Ep. 26 Should I Shoot? Do I Assist An Officer Engaged in a Gunfight?


Editor’s Note: The following is a post from Sammy Reese, a former Marine Corps Artillery Officer and retired police officer from California. He is a part-time range master for the police department he retired from as well as a life-long martial artist and combatives coach.

Check out the last five episodes in this series:

Tragedy struck again recently. Two police officers were killed in Palm Springs, California while responding to a domestic dispute. I don’t have any of the details yet, but the incident did bring up a question — or should I say questions — from a family friend. “If I see police officers who need help, should I get involved?” That conversation moved into, “What if I see cops being shot and I’m armed? How should I help?”

During my time working uniformed patrol, I had a couple incidents where someone approached us while taking a suspect into custody and asked if we needed help. They were good intentioned and a polite. “We got it,” got them to move back.

If you see an officer struggling with a suspect, I would communicate directly with the officer as you approach — “Officer/deputy, do you need any help?” If they say, “yes,” I’m sure he/she will tell you what they need. Please don’t just jump in and help. If I were fighting with a suspect and someone who was not in uniform jumped in, I would assume that person was trying to help the suspect. It has happened. This could be bad for you.

At more than a few crashes, I’ve had nurses, off-duty paramedics/EMT and, on a few rare occasions, a doctor, stop and offer help. If the fire department wasn’t on scene yet, I always accepted their help. If the fire department was there, I let them make the call on whether any outside medical assistance was needed.

Police officers all over the U.S. are being shot and ambushed at an alarming rate. I’ve got a few opinions on the subject, but this isn’t the place to air them. If you are close enough to help officers who are actively being engaged by gunfire, you are also on the X, as we say. I’m going to make a couple assumptions here: You aren’t wearing any type of body armor, you aren’t identifiable as a good guy (meaning you’re not wearing a uniform) and you are alone (as in you have no family with you.) If the officers engaged see you approaching with a firearm in your hand and you aren’t on their team, you could end up getting shot by them, and the same could be said for getting shot by the suspect as well.

This type of event is wide open to all kinds of “what if?” questions and each of those will lead to more questions. How I answer the question comes down to this: It depends on all kinds of factors that have to be analyzed and acted upon in seconds. If I’m with my family, they are priority No. 1. I will do whatever I can to evacuate them to safety or get them in the best position of cover I can find, and I’m holding with them. If I see officers caught in an ambush and getting killed, I’m going to have to make the call on the spot as to what I’ll do and how I’ll do it.

I wish the answer were a simple one. Train hard and plan for the worst so you are ready when it happens. Keep asking “what if?” questions and work through the problems.

For more critical information on the use of deadly force and other firearms and self-defense topics, visit www.uscca.com/GunsAmerica.

About the author: S.H. Blannelberry is the News Editor of GunsAmerica.

{ 21 comments… add one }
  • Missouri Pilgrim October 31, 2016, 1:52 pm

    If the cops don’t want our help, then let’s walk away and leave them to whatever happens. Sure, we might be able to possibly save their lives, but if they don’t want us — walk away.

  • Beachhawk October 29, 2016, 1:33 am

    I can tell you as a former law enforcement officer, the last thing an officer in a gun battle wants to see is a civilian rushing toward him with a gun in hand. If you think you can help, remain under cover, call to the officer, tell him you have a gun and ask if he wants your help. If you see an officer struggling with a suspect, approach with open hands and ask if the officer wants your help, then follow his/her instructions. Do not approach with a gun or any other weapon in your hands. Do not barge uninvited into the fight unless the officer has been disabled and is in immediate danger and then make your intentions as clear as possible under the circumstances.

  • LAMan October 28, 2016, 3:19 pm

    I live 2-3 miles from where the Baton Rouge PD officers and East Baton Rouge Parish deputies were ambushed and murdered this summer, and I drive through that area routinely. A former JROTC cadet of mine, whom I view practically as a son, is now BRPD and that is his patrol area…it just so happened he was off-shift, or he would have been responding. The BRPD officer who was killed was my “stepson’s” cousin. When my “stepson” was a high schooler, I got to know his mother and uncle very well: both veteran BRPD officers. Before teaching JROTC 10 years here in my hometown, I was 24 years active duty Army and retired as a lieutenant colonel.

    All that background is for this: whenever I’m out and about and see a LEO, I scan the environment and decide whether to stand by unobtrusively to “cover his six,” or lolligag casually nearby until he leaves, or just go about my business because everything looks “green.” In an emergency, I’ll assess and react. Everything is a concern, including fratricide, but I’m used to that idea. Am I going to abandon a comrade because I *might* receive friendly fire? Simple: no.

