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Officer Safety Corner: Building Knowledge on Ambush Assaults of the Police: A Research Initiative by COPS, CNA, and the IACP

By George Fachner, Research Analyst, CNA’s Institute for Public Research, Safety and Security Division

mbush assaults on the police are horrific events. They are different than other violent encounters in that they are unprovoked and characterized by the element of surprised. The assailants target the police for who they are and what they represent: officers of the law. Statistically, these incidents are low frequency. However, their cost is high. The impacts of these incidents reach far, from the officers themselves, their families, and their fellow police, to the community at large. Although much research has been conducted on officer-citizen encounters, including those that turn violent and even deadly, it tends to focus more on police-on-citizen violence. Less prevalent is research that focuses on citizen-on-police violence. And at the present time, research on ambush attacks, a very specific form of violence against the police, is non-existent.

The phenomenon has received substantial media attention of late. However, since the seminal works on police ambushes by the IACP’s Police Weapons Center in 19741 and C. Kenneth Meyer and colleagues in 1986,2 there have been no systematic reviews on the topic. Renewed attention is warranted, considering recent trends. Over the past decade, 541 officers have been killed in the line of duty.3 Of these deaths, a trend of ambush-style attacks seems to be emerging. According to one estimate, ambushes accounted for nearly 40 percent of the deaths of officers feloniously killed in 2011—nearly doubling the average over the past decade.4 Fittingly, last year, the U.S. Attorney General identified “developing approaches to counter ambush-style attacks” as one of the U.S. Department of Justice’s top priorities.5

Given the increasing number of ambushes, the lack of recent and targeted research, and U.S. Department of Justice priorities, developing a deeper understanding of ambushes of police and how they can be protected against is warranted and long overdue. Consequently, CNA and the IACP have recently been awarded a research grant through the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services to build knowledge on this topic. Over the next year, we will be undertaking a number of efforts to learn more about the prevalence and nature of ambushes and policies and training that protect officers from such attacks.

One important aspect of the study is the collection of incident reports generated from ambush assaults. These incident reports will come in various formats, including homicide reports, special internal reviews, after-action reports, and so forth. However, common in these reports is that the skilled investigators who produce them are a wellspring of vital information for understanding these phenomena. The reports can be invaluable resources for learning about organizational, training, and policy issues in a police department. Collecting and analyzing a multitude of these reports and identifying trends build knowledge, which can be shared across the law enforcement profession and enhance officer safety. Indeed, the author’s recent review of police critical incidents leveraged incident reports identifies trends in officer responses and tactics, leading to a number of training and policy reforms as a result.6
For more information or to submit your incident reports, contact IACP understands the sensitive nature of these reports and will ensure that they are handled in a confidential manner.
If you are interested in writing for Officer Safety Corner, please visit or email for more information.
This kind of analysis can be of great value in understanding ambush assaults. Therefore, the research team requests that law enforcement readers of this column consider participating in this endeavor by sharing incident reports, from which knowledge can be built, collaboration can occur, and knowledge can be shared with the law enforcement field.

To coordinate, ask questions, or share thoughts on this project, please contact the Principal Investigator, George Fachner at or IACP SACOP Manager Erin Vermilye at

To learn more about the project, please visit or ♦


1International Association of Chiefs of Police, Ambush Attacks: A Risk Reduction Model for Police (Gaithersburg, Md.: IACP, 1974).
2C. Kenneth Meyer et al., Ambush-related Assaults on Police: Violence at the Street Level (Springfield, Ill.: Charles C. Thomas, 1986).
3U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS), Uniform Crime Reports, Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted, 2011, (accessed April 10, 2013).
5U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, “National Officer Safety and Wellness Group–Priorities,” (accessed April 10, 2013).
6James K. Stewart et al., Collaborative Reform Process: A Review of Officer-Involved Shootings in the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (Washington, D.C.: U.S.Department of Justice, Office Community Oriented Policing Services, 2012), (accessed April 10, 2013).

Please cite as:

George Fachner, "Building Knowledge on Ambush Assaults of the Police: A Research Initiative by COPS, CNA, and the IACP," The Police Chief 80 (May 2013): 16.

This project is supported by Cooperative Agreement 2011-CK-WXK036 awarded by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions contained herein are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice. References to specific agencies, companies, products, or services should not be considered an endorsement by the author(s) or the U.S. Department of Justice. Rather, the references are illustrations to supplement discussion
of the issues.



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXX, no. 5, May 2013. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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