Editor’s Note: The crew of CopBlue is pleased to share another life-saving story from LEO NEAR MISS. Law Enforcement Officer (LEO) Near Miss is a voluntary, non-disciplinary officer safety initiative that allows cops to read about and anonymously share stories of close calls or “near misses,” which provide lessons learned that can protect fellow officers in similar situations.
One article will be featured each month to share with the CopBlue family of Street Cops. We believe this is just another way that we can expand our effort to, ‘Save just ONE life.’ Please join us and welcome LEO Near Miss to the CopBlue family.
During third shift, our dispatch center received a 911 call from an unknown male subject asking that an officer be sent to shoot and kill him.
When asked for an address and more information, the subject repeatedly demanded the request in an agitated and more expletive manner. A final request for more information and location resulted in him screaming “I’m coming to get you!” and hanging up.
No address or further information was ever obtained. The 911 cell phone call was geolocated to a residence in the county with no other houses close by. The only two available sheriff units, me and a shift supervisor, went en-route to the residence.
This is usually the time of night when my supervisor would be heading home and I would be covering the county by myself, but he had not left, yet. An additional fortune, State Police had four available troopers at the nearby post, who responded, as well. This was not the usual manpower for this time of night.
The cell phone app ‘Active 911’ was used to get a look at the residence and surrounding property prior to arrival. The house was situated at the end of a long gravel driveway (about 300 yards) that makes a 90° turn to the right after passing between a large barn and 2 detached sheds. There was almost no cover upon approach from the roadway.
The barn and sheds were a choke point at that part of the driveway. My cruiser was equipped with an LED light bar that can illuminate the entire front bar with blinding white scene lighting.
The decision was made to utilize those scene lights, along with alley lights and spotlights, with me as lead vehicle. My sergeant and I communicated areas of responsibility upon approach. We quickly drove up the driveway towards the outbuildings and then slowed to observe for movement with spotlights before quickly moving past them.
We made the right turn to the house and positioned our cruisers 15 yards apart and about 75 yards away from the house, with our spotlights on a door and a window facing us. State Police were also proceeding behind us as we approached and had stopped short of the outbuildings. They were proceeding on foot towards the house with rifles.
Only about 3-4 oak trees served as reasonable cover around the house. Two vehicles were parked between the house and our cruisers. Before a callout could be made, a male subject suddenly appeared at one of the windows to the left of the door, with his hands out of view.
I utilized my PA to call him out of the house with hands raised. As he exited, he had a small black object in his hand, which he said was his cell phone. After complying with orders to drop it, he was ordered to walk backwards to the parked cars, where two troopers were positioned to cuff and frisk him.
Once cuffed, I searched the sheds and barn that I could access. I then met with the troopers, did a 360° walk around the house. Then, we entered and searched the house.
After clearing the house, the subject was brought in to the station and we spoke to him. From the start, he denied making any phone calls and even said he’d been asleep the entire time. He said that only woke up due to the spotlights in his windows.
His phone was searched with consent and it showed a 911 call made at the exact time dispatch received the one in question. He continued to stick with his story that he didn’t make any calls until we connected with dispatch and had them replay the 911 tape on speakerphone. He admitted the voice was his and said he didn’t remember making any calls and that he may have done it in his sleep.
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Mail from our local mental health crisis provider was observed with the subject’s name on it in the kitchen, which was where he was first observed in the window. Also, propped up just beside that window was a scoped and loaded 30-30 rifle and loaded 12ga shotgun.
It is my belief that the subject had prepared an ambush from that window, in the assumption that only one officer would respond. He suddenly abandoned his plan once we made our approach which flooded the window with spotlights and prevented him from seeing our positions.
FIRST: There is no 100% safe approach to every scene. Choke points and environmental concealment can pose special risks to responders, so be sure to consider them during your approach. In this case, it’s difficult to determine what the best method of approach was.
The layout of the property provided the subject with several locations from which to ambush responders. Approaching by vehicle provides a big, easily observable target for the subject, but it also provides cover for the officer should a ranged attack occur. Approaching by foot reduces the chance of being spotted along with greater mobility and faster weapon deployment, but also provides little to no cover.
In regards to passing buildings, a vehicle can be a death trap when navigating a choke point. Once past, you also have an unknown threat at your rear. The gravel driveway with soft, muddy shoulders made the drive up to the buildings a very small approach with no ability to go off-road.
SECOND: Each agency could communicate just fine among their own units. However, communications between units of different agencies was nearly impossible. Any attempt to talk with a unit from another agency required we go through State Police’s dispatch, which could jump on our frequency.
Even our own dispatch center did not have the capability to go to the State Police channel.
The troopers also had the ability to scan and listen to our frequency on their mobiles, but not on their portables. Agencies should continue to work towards radio interoperability with surrounding jurisdictions to increase situational awareness and officer safety in these types of situations.
THIRD: In the absence of exigent circumstances, slow down and take time to plan a safe and tactically sound approach, using all available equipment and technology to your advantage. Slowing down on this call absolutely saved the officers who responded to this situation.
“Above all, it’s about going home at the end of the shift … “
We couldn’t agree more.
If you would like to read more stories like this one, please visit LEOnearmiss.org. We also ask that you consider sharing any near misses you have experienced. The five minutes you take to share your story can save the life of a brother or sister in blue.
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LEO Near Miss Overview
Law Enforcement Officer (LEO) Near Miss is a voluntary, non-disciplinary officer safety initiative that allows cops to read about and anonymously share stories of close calls or “near misses,” which provide lessons learned that can protect fellow officers in similar situations.
A near miss is defined as any incident that could have resulted in a law enforcement officer being seriously injured or killed if not for a fortunate break in the chain of events. Near misses oftentimes include contributing factors like hazardous conditions, subjects with concealed weapons, failed equipment, or lapses in situational awareness.
Regardless of the situation, they provide lessons learned, and reporting a near miss allows fellow officers to learn from these incidents so they can go home to their loved ones after every shift. Officers often share their near misses with their close friends, but rarely are these stories, and the lessons learned from them, shared with officers across the country. LEO Near Miss provides a secure way for cops to share this vital information.
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LEO Near Miss is strictly for promoting peer learning and enhancing officer safety and wellness. Officers can visit LEOnearmiss.org or download the free smartphone app (LEO Near Miss), read the lessons learned from near misses experienced by other officers, and anonymously share their own near-miss experiences.
Near-miss stories submitted to LEO Near Miss go directly to the Police Foundation (www.PoliceFoundation.org), an independent, non-profit research and training organization that manages the system in partnership with other national organizations like Below 100, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, the Officer Down Memorial Page, and the National Tactical Officers Association. Each story received undergoes a two-stage review process by current and former law enforcement to remove all personally identifying information (ensuring anonymity when published) and to highlight important takeaways for improving officer safety.
Once a story has finished the review process (about 7-10 days), any personally identifying information is permanently deleted from our records, and the story is made available for vetted law enforcement personnel to access on the LEO Near Miss website and smartphone app. Furthermore, no IP addresses are ever tracked or linked to any stories submitted to the system, and officers do not need to log in to submit a story.
Please support this critical officer safety initiative by reading and sharing the near-miss stories and lessons learned that your fellow officers have shared, and please consider sharing your own near-miss experiences at LEOnearmiss.org or through our free smartphone app. The five minutes you take to share your story can save the life of a brother or sister in blue.