Perseverance in the Face of Defeat:
The Jared Reston Incident
by Brian McKenna
Detective Jared Reston had been keeping up with his much younger quarry as they crossed the parking lot, dodged through the evening traffic on the busy boulevard, and entered another parking lot. They had already run about a quarter mile and Reston was starting to sweat under his vest, his breath now coming in deeper swallows. But he was in good shape and the offender was starting to tire. As the young man slackened his pace and then slowed to a walk on visibly wobbling legs, Reston capitalized on this new development by kicking into high gear. He had almost caught up with his quarry when the young man reached the corner of a mattress store, turned and disappeared from sight. Reston knew better than to follow anyone around a blind corner, even if it was just a teenager wanted for a simple shoplifting. He drew his TaserTM as he slowed, sliced the pie, and spotted the shoplifter about 10 feet away, walking rapidly away from him.
“Stop!” he commanded, “Police!”
The shoplifter, a 18 year-old recent high school graduate named Joel Abner, responded by turning around and raising his hands. Then without a word, he started backing away. Though unusual, there was nothing about this odd form of tentative resistance that even hinted at the brutality Abner kept hidden inside. His seething ferocity would soon explode into unexpected violence, but for now he simply turned away and took off again.
Detective Reston, a 29-year-old, seven-year veteran of the large metropolitan police department, had been working an off-duty security detail at a nearby mall with his partner, Officer Christopher Brown, when the foot pursuit started. They had responded to a call to assist two security officers with a combative shoplifter, and when they arrived they found the security officers had already cuffed their suspect. But there had been two of them, one of the security officers explained, and the other had gotten away during the struggle. “He’s over there,” the security officer said as he pointed at a teenager looking back at them from among the parked cars about 50 yards away.
The teen’s eyes had suddenly widened then, and he had taken off across the parking lot. Reston had followed with Brown a short distance behind in his pre-determined role as backup officer. Teamwork had become second nature to the two officers after working the same beat together for most of their seven years with the department. For two of those years, they had partnered together in a busy city-wide task force, and like most partners on large metropolitan police departments, they had been through a lot together. Though they were off-duty, both officers were dressed in full uniform per departmental policy, including body armor, and both took officer safety very seriously. In his backup role, Brown’s job was not to cut the offender off. Instead, as the slower runner, he was to follow Reston at a distance, keep dispatch updated on their location and any changes in the situation, and cautiously close in if Reston got into trouble. They had agreed that if either came under fire while separated, the other would approach as quickly as possible, but without sacrificing sound safety practices, like preplanning and the use of cover. Their goal was to improve their chances of apprehending, or if necessary, neutralizing the assailant.
But it didn’t look like Reston would need any help. As he took off after Abner, he could see he was still close enough to use the TaserTM. Without breaking stride, he raised the weapon and ordered Abner to stop or be tased. Seeing no signs of compliance, he pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. He glanced down at the weapon, and saw its digital display counting down aimlessly. Reston had never known it to do that before, but there wasn’t time to worry about it. Abner was sprinting now, heading for a 4-foot-deep dry retention pond in front of a large public storage facility next door. With Brown now lagging farther behind, Reston poured on the speed, re-applied the Taser’s safety, and reholstered the weapon. Then, just as Abner reached the edge of the reservoir, Reston closed within reaching distance. Abner was wearing a hoodie, its hood trailing behind. Reston grabbed it and yanked backward in an attempt to take the teen to the ground.
It didn’t work. Instead of tumbling backward, Abner whipped around to face Reston, raising his right elbow high as he turned, and then snapping it down, breaking Reston’s grip. Instantly, he took a street fighter’s stance with a look of single-minded determination that told Reston he was in for a real fight. Reston responded without hesitation. He charged forward as his assailant unleashed a salvo of vehement blows, grabbed the young man behind the neck, and pulled him in close to jam him up. Countering Abner’s attack with a barrage of crushing elbow and knee strikes, Reston tried again to take him to the ground. Tough, physically fit and skilled, he enjoyed the challenge of a good fight, and was confident he could win this one.
But then came a blow that literally bowled him over. Reston stumbled backward, falling and then rolling down the slope into the empty reservoir. He didn’t know what hit him. His first thought was he had taken a bone-crushing blow to the face, but then his tongue touched his lower jaw. Instead of being where they were supposed to be, his bottom teeth were lying flat in his mouth, and the jaw was jaggedly torn apart. The discovery puzzled but didn’t frighten him. There wasn’t time for that. He had to get back into the fight.
He looked up. Abner was hovering just a few feet away on the rim of the reservoir, a large-bore Glock in his hand, its deadly muzzle silently blazing away at him. The gunfire’s curious silence didn’t obscure the harsh reality of the situation. Abner was too close to miss and Reston knew he was taking hits. He just couldn’t tell where. The only pain he felt was from his shattered jaw and that didn’t particularly bother him.
