In the past 32 years, U.S. law enforcement tactics, procedures, and policies have evolved because of these tragic incidents.
Not all of us are LEO’s but their training in gunfight tactics have trickled down to private citizen training as well.
The gear and training employed by officers is much different today, partly as a result of the infamous FBI Miami shootout in 86. There have been other game-changing gunfights in the last quarter century. The following segment examines each of them and how they changed LE tactics, procedures, and policies.
The following are compilation of Police Mag interviews with LEO trainers, firearms experts, and tactical instructors to assess the lasting impacts of these events on patrol officers.
As noted by Massad Ayoob, former director of Lethal Force Institute, in addition to horrific circumstances, these incidents contain plenty of bravery by law enforcement officers.
“One thing you take from all of these is the tremendous courage of cops fighting against the odds, for their brothers and for the public they serve,” Ayoob says. “It’s inspiring.”
Carl Drega Rampage Aug. 19, 1997: Bloomfield, Vt
Recluse Carl Drega took his one-man war with society across state lines on Aug. 19, 1997, launching a rampage that started with the murder of two New Hampshire troopers attempting to ticket him in the parking lot of a LaPerle’s IGA market in Colebrook.
Drega, was armed with an AR-15 and ballistic vest, stole the trooper’s cruiser and drove to Columbia, where he killed a judge and newspaper editor.
He then crossed into Vermont, running a game warden off the road and firing on responding officers who located the stolen cruiser.
Two New Hampshire troopers and a U.S. Border Patrol agent with an M14 .308 rifle providing mutual aid eventually stopped Drega by shooting and killing him. The gunman had also been struck in the vest with a rifled shotgun slug.
Following the incident, rural agencies began equipping their officers with patrol rifles, says Ayoob, who was a reserve officer in New Hampshire.
“Drega sold more police patrol rifles than the entire firearms industry sales force,” says Ayoob. “It reminded the public that smalltown, rural departments were just as likely to face this sort of thing as the municipal departments.”
FBI Miami Shootout April 11, 1986: Pinecrest, FL
This close-quarters gun battle involved eight FBI agents and two heavily armed suspects during a felony stop in southern Miami.
This horrific incident led FBI Firearms Training Unit Director John Hall to conclude that the carnage was primarily “an ammo failure.”
The FBI’s after-action report solidified Hall’s belief, because it showed that Michael Platt and William Matix—an Army Ranger and Army MP of the 101st Airborne, respectively—sustained fatal wounds yet continued to bring the fight to the agents.
The agents had fired .38 Special and 9mm rounds from revolvers and semi-auto pistols, which lacked adequate stopping power, FBI officials said afterward.
Only Special Agent Edmundo Mireles deployed a long gun, Remington 870 pump-action shotgun.
One bullet, in particular, was singled out as the “shot that failed.” Fired by Special Agent Jerry Dove, this 9mm bullet struck Platt’s right forearm, entered his right ribcage, and stopped an inch from his heart.
Platt survived to fight for four more minutes, eventually killing agents Dove and Benjamin Grogan.
Matix had also apparently been taken out of the fight early with a .38 Special +P round fired by Special Agent Gordon McNeill from his S&W Model 19 that struck Matix in the face and bruised his brain.
According to Dr. French Anderson’s “Forensic Analysis of the April 11, 1986, FBI Firefight,” the wound “must have been devastating.” After he lay unconscious for more than a minute, Matix became alert, left his car, and joined Platt in agent Grogan’s and agent Dove’s vehicle.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, the FBI phased out revolvers and .38 Special ammunition. Agents were also eventually issued H&K MP5 submachine guns for high-risk encounters.
“The FBI went looking for a pistol round with deeper penetration,” says Dave Spaulding, a retired Ohio police lieutenant and pistol instructor. “It’s not important that you hit something, it’s important that you hit something important.”
The FBI’s adoption of 10mm Auto to attain greater stopping power popularized the then-obscure round.
The FBI later switched to a subsonic load (the “10mm FBI”) to better tame the full-powered 10mm that delivered about 38,000 pounds psi, says Ayoob, who’s written extensively about the incident.
Later, the FBI switched to the .40-caliber S&W that was the most prevalent duty ammo in law enforcement in that era. The .40-caliber provides similar ballistics to a 10mm in a shorter casing.
Fast forward to the modern day, with the advancement of technology – the 9mm round can perform just as well as the 10mm in terms of penetration.
