How to Help a Cop During a Life-Threatening Struggle

Written by Greg Ellifritz

Topics: Reader Questions

  • SumoMe

Written by: Greg Ellifritz


With the violence directed against cops in Dallas and a few other locations recently, a few people have asked me to re-post this article.  If you want to help a cop in trouble, read it.  And be sure to read PART TWO, how you can help a cop even if you aren’t carrying a weapon.



Plain clothes officer after being beaten and pistol whipped by a criminal suspect.

Plain clothes officer after being beaten and pistol whipped by a criminal suspect.


I recently received a very interesting question from a friend and fellow blogger.  He asked the following:


“How should an armed citizen best help a police officer if that officer is under violent attack from another individual or group of individuals?”

It’s a great question.  I think many folks with CCW licenses would be willing to help a cop in trouble.  As a cop, I welcome all the help I can get if I’m in a bad situation.  Three recent incidents (here and here and here) demonstrate examples where armed citizens saved police officers’ lives.


Here are some guidelines for folks who want to help an officer in trouble….


Carry your damn gun!  You can’t easily help a cop in a deadly force scenario without your gun.  In my experience, many CCW licensees don’t regularly carry their firearm.


When I stop a person for a traffic violation, I get an automatic alert if they have a carry permit when I run their license on my in-car computer. If they haven’t informed me that they are carrying a weapon, out of curiosity, I ask them if they are carrying when I re-approach the car.


The most common answer I get when I ask that question is: “Yes, I have a permit, but I’m not carrying my gun right now.”  I would estimate that 75% of the permit holders that I stop for traffic violations aren’t carrying their guns at the time of the stop.


You aren’t likely to help a cop in a gunfight if you aren’t carrying your gun.


As you approach the officer, keep your gun concealed.  You don’t want to be mistaken for another criminal if you are running up on a cop involved in a gunfight or life threatening physical struggle.  If the cop sees you running towards him with a gun in your hand, there’s a good chance that he will assume you are a friend of the criminal he is fighting.  If that happens, you are likely to get shot.


You should also recognize that the cop has likely already called for help on the radio.  A whole bunch of his fellow officers are already on the way to the scene.  One of them might mistake you for the bad guy if they pull up and you have a gun in your hand.


As you are approaching to help the officer, keep your gun in the holster until you’ve decided you need to shoot.


Identify yourself and ask the officer if he needs help.  Here’s the thing that most CCW licensees don’t understand about police confrontations:  most of the time, your gun will only complicate the problem.  Let me explain…


In most of the physical confrontations police officers find themselves in, the criminal is not really trying to kill the officer.  We get in a lot of wrestling matches, but very rarely do we face a criminal who is trying to seriously hurt or kill us.  Most of the criminals that cops are tussling with aren’t really trying to hurt the officer at all.  They are just trying to escape or “save face” in front of their buddies.  They don’t need to be shot.


The problem that you deal with as a rescuer is that you don’t know if the cop is trying to wrestle down a fleeing unarmed shoplifter or is in a life threatening struggle with a cop killer.  If you see a cop struggling with someone during an arrest, the best course of action if to approach, identify yourself as a “good guy” and ask the officer if he needs help.  Saying something like “Officer, I have a concealed carry permit.  Do you need help?” is probably the best thing you can do.  You may have to repeat the request several times to ensure the cop hears it in the struggle.


The most likely response you will get is something like “Yes!  Grab his arm and help me get him cuffed!”  That will be far more likely than something like “Yes!  Shoot him in the head!”


Your exposed gun is more of a liability than an asset in a physical struggle.  The cop will be worried that the unarmed shoplifter that he’s wrestling with will become armed by taking your gun away from you if you try to inject yourself into the struggle with gun in hand.


If you see someone shooting at a cop, it’s time to draw your gun.  If you see the cop physically struggling with someone, it’s best to ask if he needs help before jumping into the fight.


If you do have to shoot, holster your weapon as soon as the threat is neutralized.  If you decide to help a cop involved in life threatening danger by shooting his attacker, you need to ensure that you aren’t mistakenly shot yourself by the officers (or another armed citizen) coming to help.  Standing over a cop who has been shot with a gun in your hand is a recipe for getting yourself shot by additional responding officers.


Recognize that more police officers are on the way.  Recognize that they will likely be on scene very quickly if one of their coworkers is in trouble.  Make sure you aren’t standing there with gun in hand when they arrive.


If you have to shoot, holster your weapon as soon as you are able to.  Seek cover, from both the bad guy and from responding officers.  Get on the phone to police and ensure that you give dispatchers a good description of yourself so that they can relay that information to responding officers.


When the cops arrive, they will probably order you to the ground, put you in handcuffs, and take your weapon.  Expect that.  Comply with their orders and don’t get indignant.  I know you will be thinking something like “I just saved that officer’s life and his buddies are treating me like a criminal.”  That’s reality.  The responding cops aren’t sure if you are the cop’s guardian angel or the man who just shot him.  They will take precautions by handcuffing you until they figure out what’s going on.  Don’t complicate matters by trying to argue with them.  It will all get sorted out and the cuffs will be removed in a short time.


I stated earlier in the article that, as a cop, I would be eternally grateful for a citizen’s assistance if I was in trouble.  I think most of my co-workers feel the same way.  We appreciate your assistance and we don’t want you to get hurt in the process.  Make sure you take some precautions by following these instructions if you decide to help out a cop in trouble.