Ignoring the pain, rejecting the fear, he got angry and focused on getting back into the fight. He started to push himself up so he could reach the Glock Model 22 at his side. Abner didn’t even notice. Apparently confident his bloody work had taken the fight out of Reston, he turned and walked away. But he wasn’t finished yet. Holding the gun over his shoulder, he continued to shoot at Reston as he walked. It was an awkward way to shoot with any accuracy, and it would probably have been safer for Reston to fold back onto the ground, perhaps roll off to his right to make himself a harder target, and wait for Abner to disappear. But Reston wasn’t wired that way. He wasn’t going to let this predator kill him, and wouldn’t allow him to prey on his fellow officers or citizens.
He kept moving, reaching for his Glock as he struggled to get to his feet and into a good pistol stance. But then Abner spotted the move, turned back, and charged forward, gun blazing. Reston was still pushing himself up from the ground, now aware of a searing pain shooting up his left thigh. Though lagging dangerously behind his opponent, he was undeterred. He finished his draw, whipped the Glock up into firing position with one hand, and fired as soon as he saw its front sight flashed up into the center of Abner’s chest. Abner kept coming, and Reston fired again and again. Abner was wincing from Reston’s hits now, but still moving and firing. He veered off to his left. Though hunching down and away from Reston’s .40 caliber gunfire like a kid caught in the spray from a hose, he kept moving forward, firing as he advanced. Now on one knee, but still shooting painfully with one hand, Reston kept up his fire, discharging another round each time he brought his front sight back down onto his adversary’s torso.
Driven by a single-minded desire to finish Reston off, Abner made a mistake. He let himself get too close and Reston saw his chance. With his assailant now almost on top of him, he lunged upward, grabbed him by the front of his sweatshirt, and dragged him to the ground. As Abner fell, Reston threw him off to his right, causing him to land on his right side with his back to him. He rolled over, grabbed Abner, pulled him in close, pressed his Glock against his head, and fired three rounds. The first round penetrated Abner’s skull, burrowing deep into the brain, and the other two struck him in the left cheek, exited his right cheek. He was dead even before Reston let go of him. Though convinced he had neutralized Abner, Reston wanted to keep him contained. He pushed him away with his feet to create distance, and kept his muzzle on him while waiting for his partner.
Brown arrived just seconds later. He had rushed toward the sound of gunfire as rapidly as he could without violating sound tactics, but he had fallen behind in the chase and, like most gunfights, this one had been very brief. With Abner now dead, he focused on coordinating responding units and rendering aid to Reston.
Abner had been using a Glock 21, and his first shot had sent its hulking .45-caliber slug crashing squarely into Reston’s lower jaw, just below the center of his lower lip. After tearing its way through the unsuspecting officer’s jaw, it had plowed through his neck and blown out its left side. Fortunately, it was hardball ammo and didn’t expand much or send any fragments into his spinal cord. Reston’s vest had also absorbed three rounds, including one dead center to its trauma plate, once again proving the value of body armor in a gunfight. But he had also taken three more hits to areas not protected by his vest. One dug a deep grove through the flesh on his right elbow, another struck him in the right buttock, and the third hit just above his left knee, exiting his thigh. Nevertheless, Reston fought back against the staggering damage to his body just as he had against Abner’s onslaught, and returned to work six months later. He is still with the same department, where he is now assigned to the Department of Homeland Security/Gang Investigations Unit and serves as the SWAT team’s lead firearms instructor. In addition, his tenacity and courage earned him a number of well-deserved awards, including the United States Presidential “Medal of Valor” and the American Police Hall of Fame “National Officer of the Year.”
Abner had drawn first blood, but his brutal surprise attack had failed to bring him the murderous results he desired. Despite being dazed by his head wound, Reston had managed to land seven hits out of 14 with his return fire. One of them had ripped through Abner’s lower torso, and another had cut a deadly swath up through his chest cavity before severing an artery in his neck. Even without the last three rounds to his head, Abner would not have survived his wounds. Many of the factors that led him to this end remain unclear. He had come from a good family, had developed a reputation in school as a decent, trustworthy student, and had no history of violent behavior. On the other hand, there is some evidence that he may have recently become involved with drugs and possibly gangs, but no one knows for sure how much influence these factors may have had on his actions. The gun he used had been stolen 14 years earlier, but it is still unknown how it had come into his possession, where he had concealed it during the pursuit, or why he decided to risk using it over a simple shoplifting. All we know for sure is that people sometimes kill police officers for the most inexplicable reasons, and that Abner died because he tried it on the wrong cop
Discussion & Analysis
As can be seen from the abrupt brutality of Abner’s attack, foot pursuits can erupt into violence at any time. Even when the officer pursues cautiously and uses good tactics like Detective Reston did, the greatest danger may come only after he catches up with the offender. In this case, from all appearances Abner was no more dangerous than any other ordinary misdemeanor shoplifter. But Abner was no ordinary shoplifter. Armed and willing to do anything to avoid capture, he abruptly turned on Reston with unexpected brutality. Fortunately, Reston was equal to the challenge. Tough-minded, confident and even more determined to win than his adversary, he immediately overcame the shock of the sudden attack and doggedly fought back to win.
