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8 tactical tips to prevent an ambush attack on police

The following eight tactical tips can help ensure your safety both on duty and off

On June 4, 2004, Officer Mark Sawyers – with whom I had the honor of working patrol sectors – was sitting in his patrol car at a Target department store in broad daylight, completing a report when a gunman approached his squad car and shot him in the head with a shotgun. Mark was ambushed and never had the opportunity to react to the threat and was murdered in cold blood. A manhunt would last for months for the gunman until he was ultimately featured on Americas Most Wanted and committed suicide as the tactical team entered his location.

After Mark’s murder, officers still had to work their patrol sectors to provide police services to the community. But his murder was a game-changer for many officers, who changed their patrol tactics to ensure their survival, as a cop killer was still on the loose.

The following eight tactical tips can help ensure your safety both on duty and off.

1. Heighten situational awareness

No matter what you are doing or who you‘re talking with, your situational awareness needs to be highly acute so you can respond in a moment’s notice. Don’t place yourself in a vulnerable spot, whether you’re parked in your patrol car, speaking with a citizen or stopped at an intersection. Watch the person you are speaking with, scan the area, formulate a tactical response if attacked, recognize an escape route, recognize ambush points and repeat this cycle. This should be a loop cycled through your brain as you conduct everything you do while on duty.

2. Don’t be a sitting target

While in your cruiser, don’t sit in an open public area. If you have to type reports on your cruiser computer or notes to add to a ticket or accident report, seek a safer environment such as your police station or precinct. If that’s not practical, meet a sector partner, park in a secluded spot that is vast so you can see approaching persons and do your follow up work as your partner keeps a watchful eye.

3. Taking breaks

Don’t sit in donut shops, and avoid eating in restaurants. Meet with other officers at the police station or precinct to eat. Park in a position in the parking lot that allows the best tactical advantage – preferably with another patrol partner.

4. Tactical edge

As you speak with the public, no matter how insignificant the call is, have a tactical response ready to deploy. Keep a safe gap between you and the person you’re dealing with. Position yourself in the best stance that will allow for a quick response to a physical confrontation of a gun threat. Too many officers stand nose to nose with the subject they are dealing with and both their hands on their gun belt.

5. Read the public

While in uniform watch the public, read their intentions and anticipate threats. This may sound like paranoia but good cops do this all day long even while off-duty. Don’t overreact to situations that may seem like a threat, just be ready to react. This tactic may give you the split second needed to respond to a threat instead of missing the verbal queues and physical movements that telegraph a possible attack.

6. Don’t hesitate

Don’t allow the threat of being accused of racism slow your response to a threat. If you’re conducting yourself lawfully during the course of your duties, the Brown and Garner cases prove that the system works. When met with any threat, be quick to react in a lawful and appropriate manner.

7. Proper force

When a threat has presented itself, apply the legal force allowed – however -- never try to meet a deadly threat with non-lethal force. In other words, don’t allow the current climate to scare you into meeting a deadly threat with an electronic control device or pepper spray. If your life is in danger and there isn’t a way to neutralize the threat, don’t hesitate to deploy lethal force when warranted. Deploying non-lethal force options in a lethal force threat situation may get you killed.

8. Live another day

During the coming months, attacks on law enforcement like that in NYC may occur in any town, USA. Don’t be complacent and think it can’t happen to you. The fact is, the majority of cops killed in the line of duty in America are suburban or small-town cops.


Officers must always strive to maintain our professionalism and demonstrate calm and rational law enforcement. Don’t be baited into a confrontation because you’re ready for a quick tactical response. Awareness on our part can help resolve this alarming trend in law enforcement gun deaths.

Make a pledge to keep yourself safe in honor of those men and women who have sacrificed their lives.

Glenn French, a retired Sergeant with the Sterling Heights (Mich.) Police Department, has 24 years police experience and served as the Team Commander for the Special Response Team, and supervisor of the Sterling Heights Police Department Training Bureau. He has 16 years SWAT experience and also served as a Sniper Team Leader, REACT Team Leader, and Explosive Breacher.

Contact Glenn French.

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