The FBI has gone back to the 9mm not for the knockdown power but for less recoil and ability to do multiple rapid fire. Another plus is the high magazine capacity which can bring more fire power to the fight.
Columbine High School Massacre April 20, 1999: Littleton, CO
The attack on Columbine High School on April 20, 1999, by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold with bombs and a small arsenal of shotguns and carbines was more of a failed bombing than a shooting incident, according to Dave Cullen, who wrote the bestseller “Columbine.”
The shooting was bad enough. The Columbine incident may have become one of the most studied active-shooter massacres in law enforcement and led to the popularization of IARD (Immediate Action Rapid Deployment) among tactical teams. During the Columbine massacre, Jefferson County (Colo.) Sheriff’s Office tactical officers followed a traditional strategy of surrounding the building, setting up a perimeter, and containing the damage. The results were catastrophic.
The IARD tactic (which was actually used by the LAPD prior to Columbine) calls for a four-person team to advance into the site of a shooting, optimally using a diamond-shaped wedge, to stop the shooter as quickly as possible and save lives. Cullen has said the tactic, used at Virgina Tech, “probably saved dozens of lives.”
The IARD tactic has evolved since Columbine because the four-officer response has existed as a theoretical approach and has been rarely used in the field.
“It was all based around the four-officer cell,” says Don Alwes, an active-shooter instructor with the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA).
“It could be a diamond, a T, or a Y. But none of those formations look like they’re supposed to when you start using them in the real world due to the environment structures.”
Regardless of formation, Alwes reiterates the idea that first-responding officers can’t wait for SWAT to engage an active killer.
In every first responder option will always be the “now go plan” dictated by the dynamics of the situation.
North Hollywood Bank Robbery Feb. 28, 1997: Los Angeles, CA
The Los Angeles officers who found themselves under a barrage of heavy machine-gun fire from the North Hollywood bank robbers quickly realized that their 9mm pistols and shotguns were ineffective against the armored gunmen.
Officers responding to the Bank of America branch along Laurel Canyon Boulevard on Feb. 28, 1997, engaged Larry Phillips, Jr. and Emil Matasareanu from the cover of a locksmith shop across a four-lane thoroughfare.
LEO’s typically trained at 25 yards with 9mm handguns fired from 70 yards, attempted to answer the military-style rifles—a full-auto Romanian AIM AK-47 variant, Norinco Type 56 S-1, semi-auto HK91, and modified Bushmaster XM15 E2S—used by the suspects. Their loaded 3,300 rounds of ammo were in boxes and drum magazines inside the trunk of their white Chevy Celebrity.
Nine officers were wounded, and one LAPD Crown Vic squad car was hit at least 56 times during a gun battle that lasted 44 minutes.
During the blistering gunfight, 650 rounds were fired at the suspects, who fired 1,101 rounds at officers.
With his troops outgunned, Lt. Nick Zingo authorized officers to head to nearby BB & Sales Gun store to acquire rifles to match the ones fired by the suspects.
Following the shootout, which was broadcast locally on live television, law enforcement agencies began providing AR-type rifles to patrol officers.
In some cases, the rifles were installed in cruisers. In the case of the Florida Highway Patrol, rifle training was provided and officers bought their own rifles, says Ayoob.
The LAPD also added ballistic Kevlar plating inside the doors of its cruisers.
“Two important lessons come to mind from the North Hollywood shootout,” says retired LAPD Capt. Greg Meyer, a member of the POLICE advisory board.
-“First, it is essential these days to equip patrol officers with rifles. Incident after incident around the country proves this. The North Hollywood officers did not have that resource until SWAT arrived on the scene in the final minutes of the shootout.”
-“Second, several of the nine heroes wounded were detectives, male and female. Don’t overlook tactical training for your detectives.” Everyone needs to keep up-to-date with tactical training. (gunfight drills)
Perceptive agencies also noticed a rescue of a downed colleague by Officer Anthony Cabunoc and his partner with a police cruiser. “A lot more departments seem to model the excellent extrication work that was done there in the field, scooping in and using vehicles as cover to pick up the wounded officers and evacuate them from the field of fire,” says Ayoob. “That was widely emulated.”
Mumbai Attacks Nov. 26, 2008: Mumbai, India
Why would we include this incident that didn’t even occur in the United States? The reasons are many, but here’s a few.
One, we face the same enemy as the Indians, and that enemy loves to copy successful operations.
Two, America’s cities and public gathering areas are extremely vulnerable to this kind of attack.