The following analysiswill address these points in greater detail, as well as a number of other key lessons from this incident—lessons that can save lives. We owe it to Detective Reston and all our other fellow officers to learn as much as we can from this incident. Before you read the analysis, however, you may want to review the following discussion questions and work through your own answers
- Detective Reston’s shooting provides a clear example of how dangerous it can be to stop a fleeing offender by going hands-on with him. What other alternatives are there? What are the pros and cons of each?
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- Under what circumstances would you use deadly force to stop a fleeing suspect? When is such force justified by law?
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- Detective Reston didn’t observe any indications that Abner was armed, either because none existed or because he didn’t notice them when they occurred. What are some of the behavioral characteristics and other danger signs that indicate a particular individual is carrying a concealed weapon? What are some of the factors in foot pursuits that make it hard to notice these indicators?
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- Detective Reston didn’t see Abner’s gun before he was shot with it. How likely is this to occur on the street? Are the risks greater in a close-quarters confrontation? Why? What can be done to reduce these risks?
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- What does this case indicate about the potential for violence when handling seemingly minor offenses? What does it say about the importance of being prepared when working secondary employment?
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- What can this case teach us about how to win in the face of seemingly hopeless odds like those faced by Detective Reston? In what ways did Detective Reston’s attitude and actions exemplify winning mindset and warrior spirit?
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Apprehending the Offender
As is evident in this case, the most dangerous phase of the foot pursuit may be its conclusion. Besides the usual hazards associated with engaging any suspect at contact range, there are a number of other dangers to consider when taking a suspect into custody after a foot chase. You are likely to be fatigued, under the influence of emotions that can cloud your judgment, and in a tactically difficult position. You will have to quickly decide how to stop the suspect based on the perceived threat and other possible variables, execute that decision on the fly, be ready to react if the suspect suddenly produces a weapon, and in many instances wind up on the ground with the suspect. Despite these considerable risks, we persist in going hands-on with suspects in foot pursuits.
As San Francisco Police Academy instructor Sgt. Martin Bandvik explains, foot pursuits “should be held to the same level of caution and risk as vehicle pursuits.” He then goes on to point out we are taught to use high-risk tactics at the conclusion of traffic pursuits instead of swarming the vehicle and its occupants; yet we routinely rush into physical confrontations during foot pursuits. The same principles apply in both cases: follow the offender until he gives up or makes a mistake that forces him to stop; then keep your distance, take cover, wait for backup, and use verbal commands to take him into custody in a controlled manner.1 But there is one significant difference between the two that can make it even more dangerous to approach the offender in a foot pursuit. Unlike car chases, foot pursuits generally entail extreme physical exertion that can negatively impact your ability to control the offender, making it all the more important to avoid physical contact. While it isn’t always possible to follow a fleeing suspect until he stops on his own, it is safest to do so whenever you can. Sgt. Bandvik’s argument offers a sound tactical approach for terminating foot pursuits that is long overdue.
In the event that circumstances call for you to go hands-on, your goal should be to stun the offender and control his hands as you bring him under control. Tackles below the waist should be avoided altogether, as they are almost certain to result in a hard fall, often with your knees, elbows and/or hands taking the brunt of the blow when you land. A broken bone in any of these places can be debilitating, leaving you dangerously vulnerable to attack. Furthermore, hitting the offender low makes you unnecessarily vulnerable to foot and knee strikes while leaving his/her hands free to access a weapon or grab yours.
A much better approach is to jump the suspect, hitting him/her high and hard from behind. This will allow you to ride his/her body to the ground while probably causing him/her to land hard the enough to stun him/her. Before he/she can regain his senses enough to resist, get his/her arms and hands under control and cuff him/her as soon as possible. While there are still some serious risks involved in the execution of this tactic, it safer than a low tackle or grabbing hold of him/her.
Another alternative is the use of an electronic control device. While this has its advantages, there are also some important cons to consider. Many agencies forbid the use of ECDs to stop fleeing suspects unless other aggravating factors are present, accuracy is a problem when firing on the run, and you have to be close enough to connect with both probes. Furthermore, despite their high quality, ECDs sometime fail, as happened in Detective Reston’s case. Nevertheless, when they can be properly employed, ECDs are a very effective means for stopping the offender. The physical effects are virtually instantaneous and usually overwhelming enough to bring the subject down without delay. Unless a wire breaks or a probe pulls free, you should also have time to take a breath and assess the situation for a moment before taking further action. As long as you are ready with another alternative if the ECD fails, it can be a very good option.
