Newhall: Have We Forgotten the Lessons for Combat and Self Defense?

Newhall: Have We Forgotten the Lessons for Combat and Self Defense?

The slaughter of four young California Highway Patrol Officers at Newhall, in 1970, was a watershed experience in the history of American law enforcement. It was the slap in the face that awoke the profession to the fact that its training, collectively, had stagnated. Newhall became the dawn of officer survival training for modern police.

Many lessons were learned in the sacrifice of those four brave men at the hands of two classic examples of feral homo sapiens. Lessons of risk assessment and tactics. The realization that there is a time to approach and a time to fall back and contain. The importance of adequate weapons and of reality-based training and policy.

Mike Wood’s book is, I think, the best and most comprehensive analysis of the incident yet. It reminds us that the keys to surviving violent encounters must be in place long before they occur. That, in macrocosm, institutional policy must stay focused on reality and not be shaped by “political correctness.” That in microcosm, those whose duties take them into harm’s way must be prepared early and constantly to face the worst, and must be trained and equipped to neutralize the most violent and well-equipped human adversaries a dangerous high-tech world can produce.

~ Massad Ayoob

from Newhall Shooting: A Tactical Analysis, Chapter 20:

Some of the industry’s most influential trainers and publications openly editorialize and fret that officers have either completely forgotten the lessons of Newhall or were never properly taught them to begin with. Other decry the organizational mindset they fear has become pervasive in law enforcement, that which places “a greater emphasis on making everyone happy and avoiding complaints at all costs, than [on] the safety of the officers.”

The new technology of the ages, the Internet, has allowed officers from diverse backgrounds and agencies to compare notes on the “state of the industry,” and even the most casual search through some of these forums will indicate a high level of anxiety from officers whose mental preparation for duty—their survival sense—is negatively impacted by fears of administrative punishment from unsupportive departments, criminal punishment from politically motivated district attorneys, or of getting sued by litigious citizens armed with video cameras that don’t tell the entire story.

Then there are the failures. The information technology era has allowed us to capture many police actions and fatalities on video, where they can be analyzed in horrible detail. It’s heartbreaking and baffling to law enforcement trainers to see these officers making mistakes in judgment and tactics that wind up costing them their lives, especially when the mistakes occur at the most basic level.

Who can explain the mindset of an officer who is unable to bring himself to shoot a violent and aberrant suspect who’s openly loading a gun so he can use it against the officer? Why would that officer take no defensive measures (other than warning the suspect to stop over and over), right up to the point of the fatal gunshot that was clearly forthcoming? What does this incident say about the mental preparedness of the slain officer, the culture of officer safety at that department, or the state of training, if anything?

Who can explain why an ad hoc S.W.A.T. team rushes in prematurely after an armed suspect who has just killed two officers, instead of using the time they have to negotiate and wait the suspect out, or at least develop a coordinated attack plan with the proper assets prior to entry?

Who can explain how a veteran officer fails to find a 9mm handgun in a suspect’s waistband during his search—the same gun that the handcuffed suspect would soon use to murder the officer from the back seat of the patrol car?

Who can explain why officers are dying from the same mistakes in preparedness, judgment, and tactics that were being made when their fathers and grandfathers walked the beat? Can we really say the lessons of an event like Newhall have been learned and ingrained in the fabric of the law enforcement culture in the face of examples such as these?

Where are we? What have we truly learned? Where do we need to be going?

The study of combat and self-defense is big and complex. It’s been said that each of us has a piece of the puzzle, but that no single person can truly wrap his hands around it all and see the entire “blind man’s elephant” for what it is. I respectfully submit to you this book, my own small, personal piece of the puzzle, and hope that it will somehow help you to become better prepared for your own fight against evil.

Semper Vigilans!

~ Mike Wood, Author

To read more about critical aspects of tactical training for law enforcement and self-defense, download Newhall Shooting: A Tactical Analysis, Survival Lessons from One of Law Enforcement's Deadliest Shootings from the Gun Digest Store today.

Thanks for visiting, and for reading the Inside Gun Digest Books blog.


  1. I own this book and recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in the Newhall shooting, or those who are (as I am) on a mission of constant studying and learning. This book reveals lessons long ago forgotten and some new ones as well. Riveting and thought provoking – Get it! You won’t be disappointed. Guy

    • Guy,
      Thank you for taking the time to share your review of the book. We’re glad you enjoyed it, and we always appreciate hearing from readers.


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