Law enforcement officer deaths in the line of duty have dropped to their lowest level in half a century. But the trend of fatal ambush-style officer shootings is up. This naturally has raised concern about officer survivability.
Details of the tragic ambush-execution of four officers in Lakewood (see below) underscore the unavoidable fact that there is no down time for law enforcement personnel today.
Eternal vigilance is the price of survival.
First, the trends from a National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund press release:
Law Enforcement Officer Fatalities 2009: A Tale of Two Trends
Total line-of-duty deaths drop to lowest level in 50 years; firearms-related killings rise 23 percent with five multiple-fatality shootings
WASHINGTON, Dec. 28 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Fewer U.S. law enforcement officers died in the line of duty in 2009 than in any year in the past half century — an encouraging trend tempered by a disturbing increase in the number of officers who were killed by gunfire, many of them in brutal, ambush-style attacks.
As of December 28, 124 law enforcement officers had died in the line of duty from all causes, a 7 percent reduction from the 133 fatalities in 2008, according to preliminary data compiled by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF). The last time officer fatalities were this low was in 1959, when there were 108 line-of-duty deaths.
“This year’s overall reduction in law enforcement deaths was driven largely by a steep, 21 percent drop in the number of officers killed in traffic-related incidents,” reported NLEOMF Chairman and CEO Craig W. Floyd. “However, that bit of good news was overshadowed by an alarming surge in the number of officers killed by gunfire.” According to Mr. Floyd, 48 officers were shot and killed in 2009, compared to 39 in 2008, which represents a 23 percent increase.
More than 30 percent of this year’s fatal shootings — 15 in all — occurred in just five incidents in which more than one officer was gunned down by a single assailant. These multiple-fatality shootings took place in Lakewood, WA (four officers), Oakland, CA (four officers), Pittsburgh, PA (three officers), and Okaloosa County, FL, and Seminole County, OK (two officers each). The 15 officers killed in these multiple-death shootings were the most of any year since 1981, according to Mr. Floyd.
The following is an analysis of the Lakewood (Washington) shootings. (It is not part of the NLEOMF release.) Fairly Civil received similar versions of this account from several sources and believes the following synthesis from multiple sources to be accurate.
These events are a tragic object lesson for law enforcement. They should be an eye-opener for society at large about the risks of law enforcement and the lawlessness of some elements, including in this case not only the murderer, but the group of people who aided him before and after the shooting:
Analysis of Lakewood Ambush
Location. The Forza Coffee shop in which the ambush took place was in a strip mall and owned by a retired Tacoma Police Department officer. It was considered to be a safe place for officers on break or waiting to go on duty.
Department History and Officers. The Lakewood Police Department was recently formed. Almost all of the deputies were hired from the Pierce County (Washington) Sheriff’s Office. Most were sworn deputies, but had primarily worked the jail.
The Scene. All four officers had parked their marked patrol cars in front and were inside, in uniform, drinking coffee and preparing for their shift. They were sitting at a table with their laptop computers open, completing job related paperwork. The table at which they were working was about 15 feet from the check out register at the counter. The officers were working with their heads down.
The Shooter. The assassin in this case was Maurice Clemmons. According to Wikipedia:
Prior to his alleged involvement in the shooting, Clemmons had at least five felony convictions in Arkansas and at least eight felony charges in Washington. His first incarceration began in 1989, at age 17. Facing sentences totaling 108 years in prison, the burglary sentences were reduced in 2000 by Governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee to 47 years, which made him immediately eligible for parole. Clemmons was released in 2000.
Clemmons’s Parole. Huckabee’s explanation was reported in an Arkansas newspaper earlier this month:
Speaking at the Clinton School of Public Service in Little Rock to promote his seventh book, A Simple Christmas, Huckabee said Clemmons would have received “a probated sentence, a $1,000 fine and 20 hours of community service” had he been an “upper-middle-class white kid” rather than a poor black teenager arrested for his first felony when he was 16 in 1989. After a months-long string of robberies and burglaries, as well as carrying a .25-caliber handgun on the Hall High School campus, Clemmons began serving his multiple sentences the next year.