Three, in India the military responded, but Posse Comitatus will not allow that here. LEO’s and private citizens will have to respond.
That’s why the 10 coordinated shooting and bombing attacks by Islamist terrorists on a hotel, hospital, rail terminus, and other populated locations still keeps American law enforcement tactics instructors awake at night.
The attacks, occurred over four days, resulted in the killing of 164 people and the wounding of at least 308. The lone attacker captured alive disclosed that the attackers were members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based militant organization.
This attacks have triggered a rethinking of terrorist response strategies by police, and the emphasis on lone-officer engagement during deadly assaults.
As with the attacks on Columbine and Virginia Tech, Mumbai also taught officers they must engage active killers to lessen the bloodshed, according to Alwes.
In recent years, lone officers and partners have engaged shooters at a nursing home in Carthage, N.C., in March 2009, and at a military deployment center at Ford Hood, Texas, in November of that year.
“An active shooter situation is not a tactical team problem, it’s a tactical officer problem,” says Alwes. “A tactical officer is anyone on duty.”
The NTOA and other trainers have begun teaching a tactical philosophy known as Multiple-Assault Counter Terrorism Action Capability (MACTAC) that allows more flexible officer deployment when multiple locations are hit. Regardless of the deployment strategy, officers who arrive first at the scene must now take matters into their own hands.
“If we know the killers are active, our first priority above all else is to get in there and stop them,” says Alwes. “We can’t wait for SWAT. The officers at the scene have to stop it.”
This sentiment has spawn into public citizens training who may be caught in the affected area but first responding LEO’s have not arrived yet.
Sources: PoliceMag.com, Masaad Ayoob
[su_heading]Story by Retired St. Lucie County Detective Scott Young[/su_heading]
[su_dropcap style=”light” size=”5″]A[/su_dropcap]s any law enforcement officer knows enemies come in all shapes and sizes. To Florida law enforcement officers one such enemy is the fire ant. Small pesky critter whose bite stings ferociously.
While conducting a traffic stop on a busy two-lane road I had asked the driver for their license and registration and then returned to my vehicle to check their credentials. This is when I felt the sudden yet all-too-familiar stings on my ankle and leg. When I looked down I noticed that my foot was entirely engulfed in fire ants.
The roadway where I conducted this traffic stop is very narrow and I had to be careful entering or exiting my vehicle to ensure not stepping into oncoming traffic. Hastily, I kicked off my boot but continued to get stung inside my uniform pants. I pulled off my sock because it too was covered in fire ants. I carefully held my boot and sock out of the car window, and shook them violently to get rid of the ants. In doing so the sock flew out of my hand into the oncoming traffic which launched it about 50 feet passed the vehicle I had pulled over.
This was right about the time my 911 dispatch advised that the operator’s license was suspended and he had an active warrant for his arrest.
Wanting to retrieve my sock, but fearing to put my bare foot back inside my boots I exited my patrol car and limped along. The driver was laughing and said, “Hey, man, was that your sock that flew past me?”
I retrieved my socks, put my boots back on and then placed him under arrest and consequently in the back of my patrol car. He was a good old country boy who was laughing hysterically, and said, “Hey, bud, if you let me go, I promise not to tell anybody what happened.”
He went to jail and I went to the emergency room. Not a good day for either of us. ASJ
How law enforcement snipers can avoid the dreaded ‘institutional inertia’ that often slows progress at agencies.
As I travel around the nation providing instruction to various law enforcement agencies, I see a consistent trend that greatly inhibits growth and development in the areas of training and equipment.
That trend is a lack of time, money and resources related to sustainment training, and identifying advancements in equipment and tactics.
A man far wiser than I once told me that the three critical assets needed to accomplish tasks were time, money and resources. He continued on by saying that if you’ve got all three at your disposal, tasks get completed quickly and, for the most part, effectively.
However, if you’re lacking in one, then you’d better have
a lot of the other two to make up for the deficiency. That makes sense, but what happens when you don’t have a whole lot of any of the three? This is what most agencies are up against, and it’s an uphill battle.
As a result, what usually happens is acceptance that this is the way it is, and the way it’s always going to be. Let’s call it what it is: institutional inertia. It’s an uncomfortable topic to discuss.
It’s stagnation, it’s a lack of progress, and the results can be deadly in this line of work. Is there a way to get your big boat turned? Absolutely, but in order to turn a big boat, pressure needs to be applied in specific places, and it takes patience and time.
