OFFICER DOWN : Vehicle Ambush!: The Josh Shemenski/Kevin Stevens Incident



Vehicle Ambush!: The Josh Shemenski/Kevin Stevens Incident
By Brian McKenna

Deputies Josh Shemenski and Kevin Stevens were barely three hours into their shift when they spotted the black Passat backed into a driveway on the left side of the highway that wound its way through perhaps the most remote, meth-infested corner of the county. The clear afternoon sun reflected dully off the car’s grimy exterior, making it hard to see inside, but the driver’s window was down. They could see the driver, an older gruff-looking man, looking back at them from behind the wheel. Although neither deputy knew him, the man was Richard Kenneth Cooper, a bad-tempered meth user with a violent past and lengthy arrest record. They had no way of knowing it now, but they would later learn that he was waiting there to confront a man who he suspected of making moves on his girlfriend. He raised one hand in a nervous half-wave and stared back at them through beady eyes as they drove past him in their marked patrol car.
The deputies glanced over at one another, but Stevens spoke first. “He’s up to no good,” he said, verbalizing what they both already knew.

Though they barely knew each other, Shemenski and Stevens were like-minded in many ways—aggressive, safety-oriented, and dedicated to fighting crime—and it showed. This was their first day working as partners, both having been chosen for their department’s newly formed Special Enforcement Team because of their dedication and hard work, and they had already spent most of their time discussing the most important aspects of their new partnership—officer safety, tactics, and how best to work together as a team.

Cooper was already on the move. They had barely rolled past him when he shot out of the driveway, turned left onto the highway, and sped away. “That’s not gonna stop us from pulling him over,” Shemenski thought as he braked to stop and swung into a quick a U-turn. By the time he came out of the turn, he could see Cooper well ahead of them, starting to turn left onto a narrow, winding road that led deep into the rough, heavily forested hills beyond. He snatched up his microphone, put out the pursuit, followed the Passat around the corner, and then through a curve. As he came out of the curve, he could see that Cooper was still pulling away. He pressed down on the gas pedal, his engine now roaring, and was rapidly closing the gap when the Volkswagen made a hard right into a small gravel parking area on the right. The lot was absent any structures save a crumbling barn on its far side, partially nestled into the hilly woodline beyond. There was a narrow, heavily wooded dirt pathway, barely wide enough to accommodate a car, which circled around to the left behind the barn and appeared to exit near the highway on the other side. Cooper was heading directly for it.

Shemenski was just seconds behind, his attention now fully focused on catching his prey. The powerful cruiser tore across the loosely graveled parking lot toward the path as Cooper disappeared behind the barn. Both the parking lot and pathway were still moist from a recent rain, making them hard to traverse at high speed, and now Shemenski had to brake on the rain-softened pathway in order to make the turn behind the barn. He managed that task well enough, but just as he started rounding the corner, everything changed in a heartbeat.
Stevens, whose position in the passenger seat allowed him to see what lay around the corner before Shemenski did, flinched, his arms coming up as if to push an invisible assailant away.

Shemenski saw the flinch out of the corner of his eye, glanced that way; then instantly turned his attention forward again just in time to see the back of the dusty black Passat—now stopped—suddenly looming ahead. With his attention now zeroed in on stopping before he slammed into the Passat, Shemenski hit the brakes.

Everything was happening at once in a frantic whirlwind of blazing action: Shemenski jolting to a stop just behind the car, slamming the gear shift into Park, instinctively grabbing his mic. Cooper standing next to the Passat’s driver’s door, a huge grey mustache spread across his hardened face, madly yelling something inaudible. Cooper’s elbows high and out to his sides, his hands holding a long gun pointed at Shemenski, the bead sight atop its wide muzzle instantly identifying it as a shotgun. Shemenski thinking, “Is this real? No, it’s real! I need to do something!” A large chunk of windshield suddenly exploding into a tight spider web just in front of Shemenski as Cooper fires, its blast unheard by the startled deputy. An unthinkable thought crossing Shemenski’s mind: “My God, Kevin just got smoked!” Ear-splitting gunfire filling the cruiser as Stevens’ Glock blazes away at the gunman through the windshield. Shemenski trying to bail out as he had been trained to do; his hand missing the door handle on his first try and slipping off of it on his second. It wouldn’t do any good anyway; the door is blocked by the dense foliage of a fir tree next to it. Shemenski’s own Glock in his right hand, his lower forearm coming to rest at the 2 o’clock position on the steering wheel. Shemenski’s Glock now coming alive with return fire. Ears ringing as Shemenski’s brisk gunfire mingles with Stevens’. Stevens shouting, “Back up! Get the f__k outa here!” Shemenski reaching behind the steering wheel for the gear shift lever with his left hand while returning fire with his right. Shemenski grabbing the lever and slamming it into Reverse. Glass spewing everywhere, one solitary piece seeming to float by as it passed behind the steering wheel from right to left. Cooper diving off to the right and scampering out of view. Shemenski feathering the gas to keep the tires from digging into the mud and trapping them there. The tires catching hold, propelling the cruiser backward along the same path it had followed into the ambush.