Finally, it is important to mention the use of deadly force as an option in the most extreme cases. While shooting a fleeing suspect is still legal under certain limited circumstances, its use brings the most extreme scrutiny from the courts, media and public opinion, and may result in social unrest, especially if there is any appearance of impropriety. Under Tennessee v. Garner, it is only justified when “necessary to prevent the escape (of a fleeing suspect) and the officer has probable cause to believe the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.”2
The element of risk to others is especially relevant here. An armed and/or otherwise dangerous suspect can pose a serious risk to those we are sworn to protect, and this risk must be seriously considered when deciding whether to shoot a fleeing suspect. Justification for the use of deadly force depends upon the totality of the circumstances of course, including the laws and policies in your jurisdiction, and the decision to shoot a fleeing suspect should never be taken lightly. On the other hand, when the only other alternative is to blindly follow an armed felon into a high-risk situation, deadly force may be the only reasonable way to protect your own life and the lives of others as well.
Foot Pursuit Tactics
There are a number of other serious hazards related to foot pursuits besides those associated with apprehending the offender. These have been purposely left out of this article, not because they aren’t important, but because they are not relevant to this particular case. However, due to their importance to officer safety, they are addressed in another article in this issue of The Police Marksman. To read the article, turn to “Rushing into Danger: Foot Pursuit Hazards” or click here.
Detecting Armed Individuals
Detective Reston didn’t observe any indications that Abner was armed, but that doesn’t mean none existed. No one, not even an officer as sharp and streetwise as Reston, can detect every single action a suspect takes during a foot pursuit, or closely watch his/her clothing for subtle clues that he/she is armed. There are too many other things to focus on, like watching where you are going and looking for environmental hazards, to see everything the suspect does. Furthermore, with the offender constantly moving and probably obscured from view for brief periods, it is likely that even the most observant officer will miss some of his actions. Worse, few officers are trained to look for and recognize the indicators that a particular individual is carrying a concealed weapon. While these indicators are often learned from experience, the problem with experience is that it is hit-and-miss and can take years to fully develop.
Officers should be trained to look for things like telltale protrusions that are barely noticeable when the individual is stationary but become more obvious when he/she moves; weighted pockets in outer garments that sag when the offender is stationary and swing when he/she moves; and the often subconscious behaviors displayed by individuals who are carrying concealed weapons. For example, armed criminals seldom carry their firearms in holsters and often tuck them into their waistbands or carry them in the pockets of their pants or outerwear. Since this doesn’t do a very good job of securing the weapon, the offender does frequent “security checks” by touching or adjusting it, and will often hold it in place with his/her hand, wrist or forearm, especially when walking or running. Another rather common behavior of armed suspects is to hold one arm straight down against their torso to keep their weapon in place, either against their side or under their armpit (the armpit hold is common with some gang members when approaching an intended target).
When it comes to something as important as learning how to identify armed criminals, it isn’t enough to depend upon experience alone to do the job. Training is vital. If it isn’t available from your department or other local sources, another option is the excellent Behavioral Characteristics of Armed Individuals course from Hobson & Associates. This class—taught by Richard Hobson, former commander of the Washington, D.C. Police Department’s highly successful Firearms Interdiction Unit—is based upon the experiences of veteran officers with a knack for spotting armed criminals and Hobson’s personal experience working the streets alongside his officers. It is filled with street-proven tips for detecting armed individuals, and also includes valuable information on how to follow up CCW arrests with investigations that can lead to arrests for much more serious crimes. For further information on this training, contact Mr. Hobson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 703-865-7511.
Return to Question 3
Watching the Hands
Detective Reston didn’t see Abner’s gun until after he was shot. This isn’t particularly surprising when we consider the fact he was in close contact with Abner and engaged in an intense physical struggle. One of the gravest hazards in any physical struggle is difficulty in continuously tracking of the offender’s hands while focusing on subduing him/her, especially when you are in such close contact with him/her that his/her upper body blocks his/her hands from your view. Even worse is the fact the more rapidly a stressful encounter unfolds, the more likely it is an officer will fail to see key elements of the event. This dangerous phenomenon was dramatically demonstrated by a recent study that found 65 percent of the officers who participated in a computer-simulated gunfight failed to see their assailant reaching for a firearm.3 A close-quarters fight clearly falls into the category of a rapidly evolving situation, and it is far more stressful than any computer simulation could ever be. When coupled with the other factors mentioned above, it is easy to see how an officer might not see his/her assailant pulling a weapon.
This and the threat of being disarmed are probably the two most important reasons for gaining control of a resisting opponent as quickly as possible. The longer the struggle goes on, the harder it is to watch his/her hands and the greater the chance that he/she will be able to access a weapon—his/hers or yours. Herein lies one of the most important, yet often ignored advantages of ECDs. By enabling officers to quickly subdue resistive subjects and then significantly limit their mobility for at least five seconds, they give officers valuable time to check for signs of weapons, assess the situation, move to a more advantageous position if necessary, plan their next move, and then take action in a more controlled manner. Whenever possible, the use of an ECD is preferable to going hands-on.