Learning where and how to apply that pressure is critical to making gains and removing your team from the grips of institutional inertia.
As a young sniper I quickly learned that gaining the trust of your leadership is critical to opening the doors to new opportunity. If you want work for your team, your command structure needs to have complete trust and confidence in your abilities.
How do we establish that confidence? It starts with effective communication skills, and creating awareness of deficiencies. Make an effort to deliver solutions to problems rather than simply highlighting problems.
That simple act can go a long way, and presenting multiple courses of action to solve one problem shows that you’re open to suggestions.
I’ve also had a lot of success by inviting leadership to training events. The intent here is to create awareness through illustrating what you do, and what you may be up against when it comes to time, resources and money. Maybe you’re trying to convince your department that you need an infrared illumination capability to augment your current night vision assets and you’re getting push back because of cost.
Reach out to an IR laser company to get a test and evaluation unit, and set up a night shoot for your leadership to see the undeniable pros and cons of positive target identification with that IR asset.
How do you sell it? That’s easy; who doesn’t want to shoot a sniper rifle with night vision and lasers? This is just one example of an attempt to get your leadership engaged with what you do.
Good relationships with your leadership generally equal positive results. Another trend I see is a lack of progression with equipment. The world of precision rifles, optics and other support equipment has literally exploded with innovation in the last 10 years. With that comes a wide variety of solutions that aren’t necessarily associated with a high cost.
Still shooting that tired old Remington M700 PSS that your department bought 10, maybe 15 years ago? Tired of using foam and duct tape to build up a cheek piece that’s inconsistent and unstable? Can’t mount an in-line night vision optic to your rifle? There are plenty of cost-effective stock replacement options out there that will solve those problems.
I’m honestly blown away when this topic comes up in class and only a handful of students are aware of these advancements. The only way you’re going to stay abreast of these advancements is to take the initiative and do the research. With the information age being a way of life, there’s no excuse to not be current with equipment advancements within your discipline.
We don’t always have to do more with less. Let’s say you’ve taken the initiative and educated yourself on the current state-of-the-art as it relates to equipment, tactics, techniques and procedures. You’ve carefully and artfully developed your sales pitch for some more training time and updated equipment.
You’ve outlined solutions before highlighting the problems. You make your pitch, and it’s answered with “Why do we need this? We’ve always been able to make it happen with what we’ve already got. It’s good enough.” It’s incredibly frustrating, and like mentioned above, it’s institutional inertia at work.
Change is scary, change is resisted, and change takes time. How can we find a chink in that armor? A lot of this comes from education and using as many resources as possible to solidify your position. As an example, I always ask my students if they’ve ever heard of the American Sniper Association’s Police Sniper Utilization Report.
Surprisingly only a small percentage of hands go up, and quite frankly, I see that as completely unsatisfactory.
The data in that document alone can be enough to support your position and get your leadership to see merit in your request. Seeing a trend here?
Initiative and education are powerful tools, and they both go a long way to building credibility and defeating institutional inertia. I wish I had all the space necessary to touch on all the topics that law enforcement snipers need to address.
There are so many small things that contribute to the overall preparedness of a law enforcement sniper, and for some, you may be fighting an uphill battle. My intent with this article was to provide some insight and tools for those in need, and to get the creative juices flowing so you can hopefully invoke some positive change.
Snipers are selected based on certain personality traits. Intelligent, intellectual, creative, resourceful and passionate are just a few that come to mind. If you’re one of the many who are plagued with some of the problems mentioned above and want to invoke positive change, be humble, take the initiative, educate yourself, use every available resource, and be relentless in your pursuit. Never accept average.
Editor’s note: Author Caylen Wojcik is the owner/founder of Kalinski Consulting & Training Services, which specializes in providing precision shooting instruction to law enforcement and military professionals. To learn more, please visit kalinskiconsutling.com.
When the boys in blue have to catch a handfull of bad apples, why take the time to climb a fence when you could just bust through it?
In this video we see two cops taking the “straightforward method” of getting to the perp, busting through a helpless fence like the Kool-Aid Man with a schedule to keep. While you might be able to find fault with their destruction of presumably private property –and the construction of the fence– you can’t find any with their effectiveness!
Shout out to the perp who jumps the fence twice to get away from the newly-nicknamed “Juggernaut Cop”, too. I suspect that had less to get away from getting caught and more to do with not getting bowled over in the process!
