Attacks on Police: Common Factors Among Assailants

attacks on police - LexipolWhen the FBI released “The Assailant Study – Mindsets and Behaviors” last month, most of the coverage focused on the study’s findings that “departments—and individual officers—have increasingly made the conscious decision to stop engaging in proactive policing.” This finding was supported by a recent Pew Research Center Report, which was based upon the results of a national survey of nearly 8,000 officers from larger departments. The survey revealed that 72% of officers “have become less willing to stop and question people who seem suspicious.”

While the issue of “depolicing” is an important one, there’s another reason to scour this report. The FBI set out to accomplish two objectives with this study:

1. Identify mindsets and characteristics in common with suspects who make attacks on police—which was done through statistical analysis of 50 incidents in 2016 in which law enforcement officers were attacked.
2. Identify contributing factors that had the greatest impact on the assailants’ mindsets and actions—which was done through interviews with law enforcement command staff and officers from 13 departments that experienced an officer LODD in 2016.

While illuminating, the interviews the FBI conducted to achieve its second objective are subjective, and they were the basis of the report’s conclusions on depolicing. Experiencing a line-of-duty death is traumatic for any department, and you could argue the experience colors the opinions of those interviewed. Again, this is not to diminish their insights; it’s simply pointing out the limitations of the research.

What isn’t as debatable, however, is the analysis the FBI performed on the 50 incidents involving attacks on police. That analysis reveals some excellent points to reinforce what we know about people who attack and kill police. So let’s take a closer look at three factors the FBI report reveals about police officer assailants.

1. There’s a good chance you’ll know him.
OK, that’s a bit overstated. But it IS likely that the assailant will be known to officers within your department or another nearby agency. According to the study, 86 percent of the assailants had prior criminal histories, and 56 percent were known to the local police or sheriff’s office.

And yes, we mean “him”—all of the assailants in the studied attacks on police were male, between the ages of 14 and 68 years old.

2. They are affected by drugs, alcohol and/or mental illness.
This is certainly not news to most officers, but the FBI study provides some good statistics to illustrate the type of suspect officers must be prepared to deal with. Of the assailants involved in these incidents, 60 percent had a history of drug use; 32 percent were under the influence at the time of the incident. When the researchers broke the findings down further, they discovered that more than 70 percent of the assailants who ambushed police officers were under the influence of narcotics at the time of the incident or had a history of drug use.

As is often the case, mental illness and drug use went hand in hand. In half of the cases where assailants were reported (anecdotally) to have mental illness, the assailant was also under the influence at the time of the incident.

By now we’ve come to accept that police officers are often ad hoc mental health providers, but this study underscores the dangers involved with such a trend. Although the vast majority of people with mental illness are no more likely to be violent than anyone else, police encounters with the mentally ill are fraught with risk. Many people with mental illness self-medicate, and the combination can change the dynamics of a situation considerably.

This was backed up in the FBI’s interviews with officers and command staff. They “noted an increase in the number of subjects using drugs and being in a drug-induced psychosis when contacted by police. Many law enforcement personnel are seeing an ‘escalation towards violence’ by those who abuse drugs.” Even in someone not affected by mental illness, alcohol and drugs impact decision-making, and can cause someone who would have been compliant when sober to flee or attack.

3. If they’re politically motivated, there may be warning signs. But if they are simply desperate to avoid incarceration, that’s not as likely.
The FBI study found that the assailants’ motivations in committing attacks on police fell into two categories: they either expressed a desire to kill law enforcement for social/political reasons or they were desperate to avoid incarceration.

Those who were motivated by political reasons or a hatred of law enforcement were more likely to broadcast their intentions ahead of the attack. The report notes: “The assailants in this category posted their beliefs on social media and/or informed their friends and family of their intentions prior to ambushing or initiating violence against law enforcement … [They mentioned] they intended to kill a police officer or that they wanted to ‘shoot it out with police.’”

Those who attacked out of a desire to avoid incarceration were less likely to broadcast intent ahead of time. Only about 25 percent of the assailants “expressed on social media or to friends and family that they would do anything not to go back to jail.”

