Pittsburgh police officers train for ambushes during traffic stops
Two Pittsburgh police officers with their guns trained on an SUV in front of them didn't notice the danger creeping behind them.
Officers Tim Wach and Craig Huhn seemed briefly stunned as faux pink “bullets” pelted them before they spun around to return fire on Officer Mike Lewis on Wednesday during the fourth week of the bureau's first force-on-force traffic stop training.
“On an ambush, there's not a heck of a lot you can do except be aware that it could happen at any moment,” Wach said, peeling off his protective gear. “You have to constantly be scanning. There's a lot of people out there that may want to hurt us.”
The traffic-stop scenarios between instructors pretending to be bad guys and officers who volunteer for training play out on a parking lot in a vacant Veterans Affairs facility off Highland Drive.
The number of Pittsburgh officer-involved shootings increased slightly in the past few years, from eight in 2011 to 10 in 2012 and 12 in 2013, according to bureau statistics. Several of those shootings involved traffic stops or pursuits, rangemaster John Lubawski said.
An officer-involved shooting refers to an incident when an officer is fired upon or shoots at someone.
“This is meant to address the shootings we've had around the vehicle and the dangers we've had approaching vehicles,” Lubawski said.
Police union officials raised concern last year about shootings in which suspects, despite being shot, continued to fire at officers. They questioned whether their .40-caliber ammo had enough firepower to stop suspects. An FBI analysis confirmed the ammunition performed as expected, so the focus changed to firearms training.
“There is a difference between going up to a range and shooting a piece of paper that doesn't shoot back,” said Officer Josh Hartle, an adjunct firearms instructor. “That's target shooting. This is combat shooting.”
Traffic stop training scenarios vary from a compliant driver to one who springs out firing an AR-15. They're based on real incidents, Lubawski said.
Nationally, seven officers were killed responding to traffic stops or pursuits in 2013, down from 16 in 2012, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
“It's good to have live training, rather than sitting in a room,” said Officer Howard McQuillan, president of Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1.
Role-playing scenarios help officers learn to make decisions under pressure, said Steve Ijames, retired deputy chief of Springfield, Mo., police and a member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police national policy center board.
“You train like that to cause them to have the proper level of vigilance and to have their minds wired to make decisions,” Ijames said.
Officers in training wear protective gear over the head, neck and groin. The marker cartridges can bruise or even draw blood.
“It lets you know they're putting rounds on target, which is good,” said Officer Robert Zollars, an adjunct instructor.
The training is optional this year while it's evaluated, Lubawski said. He estimated 500 officers have tried it. Training ends July 3.
“They see the mistakes they make before they get out on the street and it happens for real,” Zollars said.
Margaret Harding is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8519 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Bakery Square town houses plans to go to Pittsburgh city planners
- Four questioned in Glen Hazel shooting of teen
- Citation of police observer called ‘abuse of power’ by Pittsburgh police
- Fix for issues vowed at Pittsburgh VA
- Pittsburgh region enjoys healthy dose of ‘brain gain’
- Leadership rises as issue for Pa. voters in new poll
- 3 Brentwood council members submit resignation letters
- Newsmaker: Jay Carson
- Homeless veterans get assist in Allegheny County
- Penn Hills school board accepts building sale
- Wilkinsburg School District hires embattled Penn Hills business affairs director