This option isn’t always available, of course. Like any other weapon, ECDs can malfunction like Reston’s did, miss, or otherwise be ineffective. Furthermore, some departments restrict their use to the point of near uselessness, and others don’t issue them at all. These and many other unforeseen factors can make it necessary to resort to control tactics, which only reinforces the importance of developing and maintaining a high level of proficiency in these skills. Train as often as you can, train hard, and stay in shape. But as important as it is, proficiency alone isn’t enough. It is also very important to be prepared to execute control tactics decisively and with full force. Anything less is likely to prolong the confrontation, and may only anger your opponent and/or convince him/her you are weak and indecisive
It is also best to avoid pain compliance techniques unless you watch the offender’s hands very closely, and have a solid plan for instantly countering his move if it appears he/she is reaching for a weapon. Similarly, remember any technique that fails to control both of the offender’s hands will do little to prevent him/her from drawing a weapon with his/her free one. Finally, using the habit-development techniques discussed earlier in this analysis, make it a habit to always watch the hands.
Return to Question 4
Maintaining good communications with the dispatcher and responding officers is important in any dangerous situation, but especially in foot pursuits. As with car chases, the ongoing movement of everyone involved increases the need for frequent updates and accurate information. In fact, in some ways it is even more important in a foot chase than in a vehicle pursuit, because it is often harder to pinpoint exact locations and get help to anyone who needs it in foot pursuits.
It is also important to notify dispatch as soon as possible. Detective Reston pointed out he and Officer Brown delayed calling in the pursuit for several minutes because they didn’t want to bother dispatch with an apparently minor incident related to their secondary job. In a typical display of his warrior mindset, he explained the delay would have increased the chances of Abner escaping if Abner had succeeded in disabling or killing him. Though secondary to officer safety, the apprehension of violent offenders is of great importance, especially when the offender has killed or wounded an officer, and good communications is essential to achieving that objective.
Reston and Brown’s reluctance to call in the pursuit was indicative of the way many, if not most, officers would act under similar circumstances. It is not unusual for officers to be reluctant to call for help when off-duty, and we all tend to be less concerned about safety when dealing with minor offenses. Nevertheless, the harsh realities of police work dictate otherwise. According to the 2011 Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted report, 9.4 percent of the officers murdered over the past decade were off duty when attacked.4 Further, while there is too little hard data available to determine the exact percentage of officer deaths and injuries that can be attributed to misdemeanors, we all know of cases in which officers have been killed while handling them. And the available data, limited though it may be, lends support to this observation. Over the past 10 years, almost twice as many officers were killed during misdemeanor traffic stops/pursuits (62) than during felony stops/pursuits (36).5 While it would be a stretch to assume the same is true regarding non-traffic offenses, this data makes it clear there can be no presumption of safety just because the offenses involved appear to be minor ones.
Detective Reston had taken out a supplemental medical insurance policy long before this shooting, and he did so because he recognized he might be seriously injured on the job. The wisdom of this pragmatic decision was proven by the fact it helped alleviate not only the financial burden related to his treatment and recovery, but also the stress this kind of financial burden can cause. Supplemental medical insurance is something every officer should seriously consider.
Though we can never be sure of what any given bullet will do to a human body, it is very likely that Reston’s body armor saved his life. One of Abner’s rounds struck him in the right chest where it would probably have penetrated his right lung and caused massive internal bleeding, and another hit him squarely in the trauma plate. His chances of surviving a gunshot wound to that location would have been very slim.
Of almost equal importance is the fact that Reston’s body armor enabled him to fight back. As Detective Reston put it in an interview with PoliceOne, “Your armor is a tool, and all that tool did was keep me, the weapon, in the fight. So you need to wear it … to up your chances of staying in that fight.”6 Had he been disabled by severe wounds to his torso, it would have left Abner free to attack Officer Brown as he approached the scene, fire on other responding officers, and/or escape to prey on innocent citizens. As police officers, we have more than a right to defend ourselves. We also have a duty to defend others, and we can’t defend others if we are dead or incapacitated. Body armor does more than keep us alive; it also helps us protect those we serve.
The fact that Detective Reston was off-duty has special significance here. Officers tend to ignore the need for body armor as well as other essential equipment when working off-duty. Wearing a vest may seem unnecessarily inconvenient and overly cautious, but Reston is living proof this is not the case. Law enforcement entails risks, whether on- or off-duty, and violent criminals don’t discriminate between the two.
The cold-blooded aggressiveness of Abner’s attack characterizes the brutal mindset of many of the predators who try to kill police officers and sometimes succeed. By blindsiding Reston with a contact-range shot to the face, pumping round after round into him after he was down, and then turning back to finish the job when Reston returned fire, he demonstrated more than a willingness to kill. In a warrior, such tenacity is born from selfless courage under fire, but in a violent criminal, it shows fierce recklessness spawned by burning anger. Abner obviously wanted Detective Reston dead so badly, he was willing to walk through a wall of lead to kill him.
