Police officers and law enforcement are out in our communities every day serving as our thin blue line. Today, we are going to take the time to tell some of their stories when it comes to police helmets and head injuries. There is a need for law enforcement to have head protection and the data backs that up (check out our post about it here), but here you’ll get some of the real-life stories behind the numbers.
A lot of blog posts here are about ballistic helmets as they relate to the military. There’s something obvious to most of us about troops wearing a combat helmet at all times – a deployed military environment is assumed to be hostile. Plus, we here at Hard Head Veterans love everything about helmet technology, development, and manufacturing; much of which is driven by defense initiatives. So, when we tell stories about helmets we are often telling stories about troops in war. We don’t apply that same logic of head injuries to police helmets because law enforcement deploys to our streets and our neighborhoods. Yet, sadly, the risk of fatal head injuries is very real for law enforcement.
Ohio, Hamilton Police Department, February 2015
911 was called when a citizen heard gunshots in an Ohio neighborhood. A police officer nearby drove to the reported spot of gunfire. While driving in his patrol car, the officer found a suspect holding an automatic rifle in the middle of the road. The officer stopped his car, drew his pistol, dismounted, and, while using his vehicle as cover, demanded that the suspect drop his weapon.
The suspect – an 18-year-old later found to be hopped up on narcotics – instead opened fire with an automatic rifle shooting 7.62x39mm ammunition. A round went through the windshield and back window of the patrol car. It also grazed the officers head. Despite bleeding profusely from his wound, the officer managed to stand over the cover provided by his vehicle and return fire. Two shots from the officer’s weapon struck the suspect’s upper body.
Believing he struck the suspect and with no shots being fired back at him, the officer kept his weapon drawn but stayed behind his vehicle due to the severity of his wound. He radioed for assistance and another officer arrived to confirm the suspect was no longer a threat. The injured officer was evacuated by air to the nearest hospital. The officer recovered from his wounds and was later able to return to duty. The suspect did not survive but was found with a pistol in addition to his rifle. He had over 200 rounds of ammunition left.
Pictured above: Hamilton Chief of Police holds the model of weapon his officer was shot with. Read more about how officer Chad Stafford returned to duty. Photo Credit: Journal News, February 15, 2018.
California, Kern County Sherriff’s Office, August 2015
Before California law enforcement caught up to this perpetrator, he had already been terrorizing the surrounding area. The man had held three people hostage at gunpoint in a cabin. Despite threatening to kill them, the hostages escaped. The suspect then stole an ATV to drive himself to another cabin. Not satisfied with holding people hostage for his crime spree, the suspect used a shotgun to murder a man and stole two handguns before also stealing an SUV.
The SUV later broke down while the suspect was fleeing. Law enforcement caught up to him after he abandoned his vehicle and tracked him to a hideout. There, he fired one of the stolen handguns at the officers – striking officers. One officer suffered hand and arm wounds while the other suffered shrapnel lacerations to the right side of his head. Unable to pursue the suspect due to their injuries, the perpetrator fled.
A manhunt ensued after the officers were injured and the suspect was killed by police when he, again, attempted to use a handgun to shoot at the police. Both officers survived their wounds. Watch the video below for the local news coverage of the manhunt.
Pictured Above: Los Angeles county and Kern County law enforcement searching for the shooting suspect. Read the news report here. Photo Credit: Los Angeles Times, August 4, 2015.
West Virginia, Lewisburg Police Department, January 2014
This incident begins in North Carolina where a man and his son murdered an innocent couple. Apparently not content with just murdering two innocent people, the father and son also killed the couple’s two dogs. They then drove off with the couple’s truck; but not before piling all four bodies into the back of it and covering them up with a mattress.
The father and son then drove out of state together but in separate cars. The son was driving the stolen truck which prompted two alert West Virginia police officers to pull the vehicle over. The officers did not know the stolen truck was associated with such a violent crime, nor did they know that the father was about to drive up to them in a second vehicle.
When the second vehicle pulled up to the police officers, the father began firing with a .38 caliber handgun. A quick shootout ensued with rounds striking both officers in the head. One officer was also shot in the lower back. Return fire from the wounded officers hit the father in the leg. The son, who had been the one originally pulled over, fled the scene. After driving away, he was forced to abandon his vehicle and continue fleeing on foot. He was eventually found and caught in the woods.