A decade later, Huckabee, governor from 1998 to 2007, shortened Clemmons’ term in prison to 47 years, making possible his immediate parole. The Arkansas Parole Board agreed to release Clemmons not long afterward.
Making two of Clemmons longer sentences run consecutively instead of concurrently was an injustice, Huckabee said, one perpetrated systematically in Arkansas on the basis of a person’s skin color.
Deciding to shorten Clemmons’ prison term, he said, “was not so much based on forgiveness as justice.” “I made my decision on the information that I had,” Huckabee told an audience of 200, “not on the information that was to come.” On Nov. 29, Clemmons, 38, walked into a coffeehouse outside Seattle and killed four uniformed Lakewood, Wash., police officers as they prepared for their shift. One of them wounded Clemmons, whom Seattle police shot and killed two days later.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, December 15, 2009.
The Ambush. Clemmons entered the coffee shop, smiled, and acknowledged the two officers who were facing the entrance. The officers returned Clemmons’s greeting. Clemmons then went to the counter as if he were going to order food.
After stepping up to counter, Clemmons pulled a pistol from under his coat and took a couple of steps toward the table where the officers were seated.
At this point, Clemmons was about 12 feet from the officers.
He shot the first officer, facing him across the table, in the head, killing the officer instantly.
He then shot the officer closest to him (facing away), in the back of the head, also killing the victim instantly.
Clemmons then shot across table at the third officer and missed. He fired a fourth shot, which struck the officer in the face, with instant fatal effect.
The fourth officer was the sergeant. He stood, drew his weapon, and charged Clemmons. The table was knocked over as the sergeant stood up. He grabbed Clemmons by the coat and shot him twice. The first round struck Clemmons in his mid-section and went “through and through.” The second round struck keys in Clemmons’s front pocket, but nevertheless penetrated about 1.5 inches into his thigh.
Clemmons then raised his gun and shot the sergeant in the face. The sergeant fell to the ground. Clemmons knelt over his victim and fired two contact shots, one in each eye. He then took the sergeant’s credit cards and duty weapon.
Clemmons did not rob the coffee shop, nor did he shoot at, hurt, or threaten anyone other than the four officers.
The entire incident lasted only 8 to 10 seconds — approximately 3-5 seconds for the first three shots and another 5-7 seconds of struggle between Clemmons and the sergeant.
The immediate accomplice. An accomplice — alleged to be Darcus D. Allen — was waiting outside. The Seattle Times reported on Allen’s background, which included time in the same prison as Clemmons:
Allen was sentenced to 25 years in prison for a 1990 double murder at a Little Rock liquor store. He was paroled in 2004.
Arkansas prison spokeswoman Dina Tyler says Allen and Clemmons never shared a cell, but lived in the same barracks – along with 50-100 other inmates – at various times during their imprisonment.
Clemmons got into the vehicle and the two left the area.
Tracking Clemmons and Other Accomplices. Federal agents tracked Clemmons by a specific “sophisticated technique” of investigation. At least five more accomplices helped Clemmons before he was shot dead by a Seattle police officer.
Lessons learned. According to one account, the following are “lessons learned” from the Clemmons ambush:
Some lessons to learn from our fallen brothers.
1. Just because you are “off duty” or in a “safe” restaurant, keep your head up and your eyes and ears open.
2. Do not sit close to the register or other focal point (entrance doors, bathrooms, hallways, etc). Try to sit where you can scan the area.
3. Leave devices that distract you, like laptops, etc. in the car.
4. Do your reports and other things that take your mind off your safety, at post or far away from the public.
5. Even at lunch or break, don’t let your guard down. You should always be in condition “yellow.”
6. Keep your distance. Take those lateral steps or diagonal steps and move. It is a lot harder for the bad guy to shoot a moving target, let alone a lot of distance.
7. Each time you train, train as if your life depends on it. When the time comes, you will not arise to the occasion and be a hero, you will fall to the level of your training effort and perform at that level. While I do not think they could have done anything different after the contact, do your best at whatever training you attend. Lose the mentality of “It will never happen to me” and train as you wish to fight, fight like you train.