Military and Police

Police POV: Las Vegas Pursuit Exhibits Courage-Under-Fire by Beat Cops

The numerical combination of 7-11 is traditionally connoted for extraordinary luck and good fortune. For several Las Vegas police officers, that was demonstrably true on July 11. For two murder suspects in a stolen auto being chased by keen-eyed Las Vegas Metropolitan beat cops, not so much. One homicide suspect (the driver) was killed. The other felon in possession of and firing a handgun at cops was shot and apprehended outside a school whose doors he found locked (thank goodness). Cuffing and stuffing him into an ambulance with police escort was the next order of business for him while police detectives and forensics professionals piece it all together and report.

The aforementioned epilogue stemmed from a Hollywood-type pursuit, complete with a wild volley of bullets sprayed upon sun-drenched streets as thousands of citizens went about their private agenda while cops took care of the public safety business. This one was unique, having every facet of danger and desperation for both the cops and the assailants.

Adrenaline drives warriors to and beyond the threshold sometimes. Pursuits do that to cops who are dialed-in to the non-scripted sensationalism Hollywood could only write about, before hiring stunt performers to portray. Looking for a hero? You’re in for a robust treat with the following adrenaline-inducing police chase of two homicidal maniacs shooting guns throughout the course of flight. This one, however, as the agency expressed candidly, was one from which no cop could merely “break off.” It met all department policy stipulations to a T. It is a fascinating example of police endurance, stamina, control, and mission objectives carried out by field warriors whose actions typify courage-under-fire.

Undoubtedly, someone somewhere is belching one or more reasons why these Las Vegas cops should have ceased pursuing. Indeed, many folks were out and about, as you will soon see (video below). Bear in mind, however, that these two gun-blazing desperados were homicide suspects, having just shot/killed a man at a carwash, fleeing in a stolen vehicle which, had police turned around and simply wrote a report, would have signaled You are free to go kill again!

Whereas most police pursuits have plenty of reasons to refrain from chasing, this particular one earmarked every purpose one can imagine to get the bad guy(s) and sever them from the most egregious of transgressions.

Textbook Police Press Conference

Las Vegas police Assistant Sheriff Tim Kelly coordinated a press conference and gave a comprehensive forensic analysis of what triggered the 7/11 chase, how the pursuit proceeded, and the culmination of investigative details. Frankly, the following 12-plus minute audio/video serves as a model regarding a comprehensively packaged and delivered press statement, including stills and actual pursuit footage to colorize Assistant Sheriff Kelly’s oration:

I call that positively prepared, confidently collected, and totally textbook police reporting. Assistant Chief Kelly spoke as a law enforcement executive who knows his stuff and has a delivery stance to where no one barked with questions at the end. Of course, he may have prestated he would provide a statement only, without a Q&A segment. I did not see/hear the need for clarity.

If ever there were an unambiguous officer-involved shooting resulting in justifiable homicide, this is it folks.

Situational Awareness

As you just watched, the portion illustrating the actual police pursuit made the LVMPD police officer in the lead-car look like an octopus with every tentacle carefully controlling bits and pieces incorporating situational awareness, officer safety, public safety, preparedness, adaptive ability, combat readiness, and self-preservation.

Throughout the 4:09-long chase footage, Officer Umana requests air services twice, exhibiting the wherewithal to activate all available resources, given the extremism he was encountering. Six times, he advises police dispatch and other field units, “Shots fired!” He also transmits via radio to another Las Vegas police unit who got to close to the suspects’ vehicle, screaming “Back up, they’re firing!”

Umana decides it is time to take full, permanent control and, while steering, brandishes his service weapon. Within seconds, he steadies and fires five shots through his windshield. Notice the grouping! He reassesses, steadies again, and unleashes another round of gunfire. Again, notice the grouping! It appeared his volley struck the driver; the suspect vehicle slows to the left, hops a curb, and comes to a relative halt before ebbing in reverse toward Umana and his police cruiser. Reloaded, Umana goes wide and fires more shots into the suspect vehicle as he sees the passenger exit and ascend the steps to Howard Hollingsworth Elementary School. Focused like a hungry eagle, Umana yelled to incoming units where suspect #2 fled.

Police work doesn’t get any better than that. Much of this pursuit reminded me of infinite scenarios while in the police academy. Going over all these aspects in over five months were encapsulated in four-plus minutes. Experience matters…always.

(Credit: Facebook/LVMPD)

Total Tactician

Police Officer William Umana, the tactician behind the wheel and holding his firearm in the pursuit video, brought his 17 years of police experience to the fight on July 11. I viewed the video several times and still pop out of my seat…while Umana switches gears and handles his business with only two hands and a bevy of life-preserving tasks. At one point, his own body-worn camera catches a swift glimpse of him as he peers over his left shoulder to check cross-traffic while swerving to make a right turn.

Although police pursuit policies vary from city to city and state to state, obviously pedestrian and motor traffic are static, paramount concerns during a chase. Add that to the mix and you have evolving calculations requiring reassessments by the millisecond.

Even after emptying his firearm, effectively ending the chase, Officer Umana still knew to assume whatever cover (open cruiser door) while also reloading his service weapon, then tactically home in on more solid cover.

Early on in the pursuit portion, Umana requested LVMPD air (helicopter) support. He asks generally during the first few volleys of gunfire from the suspect vehicle. That is a sign that he was situationally aware, escalated by the gravity of the assailants’ crimes, that dangers were posed to both cops and citizens. Air support can effectively cover the fleeing vehicle’s route while ground units pull back to set a roving perimeter, deflating some of the peril to the public, until helicopter cops discern an optimal advantage for ground units to actively rejoin the fight and pounce on the suspects.

However, this all transpired so swiftly that no time was available to wait for aviation to take flight. Umana used his head, knew he had the green light per policy (a watch commander came on the radio once during the pursuit, saying “I’m monitoring,” another sign of strategic support).

I scanned this pursuit for two days and read the building comments. As alluded to earlier, several critics believe Umana and other officers should not have pursued as they did, while others bill Umana and backup cops heroes. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. It is true, when Assistant Chief Kelly noted how lucky they are with the absence of pedestrian casualties and/or vehicle crashes. The latter is a more common byproduct of police chases.

Perhaps the skilled police acumen of Officer Umana factored into the textbook procedural points resulting in the outcome we just watched. The police vehicles’ dings, breaches and bores from suspect bullets are small change for taxpayers. I’d say they more than got their money’s worth. Chief Kelly claimed the two suspects combined fired 34 rounds at police while Vegas cops reciprocated with 31 rounds.

Kelly labeled Umana and backup officers heroes, citing Umana especially could have backed down but stayed in the fight to the very end, as instructed by police academies since forever.

On June 8, 2015, police Officer William Umana wrote the following after reflecting on two slain police partners, one of whom was his academy battle buddy: “We put a strong face for our children to see that we should not live a life of fear. When we fear evil, evil has won. As long as there are people willing to sacrifice themselves so that other can live, evil will not claim victory.” A man of pain; a man of control…taking Sin City by the horns.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Stephen Owsinski

Stephen Owsinski is an OpsLens Content Manager and Contributor. Owsinski is a retired law enforcement officer whose career included assignments in the Uniformed Patrol Division and Field Training Officer (FTO) unit. He is currently a researcher and writer. Follow Stephen on Twitter @uniformblue.

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