Another shout-out to the bush in the lower-right-hand corner for catching another enthusiastic-entrance-making officer before he could hit the grass.
I’m sure the department paid for the damage done to the fence.
by Sam Morstan
Source: Jo Jo Spencer Facebook
[su_dropcap style=”light” size=”5″]“T[/su_dropcap]his is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine.” The Rifleman’s Creed vibrated through my bones the day I became a United States Marine, and has recently taken on a whole new meaning. As the years have passed by, I find it challenging to recall the entire creed, which has intermittently faded over time. However, that first phrase always remained near my heart and astonishingly enough, relates to my children. I know that might sound different – the words gun and children combined together – but just like my rifle, my children are mine, there “are many like” them, but these two are mine.
My name is Rachel Trexler and I grew up in the rural backcountry of Mims, Fla., I am a Marine Corps veteran and a mother of two adorable hell-raising tiny humans: my son, four-year-old Rylan, and his nine-month-old sister Raven. As I kiss their faces, my warrior heart echoes the reminder that there is no limit to the fierceness with which I will protect my family, which is why now, as a stay-at-home mom, I still choose to carry a gun in my day-to-day life.
I WASN’T RAISED AROUND FIREARMS. It wasn’t until the age of 14 that I fired my first gun. I can recall being anxious – it was a revolver – and I was qualifying my horse to receive a law enforcement certification. It is necessary to train any horse that might be used in a law-enforcement capacity, to include search-and-rescue and crowd control, to be accustomed to gunfire, a condition known as being “gunfire neutral.”
It is necessary to train any horse that might be used in a law enforcement capacity, to include search-and-rescue and crowd control, to be accustomed to gunfire, a condition known as being “gunfire neutral.”
Years later, I earned a Bachelor of Arts in Forensic Psychology and an Associate of Science in Crime Scene Technology. However, it was when I answered the call to join the ranks in the military that cemented the magnitude of our country’s freedoms, and the sacrifices others have made defending them. I can unequivocally say being in the military made a huge difference in becoming the woman I am today. It is not to say a woman has to be trained by the military to appreciate and/or own and shoot guns, but I still have fond memories of the M-16A2 service rifle with old iron sights. There is nothing compared to learning to shoot day in and day out – and it was all about you and your rifle. I memorized its statistics and range, I field stripped it, cleaned it and put it back together a million times over – I literally slept with it pretty soundly too, if you ask me.
I HAVE SINCE HONORABLY DISCHARGED from the Marine Corps, but have not stopped improving my shooting skills, and I now practice the art of tactical accessorizing. Much like the awesome feeling of getting a new pair of heels, I felt like a newly crowned beauty queen when I was gifted an Eotech Holographic sight for my AR-15 – was it Christmas Day? Being fashion conscious, I can’t leave the house without my Emerson Karambit knife. For Valentine’s Day, I was the girl who got a Tiffany’s dog tag with my children’s and fiancée’s initials inscribed, as well as a Gerber Ghostrike blade to take down the mountain with me as I shred on my snowboard. Outstandingly, women are now influencing the firearms market, which at one point exclusively targeted male consumers. I’m proud to be one of these women. Not all people choose to carry a weapon. Some choose to carry nothing at all, and that’s OK in my eyes. This is one of the rights protected by the United States Constitution. Anyone can choose.
FOR ABOUT EIGHT YEARS, I was head of security for a restaurant/bar in the historic downtown district of Melbourne, Fla. Closing in the dark and very early hours of the morning, I was grateful for my Second Amendment rights, as I retrieved my Smith & Wesson M&P Shield from the safe and headed for home. While the current debate on the legal right to carry intensifies, the number of women who are choosing to bear arms is increasing exponentially. My Shield is a prime example of this; gun manufacturers continue to increase products geared towards the ladies. After all, it’s a .40-caliber that can be worn on the waistband of my yoga pants and offers the luxury of a low recoil. The fact that two perfect worlds – gun carry and yoga pants– collide with my 5.11 range/yoga pants solidifies that women have made their presence known and manufacturers are listening.
IN BETWEEN HAVING my son and daughter, I chose to attend the police academy, ultimately achieving my law-enforcement certificate. It was during one of these academy days that I found myself competing against a fellow veteran – former 1st Battalion Army Ranger Nicholas Worthy (see American Shooting Journal’s Behind The Badge feature Heart Of Bronze in the July 2015 Issue) – in the tactical shooting challenge. Even though I took second in that competition, it was that decorated ranger who took first. He is now a field training officer with the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office in Florida and my handsome fiancée. Our beliefs run parallel – whether you are purple, minion blue, male or female, everyone is equal.