That said, a suspect who flees is projecting a warning sign too, albeit in the moment rather than days or weeks in advance. Suspects who flee clearly broadcast their willingness to escalate the encounter. In approximately 40 percent of the incidents involving assailants whose main motivation was to avoid incarceration, the assailant fled before turning and shooting at the officers. The report notes, “Law enforcement personnel described the circumstances that led to these foot chases, and they ranged from the officer verbally identifying the assailant, consensual contact, attempting to arrest, and serving a warrant. In all of the cases, it was clear to the law enforcement officials that the assailants were attempting to avoid being taken into custody.”

We know that foot pursuits are an extremely high-risk endeavor. The results of this study hint at what is going through the minds of those who choose to run from officers, and what they may be prepared to do if officers give chase.

Like any study, this one has limitations, not the least being that 2016 saw an increase in ambushes of officers and stories of police use of force continued to dominate the headlines. We must be cautious in extrapolating the results of one study to characterize all assailants. But the applied with the proper caution, this study can provide valuable insight into the factors that unite assailants—and therefore how officers can prepare. Remember: If it’s predictable, it’s preventable.

Lexipol’s Law Enforcement Policy Manual and Daily Training Bulletin Service provides essential policies that support support the complex, high-risk aspects of law enforcement, including legally defensible, detailed guidance on police use of force. Contact us today for more information or to request a free demo.

le-one-sheet-cta

  • REQUEST MORE INFORMATION

    (844) 312-9500

Director Daniel Keen
Northampton (PA) Department of Corrections

“It came down to three main factors for us: safety, time and efficiency. This is a way to protect  the staff, public and inmates in the best interest of all.”

Major Jeff Fox
Vigo County (IN) Sheriff's Office

“Lexipol’s Implementation Services program was key to getting our manuals off the shelf. If it weren’t for that, we wouldn’t be implemented today. Departments should recognize their limitations and realize that they likely don’t have the resources to do it on their own. Implementation Services is key to getting it done.”

Chief Deputy Ray Saylo
Carson City (NV) Sheriff's Office

"It’s a huge priority of this administration to teach policy to our sergeants, and Lexipol’s Daily Training Bulletins help us do that. We are constantly drilling into them that policy will protect them as an individual officer. If they ensure that their people are following policy, even if they’re sued, they will be OK.”

Sgt. Bryan Ward
Cumberland County (PA) Sheriff's Office

"Calling Lexipol an insurance policy doesn’t do it justice, because it doesn’t capture the enormous power that partnering with Lexipol provides.”

Chief Deputy Klint Anderson
Weber County (UT) Sheriff's Office

“We spent a considerable amount of money and effort trying to develop and maintain comprehensive and legally based policies and procedures. Lexipol has relieved us of that burden and provided us with a policy system that we have great confidence in and that we can tailor to suit our particular goals and community standards.”

Sheriff Blaine Breshears
Morgan County (UT) Sheriff's Office

“We had a use of force lawsuit, and as soon as the attorneys discovered that we have Lexipol, they said, ‘We won’t have an issue there.’ Our policies were never in question.”

Lt. Craig Capps
White County (TN) Sheriff's Office

"I would recommend Lexipol to any law enforcement agency, whether three-person or 2,000-person—it makes no difference. The program works.”

Chief John Defore
Hiawatha, KS

“By offering 365 daily training bulletins to my officers, I am saving far more than the cost of the software every year. In fact, I was able to show my commissioners a cost savings by utilizing Lexipol for our policy and policy training needs.”

Captain Jeff Schneider
Yakima (WA) Police Department

“KMS tracks and logs when people acknowledge and accept updates, which is very important, and it lets us track who isn’t getting the updates so we can give them the appropriate attention.”

Chief David Maine
The Village of Hunting Valley (OH) Police Department

“What we had before Lexipol had been around for years. It was like every other policy manual I had seen: It didn’t get the updates it needed. The Lexipol manual is a living, breathing document.”

Chief Deputy Lauren Osborne
Surry County (NC) Sheriff’s Office

“If there’s a change as a result of case law, or a procedure that needs to change, Lexipol does the legwork, sends it to us, we approve it and send it out to our people for acknowledgement—and it’s all documented.”

