Lessons learned from fatal collision in Okla. pursuit

These two brave officers left us a message we must discuss in order for us to prevent future tragedies

Recently, two brave LEOs were killed during a police pursuit in western Oklahoma. The suspect fled as the officers were serving an arrest warrant for possession of a controlled substance (meth), concealing stolen property and a felon in possession of a firearm.

As the deputy arrived at the suspect’s residence with an arrest warrant in hand, the suspect jumped in his pickup truck and fled. A local police officer would respond to the deputy’s call for assistance. The pursuit would last 31 minutes before the suspect crashed into an empty rural field, killing him.

Shortly thereafter — and three miles from the site where the suspect died — the deputy and the officer crashed into each other, killing both men. The incident is still under investigation, but the appearance of the crash site would indicate some type of head-on collision. Early reports indicated that neither officer was wearing a seat belt; however, other reports indicate one officer was wearing his seat belt. This tragic event has left three children without a father, and a wife without a husband.

Dangerous Job
Cops across the country respond to — and deal with — hazards every single day. This job is dangerous and unpredictable (which is part of the appeal for many of us). Every time an officer sacrifices his life for the citizens he serves, there are always lessons to be learned. These two brave officers left us a message we must discuss in order for us to prevent future tragedies.

The obvious message is: Wear your seatbelt at all times.

However, there is another message — in our early understanding of this event, there are some significant danger indicators that all officers must consider when dealing with dangerous situations.

Preliminary reports indicate that the deputy was previously at the home of the suspect — a convicted felon — following up on a tip. The deputy found drugs, used needles, a stolen pistol and ammunition.

The deputy warned the suspect that he intended to submit a report to the district attorney seeking a warrant for his arrest and he would mostly likely return for him.

Get Help
The information on this incident is limited as the investigation is ongoing, and it’s unclear why an arrest wasn’t made at the time the deputy initially observed the evidence. Therefore, speculation at this time won’t provide any useful lessons.

However, the safe planning and execution of an arrest warrant is very important whether you work in a rural county or a big city. The fact is, danger doesn’t differentiate between rural and city environments — geographic boundaries are of no consequence when dealing with potentially violent felons.

Considering the limited information we have on this incident and utilizing a threat matrix, many agencies would have deployed a tactical team to apprehend the suspect to minimize the threat of violence. Right about now, you deputy and rural cops are thinking, “That’s great, but we don’t have access to tactical teams, so we must handle everything ourselves.” I am sure that is the case in many instances; however, that is no excuse for poor tactical planning. The indicators of danger in this narrative were obvious before the warrant was served. No officer or deputy’s life is worth sacrificing for a convicted meth head who doesn’t want to return to the joint.

The alternatives may have been contacting any law enforcement agency that could lend a tactical team. Many county agencies have some type of tactical team. Even if the closest team is three hours away, you can call that sheriff and ask for a hand.

I know many uniformed officers frown upon the use of federal agencies, but the FBI, DEA, ATF and Border Patrol are great resources with deep pockets and an eagerness to get involved. I think we all agree if we knew the outcome of an incident before it starts — such as an officer losing his life — we wouldn’t hesitate to use the federal agencies.

Plan Ahead
You’re probably saying, “We don’t have a crystal ball to gaze into before we deal with such a dangerous incident.”

That mindset is dangerous — you’re just making excuses instead of planning properly. I teach tactical guys a very important element that they must consider for every movement they make.

I tell them, “If you can predict it will happen, then it will.”

Your planning must take into account the dangers that are predictable. That obviously doesn’t guarantee that officers won’t encounter deadly situations, but proper planning does help to minimize the possibility. There is no tangible way to measure whether proper planning avoided a deadly encounter. Success is measured in the wake of an operation when we are all standing around after the incident “smoking and joking.”

Let’s now assume the worst case scenario in this type of incident: You don’t have any access to a tactical team and the Feds are out of the question. You’re stuck serving this arrest warrant with minimal resources. This still don’t excuse you from proper planning of an arrest warrant. 

The use of a pre-designed and department-authorized warrant service operation plan will significantly help you avoid the danger indicators that sometimes get overlooked.

The plan may call for the use of two to four officers to provide a small perimeter around the house to contain the suspect from leaving. It may call for a “surround and call out” of the suspect due to the limited resources available. It may call for a take-down at the suspect’s workplace, or during the night while he is sleeping, or when he is walking the dog as he does every morning.

I can go on and on (the ops plan I currently utilize is twelve pages in length and very detailed). Take my word for it, after conducting many dangerous warrant arrests: Having a template is very valuable and useful to every officer planning warrant arrest operations.

I know it’s not unrealistic — even the most-rural departments can muster up four to six officers from other agencies to assist in a warrant service. Time is on your on your side, so use it to your advantage.

Plan carefully and take out the predictability of danger.

Buckle Up
Remember, if you can predict it can happen, it most likely will. If your agency doesn’t have a “threat matrix” or “pre-operations plan,” ask around and locate a model —there are many versions out there.

If needed, contact me and I will share my version with you.

Back to the obvious: There isn’t any excuse — especially when you have children — not to wear your seat belt all the time! We will always be involved in dangerous driving situations, so predicting that harm will come to you if you crash without wearing seat belt can be minimized by simply wearing it.

Stay safe.

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