Relieved, Shemenski continued backing up to the other side of the parking lot and stopped. Though deafened by the gunfire-induced ringing in their ears, the deputies immediately started coordinating their actions. After exiting their respective sides of the patrol car, they backed up to positions of cover behind it, guns still drawn while scanning ahead for any signs of Cooper. Then, with Stevens standing guard, Shemenski retrieved his AR15 from the trunk and they checked themselves for wounds. Finding none except for several cuts from flying glass, they called for assistance and then discussed what to do next. But it wasn’t easy. The thundering ringing in their ears, coupled with a communications system that was woefully inadequate for use in this remote corner of the county, made it very hard to use the radio, and they had to rely on shouting, head nods, and other gestures for face-to-face communications. After making sure help was on the way, Shemenski made it clear that he wanted to go back to find Cooper, but Stevens disagreed. Though just as aggressive as Shemenski, his tactical training had taught him that following an armed suspect into the unknown without adequate assistance was highly unlikely to succeed, not to mention exceedingly dangerous. Out of respect for Stevens’ experience and training, Shemenski yielded and they decided to withdraw to better cover instead.
After leapfrogging down the road a short way and pausing briefly to cover one another as each one reloaded and retrieved his partially empty magazine, they came to a spot that afforded them reasonably good cover. Shemenski took up a position behind the crest of a small hill on the right side of the road and Stevens took cover behind a power pole on the other side. From their respective positions, they were able to cover one another while also scanning ahead for any evidence of Cooper’s location. But it took another half hour for help to arrive, and Cooper was long gone by then.


Primarily because of the way windshields deflect the trajectory of bullets fired through them—but also because he moved so quickly to escape and was just plain lucky—Cooper managed to flee the scene without injury. But he wasn’t so lucky when it came to escaping arrest. After a 24-hour manhunt he was located in a nearby residence deep in the woods and arrested without further incident. He subsequently pleaded guilty to assaulting a peace officer with a firearm and was sentenced to 28 years in prison.
Except for the glass cuts they suffered, neither deputy was hurt. Despite having driven into an ambush, they had escaped unscathed by aggressively returning fire from inside their cruiser. Remarkably, this wouldn’t be the last time Deputy Shemenski would have to open fire from behind the wheel. It would happen again 18 months later in an incident that will be the subject of our next Officer Down.

Deputies Shemenski and Stevens were drawn into an ambush that left them with no alternative but to shoot back through their windshield, and Shemenski would soon find himself doing so again. This irony is indicative of a growing trend in assaults against police officers. The percentage of officers murdered in ambushes has been steadily rising, and a good many of these ambushes have occurred while the victim officer was driving, arriving on the scene of a call, stopped in traffic or parked. Considering this disturbing trend, it is essential to be tactically prepared and trained to return fire from behind the wheel and otherwise counter vehicle ambushes.

The following analysis will address this point in greater detail, as well as a number of other crucial lessons from this incident—lessons that can save lives. Before you read the analysis, however, please review the following discussion questions and work through your own answers.
Stay safe.