Read the follow up article for what to do to help an officer if you are unarmed HERE.




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18 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. caleb says:


    This is what consistently impresses me about you and other “good” cops (as opposed to the ones that are a little power drunk):

    “In most of the physical confrontations police officers find themselves in, the criminal is not really trying to kill the officer. We get in a lot of wrestling matches, but very rarely do we face a criminal who is trying to seriously hurt or kill us. Most of the criminals that cops are tussling with aren’t really trying to hurt the officer at all. They are just trying to escape or “save face” in front of their buddies. They don’t need to be shot.”

    That takes a LOT of self control for you to do a job like that. Bravo

  2. Thanks for answering our question, and I hope we will never need to do this! It would be great to combine your previous articles and the instruction I received from you into a mini-unit on some techniques to deal with this type of situation.

    Stay safe out there, and please let your fellow officers know there’s a bunch of us who love them and want to help!

  3. rumcrook says:

    If a cop is flat on his back being straddled and beaten to death I’m thinking that is an acceptable moment to draw my wepon and demand the perpetrator cease and desist before firing. Most everything else except an outright gun battle I’m enclined to watch but only get involved if the officer is wearing down and may not win the battle.

  4. Roger Greaves says:

    That in car notification is part of why some CCW’s don’t carry. Many, if not most cops start treating CCW’s as felons as soon as they know. Many of us got the permit to quickly prove that we are the good guys so as to not be treated this way. I wish I never got mine for this reason.

    • ferndale says:

      i’ve had the exact opposite experience carrying a gun while contacting police in traffic stops from multiple departments in and around Detroit. every time i’ve gotten off without a ticket and have been treated like the opposite of a felon. i can count 6 or 7 encounters with cops, including an almost fight following a car accident (not my fault, fyi). every time, officers immediately knew i had a clean record and was treated well. michigan is a shall-declare state with regard to officer notification, like ohio.

    • JJ says:

      Pretty bold statement to say that “most” cops do that. Got a source, or are you just making stuff up?

    • Eric says:

      Funny. Every instance (which isn’t many) that I’ve been pulled over for speeding or something and I tell them I have a CCW permit and my firearm is on my hip, they treat me with respect and thank me for telling them. In fact, I was pulled over today (trust me I’ve only been pulled over 3 times) and after our conversation and nice talk, he THANKED me for carrying a firearm. THANKED ME. lmao. Now granted this doesn’t happen with everyone, but I’m sure MOST officers don’t give people shit for carrying a firearm. Maybe you just had some bad apples. I sure as hell haven’t.

  5. Rich Linn says:

    And as an always armed, highly trained, staunch supporter of not only The Blue, but all 1st responders…thank you for what you do and I hope to get the opportunity to help every time I can. God bless!

  6. JIM HILTON says:

    OK, so we have an officer that needs assistance… we are armed and will to help… we are not a CCW holder… see where i’m going with this?

    • Greg Ellifritz says:

      If I was the cop doing the investigating, I would ensure that you had been carrying the gun legally and when you saw the officer in trouble, you accessed the weapon, loaded it, and then helped the officer out. In that kind of a situation, I doubt such a statement would be closely scrutinized by the officers on the scene.

    • ferndale says:

      sounds like where you’re going is straight to jail, do not pass go, for felony firearm, etc.

      • Fyre says:

        Actually, open carry is legal most places without a permit. You only have to have a permit for concealed in my state and at least two of the bordering states. So, consider that, too.

  7. Linda Standart says:

    I do not always carry or have my weapon in my vehicle. If I am going to work or some other place where my weapon is not permitted, I don’t care to leave it in my vehicle where it is vulnerable if the vehicle is broken into.
    Obviously there are places where I am not permitted to carry. My workplace is not a gun free facility but employees are forbidden to carry or have weapons in the building.
    when I am doing errands some of the places I have to go (bank, postoffice for instance) are places where carry is illegal. So my weapon is left at home. I don’t like that but I have to abide by the law and can’t leave the gun unattended when I go in those places
    So, I will carry the damn gun when I can. But there are way too many situations where it is not permitted or safe to do so

    • Fyre says:

      This is the same problem I have. While I may have a permit, I can’t carry at work, or when I have to drop off kids at school.

  8. Trudie O'Brien says:

    I’m almost 70 years old, have my CCW and carry all the time for my own protection, I went to an event and no weapons allowed, so I left it in my glove box (was very uneasy about that) there was a deputy there for security and I explained my situation, all he said to me was, “well it would be concealed right”? I got the drift and now I carry it everywhere except Federal buildings etc, am I breaking the law by taking it in everywhere like eating places,hospitals etc?

    • Greg Ellifritz says:

      It really depends on the state and where you are carrying. In Ohio, if you carry in a posted area, the crime is trespassing. It’s not really a big deal even if you get arrested…$100 fine and probation is a typical sentence.

      If you carry into a school or government building, it’s a big deal felony.

  9. Sevesteen says:

    In the 80’s, before I had a carry license I stopped to help someone get their car out of the ditch…then changed my mind and left them there because they were drunk. A few minutes later I returned, saw them wrestling with a cop. Went about the same as Mr Elifritz said, I asked how I could help, cop said “I can’t hold him and get him cuffed at the same time, can you cuff him?”.

Trackbacks For This Post

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