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15 things ’70s-era cops can teach today’s LEOs

For the cops of my dad’s generation, witnessing today’s hostility, disrespect and general lack of public support for law enforcement is like taking a trip back in time


Cleveland police and newsmen take cover in the Hungarian neighborhood of Cleveland, OH, where a sniper was suspected of shooting from the roof tops on July 23, 1966.

AP Photo

Time may be linear, but history runs in cycles. “Good times” and “bad times” are never permanent states, but instead ebb and flow, as attitudes, expectations and behaviors change.

Sadly, America is currently in a stage where our nation’s police are the targets of increased disrespect, distrust and violence. The post-Ferguson surge of anti-cop fervor has led to widespread, brazen and unprovoked attacks on officers, at times with deadly consequences.

This is unfamiliar territory for many officers, and particularly those who entered the profession during periods when the police were viewed and treated more favorably. We’ve been through this before though, and many of the cops who wore the uniform before you would quickly recognize the conditions and dangers you’re facing. In fact, if you talked to them about it, the cops of my dad’s generation would say, “Welcome to the ‘60s and ‘70s, partner!”

Peace and Love?

My dad came on the job in the latter 1960s, not long after returning home from Vietnam. At the time, America was fighting two wars: A guerilla war against communists in Vietnam, and a second guerilla war against communists, radicals and criminals in the nation’s streets.

Your public school textbooks and pop culture have reinvented the hippie era of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s as a carefree time of peace and free love, but the cops of that age knew it as a chaotic and dangerous time. In fact, violent attacks on officers and officer deaths reached a peak in the 1970s that hasn’t been matched since.

Back then, groups like the SNCC, SDS, NBPP, WUO, RNA and dozens more were trying to spark a revolution in the streets to advance their socialist, nationalist, racist, anti-war, “anti-imperialist” and plain-old criminal agendas. They brought together criminals, political radicals, the urban poor, disaffected veterans, rebellious youth and “useful idiots” on college campuses (in both the dorms and faculty lounges) in an attempt to topple American society and government, and replace them with socialism. To achieve this, they stoked the latent anger in these groups and inspired destabilizing violence.

The police were the principal target of that violence. In the words of Weather Underground leader Bill Ayers, “the pigs are the capitalist state,” and “are our real enemy...our job is to defeat the pigs and the army and organize on that basis.”

This is War

As a result, the urban cops of the ‘60s and ‘70s simultaneously fought crime and waged against a low-level counterinsurgency. Cops of this era grew accustomed to:

  • Bombings of police stations and vehicles, government buildings, and other public places;
  • Coordinated, military-style, ambush attacks, often triggered by false calls for service that lured officers into the trap;
  • Frequent riots and mass civil disturbances;
  • Surveillance and attacks on off-duty officers and their families, including while at home or en route to/from work;
  • Frequent encounters with heavily armed gangs, often composed of, or trained by, disaffected military veterans with recent combat experience;
  • Increased surveillance and monitoring, to include being shadowed on patrol by armed, “self-defense” teams that intervened and ambushed officers during enforcement actions;
  • Openly-fortified and guarded buildings that served as stash houses, armories, command bunkers, safe houses and last-ditch fighting positions;
  • Suspect dwellings protected by booby traps, including explosives;
  • Politically-inspired kidnappings and assassinations;
  • Sniper attacks;
  • Frequent hostility, disrespect, and a general lack of public support for law enforcement.

Lessons From the Past

A new generation of cops (many of whom entered service during the post-9/11 spasm of public support for law enforcement and the military) are now experiencing some of these things for the first time. It may feel new to them, but their retired cop fathers and grandfathers would recognize the conditions immediately.

Those warriors from the ‘60s and ‘70s would have some advice for their modern-day brothers and sisters of the Thin Blue Line. Here are 15 thoughts they might share. Add your own – especially if you were on the job in the ‘60s and ‘70s – in the comments area below.

1. Wear your vest. We didn’t have them back then, and we lost some brothers as a result.

2. Look out for each other. Always important, but even more so when the family is under attack.

3. Be aware that small things can turn into big things, fast. Don’t forget that the ‘65 Watts riots started with a simple DUI stop.

4. Go armed – heavily – always. You never know when the next SLA shootout will go down on your watch, or when you’ll run across the wrong crowd while off duty. Pack a war bag with extra mags for the car, carry a backup gun (or two), and always carry a reasonable fighting gun off duty.

5. Maintain operational security. Deny useful information to the enemy.

6. Avoid habit patterns. Habit patterns make you an easy target for ambush. Mix it up.

7. Harden your house. A police station must withstand attack. Glass doors and floor-to-ceiling windows offer no protection from bricks, bullets, or bombs. Put auto barriers in place. Move desks away from windows, secure the perimeter, control access, and change landscaping/architecture so you can see who’s approaching the door.

8. Conduct vehicle searches – on your own cars. When you return to your vehicle (duty or private), do a visual check for sabotage (lug nuts? tires? brake lines?), tampering, or explosives before you touch it.

9. Don’t be afraid of a tactical retreat. Don’t push a bad situation. Fall back, regroup, and choose the battlefield.

10. Know your counter-ambush tactics. Learn them. Perfect them. Use them.

11. Train in officer hostage tactics. Work out a plan with your partners. Never surrender your gun. No more Onion Fields.

12. Radio discipline. Never make a stop without calling it in. Ever.

13. Hone your crowd control and riot tactics. You’ll need these skills when a First Amendment event becomes a riot.

14. Be self-reliant. When the system is stressed, there may be no backup available. Back in the day, there was no SWAT, no K9, and no helicopter – you did it yourself. Get all the help you can, whenever you can, but don’t forget how to get things done by yourself, if necessary.

15. Check your six. Remember, you’re not the only hunter out there.

Looking Ahead

If the past is any indication, we’re just getting warmed up, and it’s going to be a dangerous ride. All those radicals from the 60s and 70s are now at the helm of government, the media, public education and other positions of influence.

They’ve been planting the seeds of revolution for decades, and now they think it’s time for the harvest or at least time for some payback on “the pig.”

Stay sharp. Watch out for each other. Be safe out there, and God bless you all.

Listen to Mike Wood discuss his article on the Firearms Nation Podcast.

This article, originally published 07/10/2015, has been updated.

Mike Wood is the son of a 30-year California Highway Patrolman and the author of “Newhall Shooting: A Tactical Analysis,” the highly-acclaimed study of the 1970 California Highway Patrol gunfight in Newhall, California. Mike is an Honor Graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, a graduate of the US Army Airborne School, and a retired US Air Force Lieutenant Colonel with over 26 years of service. He’s a National Rifle Association (NRA) Law Enforcement Division-certified firearms instructor, senior editor at, and has been a featured guest on the Excellence In Training Academy and American Warrior Society podcasts, as well as several radio and television programs. He’s grateful for the opportunity to serve and learn from the men and women of law enforcement.