The Second Amendment, by varying degrees depending on the state, has recently led to a controversial topic – open carry. In Florida, legislators are introducing bills that would allow citizens to carry weapons openly. In my own rationale, any person who carries a gun also bears the very heavy yet necessary burden to carry responsibly. This responsibility extends to whether I carry openly or concealed. However, if Florida does pass open-carry laws, I just might be able to accessorize a few new holsters that would match my daily wardrobe.
As my wardrobe collection expanded, I found a convenient place for my Heckler & Koch P2000 SK .40, which is now secured under my steering wheel. It’s kind of the same to me as Burberry in the fashion world, and I love them both. There are plenty of other mothers like me, such as my children’s godmother, Deputy Michelle Sweet. She works for the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office and was a stay-at-home mother for 10 years. One day, she put on a pair of combat boots, pulled up her hair and enrolled alongside me in the academy. Deputy Sweet’s importance to the law-enforcement field is magnified because she is a woman and her leadership cannot be overstated.
Because of women in strong roles and their resilience in a historically male-dominated career, other women confidently set their sights on similar positions, and are getting the opportunity to serve alongside male counterparts in all areas of formerly male-only jobs, including military combat roles, SWAT teams and other special operations units. This is proof that we as a society are evolving when it comes to understanding the capabilities women possess.
IN 1788, RICHARD HENRY LEE proclaimed, “To preserve liberty, it is essential the whole body of people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them … ” It is pertinent that those of us who carry and train with weapons aid in the next generation’s safety, so mothers like us will practice, as well as teach our children the importance of gun safety and awareness. What is the best part of being friends with other mothers who carry? I don’t need to discuss why I just locked my purse up in her safe and opened that bottle of wine for a girl’s night in. The responsibility to maintain our guns in a safe manner falls directly on our shoulders. Practicing safety is paramount; there is no room for error.
When it comes to shooting, my family-owned Armalight AR-10 will always leave me smiling like I’m back cheering on the football field. My Burris 8-32×44 scope is excellent at spotting the rounds I’m sending down range. After all, it’s a long, long walk to that target. That unmistakable sound of a .308 or 7.62×51 will turn heads like a woman in a red dress.
What’s so exciting about our present day is there is no longer a norm for how things should be. Our rights protected under the Constitution are applied equally to everyone, as they should be.
MY NEXT MISSION IS LAW SCHOOL, although now that military infantry divisions are open to women, a girl could be tempted.
Going forward, I’ll be keeping a close watch on the evolution of new gun laws that may allow firearms to be carried on school campuses. Human beings have an inherent right to protect ourselves, our families and our properties. Our founding fathers placed such importance on this, it is second only to my freedom of speech.
Our first president, George Washington, declared, “Firearms stand next in importance to the constitution itself … They are the American people’s liberty … ” The Bill of Rights is just as ingrained within my veins as my blood type. The Second Amendment, withstanding all opposition thus far, still remains to ensure that individuals who wish to bear arms can do so. And with that, the numbers of women who choose to legally own, carry and shoot guns will continue to multiply.
THE REASONS A WOMAN CHOOSES to carry are often as diverse as women themselves. But for me, I carry because I choose to be a wife and mother who will always be at the ready; to fiercely guard and protect those I love. I’m the woman who chooses to accessorize with an extended mag in my everyday carry, because the cop I’m marrying just simply wouldn’t fit in my purse. ASJ
[su_dropcap style=”light” size=”5″]C[/su_dropcap]all this guy! He’s lived an incredible life and has amazing stories,” my editor told me. So, I called Bob Cameron, a veteran of the US Air Force, an expert bloodhound trainer and handler, an expert witness for tracking, a legend in search-and-rescue (SAR) and the inventor of the most important $5 tool you will ever own. But first, to understand Cameron you have to understand bloodhounds and life in the rugged states of Montana and Idaho.
Cameron’s first experience with a missing-persons search came when he was a young teenager in the mountains of northern California’s Alameda County. The local sheriff’s deputies were looking for a couple of missing girls, and Cameron volunteered to help. Sixty years later, he is still actively participating in searches, although according to him, “I don’t do the technical climbing anymore.” For all of those years, the only time Cameron wasn’t searching for people was during the three years (1951-54) he spent in the Air Force, stationed at Mather Air Force Base in Rancho Cordova, Calif. Like many men of his generation, he lied about his age – enlisting at age 16. He was part of the aircraft rescue and air police. His job was two-fold: respond to flight-line crashes and provide security for the base.