    This is my city too, and I have some responsibility for it, and that’s all there is to it. Of course I’ll use judgment, but my instinct is to “march to the sound of the guns.” Anybody reading this column or this comment will understand. Lawyerizing will not cause me to allow a LEO to get killed because I fear a lawsuit, period, although of course I’ll try to take all that into account.

    PS: if my wife is present, she’ll do her best to cover MY six. Texas-born, Louisiana raised, an Army wife for 24 years. She’ll have .38 and/or .380 reasons why nobody should come after me. .44 more in the truck, to boot.

    • Missouri Pilgrim October 31, 2016, 1:55 pm

      I hear the cop telling us to say away. Are you hearing something else?

      • Gregg E Edwards November 4, 2016, 10:03 am

        stay away from me too Pilgrim.

  • BillyBob October 28, 2016, 7:21 am

    The bystander who tried to intervene THAT DIED -WHO IS GOING TO SUPPORT HIS FAMILY ?
    After killing her and wounding a bystander who tried to intervene,
    On Thursday, her worst fears were realized when her estranged husband, Eulalio Tordil, 62, shot and killed her, before embarking on a shooting rampage that left two others dead and three injured, say police.

    • g. holfstra October 28, 2016, 8:06 am

      wtf dude, calm down and learn to spell. sheesh.

      • BillyBob October 28, 2016, 10:19 am

        Dude go eat another fudge covered hotdog ! Bet your pardner calls you rosebud !

    • Matt October 28, 2016, 6:53 pm

      I don’t see how that case has anything to do with assisting police officers with your gun.
      All capital letters means you are yelling.
      Why do you respond with childish insults?

      • Billybob December 3, 2016, 7:33 pm

        Poor dumb matt , Thanks he’s a hero ! Please explain how the backup officers are going to know you are not the bad guy ??
        All they see is you with a gun ! WHO is going to tell the responding police if the officer is dead you are not the bad guy !
        Off-Duty Officer Is Fatally Shot by Police in Harlem
        By RUSS BUETTNER and AL BAKERMAY 29, 2009
        Police officers near the scene where a fellow officer was shot at East 125th Street in Harlem on Thursday night. Credit Patrick Andrade for The New York Times
        Maryland Cop Mistook Plainclothes Officer as ‘Threat’ During Fatal Shooting
        By Meghan Keneally
        Mar 16, 2016, 4:58 PM ET
        A New York City police officer who had just gotten off duty was fatally shot late Thursday in East Harlem by a fellow officer who mistook him for an armed criminal, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said.


      • Billybob December 4, 2016, 6:46 am

        Jump in there Matt ! SOME PEOPLE YOU HAVE TO YELL AT , LIKE YOU ! See you in the BIG HOUSE OR MORGUE, HERO !Good Samaritan shot, run over while trying to help woman who was shot
        Monday, November 28th 2016, 8:09 pm EST
        Tuesday, November 29th 2016, 11:30 am EST
        By Kiran Chawla, Reporter WHO IS GOING TO PAY HIS HOSPITAL BILLS ? IS HE GOING TO HAVE A JOBS MONTHS LATER !Good Samaritan shot trying to stop kidnapping by illegal immigrant, report says
        Published October 09, 2016 FoxNews.com
        High School Student Gets Shot Twice and Run Over After Stopping to Help Dying Woman
        Posted: 9:20 PM, December 01, 2016
        Updated: 9:20 PM, December 01, 2016Good Samaritan Fatally Shot in Texas Wal-Mart Parking Lot After Trying to Stop Domestic Assault: Police Chief
        Posted 4:40 PM, November 25, 2016, by Tracy Bloom, Updated at 04:43pm, November 25, 2016Good Samaritan killed in NC trying to help motorist stuck in snowstormGood Samaritan is shot dead after trying to stop a man beating his wife in the parking lot of a Walmart on Black FridayIsidro Zarate, 39, was in the parking lot of a San Antonio Walmart on Friday
        He spotted a row involving a man and a woman and decided to intervene
        The suspect, Teles Juarez, shot Zarate in the neck and wounded a woman
        Juarez has been arrested and charged with murder an aggravated assaultRead more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3981876/Good-Samaritan-shot-dead-intervening-domestic-violence-row-parking-lot-Walmart.html#ixzz4RrsoCHbQ
        Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook
        SAN ANTONIO – The family of a good Samaritan killed at a Northwest Side Walmart on Vance Jackson near Interstate 10 Friday identified him as 39-year-old Isidro Zarate.
        Police said Zarate was defending a woman who was being assaulted by 21-year-old Teles Juarez.
        More News Headlines
        1 dead, 2 injured in shooting at Northwest Side Walmart
        Zarate’s family said he was a loving father of four adult sons and had been with his wife for 22 years. His wife said he was a peacemaker, which is why she thinks he felt compelled to tell Juarez to “get his hands off” the unidentified female victim of domestic violence.
        \”He didn\’t like for a man to beat up on a woman,\” said Lisa Benavides, Zarate’s wife.
        Police said Juarez shot and killed Zarate and injured two women.Daniel Wesley pulled on a pair of gloves and searched for the woman’s bullet wounds, looking for the best place to apply pressure.
        The 17-year-old didn’t have his EMT certification yet, but in the critical moments after authorities say April Peck was shot by her boyfriend on Sunday, Wesley was all she had.
        Before the teen could do more, Peck’s boyfriend came roaring back in a Chevy Malibu.
        “If you help her, I’m going to kill you,” he said, according to Wesley’s mother, who spoke to the Advocate, a newspaper based in Baton Rouge.
        The boyfriend, Terrell Walker, rammed the car into Wesley, according to the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office. The car pushed him into the side of an arriving ambulance, shattering his arm and snapping his femur, according to a GoFundMe page set up by his family.
        Injured, Wesley crawled to the median. Investigators say Walker pointed his gun and shot the teen twice.