Both officers survived and were able to return to duty.
Pictured Above: The father and son suspects in the North Carolina murders and the West Virginia police shootings. Read the local news report here. Photo Credit:WOWKtv.com, January 15, 2015.
Alaska, Kenai Police Department, December 2003
On Christmas day in 2003, Alaska State Troopers asked the local Kenai Police Department to be on the lookout for an erratically driving vehicle. They reported that two people were in the vehicle and they were worried for the female passenger’s safety. A Kenai policeman found the vehicle in question driving around and followed it back to the driver’s house.
Since their primary concern was the safety of the girl in the passenger seat, the police officer allowed the passenger to take the dogs in the back seat of the car and go inside the house. The officer remained outside with the driver. Once the girl entered the house and left the vicinity of the car, that was when the driver became belligerent: yelling and shouting at the officer.
A lack of compliance and an abundance of aggression led to the driver being removed from his vehicle and placed against the side of his house by the officer. However, this only agitated the driver more and he became violent. The ensuing hand to hand fight was fought in knee-deep snow. In the bout with the officer, the suspect managed to take the officer’s weapon and shoot him twice. The officer survived the first shot to his body because of his armor. He did not survive the second shot to the back of his head.
A five-hour stand off followed the killing of the officer when more Kenai police arrived on the scene. The suspect eventually surrendered and was taken into custody. Over 200 patrol cars participated in the officer’s funeral procession (read more about it in the Herald Palladium)
Conclusions and Insights
The stories of these police officers point to a tragic fact. Risk of head injuries – some of them fatal – are real. In some instances, like the case of the Ohio officer looking for a potential active shooter, there may be opportunities for law enforcement to don tactical helmets (like the ATE) when violence may be imminent. In others, like the tragic case of the Alaska officer murdered with his own weapon, you just don’t know when an erratic driver will ultimately attack you with your own weapon on Christmas.
These stories are all taken from the latest edition of the FBI’s Summaries of Law Enforcement Officers Feloniously Killed, 2002-2016 (which is kept up to date here.) The report stands at 460 pages and we here do not claim to have read every single one. However, we have read enough to choose some officers’ stories for retelling, so they will not be forgotten. They are inherently important because these men and women are heroes we have lost. They are also important because we can learn from them and notice trends in their stories.
There are three trends we want to point out. First, protective equipment saves lives. Most officers are wearing body armor in these stories and when they are struck in the chest they survive. The principle of protective equipment saving those in harms way is a sound one. Second, sometimes you might be able to reasonably assume that you will encounter violence. Sometimes you cannot. Ballistic helmets are a tool that can save lives, but police cannot always predict when they need to don them. Third, and lastly, years of experience is not always lifesaving. In all the stories told today the only rookie officer was one of the policemen injured in the traffic stop of the father and son murderers; even then, he was paired with a senior officer. All the other officers injured had at least ten years of experience.
From the far reaches of the continent in Alaska, to the California west coast, to the Ohio mid-west, and the West Virginia east-coast: police officers put themselves on the line every day. Sometimes tragedy results. We here at Hard Head Veterans support our brothers and sisters in law enforcement and will continue to tell their story.
Federal Bureau of Investigation, Summaries of Law Enforcement Officers Feloniously Killed 2002 to 2016, US Department of Justice, https://ucr.fbi.gov/leoka-resources.
Pack, Lauren, 4 years ago, this Hamilton officer was shot in the head by a rifle. Today, he’s still working in the city, Journal-News, February 15, 2018. https://www.journal-news.com/news/years-ago-this-hamilton-officer-was-shot-the-head-rifle-today-still-working-the-city/CbOPcxrPwCmsIQwXfTufLJ/.
Rocha, Veronica. Panzar, Javier, Authorities search remote California area for gunman linked to killing, kidnapping, deputy shooting, Los Angeles Times, August 4, 2015, http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-gunman-deputy-shooting-20150804-story.html.
Nieto, Patti, Update: Lewisburg, WV police officers shot during traffic stop released from hospital, WOWK TV, January 15, 2015, https://www.wowktv.com/archives/update-lewisburg-wv-police-officers-shot-during-traffic-stop-released-from-hospital/865389794.
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