AFTER HIS TIME IN THE AIR FORCE, Cameron moved to the wilds of Montana. He became active with SAR at his local sheriff’s office, and his involvement with bloodhounds happened by accident – literally. Ralph McKenzie, Cameron’s best friend, had been working SAR in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. He was hurt while on duty and could no longer care for a SAR bloodhound. He called Cameron and said, “I have a surprise for you.” That surprise was three-year-old Radar – Cameron’s soon-to-be best friend and partner in crime.
BLOODHOUNDS HAVE an incredible sense of smell combined with a natural predilection to track. They have a long-term memory for scents, and can deftly distinguish one from another. According to Cameron, “Every sheriff’s office in this country should have a bloodhound for their SAR teams.”
We humans slough off 10,000 body cells a second. When we get excited, or scared, that number can jump to 100,000. The cells are distinct in their smell. You and I can’t smell them, but bloodhounds can and use them to track. They follow the scent of the cells. Most of the time the handler uses what is called a scent article – a shirt, sock, pants, bed sheets or anything that the target person has come in contact with will work. Once the dog has recognized and imprinted the scent, the hunt is on.
Handlers don’t always have a scent article for the hound, so they have a unique talent called drop-scent tracking. The dog is allowed to smell everyone present and then tracks the smell of the person who is no longer present. It’s the dog’s process-of-elimination skill. Amazing!
AS ONE CAN IMAGINE, SAR work can be very rewarding. Reuniting missing loved ones, catching criminals and rescuing stranded people bring these workers true satisfaction. However, not all searches have happy endings. Sometimes the work consists of body recovery and sometimes that body is of a child.
Jennifer, a two-year-old girl out of Grangeville, Idaho, was kidnapped from her bed on October 31, 1979. The county sheriff spent several days looking for the girl with no luck. They called Cameron and asked him to come and assist with the search. At the time Cameron lived in Hamilton, Mont., and worked as a deputy sheriff for Idaho County, Idaho. Cameron was understandably upset when he found out that the girl had been missing for a week. Three suspects voluntarily agreed to take polygraph tests. Two came to the office, but the third fled before testing.
His passion was so powerful that he gave a bloodhound to any law-enforcement agency or SAR team that wanted one.
The third, Robert Howerton, became the prime suspect, and using his T-shirt and a piece of little Jennifer’s bedding, Cameron and Radar began their search. The dog tracked through a wooded marsh area to an old trapper’s cabin. The cabin was green with moss, and inside they found mattresses stacked on top of each other also covered in moss – except for the very top one, which had been wiped off. Radar kept alerting to a ladder that accessed the attic. In the attic they found the little girl’s nightgown.
Radar continued to track from the cabin to the Clearwater River 3 miles away. At the river Radar began tracking down a dirt road, eventually losing the scent. After returning to the bank, Cameron was speaking with other searchers when Radar took off running down the river’s edge. The Clearwater was moving fairly quickly, so there was no way that the little girl could still be in the river – not after this long. But Cameron trusted his dog and asked the others if they had a boat or raft. Cameron and a couple of the men floated down the river in an inflatable raft until they came to a slow-moving eddy. They looked around and couldn’t see anything. As they were preparing to leave, Cameron looked straight down, and in about 5 feet of water he could see the shape of a tiny child. They’d found Jennifer. Cameron retrieved her moss-covered body and made history as the first expert witness allowed to present bloodhound evidence in a trial in Idaho. Howerton confessed to the kidnapping and was sent to jail, thanks mostly to Cameron and Radar having found the child’s body.
AS CAMERON BEGAN to understand the incredible benefits of bloodhounds, he decided to start breeding these amazing dogs. His passion was so powerful that he gave a bloodhound to any law-enforcement agency or SAR team that wanted one, and all they would have to pay for was the transportation of getting the dog there – that’s it.
In the mid-1980s, he got a call from Bob Herring, a young deputy in Fresno, Calif. Deputy Herring wanted a dog, but his sheriff wouldn’t allow it. Cameron wasn’t going to allow this to happen, so he pulled some strings and the deputy got his dog. The city of Fresno made a big deal of the dog coming onboard, and had all of the local press there to greet the bloodhound as he came off the plane. They named the dog Montana.