    • Billybob December 7, 2016, 6:17 pm

      Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy dropped criminal charges today against DeAngelo L. Davis, a Detroit man accused of murdering Wayne State University Police Officer Collin Rose last month. In a news conference that lasted less than four minutes, Worthy said officers are literally working around the clock to find Rose\’s killer. Davis, 31, of Detroit is expected to be released today from jail. \”He is no longer a suspect at this time,\” Worthy said, flanked by Detroit Police Chief James Craig and Wayne State University Chief Anthony Holt. Worthy answered no questions from reporters at the news conference in her office at the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice in downtown Detroit. In a news release, the …

    • Jonny5 December 24, 2016, 7:21 pm

      You are not mental at all…

  • Gene Spanos, Lt. Ret. Police/FF October 28, 2016, 6:26 am

    If and within your arm’s distance that you come up on an Officer fighting with an offender, I would yell
    first – see if he need’s you….if yes…then assist. If no….then step back and help protect against some other
    jumping in until help arrives. Vicarious liability vs. saving an Officer’s life is a fine line.
    Stay safe to all. Never let them violate your air space. Today, sadly, these offenders don’t care
    who lives or dies. /gs.

  • Will Drider October 20, 2016, 1:27 am

    If the gunfight is a mexican standoff type, Take cover, call, observe, backoff. If its spitting distance and your not, it will probably be just about over before you understand what happened. If a solo officer goes down I’d be inclined to get involved, especially if the BG continues to close the distance on the down officer. You ae correct about too many variables. The officer involved is very likley in the “Zone” and may not see my credentials over my belt, hear my voice or comprehend the 10 codes I yell to reassure him. Total crap shoot. Some people are wired to run to the sounds of gunfire, others away. Pretty hard to turn off.

    • DRAINO October 20, 2016, 8:21 am

      Well said, Will. Great article, as usual. After family safety being priority number one, the rest would have to be decided during each scenario on the spot. Likely, more than one cop, I would stay safe and observe if possible. If it’s a lone LE that’s shot…..call 911 and cover him from cover until threat is gone, then render BLS care if possible. You will have to be clear communicating to the injured LE if they are conscious. Make sure you communicate to 911 that you are armed and you are helping the LE. Be prepared to drop the weapon and assume the position when other LE’s get there…..that’s a safety thing, I get it. You will likely get cuffed…again a safety thing till they verify you are not the threat. You will be questioned. So be ready to answer who, what, where, and when, and how many bullets you used, if applicable. Like the man said….A LOT of variables!!

  • Dave Hicks October 19, 2016, 7:39 pm

    I remember reading a story by Elmer Keith a big fan of the 44 S&W special and creator of the 44 magnum. The story goes that he saw some police chasing and shooting at a fleeing automobile. He stated that he was carry a 44 and could have easily stop the car with a couple of well placed shots BUT ” I was a stranger in a strange town and didn’t know how the police would react so I minded my own business” .I think that that is good sound advice.

    • ronald October 28, 2016, 8:28 am

      Why in the WORLD would anyone shoot at a car that appeared to be “fleeing?” For all one knows, the people inside are out joyriding, and just happen to not have a license, or something…

      • Kimberpross October 28, 2016, 9:43 am

        Don’t know this for fact, but his 44 mag. was famously known the be able to penetrate an engine block after passing through the sheet metal skin. I figure that is what he was implying, to stop the vehicle.

      • BillyBob October 28, 2016, 10:22 am

        McD\’s is missing their clown

        • LowKey January 5, 2017, 6:26 am

          Then you should hurry back, you’re late dropping the next basket of fries.

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