CRIME WATCH: Ambush attacks no.1 reason for criminal police on-duty deaths

Killed just for wearing a uniform, it's a scary reality for most police. In 2016, ambush attacks were the top cause of criminal on-duty deaths for police.

In this week’s Crime Watch, FOX 7's Noelle Newton shows the lengths some departments are taking to protect officers.

The windows and windshields of the newest fleet of Philadelphia police patrol cars provide a thick layer of protection for the officers who will sit inside. The glass is bullet proof. The door paneling of the vehicle also boasts ballistic shield technology. This is the current reality of policing.

"We have to do everything humanly possible to keep them out of harm's way,” said PPD Commissioner Richard Ross.

FBI data shows that out of the 66 law enforcement officers killed by criminals in 2016, 17 were killed in ambush attacks. That's more than any other cause and more than triple of the amount killed in ambush attacks for the prior year. 

Five of those killed were law enforcement officers in Dallas. They were shot during a protest march in July of 2016.

On November 20th of that year, a San Antonio officer was shot twice in the head in front of the department's headquarters as he sat in his vehicle handling matters for a traffic stop.

It is the scenario the police commissioner in Philadelphia hopes to prevent with the installation of ballistic shields for patrol cars. He almost lost two officers recently who were shot multiple times while in their vehicles. 

"We believe that ballistic protection like this would've probably protected them from any of those gun shots that were aimed at them,” said Ross.

The Austin Police Department has discussed purchasing the technology. 

In the meantime, those who oversee the training of new police cadets do their best to prepare officers for ambush events.

"When they show up here day one, we teach them to constantly have their head on a swivel. So when they walk into a room they will look at the whole room. When they step out of a room into a hallway or stair well you should see them, their head should be constantly looking. We're trying to assess for things that most people might miss,” said APD Corporal John Bryant.

Corporal John Bryant said officers are taught to maximize their senses always scanning and listening.

"For instance, if we show up at a house, I don't want to park right in front. I'll park a little further down so I'm able to assess, get out walk up to the location so that I'm not getting out of my car in the front to that location. At the same time, when I leave if I just want to type some notes in about that call or I have to do a report, I'm not going to sit right there at that scene and do the paperwork park of it. I will drive off to a place where I can be in a safer location to type on a computer and make those notes,” said Bryant.

When parked to write notes or reports more training comes in.

"We'll do some officer role plays in which case they're required to do the paperwork part of it so they're getting that info and then we'll put them on a situation if they're just focused on this then the role play gets crazy and it forces them to hey I need to look up, look down, look up,” said Bryant.

Bryant, who said he had a scar across his neck for years after being randomly attacked, calls the trend for ambush killings sad and scary.

"It reinforces the point that I need to keep my head on a swivel...and at all times when I'm identified as an Austin police officer that I need to be aware that's how people see me and there's some people out there that just are not in a right frame of mind and would do an attack like that where it's just your ambush,” said Bryant.

Second to ambush attacks were disturbance calls resulting in 13 deaths.

Nine officers died investigating suspicious persons or circumstances.
Nine died in arrest situations.

Six in tactical situations.
Five were conducting investigative activities.
Four were fatally injured in traffic pursuits or stops.
And three officers were killed in unprovoked attacks.
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