Coming to the Aid of a Police Officer: Considerations

| September 21, 2015 | 7 Comments

This is the first part of a multi-part series about civilian intervention in response to an attack on a police officer.

I have friends and family in law enforcement. I believe that there are pre-mediated, coordinated attacks going on in the United States against law enforcement officers.

When we acquire training and tools for self-defense, we mostly do so to protect ourselves. If you have a family, your responsibility extends to them.

But what about law enforcement officers?

We asked current and former law enforcement officers: “How should an armed citizen best help a police officer if that officer is under violent attack from another individual or group of individuals?”

Please note the question was not about jumping in to “play cop,” or to assist an officer during a routine traffic stop or domestic call.

Very few replied, and of those that did, all but one asked not to be identified in any way. Despite the paucity of responses, there were some common themes, mostly concerns about being the “good guy” being misidentified.

For this article, let’s assume the officer is in a close-quarters confrontation with at least one assailant. The officer is on the ground, either fighting or incapacitated.

Here were the responses from law enforcement officers about getting involved (ranked by how many times the advice was given):

  • If practical, call 911 (or equivalent) and give the exact location and description of the assailant(s).
  • Identify yourself repeatedly and verbally so that the officer knows you’re there to help .
  • Do not attempt to reach for anything on the officer’s person. Many of the respondents stated they had training and tools specifically to counter attempts to reach for their gun, chemical spray, TASER, etc. In the middle of a scrum, how is an officer to know that you’re reaching in to help or to hurt?
  • Be aware that responding / backup law enforcement may consider anyone not wearing a uniform as a bad guy. Put yourself in their shoes: they roll up, an officer is on the ground, with two guys on top. Do you blow a whistle, throw a yellow flag, and ask for a TV time out? Hell no.
  • If practical, repeatedly and loudly tell the officer you’re about to use a weapon. Do not shoot if the officer is in the way of a bullet (more on this later).
  • Remain in the area after the situation is over in order to give a statement.
  • Get on the police radio if possible and ask for help. I think this is a good idea if you are unable or uncomfortable getting into the assault, or if you arrive after the assault has happened.
  • If practical, return any grounded weapon to the officer. This was suggested by an officer overseas, and he cannot count on a responding civilian to have ever seen a gun in real life, let alone trained with one.I feel like this is dangerous. If I picked up a firearm on the ground, how am I to know who it belongs to, and if it’s operational? Greg Ellifritz told us at Range Master 2015 that many, many of the weapons recovered in his area of operation were not serviceable, or partially loaded, or loaded with the wrong ammunition. Furthermore, if we’re concerned about being misidentified as a threat by a LEO under assault, I’m not sure I want to approach them with a weapon.

Here are some of my thoughts. Please note that you are on your own regarding the laws of your region and your own belief system.

  • HAVE A PLAN before the situation unfolds. Even if you and I disagree on getting involved or what to do, at least have a plan for what you would do.
  • Understand how pistols work at contact distances / close quarters. Many students in the intermediate classes I’ve taken did not know that a semi-automatic pistol won’t fire if the slide is out of battery. Everyone says they won’t push the pistol out of battery until stress goes up on the range or in force on force (FoF) situations — and then it happens. If people get flustered then, imagine what it would be like if you’re trying to save an officer’s life.
  • Realize a bullet may or may not go through the assailant. “Know your target and what’s beyond,” is critical here. Don’t shoot a bad guy when a good guy is on the other side.
  • Realize a bullet may not exit in a straight line. There are a lot of things that can deflect or shatter a bullet, and you must have an idea of where any discharged rounds may go. The longer the expected length of travel, the greater the chances are for deflection. Research how bullets travel through the butt and legs during a reholstering accidental discharge for good examples.
  • Always be concerned that there’s more than one attacker.
  • I am not sure if challenging the assailant is the right thing to do or not. If someone is attacking a police officer and has assumed a dominant position, they’re not trying to escape. I am of the opinion that you should treat this type of attacker like an active shooter: they are there to inflict great bodily harm to the officer. If they aren’t deterred by the penalties of killing an officer, how is a challenge from you going to change things?
  • Don’t stay on the ground, or fixated on a target that’s on the ground. The longer you’re in a fight, the greater your chance of being hurt. Remember: there may be more than one attacker.
  • Be ready to render medical aid. I strongly recommend you carry a trauma kit on your person at all times. At the bare minimum, carry a tourniquet and a pressure dressing.
  • For those of us with SBR / PDW: do you use your PDW or handgun? Due to concerns about bullet paths, my current thinking is to stick with your handgun. If there is time, and the assailant is standing and clear of the officer, then perhaps a rifle-caliber weapon is a better choice. If you are going to challenge, a PDW is much easier to see than a handgun, especially in lower light conditions. However, deploying a larger weapon into a scrum gives the assailant(s) more to grab onto, and now you’re fighting for your weapon.
  • Speaking of, make sure you have been trained in weapon retention, both with your handgun and an SBR / PDW. Also have training on disarming someone of their weapons (handgun, long gun, edged or impact weapon)
  • You may choose to use an edged or impact weapon due to concerns about bullet overpenetration, exit paths, or legality. If so, make sure you’ve received training in the use of these tools.

