Newhall Anniversary

It’s been 52 years since the pivotal Newhall Gunfight changed the landscape for police training, tactics, equipment and culture.

For those unfamiliar with Newhall, please see our 50th Anniversary coverage, here.

Lessons Learned

The blood lessons from that battle shaped the experience of police officers and police agencies for several generations, afterwards. All who have worn the uniform, since, owe a debt of gratitude to the men who sacrificed everything that night, and to those who ensured their sacrifice would not be in vain—particularly the trainers who turned the painful losses into powerful tools for learning and prevention. The hard work of translating terrible outcomes into winning strategies, that protected both officers and the public they served, is easily forgotten in the mist, but shouldn’t be. The sacrifices would have been meaningless without the dedicated response and improvements that followed.

lessons forgotten

Alas, as we survey the landscape over half a century later, we can’t escape the conclusion that the torch was fumbled somewhere, in the handoff between generations.

This is not the place to detail the radical assault on law enforcement officers and our system of justce that we’ve suffered for too many years, but it’s irrefutable that the venemous, anti-police sentiment that pervades too many corners of our society today has a familiar ring to it.

This was the same poison that set the stage for Newhall, the same assault that cowed public officials and police administrators into creating an agency culture where officer and public safety took a back seat to pleasing the radical, vocal mob. The cops of the Newhall era would instantly recognize today’s War On Cops as just the latest chapter in a terrible, self-destructive book that just won’t go away.

They would recognize that we’re busy sowing the seeds of the next Newhall.

Course correction

It seems that today’s public is just starting to understand the lessons that their ancestors also had to learn the hard way—notably, that politicizing and corrupting the justice system, and attacking and poisoning the law enforcement profession, has negative results on public safety.  The monsters that are kept in check by a well-regulated sytem of enforcing and adjudicating the law, are free to roam, steal, cripple and kill when there’s no will, and no force, to oppose them.

In that environment, our few remaining law enforcement officers will continue to be attacked, injured and killed by vicious criminals, in the same way that Officers Gore, Frago, Alleyn and Pence were over half a century ago.

The lessons of Newhall lean towards tactics, equipment and training, but they also lean towards culture—the culture of healthy law enforcement agencies, which are supported by an appreciative public, who understands the dangers lurking for them in the shadows, and values the warriors who would defend our society against them.

Today, as we reflect on a gun battle whose smoke cleared long ago, let us reflect on ALL the lessons of Newhall, and rededicate ourselves to them.

God bless you all and be safe out there.

Author: Mike

Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) Mike Wood is a bonafide revolver nut, a certified law enforcement instructor in handgun, shotgun, patrol rifle, less-lethal, and diversionary device disciplines, and the author of Newhall Shooting: A Tactical Analysis, the definitive study of the infamous, 1970 California Highway Patrol shootout in Newhall, California. Mike wrote the "Tactical Analysis" column at for 8 years, and enjoys teaching both armed citizens and law enforcement officers.

18 thoughts on “Newhall Anniversary”

  1. For CHP officers Gore, Frago, Alleyn and Pence – Dona eis requiem sempereternam.

    It’s hard to believe it’s 52 years ! (thanks, Mike, for making me feel even older!)

    Less than two years after Newhall went down, the aftermath was reverberating at my training academy from every direction: weapon training, procedural training, et cetera. Sadly, that attitude only came down to us from the academy instructors, and not the leadership.

    Those of us being put on the street who had experienced ‘combat time’ in another part of the world, recognized Newhall as not being that much different than we had experienced previously: just different geography, different uniforms, different combatants.

    For every officer who was lost to deficient training and / or equipment, the lessons of each tragedy should never be forgotten, and we should always honor their sacrifice, and scorn those who let them down.

    To those still on the street, you continue to fight to survive — you fight like you’re the third monkey on the ramp to Noah’s Ark, and it’s pouring down rain !!

    1. We’ve reached the point where many officers will subject themselves to unnecessary risk, and even suffer an attack without responding appropriately, to avoid using force and becoming the next guy on the political hotseat. I sure hope these officers will hear and heed your admonition!

  2. It’s hard to imagine a city with more venomous, anti-police sentiment than mine (Portland, Oregon) but there might be. At the same time, violence–chiefly random shootings–is far worse now than anytime since I moved here in 1980.

