McCracken County Deputy Jerry Jones’ situational awareness was key in saving his life during a domestic violence call in March 2014.
On that March evening, the Paducah-McCracken County 911 received a call from a male alleging his wife had assaulted him. Jones (pictured above) was soon dispatched to the call.
Prior to arriving at the scene, Jones learned through the public-safety dispatcher that the caller had a prior assault conviction on a police officer. This caused the veteran deputy to approach the scene differently.
“I treated my arrival on scene with caution,” Jones said. “I parked my marked cruiser on the edge of the driveway instead of pulling all the way up to the house.”
The absence of activity in the area was “unsettling” and Jones used his flashlight to scan the area.
“Upon making contact at the front door with the family, no one knew anything that was alleged to have gone on,” Jones said. “This was troubling to me.”
Then it happened.
“I heard a round snap by us; I called ‘Shots fired!’ over the radio,” Jones said, recalling the incident. “The round left dust in the air from the drywall it passed through.”
Jones was unable to determine whether the shot came from inside or outside the home.
“I had my pistol out and was attempting to cover a hallway to our front left,” he said. “I had the wife and children get behind me so I could provide cover to them.”
Less than a minute later, backup arrived.
“Sgt. Todd Ray was already en route to the scene as backup,” Jones said. “At the call of shots fired, he stepped up his response. He entered the residence with a rifle and assisted me in holding the position I had established. The next back-up unit arrived about three minutes later. We used that [deputy] to evacuate the wife and kids to a safer location.”
It turned out the perpetrator had called 911 to report a domestic-violence incident for the sole purpose of luring officers to the scene with the intent to inflict harm on them, Jones said. It was determined the man had fired a .270-caliber rifle at Jones.
“(The subject) was in a concealed position outside his house where he had set up the ambush,” Jones said. “Based on his concealed position, I believe he had banked on the officer parking in the driveway, and this was the first factor that ruined his plan to kill an officer upon arrival.”
Thanks to training and his situational awareness, Jones went home to his family that night. Many law enforcement officers across the nation haven’t been as fortunate as the McCracken County deputy.
According to a Nov. 2, 2016, article in USA Today, there has been a 167 percent increase in peace officer ambushes incidents over a two-year period. The article cites statistics from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, which tracks police fatalities.
According to the NLEOMF, 40 law enforcement officers lost their lives between 2014 and 2016 in ambush-style attacks.
Kentucky State Police Deputy Commissioner Alex Payne likens the ambush-style attacks to a hunter seeking out their prey.
“It’s no different than a successful deer hunter who goes about planning a hunt,” Payne said. “You’re going to find out where the animal eats, where it sleeps and you may find out where the animal gets a drink of water. You’re going to find it in these locations, or you’re going to catch it in between traveling from one location to the other.”
Payne calls it “hunting 101.”
“With those statistics, that is what you’re saying right there,” he said. “Somebody has chosen a police officer to be a prey animal and they are hunting.”
According to a 2012 study from The International Association of Chiefs of Police, four factors define an ambush. Those are:
- The element of surprise
- Concealment of the assailant, their intentions, or weapon
- Suddenness of the attack
- A lack of provocation
The IACP study says ambushes are classified in two ways – entrapment and spontaneous.
Spontaneous ambushes are crimes of opportunity. They are unprovoked attacks without long-term planning. Between 1990 and 2012, 68 percent of ambushes against law enforcement officers were spontaneous, according to the study.
Thirty-two percent of entrapment ambushes are premeditated. These are what most people think of when they hear the term ambush. This is where the offender lures an unsuspecting police officer into a location for the sole purpose of attacking him or her.
A recent example of this type of attack in Kentucky occurred in May 2013, when Bardstown Police Officer Jason Ellis was murdered while removing a limb from the roadway.
“That was tough,” Payne said. “(Police officers) have the mindset that somebody is going to get hurt if this stays on the road. So they’re going to get out of their vehicle and clear the obstruction.”
The Officers and Assailants
A profile of an ambushed officer, according to IACP, indicates the average age is 38 with 11 years on the job. They are of average build and the ranks are wide-ranging. The most common officer ambushed is one assigned to patrol (38 percent). Deputy sheriffs and sergeants rank the next highest in probability with 17 and 15 percent, respectively.
