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LEO Near Miss: Take full advantage of time before going hands-on

If given the option, always choose to slow things down until backup arrives

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Anytime we are given the luxury of time, distance, or both, take full advantage and slow things down.

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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

My partner and I were dispatched for a domestic complaint where a husband had physically assaulted his wife. My partner and I had been working a two-person car for about two years.

We arrived on scene and met the wife outside of the couple’s apartment. She said her husband was inside, had been drinking and had physically assaulted her.

We entered the apartment into an open living room. At the far end of the room, the husband was sitting on the couch behind a coffee table. His hand was covering the handle of a roofing hammer (with a small hatchet blade on one end and a blunt hammer on the other), which was on the coffee table in front of him. We both drew our firearms and gave commands. They fell on deaf ears, but he made no moves.

In an attempt to de-escalate the situation, I holstered my gun and retrieved my OC spray while my partner maintained cover and called for back-up. I warned the suspect to comply, and he challenged me to spray him. I did.

After both sprays, he simply growled in a state of “Bring it on, let’s fight.” He used his free hand to wipe and smear the OC over his face and into his hair.

While the suspect kept rubbing the mace and yelling for us to shoot him, I concluded that since he couldn’t see with his eyes closed, I could diffuse the situation by snatching the roofing hammer out from under his hand. What I did not realize was the handle of the roofer’s hammer had a rubber grip coating with a crook at the end for additional retention. Without telling my partner, I tried snatching the hammer away, but he held on and rose to his feet with both hands gripping the handle. I instinctively pulled my Maglite, the old four D-cell flashlight, and started hitting his hands, but with no effect.

I ditched the flashlight and grabbed on the hammer with both hands as well. I forced him toward the couch, and we went halfway over the top, with our heads, hands and the hatchet between the wall and the couch. The suspect was on my back, and my partner was on the suspect’s back. My partner considered shooting the suspect but didn’t in fear of hitting me as well.

While we were basically in a stalemate in this position, I regathered my thoughts, slowed down my breathing and recalled a weapon disarming technique. I systematically began pushing his fingers off of the handle with my thumbs. At the very moment I pried the hammer from the suspect’s hands, the cavalry arrived, and the suspect was taken into custody and booked into jail.

After the suspect was placed in custody, I did not feel any injuries and finished my shift. It wasn’t until the next day that I began feeling pain in my traps and associated neck muscles to the point where I could not hold my head up. I was out for two weeks, but fortunately, it was only from very strained muscles and a few bruises. I am fortunate I was not struck with a deadly weapon, that the suspect did not take my firearm and use it against me or my partner, that my partner had the good sense not to shoot and that back-up arrived in time.

Lessons Learned

  • I learned a literal lesson from the School of Hard Knocks: take full advantage of time gained. I had almost unlimited time to hold the scene until back-up arrived before taking action. Even during the physical confrontation, I was given another brief period of time to recover and strategize to disarm the suspect. Anytime we are given the luxury of time, distance, or both, take full advantage and slow things. This will give you time to plan and/or wait for backup to arrive. I learned a year later, from the suspect himself, that his intention that day was suicide by cop. He apologized and thanked us because he has his life and, through counseling, was back with his wife and children.
  • Our communication and strategy were textbook until I failed to communicate my intention to go hands-on to my partner and acted in haste. If you don’t communicate with your backup, they won’t be prepared to respond appropriately and have your back when you really need it.
  • When using OC, give it time to do its job before going hands-on.
  • Try to gain as much information as possible about the suspect before making contact with them. This information should include whether the suspect is or could be, armed.
  • Issue commands from a position of tactical advantage. Use time, distance and cover to the greatest extent possible in case the suspect becomes combative.

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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