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.
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.
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.
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.