Officers Down: A discussion on the disturbing trend of multiple officer murders in modern policing
Sgt Dave Schmirler Abbotsford Police
This article was originally written for the “In Service:10-8” publication in British Columbia Canada in March of 2004, one year to the month before the greatest mass murder of Canadian Police Officers in modern recorded history.
At around 0200 hours Monday 16 February 2004, officers Matthew Bowens ,21 and his partner Jennifer Fettig, 26 initiated a traffic stop of a rusted 1989 Chev pickup owned and being driven by Eric Lee Marshall, 22. Marshall had apparently tried to pick up a local prostitute. Although taught a technique in the academy where one officer remains at the car watching the occupant, both officers returned to their patrol car to initiate computer queries. Neither must have sensed any danger as they did not notify dispatch of the stop. The press would call it a “routine traffic stop”.
Had the computer check been completed the officers would have learned that Marshall had no criminal record. They would not have known that he had recently decided to set up a drug operation and was in possession of a street purchased .40 caliber Glock. As both officers sat in their car Marshall exited his truck and went to the rear. From here he began firing into the patrol car, blowing out the window and wounding Bowens. Marshall fled to a nearby fence line. Bowens exited his car, called for assistance, and moved to cover at the rear of his patrol car. This was the last broadcast that he would make. From a distance, Marshall continued to fire at the officers hitting Fettig in the face as she sat in the passenger side of the car. After retreating to cover near the back of the patrol car Bowens would be shot nine times. Marshall, who appeared to have been fleeing, flanked around the patrol car and exposed Bowens. After shooting Bowens in the head he took Bowen’s gun and fled the scene.
Matt Bowens would die at the scene and Jennifer Fettig would die hours later. Investigators found 22 .40 caliber shell casings. Published reports indicate neither officer returned fire. The shooting was partially captured by the in car camera.
With the deaths of officers Fettig and Bowens, a disturbing trend of officers being killed together continued. Between January 2003 and March 2004, 14 officers (7 pairs) have been killed in North America (note prologue)
February 2003; Alexandria LA PFC David Ezernack and patrolman Jeremy Carruth were shot and killed during an SRT operation to arrest a man who had ambushed an officer the previous day, firing an automatic rifle into the car. The suspect opened fire on SRT members affecting the arrest.
March 2003; New York Detective James Nemorin and Detective Rodney Andrews were involved in the undercover purchase of a Tec –9 gun they were each shot in the head as they sat in their vehicle. Surveillance units, who had been forced to leave their view of the officers, would hear the exchange on the audio hook up.
June 2003: Fayette AL Corporal James Crump and Officer Arnold Strickland (along with a police dispatcher) were killed in the booking area of the Fayette Police Department when a suspect from a stolen vehicle grabbed one of the officer’s service guns.
December 2003: Abbeville SC Sergeant Daniel Wilson was taken hostage and shot while attending to a property dispute. The suspects called police to report that an officer had been shot then opened fire on two other officers responding to the call. Constable Donnie Ouzts was struck and killed. The attack was pre-planned.
December 2003: Mishawaka IN Corporal Thomas Roberts and Patrolman Bryan Verkler were shot and killed after they attempted to lure a “shots fired” suspect out of a house. The suspect exited and opened fire on officers killing both.
January 2004: Athens AL Officer Anthony Mims and Sergeant Larry Russell were ambushed and killed while responding to a call of a man wanted to speak with the FBI. Mims was shot and killed in his car as he arrived and Russell was shot and killed as he attempted to get out of his car.
As Canadian police officer’s, do we write this trend off as a “United States” problem? Do we remember Constable Denis Strongquill? He and his partner approached three suspects in a truck because they matched the description of armed robbery suspects. The suspects shot at the police car, chased it into the town of Russell, and rammed it in front of the detachment office. Constable Strongquill was shot and killed as he was trapped in the vehicle after suspects rammed the police vehicle. He never had a chance to exit the vehicle, and was unable to return fire due to a pistol malfunction.
For police and police trainers this disturbing trend must cause us to analyze what is happening. Are we still thinking tactically at every call? Do we abandon safety procedures in favor of efficiency and convenience? Is there a better way to do things? Most importantly are we prepared to defend against a determined adversary waiting in ambush or that is willing to initiate an armed or relentless assault? Do we really train to expect the unexpected? Do we in fact expect the unexpected on every call? As determined suspects, sometimes with military training, or mentally ill, ambush and attack officers with incredible lethal force we have to elevate our thinking. Do we think we have safety in numbers at the expense of tactics?
