WASHINGTON: On April 6, 1970, four California Highway Patrolmen were gunned down by two armed criminals outside of Newhall, California. The Newhall incident, 50 years ago this week, had long term implications that changed law enforcement for the better. What this nation is doing to police today will cause the deaths of untold officers across this nation.
That is until another Newhall murder shakes us from our slumber.
The murder of California Highway Patrolmen Grago and Gore
It began several minutes before midnight when California Highway Patrolmen Walter Frago and Roger Gore pulled over a car. The patrolmen knew an armed person was inside the vehicle. After spotting the car, officers Frago and Gore called for backup. Before assistance could arrive, they stopped the car, engaging Frago and Gore.
The suspect’s vehicle came to a stop in a closed restaurant parking lot.
Officer Gore, the driver, ordered the suspect vehicle’s driver out of the car and to place his hands on the hood. The suspect slowly complied; however, he kept his body turned away from the officers.
As Officer Gore began walking up to the driver, Officer Frago moved from his covering position and went to remove the passenger, who up to this point had ignored all police orders to show his hands.
Frago was armed with a shotgun, but in keeping with CHP’s image as officer friendly, did not have a shell loaded. The suspect car’s passenger, Jack Twinning, shoved the door open and shot Frago in the chest several times while exiting the vehicle. Then he turned the gun on Gore, missing him with his remaining bullet.
Gore’s service revolver was locked in its holster, again due to CHP rules, and before he could pull it out, he was shot twice by the driver, Bobby Davis. Both officers died instantly.
Within seconds backup officers, James Pence and George Alleyn arrived.
The murder of California Highway Patrolmen Pence and Alleyn
The officers immediately came under fire. They called for assistance and then took cover behind their respective doors. Alleyn, the driver, grabbed a shotgun. In the ensuing exchange of gunfire, both officers were killed. One of the suspects was wounded.
The aftermath of that four and one half minute gunfight was four widows and seven children, ranging in age from nine months to four years old, fatherless.
It shocked law enforcement agencies across the nation.
After a six-hour standoff, and surrounded by police officers, Twinning shot himself with the shotgun he took off of Officer Frago’s body. Davis was captured alive, sentenced to death in the gas chamber. When California abolished the death penalty, his sentence was commuted to life in prison.
He recently died in a minimum-security prison of natural causes.
Post shooting shock waves went through the law enforcement community, leading to investigations. Among the findings was that the officers did not have the training necessary to handle the situation. California Highway Patrol leadership was more interested in public relations than officer safety.
Police agencies around the country were all heavily invested in public relations over officer safety. The shooting was during the ’60s the days of the youth revolution and changing attitudes on respect and tradition.
Along with these new morals came a lack of respect for laws and those who enforce them.
Despite the changing mores during those hectic days, leaders emerged who heeded the warnings and altered many minds on police training and standards. Armed with this knowledge of cause and effect, police training around the country moved to better protect officers.
It was the only positive outcome of this horrific event.
Training Police to avoid being murder victims
The officers that became victims of murder, had less than two years on the force, leaving them unprepared for this level of violence. Particularly while being hampered by society-first laws.
Following Newhall, police officer safety and training began to prepare officers better to confront actual hazards. The new procedures protected officers on the beat during those rough times.
Police were trained to draw their weapons and have them ready to fire whenever they suspected they might be in danger. Weapons training became more realistic, not merely hitting an inert target. Most importantly, police agencies backed those proactive measures, over citizens’ hurt feelings.
Those actions saved the lives of more police officers than can be calculated throughout the remainder of the 20th Century. The 1970s remain the most violent period in American history, followed closely by the 1990s. However, new officer safety training, in combination with authorities standing behind police tactics, got officers through these rough times without another significant massacre.
Authorities keeping officer safety in mind began to erode in the early 1990s following the Rodney King riots in Los Angels. They continue to deteriorate under Clinton, Bush, and by the time Obama took office, he destroyed any semblance of police authority in this nation.
Murder threats to police once again growing
As a result, today, violence is again growing, especially violence against the police. At the same time, politicians are demanding police stand down when confronted with violence. Or as in the cases in New York City, when police are attacked, water thrown on them or physically abused, police brass or mayors order them to do nothing.
This attitude of compliance emboldens criminals to act out against the police. Young officers, filled with public relations dogma, will not react quickly enough to a life-threatening situation, costing many their lives.
Today’s attitudes toward the police are setting up the next Newhall massacre. We must stop handcuffing the police before incidents of violence against them escalate to murder.
The 50th anniversary of the Newhall shootings proves that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.
About the author:
Joseph Ragonese is a veteran of the United States Air Force, a retired police officer, has a degree in Criminal Justice, a businessman, journalist, editor, publisher, and fiction author.