Fortunately, Detective Reston was a warrior equal to the challenge. He gave back more than he received and persevered. Predators like Abner are a fact of life in our world. Rather than discourage us, this fact should renew our resolve to work hard, train hard, and do everything we can to be prepared to win against all odds.
Detective Reston had mentally prepared himself to deal with lethal violence long before his confrontation with Abner. A realist, he had already accepted the fact that police work includes the very real potential for human violence, and he knew his hard-charging way of doing business would eventually lead him there. He also understood the kind of violence human beings are capable of inflicting on one another, and he knew the job sometimes calls for the use of “unspeakable violence” to counter such brutality. He willingly accepted this harsh truth, and was committed to do whatever he had to do within the law to defend himself or others. This kind of attitude is very common among winners. Instead of planning what they will do if confronted with lethal violence, they plan what they will do when it happens.
Like other winners, Detective Reston also refused to give up. Despite the fact Abner had drawn first blood, despite the fact he was down and had taken multiple hits from Abner’s hard-hitting .45, despite the fact Abner came back for more, he ignored his injuries, rejected any thoughts of fear or defeat, and focused on only one thought—fighting back! When it seems all is lost, fighting back is the only answer. Anything else will only make things worse, and nothing else matters. Detective Reston’s dogged resolve in the face of apparent defeat should be an inspiration to all of us.
Return to Question 6
In a similar way, Detective Reston dealt with the aftermath of the shooting in a positive way. Recognizing it was Abner’s actions that dictated his response, he felt no guilt. But this was not due to a lack of compassion. Rather, it came from an honest assessment of what happened. Abner chose the direction of the encounter, and Reston had no choice but to respond with violence. He had done his job as dictated by the circumstances, and it would have been counterproductive to allow himself to feel guilty about it.
This is not to imply officers who feel guilt or remorse after taking a life are emotionally or mentally weak. Such feelings are natural. But it can be very helpful to step back and consider the fact no one can really control the actions of others. We can only respond to those actions, and as police officers, that sometime means we must respond to wrongful violence with righteous violence.
- There are a number of hazards associated with stopping the offender at the conclusion of a foot pursuit. One option that needs to be more widely used is to follow the offender until he gives up or makes a mistake that forces him to stop; then keep your distance, take cover, wait for backup, and use verbal commands to take him into custody in a controlled manner. Others include use of the TaserTM and jumping the perpetrator high and hard from behind. Avoid low tackles or simply grabbing hold of him.
- It is vital to make sure you have a clear understanding of when the use of deadly force is justified to stop a fleeing suspect, and to then carefully consider the circumstance under which you would do so. Again, this should be done beforehand, not later on the street.
- Learn as much as you can about the behavioral characteristics and other danger signs associated with individuals who are carrying concealed weapons.
- There are several things you can do to help reduce the risk of not seeing an assailant’s weapon until it is too late in a close-range encounter. These include developing the habit of always watching the hands, employing ECDs in lieu of going hands-on, developing and maintaining top proficiency in control techniques, applying all control techniques decisively and at full force, and always having a solid plan for countering your opponent’s move if it appears he/she is reaching for a weapon. Finally, pain compliance techniques and those that fail to control both of the offender’s hands should be avoided, as they will do little to prevent him/her from accessing a weapon.
- What does this case indicate about the potential for violence when handling seemingly minor offenses? What does it say about the importance of being prepared when working secondary employment?
- Always stay alert, even when dealing with apparently minor offenses.
- Always wear your body armor, even when working secondary employment.
- When under attack, stay focused on winning, regardless of how bad things may appear to be. Keep fighting, no matter what.
- Martin Bandvik email to author, 10-06-12. The author would also like to thank Sgt. Bandvik for his invaluable recommendations and assistance in this analysis.
- Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1 (1985), U.S. Supreme Court, No. 83-1035
- Ross, D, Murphy, R, and Hazlett, M. (2012). Analyzing Perceptions and Misperceptions of Police Officers in Lethal Force Virtual Simulator Scenarios. Law Enforcement Executive Forum. p. 65.
- F.B.I. (2011). Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted 2011. Washington, D.C., U.S. Department of Justice, table 19. http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/leoka/m2011/ tables/table-25> at 5 December 2012.
- F.B.I. (2011). Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted 2011. Washington, D.C., U.S. Department of Justice, table 19. < http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/leoka/2011/tables/table-19> at 4 December 2012.
Will to Win: Jared Reston<http://blutube.policeone.com/officer-safety-videos/1000989415001-policeonecom-will-to-win-jared-reston/> at January 25, 2013.
