Riding Shotgun May Be in Vogue

As we near the end of 2007, this year has seen a dramatic rise in violence and unfortunately, deadly violence towards law enforcement officers all across the nation. It seems like not a few days goes by that we're not hearing or reading about another officer being killed by a suspect versus a traffic-related accident, which in the past has been the major cause of death for police officers.

Riding shotgun makes a comeback?

As most folks know, the term "riding shotgun" came from the old cowboy days when stagecoaches crossed the wide open territories, loaded with valuable cargo, cash, and other attractive items for thieves. To help protect the load, a second person would ride up top with the driver openly carrying, as the name implies, a shotgun. The reason was quite simple and obvious: to help deter thieves from attempting to rob the stagecoach, and if they did, to provide additional back up for the driver.

With the recent surge in violence against officers, with no reason to believe there is an end in sight anytime soon, law enforcement executives may want to consider a new class of police officer whose primary mission is in effect to "ride shotgun." If this sounds even somewhat attractive, but the thought of setting up an entire new human resources structure to include pay, benefits, retirement, etc., is too overwhelming, perhaps it might make sense to start off with a well-trained and -qualified unit of volunteers to fulfill this mission.

Several months ago in south Texas, a deputy from a large, yet very understaffed agency was on patrol with a civilian "ride along." It just so happens that the female "rider" was previously employed with the agency in a civilian capacity yet had some basic firearms training. That evening, the deputy conducted a "routine" traffic stop at which time the driver of the vehicle exited and opened fire on the deputy, shooting him in his gun hand. The suspect went back to his own vehicle and jumped into the driver's seat. Not knowing if the suspect was going to back up over the deputy, grab another gun or what his intentions were, the female rider took the patrol cruiser's shotgun and opened fire on the suspect who she just witnessed shooting the deputy. The suspect was found dead behind the wheel of his vehicle, not too far away from the scene of the shooting. Publicly speaking, most rank and file members of law enforcement will say, "we appreciate her efforts, however it's not the job of the public to shoot at suspects." But, privately speaking, many of the same officers will say, "great job, she can ride with me anytime."

Drastic times require innovative thinking.

While the idea of putting "second class" officers in patrol vehicles to act as back ups may sound drastic, the fact of the matter is statistics clearly show that two-man patrol units are far more less likely to be fired upon from a suspect than are solo units. Even the hardened criminals who vow to go out in a blaze of glory and swear they'll never be taken alive, when all is said and done, see the merits of being "tried by twelve, versus carried by six". Knowing there are two officers behind them during a t-stop does give pause to even the most determined bad guy. And for those who do choose to end it all in a blaze of glory, no one can argue that two trained and qualified shooters are better than one on one; it's just simple math.

Depending on where you live in the nation, the idea of creating a "shotgun" position is not only practical, but is already being done. Some states have special officer capacities which, for all intents and purposes are volunteer positions with reduced training and authority as compared to a level one or ywo reserve officer in states such as Florida and California. In these states, reserve officers, when on duty, are fully sworn officers with the same level of authority as full time police officers. In the case of level one officers, they can patrol on their own, handling the same calls as their full-time counterparts. In the case of "special police," as it applies, the positions would be fulfilled by qualified volunteers whose training is geared towards the needs of their function. In this example, the individual, upon a successful background check, physical agility and other appropriate tests would undergo the same defensive tactics, firearms, cuffing, take downs, restraint holds, baton training, etc., as a full time officer, minus the areas they will not have the authority to perform. In the case of a domestic violence call, the special officer does not need to know every subsection of the law regarding DV cases; however they do need to know you don't stand in front of the door when you knock, you always keep the two (or more) parties separated, you never let them near the kitchen or sharp objects, you never turn your back on any suspect, and of course, always protect your partner's back as that is your primary mission. Likewise, when conducting a traffic stop in the "shotgun" position, you don't need to know the exact vehicle code your full-time sworn officer partner is stopping the driver for, but you do need to know how to approach the vehicle, make sure the trunk is closed, always watch the hands of the occupants, look for a cover position in case you do end up in a gun battle, etc.

I object, your honor

While many questions, such as "What kind of uniform would they wear?" and "What do we call them?" may arise from this thinking, the biggest obstacle may come from the very people they would be there to protect--your fellow full time officers. If no one else speaks out, you will most likely get feedback from your agency's union rep, which of course is their job to do. The bottom line is this is not a ploy to bring in lesser-paid police officers, thus creating a two-tiered system. It's simply a method to help protect your agency's biggest investment and the lives of these very brave officers, with a program that could be up and running within a year's time frame. For agencies who are short on manpower and offering generous incentives for laterals, or are reducing their standards to attract more people, this is one consideration which will provide you the additional cover you need on the street until you can fill the ranks with qualified full-time sworn officers, without giving away the store or lowering your standards to do so. An additional benefit to consider is this may provide you with a "farm team" to recruit from, as you'll know first hand who within the "special police" ranks you'd want as full time officers.

While this method clearly is not for every agency and may not be for yours, for agencies whose staffing shortages are causing an officer safety issue with no resolution in sight, you may want to consider looking back to western history for a simple, yet effective measure to help protect your most precious assets with a shotgun rider.