Dennis J. Stevens, PhD
Ambushed Cop Killers

Ambushed and Killed Cops: Police Officers Under Attack

Cop Killers: Black, Latino, and Asian officers, my research reports, are just as likely to be ambushed by cop killers as white cops. The target is the uniform and what it stands for - defenders of the US Constitution. If someone ambushed a stranger, he or she would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. So what barriers stand in the way of prosecutors in America to do the right thing? On Sunday July 17, 2016 Gavin Long, an African American military veteran, ambushed without provocation and fatally killed three police officers, wounding three officers others in Baton Rouge. According to the newspaper, Long’s motives were unclear, yet it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that Long’s behavior was premediated – the guilty mind – he’s a cold blooded killer. How many others has he killed might be a relevant question. Yet, some say Long’s motives and the motives of other unprovoked cop killers are a response to police brutality directed at African Americans. These incidents among others spurred protests and debate over police use of force across the country.  For instance, gunfire erupted in Dallas after videos showed two African-American men shot by police in Louisiana and Minnesota. A single perpetrator, acting alone, ambushed and intentionally murdered five Dallas police officers, wounding ten other officers, Friday, July 8, 2016. That unprovoked attack upon police officers sent peaceful Black Lives’ Matter protestors scrambling for cover. The Dallas police bomb squad’s robot killed the lone gunman, Micah Xavier Johnson, also a military veteran. A subsequent search of Johnson’s home found bomb-making materials, ballistic vests, rifles, ammunition and a personal journal of combat tactics. Dallas police Chief David Brown, said that “…that this was a well-planned, well-thought-out, evil tragedy."

Other officers were shot and killed by incidents involving African-Americans across the  country. For instance, in the St. Louis area, a police officer was shot in the back by a suspect stopped for a speeding violation. In Valdosta, Georgia, a police officer was shot also on Friday morning by a man who placed a 911 call, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) said. The officer went to an apartment complex to check on a reported car break-in and was shot twice when he exited his patrol vehicle, the GBI reported. 

Police Training and Police Officer Attacks

 Kathy Carson says in her work published recently by The Journal of Law Enforcement that most of us rely on our human instinct or physiological reaction when confronting danger: fight or flight. Police officers, however, are trained to fight or engage. Carson implies that plotters of police murders might utilize police training to their advantage. Another study examined the National Incident-Based Reporting System to compare all incidents in which police officers were victims of firearm violence with a sample of police encounters without firearm violence. What the researchers found was that a variety of offender and situational factors emerged that were not part of previous studies related to resisting arrest by suspects. One implication of their findings is that earlier studies may have been inadequate for a number of reasons beyond the scope of this discussion.

Another researcher analyzed the relationship between moral judgment and perceptions of crime seriousness. Findings show that a strong relationship exists between perceived seriousness of offenses such as police corruption and/or police attacks. What is perceived as moral or immoral often depends on education, ethnicity, and social class. Attacking police officers may not necessarily be considered a crime or immoral for that matter among some segments of the American population.


Motives of Police Attackers


Some researchers studied the circumstances surrounding occupational homicides of law enforcement officers. They studied FBI reports of officers killed between 1996 through 2010. Almost 800 officers were killed while performing police duties. Most of those officers were killed while responding to disturbance calls which is a different scenario than the fatal attacks upon officers in Baton Rouge and Dallas, among others.

Are injuries of suspects because of police brutality, lax restrictions on police pursuits as discussed below, or because as Mona Margarita implies in her study published by the American Academy of Political and Social Science, of the resistance level of suspects? Matthew Logan argues that “violence begets violence.” The more violent a suspect is during an officer-suspect engagement, the more violent an officer behavior. Suspect resistance attempts to justify police brutality other researchers imply. Little question that regardless of the behavior of a suspect, police conduct must conform to present morality standards and due process guarantees as clarified in the U.S. Constitution of a democratic nation.

Immoral perspectives, retaliation, or something else? Some put worth the idea that if a shooting took place on Fifth Avenue in New York City, “whoever carried out the shooting would no doubt receive a tremendous amount of notoriety—probably even live in infamy, a common goal and desire of many of these shooters,” says Mary Ellen O'Toole in her article in Violence and Gender.


Police Attacks and Hate Crimes

If police attacks are centered in retaliation, could those attacks be considered a hate crime? Governors of Texas, Louisiana, and New York among others look favorably at legislation towards a hate crime designation for attacks on officers. This new designation would change attacks upon officers from a 3rd degree felony to a 2nd degree felony in Texas. For instance, the Texas Penal Code calls for two to ten years versus twenty years imprisonment for 2nd degree felonies. The U.S. Department of Justice defines hate crime as “the violence of intolerance and bigotry, intended to hurt and intimidate someone because of their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, or disability.”

Is there a relationship between hate crimes and terrorism? Some say they are “close cousins,” whereas others declare them “distant relatives.” One implication implies that attacks on officers as hate crimes by a lone wolf terrorist could influence apprehension strategies, denial of due process guarantees, and sentencing extremes. After all, argue scholars, the crime of a police murder is both premeditated and an unprovoked ambush of an officer.  

Is There Any Good News Arising from Police Officers Under Attack?

Because of concerns of officer-involved shootings and fatalities associated with this tactical response, police foot pursuits were scrutinized. Findings indicate that in the majority of pursuits, deputies and police officers in Los Angeles and suspects were uninjured or sustained only minor injuries. Yet, suspects were injured in sixty percent of foot pursuits and that the use of conducted energy devices by law enforcement officers is linked to the increase of suspect injury. Police administrators placed strict limits on officer discretion to engage in foot pursuits.

Yet, other researchers argued that little is known about risk factors for firearm violence directed at police. We can expect to see more research and advanced training tactics about these topics among policy makers, the press, and academics, said these researchers.

Then, too, “In the days after the Dallas Massacre (in July 08, 2016), American civility took a few small steps forward,” argues Joe Klein in a recent article in Time Magazine. Presidential contenders were silent on the topic, cable television seemed to sensationalize the incidents less, and citizens of all races seemed saddened by it. Klein suggests that America “is not falling apart” because of the police murders. “What if we are, in fact, learning, through experience, how to solve our most vexing problems?” Klein asks. Those thoughts are consistent with a President’s ideals that suffering, “produces perseverance, perseverance to character, and character to hope.” The ideas of racial extremism on all sides remain. And the conduct of “The media to give the loudest, angriest voices the most attention,” Klein sees as opportunities toward change.