Sheriff Gerald Antinoro
Storey County (NV) Sheriff’s Office

“Lexipol is one of the best products I have seen in my 30+ years in law enforcement.”

Deputy Chief John McGinty
Simi Valley (CA) Police Department

“You get sued for your policies or you get sued for your actions, or both. You can only do so much about actions. But having Lexipol gives me confidence that if we draw a lawsuit, our policies won’t come under attack.”

Chief Kelly Stillman
Rocky River (OH) Police Department

“I can’t say enough about the positives from a chief’s perspective. I don’t know why everyone isn’t with Lexipol.”

Chief Jeff Wilson
Orofino (ID) Police Department

“The Lexipol Policy Manual is easy to use, it’s convenient and you have peace of mind knowing that you have a thorough manual that is going to stand up to any challenge the agency may face.”

Chief Ralph Maher
Oak Creek (CO) Police Department

“With Lexipol, I know our policy manual is going to be up to date. I can turn my back on it today and tomorrow there will be any needed updates waiting for me. That allows me to focus on some of the other things I have to do as a chief.”

Chief Steven Vaccaro
Mokena (IL) Police Department

“If you compare Lexipol to other policy providers, Lexipol is the only one that has policy that has been vetted by other chiefs, industry experts and lawyers. All you have to do is tailor the policies to your agency’s needs.”

Commander Leslie Burns
Mercer Island (WA) Police Department

“Lexipol provides a huge advantage for agencies pursuing accreditation. The tools take about 60% of the difficulty out of the accreditation process. If you want to be accredited, this is the way to do it.”

Deputy Chief Robin Passwater
Kankakee (IL) Police Department

“If you don’t have Lexipol, even with a full-time person dedicated to policy, there’s almost no way you can keep updated on all the laws and also have the training component. It’s an excellent system.”

Assistant Chief Bill Holmer
Glen Ellyn (IL) Police Department

“It’s a no-brainer for me. Someone is watching for changes to laws for me, and then tweaking the content based on those changes or updates in best practices.”

Lt. Ed Alvarez
Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) (CA) Police Department

“I like the mobile app because it tells me no matter where I am when I have updates to complete or when people take the DTBs. No matter where I am, I have access. The officers can get real-time updates. Everything is at their fingertips, any time.”

Chief Greg Knott
Basalt (CO) Police Department

“Lexipol gives you peace of mind because the policies that you’re implementing have been reviewed by professionals in the field and by attorneys—not just your agency’s legal counsel.”

Chief Corry Blount
Bartonville (TX) Police Department

“I feel comfortable that when we issue a policy, it covers what it needs to cover. It’s the most comprehensive policy content I’ve used in my career.”

Lt. Victor Pecoraro
Auburn (CA) Police Department

“The updates are super easy because you can pop them open, see the redline versions and be able to edit it on the fly. Once I learned I could do that, I was excited.”

Chief Joseph Morris
Arapahoe Community College (CO) Police Department

“Officers are not infallible. We have limited memories like everyone else. Working under stress presents more challenges. There are times we need to access policies in the field so we are comfortable in our decision making. The mobile application has been great for this!”

Captain Jesus Ochoa
Coronado (CA) Police Department

“Knowing that Lexipol is keeping our policies current means that there isn’t something else for us to worry about. We can focus on our jobs. That definitely gives us peace of mind.”

Chief Steven Vaccaro
Mokena (IL) Police Department

“If you compare Lexipol to other policy providers, Lexipol is the only one that has policy that has been vetted by other chiefs, industry experts and lawyers. All you have to do is tailor the policies to your agency’s needs.”

Jim Franklin, Executive Director
Minnesota Sheriffs' Association, MN

"Lexipol is, indeed, ahead of the curve with their unique risk management solutions in law enforcement. The Minnesota Sheriffs' Association has been eagerly anticipating the release of the Lexipol Custody Manual. Lexipol meets the needs of law enforcement and custodial agencies by recognizing the emerging challenges facing our agencies, and providing comprehensive tools and resources to reduce liability and risk in a professional and highly efficient manner. The Minnesota Sheriffs' Association is proud of its continued partnership with Lexipol."

Close [X]
Close [X]
Close [X]
Close [X]