Study of Victim Officers Hits Home in O.C.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Garden Grove Police Officer Howard E. Dallies Jr. may have been shot and killed last week, a pair of national experts suggest, in part because he had a personality trait that fits a profile for police officers who become shooting victims: He was a nice guy.

The experts authored a recently completed study in which FBI investigators interviewed 50 convicted police killers on videotape and determined that the typical victim officer is friendly, looks for good in others but drops his or her guard by sizing up situations too rapidly.

The research is especially poignant for Southern California, where three police officers, including Dallies--who is to be buried today--have been killed in the last three weeks.

Garden Grove Police Capt. David Abrecht acknowledged last week that parts of the FBI's study ring true. But even though Dallies was known for being friendly and unassuming, Abrecht said, he was not likely to have let his guard down when he stopped a motorcyclist last Tuesday only to be shot in the abdomen just below his bulletproof vest.

"Howard was a guy who worked in narcotics surveillance for two years. It was not like he was oblivious to these kinds of issues of dealing with hardened people," Abrecht said.

The study's co-author, Edward F. Davis, 52, said that police department roll calls and police academies repeatedly stress the need to stay alert. But beyond the details of physical evidence at murder scenes and interviews with victim officers' colleagues, law enforcement literature had nothing on how the "bad guys evaluate the good guys' conduct," Davis said.

"The victim officers tend to fall right into the hands of the offenders," said co-author Anthony J. Pinizzotto, an FBI agent with a doctorate in psychology.

In fact, one police killer told Pinizzotto and Davis that victim officers instinctively gain control of situations but fail to maintain their guard.

One killer in prison told them that his victim lost his focus and "certainly wasn't authoritarian," Davis said.

"He never took control of me or made much effort to take control of me. . . . He was almost a willing participant in his own killing," the convict said.

Investigators are still baffled that Dallies did not call in a license number on the motorcycle he stopped and that his gun was never taken out of its holster.

Two weeks earlier, Compton Police Officers Kevin Michael Burrell, 29, and James Wayne MacDonald, 23, were killed by at least two assailants on Feb. 22.

Interviewing police killers as part of the study added yet another dimension, part of a missing link, to the "deadly mix," Davis said.

The two agents' 66-page study, "Killed in the Line of Duty," took three years to complete. In that time, Davis and Pinizzotto visited 38 prisons and talked to 50 murderers who killed 54 police officers. The interviews provided the FBI with its first profile of the victim officer. And the profile surprised both researchers.

The victims were well-liked by the community and fellow officers. They tended to use less force than other officers in similar circumstances. They went out of their way to render service and perceived their work more in the line of public relations than law enforcement. And they didn't always wait for backup when backup was available.

"If I were a chief of police, these are the kinds of people I would hire," Davis said. "But you have to remind them to be professional policemen. You can't protect the public if you place your own self in jeopardy."

Abrecht said those qualities described in the study fit most Garden Grove police officers at different times.

"We have people with good communication skills and who use force reluctantly. On the other hand, it's a tough call here. (And) there's probably a lot of truth in the study's findings," Abrecht said.

The research team also studied physical factors and made recommendations. For example, Davis noted that some officers were killed while off duty--a gray area officially because many police departments do not address the issue of off-duty officers firing their weapons.

Academy night training needs enhancement, Davis and Pinizzotto said. Most academies operate between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., and cadets infrequently fire weapons at night.

"But the majority of victim officers are killed between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., within the hours of darkness," Davis said. "That brings up a lot of related questions: How do you approach a person in the darkness? Are you silhouetted by your vehicle's headlights when you approach people? Does one give consideration to the lighting at the scene?"

Night shooting was an issue with the Garden Grove Police Department, Abrecht said. Police officials found that all of the department's range shooting was being done during daylight hours.

"About half of our shootings we found were occurring at night. So we changed our range shooting hours to have our officers practice target shooting at night," Abrecht said.

Pinizzotto cited a recent trend away from police partners toward one-officer vehicles.

"It brings up the question of team concept and whether it's being taught," Pinizzotto said. "But when you have two, three or four cars arriving on a scene, we're talking about basics here. Who covers the back? Who approaches the front? If it's left up to the officers on the scene, it's too much to handle."

Davis and Pinizzotto are now presenting the findings of their study at police conventions and academies. Both said they have been pleased with the response.

"We had one sheriff volunteer that the information he received helped save another officer's life," Davis said. A week before a shootout with robbery suspects, the officer--who met some of the behavior descriptions in the study--was removed from street patrol, Davis said.

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