothing.
Man 1: Sheriff’s Department.
Man 2: A guy with a gun just tried to stop us on the freeway.
Man 1: Where are you now, sir?
Man 2: On Interstate 5, near Castaic Junction. The guy is driving south in an old brown Chevy. I got his license number. It’s ABH167.
Man 1: Yes, sir. Please stay on the phone. I’ll need some additional information.
Dispatch: Attention all Santa Clarita units to a 417, possible 245 vehicle, a brown Chevy two-door, California plate, Adam Boy Henry167. Adam Boy Henry 167.
Man 3: Jack, [inaudible 00:05] drop dead. I shoved that 38 in his face.
Jack: Yeah. Well, he may if he hadn’t . . . oh god. If he hadn’t [inaudible 01:06]
Officer: 68 Adam to SRC.
Dispatch: 68 Adam, go ahead.
Officer: 68 Adam, we’re following possible 417 in 245 vehicle. Brown Chevrolet, California plate, Adam Boy Henry 167, southbound Interstate 5 at Castaic Junction. Requesting one unit backup.
Dispatch: Attention Santa Clarita units, 68 Adam is requesting one unit backup on a possible 417, 245 vehicle, southbound Interstate 5 at Castaic Junction. Unit responding, identify your ETA.
Officer: 62 Boy is rolling in two.
Dispatch: 62 Boy in two.
Man 3: Cops. Young punk must have turned us in.
Jack: Jesus Christ! God damn guns we got in this thing, if they stop us, they’ll bust us all the way back to the God damn joint. Don’t take [inaudible 02:03]. See if they follow us.
Dispatch: 62 Boy, [inaudible 02:07] with 68 Adam.
Officer: 68 Adam to 62 Boy.
Officer: 62 Boy, we’re northbound Interstate 5 at Rampart Junction.
Officer: Adam and Boy, they’re making a stop at Al’s Café.
Woman: Kathy, what’s going on out there?
Officer: Boy to Adam, back in.
Man 3: These guys are great. Lets take them.
Officer: All right, mister, put your hands on the roof.
Officer: Those were shots.
Officer: Pop a shotgun, you’ve got it.
Man 3: Son of a bitch.
Officer: Watch it partner.
Man 3: Come on, split.
Officer: Partner, watch it to your left!
Officer: Damn it.
[Sound of heartbeat]
Man 3: Gotcha now, pig.
Peter Pitchess: The true story of tragedy and violence that you have just seen struck a law enforcement agency here in Southern California. As Sherriff of Los Angeles County, my main purpose in presenting this series of officer survival films is not to be critical of another officer’s performance. The purpose is to dramatically emphasize that survival is an every day, every minute concern for you, the professional peace officer.
Law enforcement must keep pace with the times and constantly improve training procedures. The best of methods are only effective if you use them, and that responsibility is yours. Our entire system is dependent upon your effectiveness in the field. The murders you have just seen could have been you, or your partner.
Dispatch: Attention Santa Clarita to units, 68 Adam is requesting one unit backup on a possible 417, 245 vehicle.
Officer: Occupants of the brown Chevy, place your hands on the windshield, palms up. Do it.
Officer: Driver, slowly, with your left hand, turn off the ignition and throw the keys in the street. Place your hand back on the windshield, palms up. Passenger, slowly, reach outside the vehicle, open the door, and exit, keeping your hands in plain sight.
Officer: 417 Waistband.
Officer: Don’t make a move for that gun. Place your hands on top of your head and interlace your fingers. Slowly walk towards my partner. Freeze. Slowly drop to your knees. Put your hands out in front of you and assume a prone position. Place your hands out to your sides, palms up. Spread your legs, toes outboard. Put your forehead on the deck.
Officer: Driver, slowly slide across the seat and exit via the open passenger door, keeping your hands in plain sight. Freeze. Place your hands on top of your head and interlace your fingers. Slowly walk towards my partner. Freeze. Turn around. Slowly step backwards towards my partner. Freeze. Kneel to the ground.
Officer: Take him, Chuck.
Officer: Okay, he’s clean.
Officer: Is there anyone else in the car?
Officer: Okay, buddy boy, let’s go in there and find out. If there is someone in there, you’re going to be the first to get it.
Man 3: Hey.
Officer: Clear. Back away from the car. I want you to walk in front of me, very slowly.
Man 3: Okay.
Officer: Passenger, place the palms of your hands in the small of your back. Palms out. Freeze.
Narrator: The shooting you have just seen reenacted was among the most tragic ever affecting law enforcement. You can learn from this tragedy you have just seen and avoid a similar tragedy.
Dispatch: Attention all units, attention all units. Any unit to respond 68 Adam, 62 Boy’s location, Al’s Cafe, I-5, identify an ETA.