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LEO Near Miss: Subject pulls gun during warrant service in motel parking lot

Resist the adage, “I’ll request backup if I need it,” because by the time you need it, backup will likely arrive too late

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Law Enforcement Officer (LEO) Near Miss is a voluntary, non-disciplinary officer safety initiative that allows law enforcement personnel to read about and anonymously share stories of close calls or “near misses,” which provide lessons learned that can protect fellow officers in similar situations.

Event Summary

During an attempt to serve an arrest warrant at a residential motel, two plain-clothes officers attempted contact of the person named in the warrant at a motel room.

The officers were walking through the motel parking lot when a car containing two men drove by them and parked. The passenger fit the description of the person named in the warrant. Both officers approached the passenger side of the car as it was parking.

The passenger’s side window of the car was down and officer #1 began conversing with the passenger and driver. Officer #1 was standing next to the passenger door, just behind the passenger. Officer #2 was standing in front of the passenger door “covering” officer #1. Both occupants of the car were cooperative. They said they did not have identification with them.

Believing the passenger to be the person named in the warrant, officer #1 asked him to step out of the car. He complied and began exiting the vehicle with his back to officer #1. At this point, officer #2 saw the passenger pull a loaded .357 revolver from his waistband and begin to spin toward officer #1. He yelled “he’s got a gun!” and began moving around the open passenger car door to grab the suspect.

Officer #1 was standing about a foot away from the suspect and determined he could not pull his duty weapon before the suspect could shoot him. Officer #1 grabbed the gun and the suspect’s hand in an attempt to control the gun just as the gun came around and was aimed at the officer’s head. They both fell to the ground fighting for control of the gun.

Officer #1 was holding his own in his fight with the suspect. Officer #2 came to the assistance of the other officer and became involved in the struggle to the point that he, officer #1 and the suspect were all rolling on the ground fighting for control of the suspect and his weapon. Nobody was watching the driver of the suspect car. After about 30-45 seconds, the officers got control of the suspect and the weapon. They handcuffed the suspect and then turned their attention to the car’s driver – who had exited the car and had been standing six feet from the officers watching the struggle. The passenger was arrested and the driver released. Neither suspect was the person named in the warrant and the passenger would never explain why he pulled the gun on the officers.

Lessons learned

  • In contact and cover, one officer contacts the subject(s) and conducts the investigation while the other must “cover” the contact officer and watch for potential threats. In this situation, when the passenger produced a firearm, the cover officer recognized an immediate threat to his partner and joined the fight to help control the suspect and secure the firearm. While this did result in losing sight of the driver, it was a calculated risk by the cover officer to engage the known threat (the passenger with the firearm fighting with the contact officer) versus remaining in a cover position to watch the driver, who was only a potential threat.

    Even though the contact officer appeared to be “holding his own” in the fight, it may only take a split second for the suspect to gain the upper hand with the firearm. Considering the time delay from when the cover officer could perceive an increased threat (i.e., his partner losing) and when he could act upon it, it could be too late to help his partner. In such a situation where the cover officer comes to the aid of the contact officer, the cover officer should do their best, if possible, to position themselves to maintain a visual on the other vehicle occupant(s) or subject(s), in this case, the driver, and issue verbal commands to control their movement.

  • This story illustrates how quickly a situation can escalate to a deadly force encounter. This arrest warrant service was appropriately planned with multiple officers, which likely contributed to the contact officer walking away from the incident safely. It is imperative that officers take advantage of backup, when at all possible while conducting stops and effecting arrests. Resist the adage, “I’ll request backup if I need it,” because by the time you “need it,” backup will likely arrive too late.
  • All officers should be equipped with GPS-enabled radios capable of broadcasting an emergency distress signal at the push of a button. In quickly escalating situations like this, the officer(s) involved may only have the time or ability to push their emergency button to request backup.

HOW TO SUBMIT YOUR NEAR MISS

Support this critical officer safety initiative by reading and sharing the near-miss stories and lessons learned that your fellow officers have shared, and consider sharing your own near-miss experiences at LEOnearmiss.org.

NEXT: Read more from the LEO Near Miss archives here

Established in 1970, the National Policing Institute, formerly the National Police Foundation, is an independent, non-partisan, and non-profit research organization, sometimes referred to as a think-tank, focused on pursuing excellence in policing through science and innovation. Our research and applied use of research guide us as we engage directly with policing organizations and communities to provide technical assistance, training, and research and development services to enhance safety, trust, and legitimacy. To view our work, visit us at www.policinginstitute.org.
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