About the author
Brian McKenna is a retired lieutenant from the Hazelwood (Mo.) Police Department, where he served in patrol, traffic, mobile reserve and training. He is a 32-year police veteran, with a strong background as a police trainer at both the recruit and in-service levels, and served his department as lead firearms instructor and various other training functions. He is a state-certified police instructor, a certified force science analyst, and holds a Master’s Degree in human resource development. Brian is a member of ILEETA and IALEFI, writes extensively on officer safety topics, and trains officers nationwide in winning mindset and other topics related to officer safety. His book Officer Down: Lessons from the Streets is based upon this column and is available for purchase at http://winningedgetraining.com/odnowavail.html. Contact him at email@example.com or visit his website at www.we-training.com.
tell us about it!
Police Marksman intends to run an “Officer Down” article by Brian in every issue. In order to find incidents that provide relevant case studies, we would like to draw from our largest available resource—you, the reader. If you have, or can obtain, factual information on actual incidents you think we can use, please contact Brian at:
7412 Lynn Grove Ct.
Hazelwood, MO 63042
Tel. 314/921-6977 (call collect)
Rushing into Danger: Foot Pursuit Hazards
In this issue’s “Officer Down” column we read about Detective Jared Reston, who, had it not been for a little luck and a tremendous amount of tenacity on his part, would probably have died at the hands of a young shoplifter who suddenly turned on him with a .45 at the conclusion of a foot pursuit. As we all know, he is not alone.
While solid data on the number of serious injuries and deaths associated with foot pursuits is sketchy, police trainers and safety-conscious officers almost universally agree that few things in police work are more dangerous. From start to finish, they are packed with a wide range of hazards, from armed ambushes to lethal resistance after going hands-on, and from dangerous falls to heart attacks from over-exertion. The suddenness and intensity of the attack against Detective Reston drives this point home and epitomizes how suddenly a foot pursuit can turn deadly. Considering the wide range of safety concerns related to foot chases, we must ask ourselves what we can do to make them safer.
The first step is to make better decisions about when to start and stop them. First, we must recognize that anyone who runs from an officer has demonstrated a determination to actively resist arrest, and that alone should be seen as a danger sign. However, in many instances we have very little if any information about the exact offense involved, possible weapons, or perpetrator’s background, and can only speculate about his/her intentions. He/she may be running for the specific purpose of drawing the officer into a premeditated ambush. On the other hand, it’s not at all unusual for offenders to flee just to avoid arrest for trivial offenses.
The ambiguity about the offender’s intentions is not the only problem here. In most cases, there are also distracting emotions involved, like anger and the powerful urge catch the suspect, which can shift our focus away from thinking about safety. Often complacency also comes into play. Although foot pursuits may not happen often enough to consider them routine, after engaging in several without getting hurt, it is easy to become desensitized to their dangers. Finally, there is the physical exertion—often bordering on exhaustion—that can cloud our judgment.
With all these factors negatively affecting our decision-making during a foot chase, it is essential to plan ahead. Take the time to objectively consider the circumstances under which it would or would not be worth the risk to initiate or continue a pursuit. These are not easy decisions to make in the heat of the moment, so it’s much safer to contemplate them now, before it happens on the street. Consider, for example, that it would usually be best not to pursue when any one or more of the following risk factors are involved:
- When you are alone and one individual from a group flees, requiring you to turn your back on the others in order to pursue.
- When the suspect has abandoned a vehicle and you are not sure if anyone else is inside.
- If you lose track of your location.
- After losing contact with the dispatcher or assisting officers.
- If you drop or otherwise lose your weapon.
- You must enter a building. Unoccupied warehouses and other buildings with large open spaces are possible exceptions, because they don’t offer the suspect many places to hide or take cover without being seen. But great discretion must be used before entering any occupied structure, not only because you don’t know the occupants but also because doing so would put innocent citizens in jeopardy of being taken hostage or, if a gunfight breaks out, of being struck by stray gunfire.
- Any other time the offender has been lost from sight for more than a few brief moments.
- When the offender is believed to be armed, especially with a firearm. 1,2
- When any serious risk factors are present and it is likely the suspect can be identified and arrested later.
Obviously, the presence of a weapon significantly increases the risks, but less obvious is the fact an armed suspect can be much more deadly while running than one would expect. Studies by the Force Science Institute have proven a fleeing suspect can turn and fire a shot before an officer can detect the movement and react to it, even when the officer’s gun is drawn.3,4 This fact should make any officer think twice about chasing any armed offender. Moreover, the danger is considerably magnified when any of the other factors listed above come into play. In that case, unless the risk to others is so great you sincerely believe you are duty-bound to continue, the pursuit should be terminated.
It is also very risky to chase the offender once you lose sight of him. If he is armed, you may be running into a lethal ambush, and even unarmed suspects have been known to pick up boards, pipes or other improvised weapons after disappearing from view, and subsequently use them to disable, disarm and kill the pursuing officer. Therefore, serious consideration should be given to terminating the stop, especially if the suspect is armed. And if you do stop, keep in mind the perpetrator may double back and attack you, so draw your firearm, utilize cover/concealment, establish a perimeter, and stay alert for the suspect’s return while awaiting assistance.
