Roundtable: Preparing to prevent police ambush attacks

Four years after the horrific attack on Dallas police officers, are our nation’s cops prepared for a potential ambush?


By Nancy Perry

July 7, 2020, marks the fourth anniversary of the ambush and murder of five Dallas police officers. Sergeant Michael Smith, Senior Corporal Lorne Ahrens, Officer Michael Krol, Officer Patrick Zamarripa and Officer Brent Thompson were shot and killed and at least seven others injured while protecting a group protesting against police actions. It was the deadliest day for American law enforcement since the terrorist attacks on 9/11.

As we pause to remember the seven Dallas police officers who paid the ultimate sacrifice, we share suggestions from Police1 editorial advisory board members and columnists for how police departments can train officers for the potential of a Dallas-style ambush attack, as well as build resiliency within their agencies.

In this July 7, 2016, file photo, Dallas police move to detain a driver after several police officers were shot in downtown Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)
In this July 7, 2016, file photo, Dallas police move to detain a driver after several police officers were shot in downtown Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

deploy tactical assets during protest response

Tactical teams should be deployed to protests, but with the current anti-police movement, avoid being visible if possible. While there are several deployment methods nationwide, one is to have small teams of SWAT officers in vehicles shadowing the protest. If an active shooter occurs, such as in Dallas, the teams can immediately deploy to address the adversarial threat. Armored rescue vehicles (ARVs) should also be kept out of view of protestors but close enough to respond if needed. Without a clear and articulable threat, do not place ARVs on the front skirmish lines of protests. Discover what works for your agency and ensure these tactical assets are available for the worst-case scenario.

Lt. Travis Norton is a 20-year veteran with the Oceanside (California) Police Department

Proactive training, equipment and special ops measures

My first hope is that agencies are training their officers in Tactical Emergency Casualty Care (TECC) and providing them with Individual First Aid Kits that are practical to wear on their person while on patrol. We've seen that having the right knowledge and equipment can save lives.

Secondly, I hope that law enforcement agencies are thinking about proactive measures to counter the ambush threat. Officers should certainly be trained in response tactics to a Dallas-style ambush, but it's even more important for agencies to proactively deploy observation, tactical and counter-sniper teams at public venue events that are likely to become targets. Proactive deployment of these assets may deter attacks entirely, or at least allow law enforcement to stop the threat quickly if an attack is launched.

Lieutenant Colonel (ret.) Mike Wood, author of “Newhall Shooting: A Tactical Analysis”

Plan for a high-ground ambush attack

I'll never forget in Army basic training when the drill sergeant told the dumbest kid in the company to ‘Grab your ears, son.’  When the kid grabbed his ears, the drill sergeant told him to pull hard on his ears and ‘Say POP real loud,’ which the kid did. Finally, the drill sergeant yelled, ‘Now that you've pulled your head out of your ass, maybe you can hear me clearly!’

I hope the chiefs and sheriffs out there have finally heard the POP and have their heads in a mode to hear reality. The reality is that you had a better plan for a high-ground ambush attack from a rifle-armed killer when you have a large gathering of people (in military parlance, a target-rich environment). After Dallas, I said police must plan for a high-ground attack and either deploy counter-snipers or include potential sniper positions within your security perimeter. Then we had the attack in Las Vegas, where we had the highest number of casualties yet. If you don't plan for such an attack you are irresponsible. Pull your head out.

Richard Fairburn, public safety director, Central Illinois

Push back against the false narrative

It is imperative that police agencies continuously train their officers to respond to sudden assaults/ambushes. However, monumental efforts need to be made to push back against the false and truly bigoted anti-police narrative that has been advanced by fringe radical groups and reported as if it were fact by the media. Heather McDonald's book "War on Cops" should be gifted to every newsroom in the nation by the local chief or sheriff with a note, “Please read this before you do another report on a police use of force case.”

Lt. Dan Marcou, police trainer with 33 years of law enforcement experience

Prepare for worst-case scenarios

I am not a guru of the tactical, so I'll offer this counsel: Get your family prepared for the worst. Leaders should do everything they can to educate, encourage and enable their officers to create a future for survivors if one of their own is killed or injured in the line of duty. Facing one's mortality should give each of us pause to consider how we are living out our values. Having our name on that hero award or memorial stone will not be the main memory of our closest family and friends. You build your legacy while you're living, and honor those who have already sacrificed so much by caring for those who mean the most to you.

Joel Shults, chief of police (ret.), Colorado

Prioritize police officer wellness, resiliency

Since the attack in Dallas, I am hopeful that law enforcement agencies will continue to emphasize the need for their officers to be to resilient. The reality is 99.9 percent of people are not out there to hurt us, but we always have to be prepared for the .01 percent that is. Being vigilant is something that is drilled into most officers’ heads, but often the human factor is left out of this indoctrination. Working long hours and stress drastically reduce an officer’s ability to be vigilant, so it is my hope that agencies are dedicating resources to officer wellness programs. All the tactical training in the world will do an officer no good when trouble arises if she/he is not on top of their game because of stress or fatigue. 

Booker Hodges, undersheriff, Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office, Saint Paul, Minnesota

Do not repeat history

Keep in mind how many of our predecessors already paid the ultimate price for that knowledge. If we don’t secure and preserve it now by training ourselves and our people, we are destined to repeat one of the worst chapters in law enforcement history. 

Warren Wilson is a lieutenant with the Enid Police Department in Oklahoma

Additional resources on ambush survival

This article, originally posted on 6/28/2018, has been updated.

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