  1. Though ordinarily cautious and alert, Deputy Shemenski’s enthusiasm for catching his prey interfered with his ability to assess the risks involved, and drew him into a near-fatal ambush. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon problem, especially with aggressive, task-oriented officers like Shemenski.
    Click here for analysis
  2. Deputies Shemenski and Stevens responded immediately to Cooper’s vehicle ambush by returning fire through the windshield, and then quickly backing out of the hot zone to a position of greater safety. What other tactical options are there for responding to this kind of attack?
    Click here for analysis
  3. Considering the growing threat from vehicle ambushes, how important is it to train to respond effectively to them? Should the training include shooting from inside vehicles? Should it include live fire through windshields? What other tactics should be included?
    Click here for analysis
  4. Besides the fact that he had taken the initiative to practice drawing from the driver’s seat on his own, there were two other factors that contributed to Deputy Shemenski’s ability to return fire so quickly—the outstanding design of his holster and how well it suited him personally. What does this say about the importance of allowing officers to choose a holster that works well for them? What about the guns they carry?
    Click here for analysis
  5. Deputies Shemenski and Stevens immediately launched an aggressive counterattack in response to Cooper’s ambush. How important is it to respond immediately and aggressively when under attack? Why?
    Click here for analysis
  6. The fact that Deputies Shemenski and Stevens suffered temporary deafness that hampered their ability to communicate highlights the need to have an alternative to verbal communications. What does this say about the value of tactical hand signals? Would it be worth the effort to learn them?
    Click here for analysis
  7. In what ways did Deputies Shemenski and Stevens demonstrate winning mindset?
    Click here for analysis




Misdirected Focus
Deputy Shemenski is an aggressive, enforcement-oriented deputy. While these are desirable traits for any law officer to possess, they can sometimes lead to dangerous decisions. In Deputy Shemenski’s case, they caused him to overlook safety concerns as he engaged in the pursuit and then followed Cooper behind the barn. Though ordinarily cautious and alert, his enthusiasm for catching his prey interfered with his ability to assess the risks involved, and drew him into a near-fatal ambush. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon problem. It’s only natural for aggressive, task-oriented officers to become intensely focused on apprehending offenders, and this enthusiasm can sometimes override caution. This is not to say that officers shouldn’t be aggressive about apprehending offenders, but that goal should never take priority over safety.
The best way to combat this problem is to make a conscious effort to always stay focused on safety as our first priority. Make a habit of always asking yourself questions like: “What is there about this situation that makes me vulnerable and what can I do about it?” and “What can go wrong here; what will I do if it does?” Besides increasing situational awareness and helping you plan ahead, this will help keep your emotions in check so they won’t negatively influence your actions. The key is to continually ask these kinds of questions on every call you handle and every street contact you make, regardless how “routine” it may appear to be. When done repeatedly, this will eventually become a mental habit that helps keep your mind free of unwanted emotions, open to new information, and adaptable to changing circumstances, all of which are vital to officer safety. Once this “game” has become thoroughly ingrained as a habit, it is still best to continue “playing” it regularly at the conscious level, but it will still be “playing” at the subconscious level even when you don’t. This in turn provides a vital safety cushion for those times when you are not mentally at your best.

Return to Question 1

Vehicle Ambush Tactics
Like many officers, Deputy Shemenski wasn’t aware of how often vehicle ambushes are used to kill and assault police officers during traffic stops and pursuits. It is a favorite tactic used by streetwise predators who understand the tactical advantages of an ambush and how easy it is to draw a pursuing officer into one. They know they can stop after rounding a blind corner, or suddenly slam on their brakes while being followed, and then exit their vehicle and open fire while the officer’s attention is still focused on avoiding an accident. This is essentially what Cooper did, except at a much lower speed than normal for this kind of attack.

There are several options for countering this threat, but only if you are aware of the danger and ready with a plan. Although most assailants apply this tactic after rounding a blind corner, some simply brake suddenly when the officer gets too close or start to pull over normally and then slam on their brakes as the officer pulls up behind him. To further throw the officer off balance, some offenders avoid illuminating their brake lights by using their parking brakes instead. Another variation of this tactic eliminates the sudden stop altogether. Instead, the attacker stops normally, but then immediately leaps from his vehicle and rushes the officer before he can react. Keep your distance and anticipate this possibility every time you make a traffic stop or engage in a pursuit. Like the habit of focusing on safety first, this mindset can become a habit through persistent repetition over time, and it’s a habit well worth developing.

