We often hear reports or see videos of citizens stepping in to help officers struggling with suspects. Two recent videos prompted me to jot down some advice for anyone considering helping an officer during a fight.
Florida Officer Request Assistance —
In the first video, we see an officer contact someone walking in the center median of a Florida highway. The officer wants to get the person off the dangerous road. The officer asks for permission to pat the man down for weapons before putting him in the police vehicle. The man refuses to give consent.
When the officer determines he has probable cause to take custody of the man and remove him from the highway, he reaches to grab the suspect's wrist. The suspect pulls away and simultaneously lands a punch on the officer's chin, and the fight is on.
The officer can be seen on video struggling to control the suspect and get him in custody. Even if it is in the center median, fighting on the highway is extremely dangerous. In the video, we hear the officer scream, asking for help. Several people pull off the road, exit their vehicles and assist the officer.
In this incident, the officer's screams for help make it clear that he indeed needs someone to help right away. But what if the officer isn't asking for help? Consider the following.
Evaluate before helping an officer —
- Even if the officer is in a fight, he may not need immediate help. It's likely he already radioed for help, and other officers will arrive within minutes. In addition, the officer may be able to hold their own and doesn't want to risk injury to a third party.
- Before jumping right into the fight, consider your safety. If you're driving, make sure you don't jump out of your car, only to get hit by another vehicle. If the officer is fighting in the roadway, consider activating your hazard lights and positioning your vehicle to protect the officer and suspect from traffic.
- If it's safe to do so, consider asking the officer if he needs help and let him know if you're a concealed carrier. I recommend keeping your gun in the holster, not running to the officer, gun in hand. The officer you want to help or responding officers may see you as an additional threat, and you could get shot.
- If the officer doesn't ask for help, call 911 to report the location of an officer who needs assistance. Give as much information as possible, including descriptions of the suspect(s) and if you see weapons. It can't hurt to ask for the dispatcher to send medical responders. They can always cancel them, but it's better to have them standing by and not need them than have a delayed medical response.
Officers may ask for help —
If the officer needs help, it will probably be to help get the suspect cuffed. But don't start grabbing the officer's gear unless he directs you. Instead, try to remain calm and work together to control the suspect.
Something that non-LEOs don't always understand is that, most often, an officer isn't trying to hurt the person. They are just trying to get the person in cuffs without anyone getting injured. This is why it sometimes takes multiple officers to get someone in custody. Punting the suspect's head may be a great fight-ender, but in most situations, not likely something you should do.
Deputy involved shooting in Orange County —
This next video in a California Walmart shows a confrontation between deputies and a shoplifting suspect.
Deputies respond to a Walmart to contact a couple of shoplifters and identify the suspect. Walmart management wanted the people escorted off the property and for deputies to issue them a trespass notification stating that deputies can arrest them for trespassing if they return.
The deputies have legally detained the suspects to identify them and issue them the notice. While escorting the suspect out of the store, one deputy sees the suspect has a large, sheathed knife on his belt. The suspect reaches for the knife; deputies pin his hand, tell him not to draw it, and try to cuff him to check him for other weapons.
The suspect actively resists, and the two deputies attempt to get the guy into cuffs without taking him to the ground. After a few moments, the deputies disarm him of the knife and continue to struggle to try to cuff him. A third deputy assists, and the man continues to actively resist the deputies. Finally, a civilian runs to help, just as the deputies get the suspect to the ground.
While on the ground, the suspect reaches into his waistband and grips his handgun. One of the deputies sees this and yells, “he's got a gun. Shoot him!” One of the deputies shoots the suspect once, ending the fight. The suspect survived the gunshot wound.
From the video, it looks like the non-LEO responder helped control the suspect's body as he struggled to get his gun. We don't know if the good samaritan was armed or not. If the good samaritan rushed in, gun drawn, he could have been mistaken as a bad guy. Additionally, at that moment, an exposed gun would have been much more of a liability, than an extra set of hands.
We also see that the good samaritan got involved in a situation that could have easily resulted in his death. Maybe he was okay with that, or perhaps he thought it was just some guy struggling and he would help. Whenever we assist law enforcement, we have to recognize the risk of death or serious bodily injury.
Additional considerations —
Don't misconstrue my admonition as advocating you turn your back on an officer in need. Instead, it reminds us always to seek peace because violence is unpredictable and inherently dangerous. Know what you're willing to get involved in.
- If you're the citizen who an officer asks to use a firearm in his assistance, try to holster as soon as it's safe to do so. Remember, officers, are responding and may not know you're a good guy.
- When you hear sirens or other officers start arriving, ensure you're doing everything you can to distinguish yourself as a good guy.
- Don't keep the gun out in the ready position, don't run from the scene or argue with officers if they initially detain you and order you to the ground or cuff you like a suspect.
- Other considerations for the non-LEO are your abilities and physical conditioning. You don't have to be a top MMA fighter to be a help, but you also don't want to get involved in something that you can't handle and become a liability the officer needs to worry about.
You also need to consider that if you get involved in a physical confrontation, you're bringing a firearm into the mix. Sure the officer has a firearm, but they have a holster with some retention, as well as some training to defend against a gun takeaway, you may not have either. In fact, your holster may not even secure the gun in a minor physical struggle, and provide the suspect access to a gun he didn't have before.
I am not advocating someone carry with a level-3, duty holster stuffed inside their waistband. Again, it's just something to consider beforehand, so you can make wise decisions in when and how you can be of assistance to an officer.
Helpful resources —
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