Herring and Montana made quite the pair, and went on to help locate dozens of victims during the Sanger, Calif., earthquake even while they were still in training. These two also caught a pair of thieves while traveling home from training in the mountains. Using the drop-scent technique, Montana was able to smell the store owners, then tracked the two thieves a couple of miles down the road, where Herring found them drinking their stolen beer. Herring, now retired, still trains officers on the use of bloodhounds.
EVEN WHILE CAMERON was raising dogs he was actively being called out on searches. He tells of a time when he and his partner John Michaels of Hamilton, Mont., were called to find a missing airman from Malmstrom Air Force base in Great Falls, Mont. Within 42 minutes of arriving on scene and getting a scent article, they and Radar found the wanderer. Had the lost airman gone any further, he would have ended up in lost in the wilderness and more than likely have died. The airman’s friends were amazed at how fast and physically fit Cameron and Michaels were. They were thrown off guard because the men were dressed in many layers, giving the appearance of being overweight rubes. When one of the airmen asked how they had gone straight up the mountain in the snow and found the man in 42 minutes, Michaels replied, “We just sit in the bar and drink beer until they call us.” No further explanation was given as they packed up and went home grinning.
In the 1980s a wealthy family bought a summer ranch next to the Salmon River in Idaho. The father raised Doberman pinschers and one pup was born with floppy ears, hence not worth selling, but his nine-year-old son wanted to keep it. The dad allowed it, and one summer day the boy and his dog wandered off and got lost in some of the most treacherous country in central Idaho. The sheriff called Cameron and asked for his help. Cameron and the team searched for the little boy, who by this time had been missing for five days. The terrain was steep and dropped almost vertically down to the Salmon, which is also known as “The river of no return.”
Finally, when they had almost given up hope, Cameron stood on a point overlooking the river and called the boy’s name as loudly as he could. A faint reply – “I’m down here” – led to the boy and his dog being reunited with his family. The father, a striking fellow standing well over 6 feet tall, was overcome with emotion. He offered Cameron a handmade walnut box. Inside was a rare S&W .357 revolver. Cameron explained that he could not accept the gift. After much discussion and negotiation – including a threat to throw the revolver in the river if it wasn’t accepted – Cameron took the gun on the condition he be allowed to raffle it off to raise money for a new SAR building.
“If You Can be Heard – You Can be Rescued!”
CAMERON NO LONGER conducts technical searches, but he remains dedicated to people who might go missing, and has invented a must-have tool for anyone who goes outdoors. It’s a whistle, but not just any whistle. It’s a whistle that is capable of 120 decibels, which is the equivalent of a rock concert or a chainsaw 3 feet away. This whistle has been adopted by the Coast Guard, Forest Service, National Parks Service, Army Corps of Engineers and Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT), to name a few. The slogan for his company, named Whistles for Life, is “If You Can be Heard – You Can be Rescued!” Blowing a whistle is much easier than screaming, and can be sustained for much longer periods. This whistle also makes a great personal-defense item. I blew one and it seriously attracts attention. The whistles come in bright colors and are lightweight, as well as flat, making them easy to find and carry. Cameron is also a charter member, patron member and golden eagle with the National Rifle Association. Whether it is searching for lost university students, backpackers in the mountains of Idaho and Montana, armed robbers or kidnapped children, Cameron has been there to help locate them.
I spoke with Cameron for more than two hours, and it was some of the best time I’ve spent in my life. He is one of a kind. I told him that my son is studying recreation management, and is interested in doing SAR. Cameron immediately asked for my son’s name and told me to have him call. Bob’s knowledge of search techniques and bloodhounds is immense, but his heart is even bigger. His life and experiences could easily fill a book, and it’s a book that needs to be written before his knowledge is lost forever.
In a world that often seems lost, it is thanks to people like Cameron and his partner Radar who are the light at the end of the tunnel. ASJ
Editor’s note: If you are interested in more information about Whistles for Life, you can visit them at whistlesforlifellc.com.
Cameron was an Idaho County, Idaho, deputy sheriff, but worked with law enforcement agencies all over the country that needed his expertise.
Idaho County, Idaho, was very proud to have Radar as one of its citizens.
Posted in Law Enforcement Tagged with: Bloodhound Montana, Bloodhounds, Bob Cameron, Deputy Bob Herring, Dog tracker, Dog trainer, Law Enforcement, Search and Rescue, tracking criminals, Troy Taysom, Whistles For life