But awareness of the threat isn’t enough. You need a plan. Usually, your best recourse is to immediately exit the hot zone; then exit your unit, take cover, and prepare to return fire. There are three basic tactics for doing this. The best choice for any given situation will depend upon the circumstances, but all are designed to catch your assailant off guard while simultaneously improving your tactical position:

Accelerate Forward Out of the Hot Zone
Immediately duck down low and accelerate around the suspect’s vehicle to a location several car lengths beyond. This maneuver will move you to a safer location, surprise your assailant, and make you a fast moving target if he tries to shoot you. After you are well past the suspect vehicle, stop your squad car with its front end angled sharply to the right. This will allow you to exit your car with its body between you and the suspect while also blocking his most likely escape route. After exiting, move to the front of your unit to take advantage of the engine block for cover. From there, you can keep a visual on the area from a position of relative safety while awaiting assistance and/or return fire if necessary. If good roadside cover is within easy reach, consider using that instead of your car. Roadside cover is often preferable, especially if you can get to it undetected, because the suspect will probably expect you to remain with your car and will direct his fire toward it.

Run Down Your Attacker
Duck down in your seat and run him down. This is often the best option because it is so simple and direct, and can be executed immediately. An automobile’s size, weight and speed make it a very effective weapon, and the sight of it hurtling straight at him will often force your assailant to stop shooting and jump out of the way. Even if he keeps shooting, it will probably cause him to rush his shots with a significant loss in accuracy.

Back Out of the Hot Zone
Stop immediately, slide down as low as you can in your seat, drop the transmission into Reverse, and back away as quickly as possible to a safer position. This may not be your best option because it takes more time than the other two, Reverse may be hard to find under stress, and you may have traffic behind you with which to contend. Nevertheless, it has been used with great success in several incidents in the past, and is clearly preferable to staying where you are when circumstances prevent you from moving forward.

However, it isn’t always possible to drive out of the hot zone. In this case for example, Cooper was already out of his car waiting to ambush the deputies even before they spotted him, they couldn’t accelerate forward, and the wet terrain and cramped spaces made it very difficult to back up quickly. Under the circumstances, immediate return fire was the only reasonable alternative, and, since the adjacent trees blocked their doors, the only way to shoot back was through the windshield.

Return to Question 2

The best way to learn this skill is by drawing from behind the wheel of a junked car with its windshield removed and its front seat area equipped with discarded radios, MDTs, gun racks, etc. Since there is an increased risk of an accidental discharge while drawing from the driver’s seat, start the training with slow, deliberate draws using inert training guns, and then work up to full speed. Then move on to AirSoft and/or Simunitions.TM Once a high level of proficiency has been reached at this stage, live fire should begin, again starting slowly and gradually increasing to full speed. Finally, considering the risk of striking an obstruction during the draw, the importance of leaving the finger off the trigger and outside the trigger guard until on target and ready to fire must also be given even greater emphasis than normal throughout every level of this training.

It is also important to experience what it’s like to discharge a firearm inside a vehicle, and to understand how angled windshield glass affects accuracy. This can be done during the live fire stage of the training by setting secondhand windshields in the empty windshield opening, shooting through them, and then replacing them with other used windshields as needed. Ideally, the windshields should be the same as those used in your agency’s current patrol cars, because the angle of the glass is the most crucial element in determining how much effect it has on the trajectory of bullets fired through it. However, it is seldom possible and may be prohibitively expensive. A less expensive alternative is to use damaged windshields purchased from, or preferably donated by, a local auto glass repair shop. In that case, use windshields that are slanted at an angle as close as possible to those used in your patrol cars.

A good example of the importance of practicing shooting through windshields is the number of times Deputies Shemenski and Stevens missed their target. Out of the 21 or more shots fired by the two deputies (12 by Shemenski and 11–13 by Stevens), none found their mark. Most likely, this was because neither one of them had ever been trained to shoot from inside a patrol car. Besides never having experience, the intensity of gunfire within the tight confines of an automobile, they had never seen how much the angled laminated glass of a windshield defects the path of a bullet. This last point is crucial, because the deflection can be considerable when the round is fired through the sharply angled glass of a windshield. While there are too many variables involved in shooting through windshield glass to establish any hard and fast rules about how it affects accuracy, the rule of thumb is that the bullet will hit as much as 12 inches high and 6 inches to the right of the point of aim when striking a target 8–10 feet from the windshield.