I don’t know the answers. I can only try and change my mindset and help those I am responsible for. I only hope that the deaths of others would cause us to think and to re-think.
Eleven more officers are added to the list in less than a year
On 31 March 2004 deputy Michael Van Kuren and Deputy Christopher Burget of the Bradford County Sheriffs Department, Pennsylvania were killed when they arrived at a location to serve an arrest warrant for failing to appear.
On June 17th 2004, Officers Robert Bennett, Carlos Owen and Harley Chisholm of the Birmingham Police Department were shot and killed by a suspect armed with an SKS assault rifle. They were serving a misdemeanor bench warrant.
On August 28th 2004, Officers Eric White and Jason Wolfe of the Phoenix Police Department were shot and killed while trying to force entry into an apartment where they feared a hostage was being held.
Not in Canada you say…
Constables Myrol, Schiemann, Johnston and Gordon of the Mayertorpe RCMP are shot and killed at a search warrant scene. The following is a time line:
At 1520 hours, March 2, 2005, bailiffs arrived to re-possess a pick up truck on a rural property located in Mayerthorpe, Province of Alberta. They are turned back when the subject of the repossession sets two large dogs at them then speeds off in a white pick-up truck.
Two members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police attend the residence to assist bailiffs with the court order. They discover evidence that resulted in a search warrant being obtained for a marihuana grow operation. There was also evidence of stolen auto parts at the residence. The premises were checked and cleared without finding the suspect.
RCMP members, including a green team that dismantled the 280 plant grow operation, remained on the scene through the night. At about 04:30 a.m. on March 3, 2005, Constables Tony Gordon and Leo Johnston were left to guard the property until Auto Theft Unit members could attend to search for stolen items in the daylight. At about 9:00 a.m., Constables Peter Schiemann and Brock Myrol attended the location. Schiemann was in plain clothes and apparently unarmed as he had been tasked with purchasing supplies on that date. Constable Myrol had three weeks service.
A few minutes later, two members of the Edmonton RCMP Auto Theft Unit arrived at the property and observed the four members at a distance near a large metal Quonset hut. While they were preparing to enter onto the property, they heard shots being fired inside the quonset hut. A male suspect exited the quonset in possession of a H & K .308 semi-automatic carbine, a pistol in his waist band and a second long gun slung over his shoulder. Shots were exchanged between one of the approaching Auto Theft members and Roszko. The suspect retreated inside the quonset. The four members at the location could not be raised on radio. Emergency Response Team Members arrived to find all four RCMP members deceased inside the hut along with the suspect.
Roszko had returned to the scene under cover of night and retrieved hidden weapons in preparation to ambush the attending members.
Sgt Dave Schmirler Abbotsford Police
Dave Schmirler is presently assigned to a General Duty Shift and a Patrol Sergeant. He is a former Police Academy Instructor in Firearms and Professional Patrol Tactics as well as a 15 year ERT member.
Criminals are more violent, and fear nothing, especially in the grip of these incredibly dangerous drugs. Calculated murder of police officers in not new, but growing. Now evidence has been brought to light that MS13 are being recruited by the human and drug smuggglers on the border, to assassinate Border Patrol officers. Watch your six.
TIFWIW ... Criminals read the news papers, watch TV and surf the web. They see the same things we all see, more and more Police shootings both justified and unjustified, mistaken, wrong address, wrong person etc. etc.
Officer Safety and the Militarizing of Law Enforcement has had just as much effect as "People are more violent ...". Criminals know they have a greater chance of getting shot today than 30 years ago by police. Some criminals just don't take the chance anymore and fire first now.
Criminals want to go home just as bad as the LEO does at the end of the night. It's become an Arms Race and I doubt it's going to get any better and probably a lot worse. With MS-13 joining the fight now you really have a Para-Military force to deal with on the streets. Glad I'm retired.
Everything I've heard about ms-13 makes me believe these ambush type attacks will continue to rise. We're getting reports every couple of weeks of how they've been caught surveilling the police in nearby jurisdictions. I don't know what it's going to take to convince people that we are at war on our own soil.
Not making light of the war on terror at all, but I'm not sure these central american gangs aren't our biggest threat.