How to Help a Cop During a Life-Threatening Struggle - Part I

I recently received a very interesting question from a friend and fellow blogger. He asked the following:

“How should an armed citizen best help a police officer if that officer is under violent attack from another individual or group of individuals?”

It’s a great question. I think many folks with CCW licenses would be willing to help a cop in trouble. As a cop, I welcome all the help I can get if I’m in a bad situation. Two recent incidents (here and here) demonstrate examples where armed citizens saved police officers’ lives.

Here are some guidelines for folks who want to help an officer in trouble...

Carry your damn gun! You can’t help a cop in a deadly force scenario without your gun. In my experience, many CCW licensees don’t regularly carry their firearm. The state where I work as a cop requires notification to police officers if a CCW licensee is stopped by police and carrying a gun. I don’t get all worked up if I stop a person who is carrying with a permit and he doesn’t notify me, but some cops do. I always try to educate the CCW carrier about the laws of the state if I don’t get a notification to ensure they don’t get in trouble in the future.

When I stop a person for a traffic violation, I get an automatic alert if they have a carry permit when I run their license on my in-car computer. If I run someone’s driver’s license and they come up as a permit holder, I always ask them if they are carrying their weapon when I re-approach the car. I’m not trying to get them in trouble, I ask so that I can make sure they understand our law so they don’t get in trouble for failure to notify if they get stopped again in the future.

The most common answer I get when I ask that question is: “Yes, I have a permit, but I’m not carrying my gun right now.” I would estimate that 75% of the permit holders that I stop for traffic violations aren’t carrying their guns at the time of the stop.

You aren’t likely to help a cop in a gunfight if you aren’t carrying your gun.

As you approach the officer, keep your gun concealed. You don’t want to be mistaken for another criminal if you are running up on a cop involved in a gunfight or life threatening physical struggle. If the cop sees you running towards him with a gun in your hand, there’s a good chance that he will assume you are a friend of the criminal he is fighting. If that happens, you are likely to get shot.

You should also recognize that the cop has likely already called for help on the radio. A whole bunch of his fellow officers are already on the way to the scene. One of them might mistake you for the bad guy if they pull up and you have a gun in your hand.

As you are approaching to help the officer, keep your gun in the holster until you’ve decided you need to shoot.

Identify yourself and ask the officer if he needs help. Here’s the thing that most CCW licensees don’t understand about police confrontations: most of the time, your gun will only complicate the problem. Let me explain…

In most of the physical confrontations police officers find themselves in, the criminal is not really trying to kill the officer. We get in a lot of wrestling matches, but very rarely do we face a criminal who is trying to seriously hurt or kill us. Most of the criminals that cops are tussling with aren’t really trying to hurt the officer at all. They are just trying to escape or “save face” in front of their buddies. They don’t need to be shot.

The problem that you deal with as a rescuer is that you don’t know if the cop is trying to wrestle down a fleeing unarmed shoplifter or is in a life threatening struggle with a cop killer. If you see a cop struggling with someone during an arrest, the best course of action if to approach, identify yourself as a “good guy” and ask the officer if he needs help. Saying something like “Officer, I have a concealed carry permit. Do you need help?” is probably the best thing you can do. You may have to repeat the request several times to ensure the cop hears it in the struggle.

The most likely response you will get is something like “Yes! Grab his arm and help me get him cuffed!” That will be far more likely than something like “Yes! Shoot him in the head!

Your exposed gun is more of a liability than an asset in a physical struggle. The cop will be worried that the unarmed shoplifter that he’s wrestling with will become armed by taking your gun away from you if you try to inject yourself into the struggle with gun in hand.

If you see someone shooting at a cop, it’s time to draw your gun. If you see the cop physically struggling with someone, it’s best to ask if he needs help before jumping into the fight.

If you do have to shoot, holster your weapon as soon as the threat is neutralized. If you decide to help a cop involved in life threatening danger by shooting his attacker, you need to ensure that you aren’t mistakenly shot yourself by the officers (or another armed citizen) coming to help. Standing over a cop who has been shot with a gun in your hand is a recipe for getting yourself shot by additional responding officers.

Recognize that more police officers are on the way. Recognize that they will likely be on scene very quickly if one of their coworkers is in trouble. Make sure you aren’t standing there with gun in hand when they arrive.

If you have to shoot, holster your weapon as soon as you are able to. Seek cover, from both the bad guy and from responding officers. Get on the phone to police and ensure that you give dispatchers a good description of yourself so that they can relay that information to responding officers.

When the cops arrive, they will probably order you to the ground, put you in handcuffs, and take your weapon. Expect that. Comply with their orders and don’t get indignant. I know you will be thinking something like “I just saved that officer’s life and his buddies are treating me like a criminal.” That’s reality. The responding cops aren’t sure if you are the cop’s guardian angel or the man who just shot him. They will take precautions by handcuffing you until they figure out what’s going on. Don’t complicate matters by trying to argue with them. It will all get sorted out and the cuffs will be removed in a short time.

I stated earlier in the article that, as a cop, I would be eternally grateful for a citizen’s assistance if I was in trouble. I think most of my co-workers feel the same way. We appreciate your assistance and we don’t want you to get hurt in the process. Make sure you take some precautions by following these instructions if you decide to help out a cop in trouble.

Greg Ellifritz is the full time firearms and defensive tactics training officer for a central Ohio police department. He holds instructor or master instructor certifications in more than 75 different weapon systems, defensive tactics programs and police specialty areas. Greg has a master's degree in Public Policy and Management and is an instructor for both the Ohio Peace Officer's Training Academy and the Tactical Defense Institute.

For more information or to contact Greg, visit his training site at Active Response Training.

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