However, it is best not to depend on a rule of thumb when it comes to something as important as accuracy, which is another reason why every officer should practice firing through windshields, and preferably at targets at various ranges and positions in front of the windshields. Finally, live fire drills should include firing several rounds through the same spot on the windshield. While it is too much to expect officers to fire multiple rounds through precisely the same hole, putting them through the drastically weakened shattered area around an existing bullet hole will substantially reduce the windshield’s effect on the bullet’s path, thus improving accuracy considerably. This kind of essential information needs to be acquired and during training, not when under fire on the street (see Ken Hardesty’s article, “Fighting Back From Behind the Wheel,” for a more detailed discussion of how to train to fight from inside your vehicle).

It is interesting to note that, although Deputy Shemenski had never been formally trained in how to return fire from the driver’s seat, he had given himself some informal training in the technique. About 18 months earlier, he had seen a dash cam video in which an officer had been shot while still inside his patrol car. The video had started him thinking about the problem, and a short time later he found a secluded location, unloaded and double checked his gun to make sure it was empty, and practiced drawing while seat-belted into the driver’s seat. The training had been brief (only about 5–10 minutes), but it had stuck with him and he is convinced that it paid off during the shooting. He had drawn smoothly and quickly despite his seatbelt, maneuvered his gun smoothly around the steering wheel, and returned fire very quickly despite the stress. (Deputy Stevens also performed very well, but he had a little more time to react and no steering wheel to get in his way.) While well-structured formal training would have been far superior to Deputy Shemenski’s brief practice, this case shows that self-taught techniques can pay off in a crisis if done properly.

One last note regarding training for vehicle ambushes: It is also important to train in how to drive out of the hot zone, as that is a safer option than shooting from behind the wheel when circumstances permit. The skills required to accelerate forward out of the hot zone are not especially difficult to develop, but like any other potentially life-saving skill, they should be practiced in a safe training environment before they are needed on the street. More training is required for backing out of the hot zone, however, because we don’t practice backing up often, and we never do it at high speeds, while ducking down in our seat, or when unsure about what’s behind us. Also, since we seldom, if ever, have to shift into Reverse under stress, the training should include shifting into Reverse from both Drive and Park, but only after coming to a full stop to avoid damaging the transmission. For the same reason, the shifting should be done at low speed at first, with the speed increased gradually as we become more proficient at it.

Obviously, since it would be dangerous to conduct this training with two moving automobiles, traffic cones or other “soft” stationary objects must be used to simulate the “suspect vehicle.” While the use of a static “suspect vehicle” makes it impossible to surprise the trainee by stopping suddenly, a significant amount of surprise can be injected into the exercise by placing the cones just around a corner, and then blocking the trainee’s view of them with traffic barrels along the approach route. Since the trainee can’t see the cones until just before he reaches them, their sudden appearance will catch him off guard and force him to make an instantaneous decision about how to deal with them. Stress can then be added by gradually increasing the speed at which these maneuvers are executed and/or using more cones to simulate additional obstacles to avoid (or intentionally strike if meant to simulate an attacker) during the maneuver.

EVOC training can also be helpful in this regard, as can be seen in this shooting. Deputy Shemenski believes that he was able to maneuver quickly and effectively over the wet ground while backing out of the hot zone because he had just completed EVOC instructor training a month and a half before. As is often the case with good training, he had acquired both the vital skills and the self-confidence needed to perform well under pressure.

Return to Question 3

Choice of Equipment
Besides the fact that he had taken the initiative to practice drawing from the driver’s seat on his own, there were two other factors that contributed to Deputy Shemenski’s ability to return fire so quickly during the ambush—the outstanding design of his holster and how well it suited him personally. He had chosen the holster—a Safariland Model 6360 ALS®—primarily because it was one of the few level III holsters available for his Glock 22 with its tactical light attached, but as things turned out, it also happened to be very easy for him to use. Despite the fact that it was a level III holster, its release system worked so well for him that he was able to draw the gun almost intuitively, and with excellent fluidity and speed. Such speed and ease of draw in a level III holster is rare, which says a lot for the design of the Safariland 6360, but it’s also true that every individual is different. What works well for one person may not be well suited to another. Considering the importance of being able to draw fluidly under the incredible stress and severe time constraints of a gunfight, one minor mistake during the draw may prove fatal. Therefore, rather than insisting on uniformity as many police agencies do, it is far more important for officers to be able to draw quickly and flawlessly from the holsters they wear. Certainly, the agency should set minimum standards regarding the quality, reliability and security of its officers’ holsters, but beyond that, every officer should be able to choose the one that works best for him.