The study shows that 82 percent of the officers were alone at the time of the ambush. Fifty-five percent were assigned to a one-officer patrol vehicle at the time of the attack. Another 12 percent were on foot, and 10 percent were in two-officer vehicles. The rest were detectives, undercover, on special assignment or off-duty.
According to IACP, three-quarters of the assailants have criminal records. Of those, 40 percent have a violent criminal record, and more than a quarter are under judicial supervision, such as probation and parole, at the time of the assault.
Additionally, 1-in-4 of the assailants has a prior relationship with the officer in the incident, including personal interactions and previous arrests.
Some 83 percent of the assailants acted alone. Nine percent of the time, there were two assailants, and 8 percent of the time, there were three or more perpetrators.
The weapons of choice are guns (36 percent) and the hands (35 percent) according to the IACP study. Twenty-six percent of other devices (ranging from blunt objects to motor vehicles) were used, and knives were used 3 percent of the time.
Of the guns used in the ambushes, 51 percent were handguns.
Keys in Jones surviving the March 2014 ambush were his instincts and awareness. Department of Criminal Justice Training patrol tactics Instructor Andy Wilson said being aware of your surroundings goes a long way in eliminating the possibility of becoming an ambush victim.
“If you start seeing anomalies when you’re responding to a call, be aware of it,” he said. “For example, if there are no kids on the street and normally there are kids out, or if there are obvious indicators, be aware of it.”
Staggering one’s routine can also disrupt would-be perpetrators, Wilson said.
“It’s very common when we start our shift, and we start our route covering our assigned sector; we take the same route,” Wilson said. “Even if we don’t mean to, we inadvertently end up following the same roads every day and we become predictable.”
Officers need to understand that awareness is vitally important, Payne said, citing the November 2009 attack in Seattle, Wash., which claimed the lives of four police officers.
“They’re sitting in (a coffee house) on a break, and unfortunately, they didn’t realize that when you’re wearing the uniform, you’re never on break,” Payne said. “At the end of the day, it’s being aware of where you’re at constantly while you’re out there in uniform. It’s simple things. Like where you stop to get a cup of coffee, or where you stop to use the facilities out in the county. It’s a shame we have to think in those terms just because of the clothes we wear. But you’re now a target for these individuals.”
Payne said hyper-vigilance is key for officers.
“It’s not hard to find us,” he said. “That is why you have to have the hyper-vigilance, and really be aware of what is going on around you.”
Payne acknowledged that oftentimes, it is difficult to be hyper-vigilant and approachable at the same time.
“We still have to make ourselves available and approachable to the public,” he said. “However, we still have to keep our heads up and eyes forward.”
The March 2014 experience has stuck with Jones, who said he uses it as a teaching point to other deputies.
“My approach has changed from the perspective that I double-down on practicing what I preach,” Jones said. “I am a weapons and tactics instructor for the department. I use this event to always try to ensure that I use textbook tactics in fluid events.”
Jones’ event proves there is no such thing as a routine call.
“If you get really good at doing the basics, whether it be room-clearing, using STOPS procedures on traffic stops, or focusing on scoring hits under all conditions with a pistol or rifle, when you need the skills the most, they are there and you don’t have to stop and think,” Jones said. “That’s the stuff which matters.”
In the wake of the incident, Jones’ assailant was initially offered at a 10-year deal, but the circuit judge rejected it saying it wasn’t enough for his role in planning and attempting to murder police officers, Jones said. The man eventually plead guilty and received a 15-year in prison sentence.
Anti-Ambush Technology Assists Law Enforcement
With ambushes on police officers on the rise, some companies have come up with technology to aid those in law enforcement.
According to a February 2017 article on policeone.com, Dodge has added a new update to its 2017 Dodge Charger Pursuit designed to help protect law enforcement officers from ambush attacks.
According to the article, once the system is activated, any movement will trigger an alarm sound inside the car, the windows will roll up, the doors will lock and the taillights will flash.
Department of Criminal Justice Training Patrol Tactics Instructor Andy Wilson said the new technology is a great tool, but it has its drawbacks.
“I’m from Clarksville, Tenn., and those sensors are very valuable, but they’re also more expensive,” he said.
Wilson said regardless if the police vehicle is equipped with sensors or not, due diligence is the best way to avoid ambush situations.
“We don’t want to be in the situation where a sensor has to alert us that somebody is upon us,” Wilson said. “We want to catch them well before they get to us.”