Old Habits Die Hard, But Requisite Updates Save Lives

By John Farnam

When Did Police Become This
When Did Police Become This
Defense Training International, Inc
Defense Training International, Inc

Ft Collins, CO –-(Ammoland.com)- “Habit with him was all the test of truth ‘It must be right. I’ve done it from my youth!'” ~ George Crabbe

Hard lessons!

The CA Highway Patrol “Newhall Incident” of 6 Apr 1970 turned out to be a watershed event in American police culture and, more than any other single officer-fatality instance, represented the beginning of the “Officer Survival” crusade among American police.

Four CHP Officers, Frago, Gore, Alleyn, and Pence, were murdered during the same traffic-stop, all within just a few minutes! Of the two perpetrators, one (Twinning) committed suicide when surrounded by police the following day. The second (Davis) was captured, convicted, and sentenced to life imprisonment. He committed suicide in prison in 2009.

As in poker, luck always insists in playing a role! During the Newhall incident, a single 00 buckshot pellet, fired at Twinning by Officer Alleyn from his department-issued Remington 870 shotgun, creased Twinning’s scalp, leaving blood all over the rear seat of the suspect vehicle. The wound, as it turns out, was superficial and had scant effect on Twinning’s ability to keep fighting. Had Twinning turned his head only slightly an instant before the discharge of the shotgun, and that single buckshot pellet entered Twinning’s cranium just two centimeters lower, it probably would have produced an instantly-fatal wound… But, it was not to be!

I remember the event well, as I was on active duty and living in CA at the time (San Clemente), and, shortly thereafter, I too became a police officer (in WI), and was significantly influenced by the “Officer Survival” mentality that was then sweeping through our profession. I paid attention, and it may have saved my life!

The earlier “Onion Field” event of 9 Mar 1963, involving two LAPD officers, I also remember well. I was a senior in high school at the time, but I already saw my future in this profession, ultimately as a warrior/scholar.

A frightening replay of the Onion Field event took place fifteen years later, on 22 Dec 78, again in CA. No one wrote a novel about this one, and it is thus scarcely known about today. This was the infamous execution-style murder of CHP Officers Blecher and Freeman. It occurred during an early-morning traffic-stop. Officer Blecher was found in his vehicle, handcuffed, with a single, fatal bullet wound to the back of his head. His partner, Officer Freeman, was shot multiple times, from the back. Details and sequences remain unclear, as the single suspect, Luis V Rodriguez, at the time nineteen, convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment, has, to this day, never talked about the event. He remains in prison in CA.

Today, a section of I80, known as Yolo Causeway, is designated “The Blecher-Freeman Memorial Causeway,” in honor of the two murdered officers.

The foregoing are only three of countless fatal incidents that could be cited. Grieving departments make changes (usually long-overdue) as they see necessary, but old habits and ways of doing things, and looking at things, are not updated easily, nor without plenty of institutional push-back. It seems these terrible events are always necessary to provide the catalyst!

We got speed-loaders for our revolvers and ultimately modern, high-capacity, autoloading pistols. We got shotguns in the cab-portion of our vehicles, ultimately replaced with military rifles. We got rid of cross-draw holsters and swivel-holsters, and the routine carrying of concealed, back-up pistols became accepted practice for patrol officers. We now all use expanding, high-performance pistol ammunition, a great leap forward in stopping effect. We’re now all wearing lapel cameras, Tasers, and body-armor, which has saved many lives. Small, high-intensity flashlights are now also standard equipment.

Departments, particularly big ones, still struggle with alcoholism and other drug-use problems among its members, but, at least today, we no longer routinely cover it up, leaving the officer to contend with the problem alone. Mandatory treatment programs are in place, and a developing addiction to ethyl alcohol, or other life-destroying drug, now doesn’t always mean the officer ultimately loses his job, or disgraces himself and his department.

Training, particularly safety training in shooting and combatives, is much improved. We now have scenario-based training and video simulators to add realism. Yes, it is still far from perfect, but still a significant improvement over the situation in 1971, when I started in this business. It hasn ‘t been that long. Has it?

As we thus prepare ourselves for relentlessly increasing levels of violence, one often-heard complaint is “the militarization of American police.” Barracks hats, ties, shoulder-straps, low-quarter shoes, six-shot revolvers, leather belts and holsters, and pump-shotguns have given way to baseball caps, boots, high-capacity autoloading pistols, synthetic belts and holsters, gloves, and military rifles. Longarms are no longer hidden in the trunks of patrol vehicles. They’re in the cab-portion in order to facilitate quick access, or they’re actually worn by patrol officers constantly, via one-point, or two-point slings.

Many point-out that today’s police patrolman looks more like a Spec-Ops Operator than a civilian police officer.

I’m not sure what to do about that, other than patiently educate the public that this is the way it is going to be from now on. We’re never going back to “the way it was!” It is a legitimate concern, but a departmental obsession with “uniform appearance” is one of the things that has been repeatedly identified as an officer-safety issue.

So, police managers and executives need to never lose sight of whom we are and the Cause we serve, but equipment, uniforms, tactics, procedures, SOPs, et al all need to be flexible, constantly evaluated, and revised as necessary.

Requisite updates, no matter how painful, can no longer wait years for implementation, lest another “Newhall” has to come along to jog us out of our false lethargy and naive self-satisfaction!


About John Farnam & Defense Training International, Inc
As a defensive weapons and tactics instructor John Farnam will urge you, based on your own beliefs, to make up your mind in advance as to what you would do when faced with an imminent and unlawful lethal threat. You should, of course, also decide what preparations you should make in advance, if any. Defense Training International wants to make sure that their students fully understand the physical, legal, psychological, and societal consequences of their actions or inactions.

It is our duty to make you aware of certain unpleasant physical realities intrinsic to the Planet Earth. Mr Farnam is happy to be your counselor and advisor. Visit: www.defense-training.com

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Carl Stevenson

This article is a bunch of excuse making, Violent crime, including murder, is down by more than 50% . Police shootings are at an all time low. It’s not because of the increased militarization and “us vs. them” attitude of the police. The police have become tyranical thugs, who violate our rights and murder our dogs, family members and neighbors with impunity in the name of “officer safety.” They are not the targets they think they are, but if they keep going as they have, they will BECOME targets, and legitimately so. The people are getting tired of them “protecting… Read more »


Unfortunately I have to agree witha lot of what others have said. I retired some years ago after 30 years as a Trooper with a State Police agency. I have seen a great change in attitudes amoung police officers since I 1st started in law enforcement. It has went from being polite and respectful while doing your job to confrontational and aggressive. Attitudes have changed from serving the public that you are a part of to “us vs. them”. Officers used to attend and become part of public meetings and organizations to talk to and get a feel for what… Read more »


If the police weren’t against “civilians” having guns and being able to protect themselves, they could revert to their proper role of investigating crime and arresting criminals AFTER THE FACT instead of acting like jackbooted thugs BEFORE ANY CRIME HAS BEEN COMMITTED.


I was raised to trust and respect the police. I do not trust the police today, they view everyone of use as a enemy. It is so sad


The start of “No Knock” raids actually occurred in the late ’60s, and was based on the idea that a suspect could have a family member flush any illegal drugs down the toilet while he kept the policemen with the search warrant, waiting at the front door. At first, these were “special warrants” that were ONLY issued in that type of situation, and the SCOTUS upheld the use of such tactics in a 1970 case, based on the same rationale. Fast forward 20 years or so, and we have the head of the national police union stating, in the Branch… Read more »


