No Safe Space for Cops

No Safe Space for Cops

By Chief Joel F. Shults, Ed.D

Whether it was the break room at the battery factory, the hay truck parked under the shade of a tree beside the field, or the truck stop café with the diesel left running, there was always a place I could find to get a little thinking done or get my mind off work.

Not so for police officers. In 2009, uniformed Lakewood, Washington officers gathered around the table at a coffee shop with their laptops to catch up on reports on a quiet Sunday morning when they were assassinated by a gunman. The killer was found and shot by Seattle Police two days later. In June of this year, a gunman drove his truck to the Lewistown barracks of the Pennsylvania State Police in Juniata County and begin firing at marked patrol units, killing one Trooper and seriously wounding another. The killer was shot dead by police after a manhunt and intense gunbattle.

Also this month, the Colorado Springs Police Operations building was assaulted by a rock thrown through its front doors. A man was arrested at the scene. In September of last year, a man broke into a Chicago police training room during a SWAT class by climbing a fire escape and threatened officers who then shot and wounded him. In September of 2020, a man walked into a Los Angeles Police station lobby and begins arguing with the desk officer. The man started to walk away and was approached by the officer. The man turned and began a vicious attack, knocking the officer down and attempting to use the officer’s own gun to shoot the officer. The man fled and was apprehended after a struggle several blocks away.

A Los Angeles sheriff’s deputy stopped an SUV that was driving recklessly. The SUV violently rammed the patrol car while the deputy was still inside. The deputy fired and killed the assailant. A Kentucky officer was injured by flying glass when a suspect in a vehicle paused, raised a rifle, and fired a single shot into the police car. The shooter was apprehended.

Two Denver officers were fired on in separate incidents, one of which was an apparently random ambush of an officer seated in a marked patrol car shortly after 4:00 a.m. The officer was saved by his ballistics vest which took several rounds. Although severely bruised from the bullets’ impact, the officer was able to return fire and kill the shooter who fired 18 rounds in the attack. In Kentucky, an undercover fugitive search operation was interrupted when a hapless would-be carjacker attempted to assault the occupants of the unmarked police unit and steal the car in the middle of the day. The suspect was shot and killed.

A Colorado State Patrol vehicle was stolen by a suspect who had been pursued by local deputies in a rural part of the state. When the suspect was stopped after causing numerous crashes, he stole a marked patrol vehicle. The suspect was pursued then crashed into another vehicle and caught fire. The suspect died after being rescued and hospitalized.

A quote attributed to a number of famous people (thanks, internet) says “Even paranoids have real enemies”. For those who are inclined to mock the officer who insists, on or off-duty, on keeping their backs to the wall and an eye on the door, you’d have to know what cops know to understand. A citizen talking to an officer who keeps looking around when the citizen is trying to maintain eye contact may feel offended by the officer’s inattention, but the officer is keeping them both safe by maintaining situational awareness.

Don’t be surprised when you approach an officer who is seated in a patrol car to say hello or ask for directions if they get out suddenly before you get to the driver’s side door, or keep their hand on their weapon during the conversation. Don’t be insulted by the security measures in police stations that make it difficult to have personal contact with officers. These are unfortunate facts of life for the police, who must recognize the potential for lethal attack anytime, anywhere.