Similarly, officers should be given a lot of latitude in choosing the firearm they carry. They must be able to get solid hits as quickly as possible with a minimal number of misses, and the best way to do that is to fit each officer as closely as possible with the gun he carries, again within minimum standards set by the department regarding quality, caliber, etc. Officer safety and the safety of the citizens we serve demand it. Despite the argument that uniformity in side arms is necessary because of the rare need to share magazines during an extended gunfight and administrative concerns like the ease of purchasing only one kind of ammo, replacement parts, holsters, etc., the need to maximize speed and accuracy is far more important.

Return to Question 4

Aggressive Counterattack
Things like awareness, mental preparation, and proper tactics are all essential to officer safety, but once the fight starts, there is nothing more important than an immediate, aggressive counterattack. Although many of us instinctively know this to be true, it is important to understand why. The answer lies in the four critical steps that must be taken in order to respond to any threat.

Since we can’t respond to a threat we can’t see, Step 1 is to observe the threat. The second step is to identify and understand the threat for what it is, and the more accurately we can do that, the better. Third, we must decide what to do about the threat, which in law enforcement includes determining what level of force is legally justified as well as the specific action needed. Finally, we must execute our action plan. All these steps take precious time. The time it takes to progress through these four steps is short, but milliseconds can make the difference between life and death in a gunfight.

Likewise, our attacker must follow four very similar steps to complete his attack. First, he must detect our presence, and second, he must identify who we are and how much of a threat we are to his present goal(s). Third, he must decide what to do; e.g., submit, resist, initiate a lethal attack, etc. This decision is easier for an offender bent on violence than it is for us, because he isn’t prone to thinking about how he will justify his actions later. Finally, he must execute his plan.

This presents a serious problem for law enforcement, because action is always faster than reaction. In almost every case, the offender is already in the action phase of his attack (step 4) before the officer even has a chance to detect it (Step 1), thus causing the officer to lag dangerously behind. There are exceptions to this, of course, but is a nearly universal problem that regularly puts officers at a severe disadvantage.

But this is where an aggressive counterattack comes into play. By counterattacking, we disrupt his plan of attack, and anything that disrupts his plan even slightly will force him to come up with a new plan (return to his Step 3) and then execute it (return to his Step 4) in response to our actions. This takes time, thereby forcing him into a position where he will have to play catch-up. He must now react (progress through all four steps) to our actions (our Step 4) rather than forcing us to react to his. It also forces him to think faster under heightened stress, which increases the chances that he will make a mental or physical mistake.

In this case, for example, Deputies Shemenski and Stevens were caught off guard by Cooper’s ambush, but responded immediately with an overwhelming hail of return fire that turned the tables on Cooper. Now no longer the aggressor and forced to react to the deputies’ actions rather than the other way around, he didn’t have time to weigh other options or come up with another plan. So he simply followed his instincts, and turned and fled. Though neither deputy scored any hits, the end result was a rapid and very effective termination of what could otherwise have been a deadly surprise attack. No matter how bad things get, fight back and keep fighting until the threat is neutralized.
Return to Question 5

Hearing Loss
Both deputies suffered temporary hearing loss from the ringing in their ears brought on by their gunfire, and it created a communication problem for them. No longer able to communicate verbally, they had to slow down and deal with the distraction and confusion of trying to communicate through lip reading and hand gestures. Fortunately, this problem didn’t negatively affect the outcome, but it does point to the need for an effective way to communicate non-verbally. Besides temporary deafness from gunfire, there may be times when officers can’t hear due to other loud noises or a long distance between them, and other times when tactical considerations make it necessary to maintain silence. While it would be unrealistic to expect officers to learn every tactical hand signal possible, it’s a good idea to learn some of the key ones, especially now that the proliferation of active killer incidents is amplifying the need for coordinated team tactics.

It is beyond the scope of this analysis to list and describe all the various tactical hand signals, but even when formal training isn’t available they can be readily self-learned with a reasonable amount of effort and practice. An Internet search for the phrase “tactical hand signals” will yield a wealth of information, including illustrations that can be used as a basis for self-training, and even training videos on the subject. Of course, since hand signals are virtually useless if others don’t know them, it’s essential to see to it that as many of your fellow officers as possible are trained as well. Ideally, every officer should receive the training.

