By Sheriff Jim Wilson, Shooting Illustrated
Recently, our little town was shaken by a particularly vicious murder. It was some 30 hours before the suspect was found, deceased, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. What was even more shocking was watching and listening to people trying to figure out what to do to protect themselves and their families while the manhunt was going on. It was clear that the vast majority had never given any thought to this sort of thing—and really didn’t have a clue as to what to do.
Too many people think that they live in a nice town or nice neighborhood, and that sort of thing just doesn’t happen where they live. Crooks fleeing from law enforcement are either looking for a place to hide or a means to get away. They really are not concerned about the quality of life or the economic status of the location they hope will make them safe from arrest. Regardless of where a person lives or their station in life, they may well have to deal with the potential for extreme violence in their neighborhood.
Probably the worst mistake an armed citizen can make is to assume the police need your help in hunting down the suspect(s). Any good police agency will already have a plan in place for manhunts, and this doesn’t involve having strangers with guns wandering within their perimeter. In addition to uniformed personnel, the search party may include plainclothes detectives and/or off-duty police officers who have rushed to the scene without getting into uniform. The armed citizen won’t have all the details and simply won’t know the good guys from the bad guys.
The exception to the rule of staying out of the manhunt is when law enforcement specifically asks for help. This might happen on extremely rare occasions, such as in remote areas with limited access. In these cases, it is important that the citizen get critical, specific instructions as to what exactly is being asked of them. And, it is preferable to be in the company of a uniformed officer while assisting in the hunt so the citizen is not mistaken for the suspect. Most importantly, once the task is completed, the citizen then ceases active involvement.
When a manhunt is going on in a person’s neighborhood, the most important thing the citizen can do is to secure family and home. Family comes first. If the crook steals a car or hides in that unlocked storage building while the family is secure it is unfortunate, but no lives have been lost or endangered.
Once the family is accounted for and secure, the home should be locked down. Doors and windows are checked to make sure that they are locked and all outside lights are turned on. And, until the area has been cleared by police, you make do with whatever is in the pantry.
The other common goal of crooks trying to avoid the police is finding a means to get out of the area. This could mean that a carjacking is very possible. Do you resist? Do you let him have the car? Do you have a plan for dealing with such incidents? Just as when dealing with a home invasion, having a personal-defense plan is critical to your survival.
The greatest help that citizens can be to law enforcement during a manhunt is to be a good witness. Today, most police agencies have developed ways to communicate with the citizens in their community, whether by social media or other means. The citizen can get a description of the suspect(s) and keep a lookout for them from the security of their home. Reporting suspicious activity will help bring the manhunt to a successful end.
Years ago, we were looking for some bad guys and had put their description and that of their vehicle out over the police scanners (no social media back then) that just about everyone in town had. We soon got a call that a pickup matching the description had just gone down behind a house and was parked behind a nearby deserted barn. Five minutes later, we had suspects in custody.
When a manhunt is going on in one’s immediate area it is not the time for the armed citizen to try to play hero. Too many bad things can happen, and the police are probably not going to look kindly on that person’s efforts. It could even involve handcuffs and a cold jail cell.
Instead, the smart thing to do is to secure home and family, get as much information as possible and keep a lookout from the security of the home. Having a defense plan to deal with home invasions, carjackings or hostage takings adds to that security. In short, you do your job and let the police do theirs.