What would you do? Do you have a plan? Let us know what your thoughts are.

Look forward to other articles in this series, including thoughts on what to during an active shooting situation, and responding to an ambush against police officers.

About the Author:

Short Barrel Shepherd Short Barrel Shepherd is a regular guy and works to make Web sites and mobile apps easier for people to use. He spends his free time attending fight-focused firearm, knife, and combatives training, motorcycling, writing, and playing games. His daily carry is a Glock 19 pistol and an AR15 .300 Blackout pistol in a backpack.
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7 Comments on "Coming to the Aid of a Police Officer: Considerations"

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  1. van den lin says:

    ften what has happened is after aiding a cop the civilian is shot by other cops arriving moments later. Pretty much when one of “their brothers” is in danger they will shoot anyone with a gun out of uniform when arriving on scene. This has happened even in very absurd conditions, like when a guy is taking cover next to a cop he is helping out, both of them crouching below a hail of bullets from the bad guys, right next to each other.

    Generally, relative to this blog, my greatest concern with seeking out an active shooter, assuming I was able to access my weapon and had the option to go after the shooter, would be that of being shot when the cops showed up or by another CCW’r, Especially if I am carrying an SBR type weapon.

    What I conclude is that whether I am evading an AS or moving towards engagement, I want to keep my gun concealed as much as possible so as not to MIS IDd and smoked, including after having killed the AS. This means keeping your bag with you, for one.

    As much as it is good to be a hero, I care very very very little about people relative to how I care for my children and wife. I cannot be at that I would necessarily endanger them, even indirectly, in order to be hero to a bunch of random sheeple who were not adult enough to be responsible for their own security.

    • Short Barrel Shepherd Short Barrel Shepherd says:

      I completely understand and support your point of view. May we lead boring lives.

      • van der lin says:

        yeah, i was thinking about my post and your reply. Thinking about these situations it is my hope that someday you or someone like you will be in the wrong place at the right time & do what you are trained to do. It would do more to make the cause of firearms rights and the general right to be armed for self defense than any thing I can imagine.

  2. First I would suggest calling 911, give location and description of bad guys, confirm number of bad guys, tell 911 you are going to engage to save an Officer’s life (don’t tell them you’re going to shoot someone, that will come back to haunt you in court… engage is vague enough). Move steady keeping your weapon concealed until you make contact (as close as possible) then return to hostler with eyes scouting. Move away from the victim and the Officer and wait for help to arrive. Don’t renter aid to the Officer because you might just get shot hovering over a down officer as back up comes locked and loaded. Most likely someone will see you take down the bad guy and give your description as and active shooter. Lot’s to think about.. .hmm?

  3. Wilson Hines says:

    Here’s the comments from a State Trooper friend of mine regarding this excellent post:

    Very good info indeed. Every Trooper in this state carries several tampons in our ‘blow out bag’ as we call it. Those things can be pushed in several in a row to stop bleeding, and they work. That’s what saved a Trooper’s life on I-95 a few years ago. He took several 45 rounds and the responding trooper plugged the holes.

  4. Georg Schiffer says:

    Greetings from the “officer overseas”! 🙂

    You are of course right, my suggestion of picking up a gun and handing it to me sounds dangerous and can be so. In my area gun ownership is very low and carry permits nearly non existing. If I’m in a fight and there’s a gun on the ground its either mine or the perps. Either way I want control over it, either denying it to the perp or for keeping me combat efficient, because we carry no backups.

  5. DENNY SHAFFER says:

    I would not hesitate. I do not carry,but I am a pretty fair MMA instructor. I’d be honored to lend a hand.

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