Return to Question 6

Winning Mindset
Both deputies clearly possessed a winning mindset. Despite being caught in an ambush, they kept their cool and unhesitatingly counterattacked with heavy return fire. Later, in spite of their temporary deafness, they coordinated their actions to contain the situation the best they could within their limited resources, thus demonstrating their willingness to keep their natural aggressiveness under control in favor of making an objectively sound tactical decision. As was mentioned at the start of this analysis, while aggressiveness is a desirable trait for police officers to possess, it can lead to poor decisions. Like any emotion, it needs to be channeled properly. In this case, considering how hard it would have been to find Cooper after he had disappeared into the woods, it would not have been worth the risk to try it. By making the right decision here, Stevens and Shemenski proved that they understood the importance of objectively weighing risks versus benefits before committing to any risky course of action.

Furthermore, by using the three hours before the shooting to discuss tactics, they proved that getting the job done safely and effectively was their top priority. As it turned out, their discussion didn’t impact the outcome directly, but it probably had a positive impact on their ability to coordinate their actions after exiting the hot zone. More importantly, however, it demonstrated their commitment to winning. Deputy Shemenski’s efforts to train himself to shoot from the driver’s seat after viewing the dash cam video of the officer being shot inside his cruiser is a further example of this winning attitude. He took note of the danger, accepted it, and then put out the effort to do something about it. It wasn’t a perfect solution, but he did what he could, and it paid off when he ran into Cooper’s ambush. Winners don’t just wait for something to happen. They face reality, anticipate potential dangers, honestly assess their skills and shortcomings, and take action to correct any deficiencies they find. They are realists, and dedicated enough to overcome any obstacles that may threaten their safety or the safety of others.

Return to Question 7


  • Our natural enthusiasm for apprehending offenders should never be allowed to take priority over safety. The best way to ensure that this doesn’t happen is to develop the habit of always focusing on safety as our top priority.
  • Tactical options for responding to a vehicle ambush are accelerating forward out of the hot zone, running down your attacker, backing out of the hot zone, and immediately returning fire from behind the wheel.
  • Because of the growing threat from vehicle ambushes, officers should be thoroughly trained in the various tactics for dealing with them. This training should be comprised of various options for driving out of the hot zone and shooting from inside vehicles, including live fire through windshields.
  • Considering the importance of being able to draw and shoot quickly and accurately under the stress and time constraints of a gunfight, officers should be given a great deal of latitude in their choice of the holsters they wear and the guns they carry.
  • Once the fight starts, there is nothing more important than an immediate, aggressive counterattack. Always fight back and keep fighting, no matter what.
  • Gunfire and other factors can limit your ability to communicate verbally with your partner, thereby necessitating the use of tactical hand signals. In the absence of formal training in this skill, consider learning it on your own.
  • Key elements of winning mindset include the proper channeling of emotions and a solid commitment to face reality by preparing to deal with the challenges it presents.



The 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)
Cell: 314/941-2651

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 as well as in 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 police 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 only available for purchase on his website. Contact him at or visit his website at

    1. In fact, like most officers, the only training he had received regarding vehicle ambushes was a strong emphasis on bailing out of his cruiser and taking cover behind it before returning fire.
    2. Readers who are familiar with USAF Col. John Boyd’s OODA (Observe-Orient-Decide-Act) Loop concept will probably notice how closely this concept parallels Boyd’s. This because it is essentially a simplified version of the OODA Loop that has been further modified to make it more specifically applicable to sudden police combat.


    1. Bullet holes as seen from outside the deputies’ cruiser. The large hole just in front of the driver’s seat was made by a shotgun blast fired by Cooper.
    2. Figure 1: Deputies Shemenski and Stevens are ambushed as they start to come around the corner of the barn, immediately return fire, and then back out of the hot zone as Cooper flees the scene.
    3. Bullet holes as seen from the driver’s seat of the deputies’ cruiser.
    4. The pathway and corner of the barn where the ambush occurred as seen by the deputies as they slowed to make the turn.
    5. The barn as seen by the deputies as they turned into the parking lot.

Back to Top