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Officer in Trouble: Should I Shoot?


It’s just another day in your busy life when you realize you need to head to the nearby big-box store for some badly needed cleaning supplies. After a short internal debate, you decide that even though this is a short trip, you will take your pistol.

The parking lot is packed with cars and pedestrians heading in every direction. You locate a suitable parking spot not too far from the door and make your way inside. As you approach the door, you notice a shabby-looking guy sitting just to the right of the entrance, rocking back and forth and muttering. You give him a wide berth and continue on your mission.

After about 15 minutes — because you are a Type-A shopper — you are checked out and headed toward the door. You see a crowd has gathered and hear people screaming and shouting. Some are hollering, “Get off him!” At least one man is screaming, “Beat his ass!” And a third is saying something about police brutality.

Officer in Trouble

There is a marked police cruiser nearby, and as you try to walk past minding your own business, the crowd parts just enough for you to see an incredibly violent struggle taking place at the center of the crowd. You stop for a better look and realize something very serious is happening here. The scent of OC spray is in the air and you see the coiled wires of TASER probes being dragged around as the fight continues. The spectators, possibly sensing that things are getting really dangerous, begin to back away as the officer struggles to get the subject under control. You recognize the man as the same guy who was sitting on the ground muttering when you walked in.

With a twisting motion, the man fighting with the officer is able to break one hand free and deliver a crushing blow to the officer’s face. Instantly following the punch, the subject drives the officer hard into the wall, and you hear the cop’s head hit the brick just as she slumps forward.

The attacker clearly now has the upper hand. As the officer begins to fall forward from the debilitating blow to her head, the attacker reaches for her belt and begins tugging at something. You see the criminal pulling on the officer’s holster as she struggles to control her gun. But the attacker sees another weapon and grabs the cop’s expandable baton. He flicks it open and begins beating the officer on the back and upside her already bloody head. She is trying to shield herself from the blows but is clearly stunned and unable to fight.

Your Options:

  • Reach for your phone and call 911 to report that an officer is in trouble.
  • Charge forward and tackle the man who is swinging the baton.
  • Draw your pistol and order the man to stop the assault.
  • Draw your pistol and fire immediately.

Things to Consider

You have watched this fight unfold and know clearly what is happening. You don’t know why they are fighting — and it really doesn’t matter at this point — but the police officer has, for all intents and purposes, lost the fight. And the attacker is not running away but is rather pressing the attack. The injuries to the officer already appear serious, and her ability to defend herself is greatly reduced.

Being a Good Witness

Calling 911 at this point is a double-edged sword. Doing so might not bring help to the officer in time to save her. She likely has already radioed for backup, but you can’t know this for certain, and you don’t know how far away that help is. If you make the call, you have tied up at least one of your hands should you decide to intervene in the fight. You are also using valuable time — time this officer may not have — to explain to the dispatcher what is happening and where you are. And again, the dispatcher may have this information from other callers.

Jumping Into the Fight

What about jumping into a physical fight? The attacker is armed with a baton. Some people will say “only” a baton, but if you have ever been struck with one, you will never say “only” a baton. A full-on bull rush and flying tackle will likely put the attacker on the ground, but now you are wrapped up with someone willing and able to actively and effectively fight with a cop. What will that person do to you during such a struggle? There are myriad things to think about before deciding to engage in such a fight. Not only could this person, armed with a baton, overpower you and begin assaulting you, but what are you rushing into? Is this person carrying contaminated needles for drug use? Is this person infected with any sort of communicable disease such as hepatitis or HIV? Could there be a transfer of blood-borne pathogens during a violent struggle on the ground?

What will you do if you “get control” of this person during the fight? You don’t have any means of restraining a violent person, so that means you are stuck holding on for dear life until help arrives. And what about that help on the way? Police officers responding to a call of an officer in trouble are coming in hot. When they get there and see you rolling around on the ground near an injured officer, you can bet your initial treatment might be pretty rough — at least until they figure out what is going on. By then, you will already be in cuffs, face down on the ground.

Drawing Your Gun and Giving Commands

Yes, giving a clear verbal challenge is typically a good option. It proves to the investigators you gave the attacker a chance to stop and comply before you started shooting to stop the threat. But giving such commands takes time. During the time you start yelling, the attacker could hit the officer at least once more. While you wait to see if there is a response, there could be another strike. Once you realize the attacker does not care what you are saying, the officer could have absorbed three or four more blows before you take action.

Drawing Your Gun and Immediately Firing

Based on what you have seen and what you know of the law, the attacker is clearly presenting an imminent deadly threat. You very likely have the legal right to fire, even without offering a verbal challenge. But you have some very important things to consider as you reach for your gun and look for the front sight.

Do you remember the three factors needed to take a shot? Target acquisition? Check. You see a clear target in front of you. Target identification? Check. This target is clearly presenting an imminent deadly threat, and you know this for certain. Target isolation? Hold your fire! If you shoot at this person, is this the only person you will hit with your rounds? In this sort of setting, you must have good target isolation to make sure your shots do not hit bystanders. Can you get a clean shot off and not hit the officer? Is there anyone in the background? Is there anyone moving in from the sides to help the cop? Can you change your elevation to get a safer shot? What if you kneel down and shoot at a more upward angle? You certainly won’t hit the cop on the ground, and if you miss, your shots will likely go over the heads of the bystanders. But those projectiles will come down somewhere. So don’t miss. Consider moving closer to the target to get a better shot.

What Now?

On top of all this, you need to consider your actions after this incident — especially if you decide to shoot.

The police are coming. You know that. If the officer wasn’t able to call for backup, someone in the crowd very likely did. And you can bet that once you start shooting, someone is going to call the cops. You need to be ready for their response. You also need to be ready for the response from the crowd.

After any shooting, you need to move to a position of tactical advantage. Don’t just stand there. You may want to move to an area where your back is protected. You never know if the person you just shot has a friend who might lash out at you. Or there might be an anti-cop social justice warrior standing in the crowd shooting cellphone video, waiting for a chance to lash out.

As the police arrive, put your gun down and follow orders to the letter. Move slowly. Ask for clarification if police officers say anything you don’t understand. Keep your hands up, open and still.

This Is a Big Decision

Wading into a fight that you otherwise have no part in always requires forethought and clear-headed decision-making. But you don’t always have lots of time to think and make those decisions. You need to think about this stuff well before you are presented with such a situation. There is no single “bright line” defining exactly what you should do. The details of every situation are different, and each situation is dynamic.

You happen upon a police officer in trouble and clearly losing a fight — in a situation that could end with her death. What would you do? Should you shoot?

About Kevin Michalowski

Executive Editor of Concealed Carry Magazine Kevin Michalowski is a USCCA and NRA Certified Trainer and is a graduate of the Force Science Institute Certification Course. He has participated in training as both an instructor and a student in multiple disciplines. Kevin is also a fully certified law enforcement officer working part time for a small agency in rural Wisconsin.

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