I agree with Tsgt B regarding “us vs them”. I’m fortunate to live in a town with a police force that doesn’t view its citizens as the enemy, but I’ve also lived in cities where there was no question that the police viewed every person they encountered as a threat. Mr. Farnam may believe that it’s necessary for a modern police force to use paramilitary equipment to get the job done, but an old boss of mine used to remind us that “perception becomes reality” – and it’s true. Over time, the public, especially in big cities, has come to… Read more »

bob clay

I too was a law enforcement officer of the 20th Century. As a retired in 1999, 30 year career Sheriff PD cop I do not like what has become of the ‘new breed’ of police, who too often resort to deadly use of force before attempting non-lethal force. There is no more training on effective use of personal, people skills in resolving incidents on the street that can turn deadly fast in the absence of an officer’s ability to manage an incident peacefully. Sadly, much of what I see today in young officers I see in their generation of no… Read more »

TSgt B

Well, Mr. Farnam, this is all fine and well, but the way I see things, The “us vs. them” (cops vs. the People) attitude needs to go away, and DAMNED QUICK. As a former LEO, I can tell you that the attitude of today’s cop is one of “I’M IN CHARGE HERE, AND YOUR RIGHTS BE DAMNED!” Add to this the almost absolute refusal of the “criminal” justice system to hold cops responsible for their actions, when a “citizen” would be seeing the inside of a cell for years after doing things cops get away with. HOLD THEM TO THE… Read more »


Yeah well with all the uniform/equipment spending comes the egos too. I have noticed a huge ballooning of egos in cops since 9/11. They have a very large sense of entitlement and the “us against them” attitude. And not all but most cops if they were honest about it will tell you they are the only ones that should be armed. Bet on that.


The Cops have gone way way overboard and no one can dispute that. . Their militarization came in increasing intensity since the success of the TV show, S.W.A.T. Later, the public became even more acclimated to the new tough, no nonsense image being projected for American police by the show, COPS. Then even the FOX Cop Chase Specials with Sheriff John Burnell presented foreign police agencies as having no political difference worth mentioning. In other words, whatever the law is, that’s good. — Well, we know actually THAT’S BULLSHIT. But now cops somehow have got the idea that they can… Read more »

jerrys kidds

Correction to my last post. The out going Mayor was fooling around with his office staff not the new one which I think a mistake especially since we see the beginnings of a direction not good.

Jerrys Kidds

I agree with all the above comments. Here in San Diego as an example of recent headlines here if you have not heard. Several LEO’s have been busted for having photos of women who were abused, in the lockers! This was in dept. that was a special domestic crime unit!! Plus a rash of LEO’s “Feeling up” all the young college girls coming home from the clubs in our downtown area. What makes this appealing to these clowns is all these girls are HOT, dress with very short skirts and are watched from the streets. I spoke to a bouncer… Read more »

Leo Smith

No Knock Raids WILL cause more police deaths in the future than any traffic stop.

D. Murphy

A this equipment costs money, then there is training….all comes from tax dollars which is being taken from us in a always expanding amount. I don’t know if any of this makes us any safer then when my grandfather was an officer, but you cannot build an empire if you don’t have cash.

Dr. Strangelove

Our constitution forbids the use of the military on our soil, but this is exactly what these “SWAT” teams are becoming. How long before they stand on the corners asking for our papers?

Dean Weingarten

With the body armor, increased firepower, and superb communications of today, “no-knock” raids should be at a minimum. They are not. The police need to be more polite than ever, not more overbearing. They need yearly updates on their oath to protect and defend the Constitution, not just their political bosses.

The rate of police fatalities on the job is at an all time low. We have clearly gone too far in the pursuit of “officer safety”.


“No knock” raids (often at wrong houses), armor vehicles, shooting pets, grandparents, children, mentally ill, oh yeah, I can see the need for all this, because the cops choose a dangerous career and now they don’t feel safe. More electricians die on duty every year then cops. Crime is down 50% in 20 years and it has nothing to do with the cops having “modern” weapons. I don’t buy this propaganda from this guy at all. We need the police to protect and serve, not a military force on our streets. Lay off the steroids and maybe you won’t be… Read more »