Strategies to Protect Rural Cops From Being Ambushed by Extremists

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Rural cops are more likely to be ambushed by extremists. Law enforcement experts suggest strategies to protect officers on patrol.

In 2016, the self-described “Imperial Wizard” of the American White Knights of the KKK, Joseph Harper donned a gas mask and body armor and ambushed Dooly County, Georgia, deputies before committing suicide. From 2009 to 2016, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) documented 60 violent incidents between right-wing extremists and law enforcement officers.

Daryl Johnson, a former senior Homeland Security analyst and consultant on domestic terrorism, told ThinkProgress that far-right extremists have a justified, attack-oriented mentality. “They believe their beliefs are the true beliefs,” he said. “They’ve prepared their entire lives for encounter with police; they have a plan on how to escape and how to agitate.”

Police agencies view groups like the Phineas Priesthood and other domestic terror groups as posing the greatest threats of violence. Also, white supremacist groups, like those that descended on Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017, are not only on the rise, but are responsible for more attacks than any other domestic extremist movement, according to Policeone.

Mark Pitcavage, an expert on extremism for the ADL who also discussed attacks on police by right-wing extremists with ThinkProgress, said that extremist threat actors with hatred of law enforcement pose particular danger to police officers in more rural areas because they are more likely to be by themselves on duty.

Patrol in Pairs

2016 was a busy year for attacks on cops, from Sanibel, Florida, to Dallas, Texas, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to Salt Lake City, Utah and beyond. While a single officer usually is assigned to a squad car — the norm for expanding the reach of local police manpower to respond to ‘routine calls’ — major cities then began to double up following the spate of officer attacks, according to Policeone.

“While it is true that there have been several ambush attacks targeting multiple officers, the overwhelming majority of ambush murders of our coppers have occurred when the LEO was alone,” wrote Doug Wylie, suggesting that a pair of cops can use good contact-and-cover tactics and are better protected against sudden attack.

He argued that routine calls by the solo-officer squad without backup available are just as dangerous as felony stops — “a solo officer looking at anything else but their surroundings briefly forfeit at least some of their situational awareness,” he wrote.

Wylie went on to say that while some agencies don’t have the staffing for two-officer patrols, cost control measures could be sought to increase funding for police officer recruitment.

Follow 10 Steps to Prevent Squad Car Ambush

Confinement in a squad car can make it difficult to prepare for ambush, according to Travis Yates, a police department commander in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He offered the following ten steps to help police officers reduce risk of ambush while on patrol:

1. Do paperwork in a secure location where citizens cannot approach a squad car.
2. Know your escape plan and park for a rapid exit.
3. Increase situational awareness — check mirrors often and observe those around the area.
4. Make sure you aren’t being followed — a few left turns will help you identify potential danger.
5. Avoid using the same routes daily.
6. Scan parking lots and intersections as you enter them.
7. Make eye contact with others and pay particular attention to those that avoid looking at you.
8. Be cautious when cars stop suddenly in front of you or when they fail to pull completely off the road when they stop.
9. Watch how suspects exit their vehicle — if they leave their door open, that could be an indication of running back to their car.
10. Never let someone approach you while you are sitting in your patrol car.

Yates also suggested scenario-based training for driving out of a vehicle ambush situation.

About the author

Andrea Fox

Andrea Fox

Andrea Fox is Editor of and Senior Editor at Praetorian Digital. She is based in Massachusetts.