Magazine article Security Management

When a Gun Matters: Irrational Attacks Regularly Lead to the Death of Police Officers

Magazine article Security Management

When a Gun Matters: Irrational Attacks Regularly Lead to the Death of Police Officers

Article excerpt


IN THE PAST, THE CARRYING OF firearms by security personnel was accepted and unquestioned. Police and security officers were perceived as similar, and many security officers were in fact former police officers.

In recent years, however, security managers have realized that many security officers do not need to be armed. An officer assigned to a CCTV or alarm panel in a secure environment has no particular need for a handgun, nor does an officer whose duties are exclusively to monitor a shipping department or a manufacturing facility's tool or supply room. These jobs do not involve direct contact with unknown persons and are essentially administrative.

This perfectly rational line of thought has often been extended past the point of reason, however. It has become stylish to profess that security officers, as a rule, do not need firearms at all to be effective. While that may be true with many security assignments, it is not true when an officer has a responsibility to confront intruders or apprehend certain criminal offenders.

As any experienced police officer knows, the largest element of danger involved in such situations is that the officer has no way of knowing the suspect's criminal history, motivation, or mental and emotional condition. Although an officer might think a shoplifting suspect is only a misdemeanant due to the property value involved, the officer would have no way of knowing about several factors that could dramatically escalate the seriousness of the situation. The offender, of course, would know about such factors.

For example, the theft of even a cassette tape would be enough for a parole violation, so the offender could easily equate an ensuing arrest with several years' imprisonment. The offender might know of existing warrants for his or her arrest and reach the same conclusion. Many states classify repeated theft offenses, regardless of value, as felonies. A convicted thief probably knows that and has been warned by an attorney or sentencing judge.

An officer investigating a suspicious car in a parking lot could easily be interrupting a rape or drug deal. The non-employee who appears lost in the hallway could be a despondent husband intending to kill his estranged wife who works at the facility. These situations may seem unlikely, but they are exactly the types of situations that regularly lead to the death of police officers.

Security managers cannot depend on the rationality of the suspect to avoid deadly altercations between criminals and security officers. If an irrational attack is one that does not improve the attacker's overall situation, then most attacks on police officers are totally irrational. However, the irrationality of the attack was of little comfort to the 78 law enforcement officers killed in 1988.

The dynamics of these attacks do not change simply because of the different authority bases and job descriptions of police and security officers. Once the personal interchange between a dangerous suspect and an officer has begun, the officer represents either a frustration of the immediate goal or a return trip to a correctional facility, regardless of the wording on the officer's shield or identification card.

Once the suspect commits to the attack, it is generally too late for an effective disengagement by the unarmed officer. FBI Uniform Crime Report statistics state that the average duration of a law enforcement gunfight is approximately 2 1/2 seconds, although that figure is debated in some circles. From 1979 to 1988, more than 56 percent of police officers killed by suspects using firearms were within five feet of their attacker, and more than 74 percent were within 10 feet of their attacker. Although no statistics are kept on security officer fatalities, it is hard to imagine any significant differences.

The incidents in which officers are killed are too fast and close for a security officer to save himself or herself simply by abandoning the situation. …

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