    Apparently things will continue to degrade because cowardly local politicians won’t support law enforcement. Portland is now an open city for criminals.

    1. At some point, things will get bad enough that the citizens will want change, and demand more law enforcement. The problem is, they might completely destroy their police department before that.

  3. Thank you Mike, for the reminder of the anniversary and most of all for your excellent book on Newhall.

    It seems the pendulum has been consistent in its swings. There are some similarities between the anti LE feeling then and now but it seems that pendulum has swung further toward anti LE than ever before.

    It does seem that arc is slowing and giving hope of turning away from anarchy. There is a strong chance that the swing back to LE will be stronger and more decisive that ever before.

    I sure hope so for the sake of the good people in this country that believe in laws, both God’s and man’s.

    Stay safe!

    1. I pray that we’re witnessing that, Tony. I know we can’t allow things to get any worse, if we want a reasonable chance at recovery.

  4. Mike –
    I really appreciate Your well-communicated thoughts on this. The current sentiment we see in so many places is arrogant, ignorant, and dangerous. The rule of law must be upheld and enforced for us to enjoy a decent society. The willingness to ignore both by many in power is a precursor to anarchy. It’s a true statement – “Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.”

    1. Right on, Kevin. This assault on law enforcement is an assault on the core elements of our social contract. It all disappears if we can’t agree on upholding the law.

  5. When I went to the academy, 32 years ago, we were still being taught lessons paid for by Gore, Fargo, Allen and Pence. I still use some of them today.

    It seems that here in the good old US of A we’re trying really hard to get back to the 60’s, not in a good way. I do have hope, though. Here in Texas, our elected officials stand up to DC, not just talk. But the most hopeful thing, to me, is that I couldn’t go a day without multiple people thanking me for my service after they realized I’m a police officer. My friends have similar experience. It’s not unheard of, after a meal, for the waiter to tell uniformed officers, “that guy (or that lady) who just left paid for your dinner.” Little things, but maybe there is hope…I hope. I hate that it is so different in other places. I’ll step off my soapbox.
    God bless be careful.

    1. So glad to hear that, BC. I’m hopeful that more and more people are coming to the realization that we need to take care of our police, and show our appreciation for them.

  6. We do owe those four men a debt of gratitude, and also to those that made sure their sacrifice was not in vain. Thank you, Mike, for helping to keep that torch burning to honor them and their families.

    1. Thanks Kevin, it’s simply my duty!

      Those trainers and leaders who had to salvage something from the experience, and turn a tragedy into an officer safety revolution, have my respect. They saved a lot of lives by doing the hard work to change equipment, programs, tactics, training and culture for the better.

  7. God Bless our Peacemakers🙏
    I recently purchased your book on the Newhall shooting and will start it this weekend.
    I graduated from the NYPD Academy over 41 years ago. I still slow down and keep a watchful eye on officers/deputies/troopers during vehicle stops. My wife and I also take opportunities to treat an LEO for a meal whenever possible, to show our gratitude and pray for their safety.

    1. Once you’re part of the family, that never changes. I extend my thanks and respect to you, and to all the other readers who took the oath, for their dedicated service and their sacrifices. You’re the best of what America has had to offer.

  8. Ambushes in the station house are common and cops must be alert everywhere. I think often of Lt. Vicky Amel and MPO Mike Garbarino of the Fairfax County, VA PD who were murdered during the shift change at Chantilly District Station and my mentor Sgt. Henry Daly of the DC MPD who was killed in the Cold Case Unit because his duty gun was locked in a drawer because the Chief didn’t want cops carrying guns in the house. An FBI agent was also killed but one of the feds ignored the house rules and returned fire to killed the shooter.

    1. Terrible, but those old headlines are new again. Seeing more and more of those attacks these days. I was warning cops about it in my columns and presentations years ago, and got some funny looks when I suggested it would become an increasingly common threat. I hate the fact that I was right about that one.

  9. Thank You, Mike. I’ve read extensively about Newhall as well as the Miami FBI shootout. I have an autographed copy of “FBI Miami Firefight: Five Minutes That Changed The Bureau” by Ed Mireles. It’s 36th anniversary is this Monday, 4/11/22. Lest we forget.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *