Crowd control: The value of a four-officer car

This setup maximizes firepower, mobility, efficiency and safety

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.

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