Rapid response: How would you have handled the tactical decisions facing the ambushed Phoenix officers?

Applying a “when/then/why” approach to the tactical challenges of an ambush situation with a baby in the crossfire

What happened: Phoenix police officers found themselves repeatedly thrust into tactical dilemmas by a criminal most foul. All officers involved survived two ambushes but at a great cost. It happened like this.

First ambush: At 2 a.m. on February 11, 2022, Phoenix Police Department officers were sent to an address where a caller reported a woman had been shot and there were “multiple armed intruders” inside the residence. The first officers arriving at the scene were met by a lone male standing in an open doorway inviting the officers to come inside to help the woman. One officer approached to assist as the man looked legitimately concerned about the welfare of this woman. As the officer got closer, the man produced a weapon and opened fire on the officer. This officer, who was shot, retreated to cover while a second covering officer returned fire, driving the ambusher back inside the house.

After this ambush, the shooter, Morris Jones, tried unsuccessfully to flee by attempting to drive a vehicle from the garage and ramming a patrol car blocking his escape, but then fled back inside and barricaded himself in the home.

Second ambush: After the first ambush, officers secured the perimeter. Sometime after Jones’ failed escape, a male came out of the door of the residence carrying an infant and an overnight case. He set the baby and the case down outside the door of the residence. Officers ordered him to turn away and walk backward toward them after he set down the infant. The man complied.

After he reached the officers, several officers approached, intent on rescuing the infant lying on the stoop outside the residence. As officers began gathering around the infant, Morris Jones, who was still inside the house, once again sprayed rounds into their midst from inside the residence wounding four officers with bullets, while another four others were injured after being struck by fragments and ricochets.

The rescue: After the fully equipped “Special Assignment Unit” arrived, a rescue plan was formulated. These officers advanced with ballistic shields, and although Jones fired at them, they were able to reach the infant and rescue the child unscathed.

Situation concludes: Attempts were made to communicate with the shooter by the Special Assignment Unit however Jones chose another way out. After a period of time, a camera was utilized to view what was happening inside the residence. Jones appeared down and immobilized. The Special Assignment Unit made entry and discovered both Jones and a female, who was believed to be Jones’ ex-girlfriend, dead at the scene.

Four officers were treated and released, while two officers remain hospitalized as of this writing.

5 critical decisions for you to “when/then/why”

For tactical preparation, it can be useful to apply a “when/then/why” look at actual unique events such as this incident in Phoenix where officers are forced to make split-second decisions. Break down the moments, during these events, when officers had to make these difficult tactical decisions and then ask yourself:

  1. When this happens to me, then I will….
  2. Why? What are my reasons for doing that?

This exercise can be done alone, with your partner, your shift, or your tactical team as a “when/then/why” exercise.

Here is how it works, using this incident as a guide. When:

  1. At the scene of a report of a shooting, you meet a man holding a door open and saying, “Hurry! She’s in here! She needs help! She’s been shot!” Then I would….and this is why…
  2. An unannounced man leaves a residence, where an unknown man just shot an officer, and he is carrying an infant. Then I would….and this is why…
  3. An infant in a carrier is left outside the front door of a violent domestic unattended. You do not know what threat remains in the house. Then I would… and this is why….
  4. A fellow officer goes down and is wounded outside a residence and he or she can’t ambulate on their own and you have no ballistic shield. Then I would…and this is why….
  5. An infant is left unattended outside the scene of a shooting, and you have (a) No ballistic shields. Then I would…. And this is why…. (b) Three ballistic shields are available. Then I would…. And this is why….

These officers were faced with these difficult decisions and courageously made them in an instant.

This is a good time to prepare yourself for the possibility that you, your partner, and/or your team, may face a similar circumstance.

One more thing: Ballistic Shields

With the current level of violence directed toward police officers, my mind harkens back to the early 1970s when casualties were high and soft body armor first became available. For many years after the advent of soft body armor, if an officer anywhere in the country wanted soft body armor, he or she had to purchase their own. I bought one because I figured it was cheaper than a funeral. Eventually, most departments budgeted for soft body armor for all their officers.

With all the attacks on officers, there should be a ballistic shield in every squad. If your department says no, isn’t it time to purchase one yourself and have a ballistic shield available at every scene you are at?

Granted, shields are expensive, but they’re cheaper than a funeral.        

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