Due to the rapidly evolving nature of foot pursuits, any of these risk factors can materialize at any time. Therefore, risk assessment must be a continuous process throughout. Keep your emotions in check, stay alert to any changes in the circumstances, and be mentally and emotionally prepared to change your tactics to adapt to any new developments.
A vital key to proper threat assessment is to make it a habit to focus on safety as a top priority at all times. Make a point of focusing on safety awareness on every call and every street contact, even in apparently low-risk situations. Make a game of always thinking about approach, positioning, cover, potential threats, what you can do if they materialize, etc. When done repeatedly over time, this thought process will eventually become a habit that stays with you all the time, even when engaged in highly focused activities like foot pursuits. This doesn’t mean you can then forego thinking about safety concerns at the conscious level, but once developed, this habit will keep safety in the back of your mind even when you aren’t consciously aware of it.
Foot Pursuit Tactics
No officer wants to give up on a pursuit as long as there is a hope of catching the perpetrator, but we must curb our emotions and decide whether to continue the pursuit on the basis of objective reasoning, not emotions. The same holds true for the tactics we use. Keep your anger and/or enthusiasm for catching the perpetrator in check, and use tactics that are built around the goals of making yourself a harder target and giving yourself time to react if something goes wrong. For example, slow down enough to plan ahead and keep from becoming exhausted; vary your position relative to the suspect, including going over and around obstacles at a different spot than he/she did; and pace yourself to allow the offender to tire him/herself out.
In the event you decide to follow the suspect after you have lost sight of him/her, use extreme caution, especially when entering dark areas, going through doorways, rounding corners, etc. Stop, slice the pie and continue the pursuit only after determining it is safe to do so. However, keep in mind anything you do that keeps the offender guessing will work to your advantage if he/she decides to ambush you. For instance, after he/she rounds a corner, he/she will probably be expecting you to either follow blindly in his/her footsteps or, if he/she is familiar with tactics, stop at the corner to slice the pie. If instead of slowing to make the corner behind him/her or stopping to slice the pie, you keep going at full speed and sweep around the corner in a wide arc, it is likely you will catch him/her off guard while making yourself a faster-moving, more distant target than he/she expected. Similarly, there may be good cover adjacent to the corner, like a nearby phone pole, wall or dumpster, in which case it is often safer to run there instead of stopping at the corner. Regardless of the tactic used, keep your ears open as well as your eyes before entering any potential hot zone. Listen for sounds that can help determine the suspect’s actions (running footsteps, rattling fences, rustling brush, barking dogs, or the sudden cessation of any of these).
Foot Pursuit Tactics
Foot pursuit tactics should be built around the goals of making yourself a harder target and giving yourself time to react if something goes wrong:
- Call for help immediately, put out a good description of the suspect, and keep the dispatcher advised of your location and direction of travel.
- Keep thinking ahead, and slow your breathing down (it’s hard to stay focused when you are gasping for breath). When necessary, pause to plan your next move.
- Slow down and carry on a moving surveillance of the suspect from a distance that allows you time to react if he/she turns on you.
- Use available concealment and cover when possible.
- Vary your position relative to the suspect; if he/she goes over a wall or other barrier, try to climb over it at a different location.
- Use caution when rounding corners, going through doorways, etc.
- Keep your gun holstered at all times when running. If you must draw, stop so you can fire from a stable position and use cover if available.
- Let the offender tire him/herself out from running.
- Monitor your physical condition, and be willing to stop and initiate containment if you are nearing exhaustion. It won’t do any good to catch up with the offender, only to lose the fight or suffer a heart attack.
- Watch for environmental hazards like fences, clotheslines, traffic when crossing streets or parking lots, uneven or rough terrain, dangerous items on the ground, etc. A fall can result in serious injuries, permanent disability, increased vulnerability to attack, or death.
Apprehending the Offender
Even when nothing happens during the rest of the chase to alert you to the danger, it may still be there, churning ominously beneath the surface and waiting to explode until you catch up with the offender. You may be wrapped up in the emotions of the chase, angry, focused only on subduing the suspect, and nearing total exhaustion, but this is no time to let your guard down. Think with your head, not your heart, keep safety in the forefront of you mind, and when you do act, act decisively to bring the suspect under control as quickly and safely as possible within the limits of the law.
Officers tend to want to grab the offender from behind or tackle below the knees, but both of these tactics leave you unnecessarily vulnerable. Tackling the suspect may stun him/her briefly, but usually not for long, and grabbing him/her won’t disable him/her at all. And neither one does anything to control the suspect’s hands. Safer and more effective options include driving hard into the suspect from behind, employing a TaserTM, or, safest of all when possible, following the offender until he/she stops, and then staying back, taking cover, and calling for backup. Another option is deadly force, of course, but only when necessary and legally justified.
For a more detailed discussion of the options for apprehending the offender, see this issue’s “Officer Down” or click here.