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Crowd control: The value of a four-officer car

This setup maximizes firepower, mobility, efficiency and safety

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In the 1965 Watts Riot, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Office changed tactics and deployed cars to the riot area with four deputies. Two- and three-officer deployments were tried and dismissed as ineffective and unsafe.

With a four-officer team, you had a driver, a radio operator and two officers while underway, which increased coordination and efficiency, and made the deputies less vulnerable to ambush.

When the car stopped to take enforcement action, three deputies were able to work the crowd (often arranged as two contact, one cover), while the fourth remained at the car to protect the invaluable communication, transportation and supply resource. This fourth deputy could also perform sniper overwatch and protect the trio as they made their way to and from the vehicle.

Police agencies today typically assign a single officer to a car to stretch resources, but this doesn’t work well in a riot. Long convoys of police cars can’t get in or out of crowded or tight locations efficiently to deliver the necessary manpower. They increase the chance that a single officer will be cut off from the team and left vulnerable to attack. They also make it more difficult to protect assets – witness the scores of unprotected police vehicles that have been destroyed and had weapons looted from them in recent days.

A four-officer car maximizes firepower, mobility, efficiency and safety. We learned this the hard way a few generations ago, under much worse conditions. Let’s not forget this valuable lesson when we need it most.

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.