The Dundalk Gunfight – Multiple Perspectives

May 15, 2024  
|  11 Comments
Categories: Op-Eds
A compilation video of the Dundalk shooting is making the rounds now (kudos to whoever put that together, by the way). The gunfight between Baltimore County Police and Blaine Robert Erb, which occurred in and around a city bus in BCPD Dundalk Precinct 12, offers a number of things we can learn from.

This article was originally one of two published on June 8th and June 9th, 2017. They have been updated, combined with with additional information, and republished.

The Dundalk shooting was an extended gunfight between a man named Blaine Robert Erb and Baltimore County Police.
The Dundalk shooting was an extended gunfight on and around an MTA bus between robbery suspect Blaine Robert Erb and Baltimore County Police on June 7, 2017 in the Dundalk Precinct (Precinct 12) of BCPD.

Go straight to the extended footage.

Go straight to the extended footage.

This is what we originally posted:

Dundalk Bus Shooting: BCPD Dundalk Precinct 12

A gunfight in Dundalk, MD left one police officer plus one bystander injured and the suspect dead in what looks like a glaring argument for the use of a patrol rifle. Dundalk is an unincorporated part of Baltimore County and falls under the jurisdiction of Baltimore County Police Precinct 12.

The incident apparently began when officers responded to a call about an armed robbery in progress at a shopping center, with reports of one suspect engaged with two other suspects on the street. The armed suspect opened fire on responding officers and then took cover on an MTA bus. After exchanging numerous rounds with officers (see much longer video below), the suspect bailed from the bus and ran for it. He evidently made it to a second vehicle, taking cover there, and then was killed by rounds fired by one or more of the officers.

As you can see, the fight lasted a surprising length of time.

All we know is, nobody texts you when you start your shift and says, “Hey, you’re gonna be in a gunfight today.” Nor will anyone warn you that today’s gunfight will be the exception the norm when it comes to OIS shootings, taking place at greater ranges and for longer periods of time than what is reflected in the statistics.

You have to be able to shoot and plug holes in yourself if need be.

You oughta be carrying a rifle if policy allows for it.

What can we parse out? We know at least some of the patrol units are right up close to the MTA bus. There may be a good reason for that, there may not. We know he moved back and forth between the exit doors. We know 10 or more rounds were fired when he bolted from the bus to the rear of the van, though we don’t know how many were his and how many were officers’, and we know he wasn’t afraid to fight it out. Nor do we know when the officer was hit, or where she was in the response timeline.

It also appears that he was carrying two weapons (1:11), which, of course, could mean a lot or nothing, and we’d rather face someone who carries two guns by necessity than someone who is sufficiently proficient to reload under stress. At least another twenty rounds were fired over the course of over a full minute after he began engaging officers from behind the van. We don’t know the ground truth or if there was any way to maneuver on him, nor do we know if there were any rifles deployed (though we don’t see or hear any, unless we missed them).

Oh, and we know there will always be dumbasses happy to film a fight on their cell phone (in this case at least two).

Happily he got a dirt nap and no one else was killed.

dundalk shooting 2017

This is a self-evident excellent example of why training under stress, the carriage of some sort of IFAK, a reasonable “basic load” on the duty belt and a good vest should be the norm. This is not in any way a criticism of the BCPD officers on scene — it would be asinine for anyone to start critiquing the event based on initial reports, which are always wrong, and the myopic perspective of a single cell phone. We have no way of knowing what they were equipped with, or even really how they responded.

All we know is, nobody texts you when you start your shift and says, “Hey, you’re gonna be in a gunfight today.” Nor will anyone warn you that today’s gunfight will be the exception the norm when it comes to OIS shootings, taking place at greater ranges and for longer periods of time than what is reflected in the statistics.

Carry your gear, keep your mind right, practice your trauma skills. The officer hit today took one in the leg sometime around 3pm local. We don’t know exactly what time she was loaded onto a bus, nor what sort of medical equipment other officers had in their vehicle (they were crouched at the rear of one unit with the length of the car between them). We do know it was approximately 3:40pm local before she arrived at Shock Trauma Hospital. In this case, happily, everything worked out. But what if the asshole in the bus had been using a rifle, or hadn’t made a break for it?

What if she’d been by herself or with just one other covering officer in the ass end of nowhere or some alley somewhere?

You have to be able to shoot and plug holes in yourself if need be.

You oughta be carrying a rifle if policy allows for it.

Hopefully, we’ll see body-cam footage at some point to better decipher this. Why? No, not to second-guess the officers—but good, bad, or both, you can bet there will be some lessons to be learned.

Which brings us to…

The Dundalk Shooting: What Lessons Learned?

It’s a long video, but worth watching. In fact it’s worth watching more than once to pick up all the little things, good and bad, that happened that day.

Extended Dundalk Gunfight Footage

Somewhat graphic video.

As always, there will be those who accuse us of armchair quarterbacking. To them, we say, you’re damn right we are. Any event like this, caught from multiple perspectives, is a priceless opportunity to learn.

What did we do right? Let’s make sure everyone sees it, recognizes it for what it is, and understands the whys and wherefores of it. Let’s drive that point to our next batch of rookies.

What did we do wrong? Nobody does it all right, not ever. Sometimes we just flat fuck things up, badly. How do we prevent those things from happening in the future? Do we change SOPs/TTPs? Alter our equipment? Fire someone and make an example of them?

LEO, military, PSC, PMC,  any armed professional at all — if you cannot understand the necessity for (and the advantages of) scrutinizing these sorts of things every single time, you’re in the wrong line of work.

We’re well aware of Graham v. Connor, and we understand Illinois v. Rodriguez. Neither one should be an excuse not to improve ourselves, even if someone must become an object lesson to do.

The most obvious equipment takeaway remains the need for agency-wide rifles. There are a number of constraints that might hinder this in practice, but in our eyes a responsible agency will overcome or at least mitigate them.

In fact, the argument could likely be made that patrol rifles will eventually be subject to the same sort of litigious scrutiny less-lethal devices and munitions once were. Some of us are old enough to remember when agencies were sued for not having a sufficient alternative to lethal force readily available at the patrol level. Like failure to train lawsuits, failure to equip will be a thing at some point (if they haven’t been already).

The most obvious performance takeaway, in my eyes at least, is a need to improve comms and movement. I don’t know BCPD’s P&Ps, nor have I dug through any precedent the Fourth Circuit might have set down, but a strong argument could be made that responding officers should have moved directly to end the threat (i.e., as in an active shooter or hostage rescue situation).

To be fair, I have heard others contend it should have been treated as an armed and barricaded situation — though I’m not entirely sure that could reasonably be expected once Erb left the bus and took cover behind the van.

Videos captured of the Dunalk shooting on a Baltimore County bus provide us with a great opportunity to learn; including the importance of having trauma medical capability ready to hand. Dundalk, MD. BCPD Dundalk Precinct 12.

Note: there are those who have asked why we have only seen one officer’s body camera. There are at least two possible reasons for that. One is simply that not all officers have one. BCPD has nearly 2,000 sworn officers; they’ve advised in an official statement that issuing body cams to every patrol officer is an ongoing effort. A second reason could be that at least one undercover officer (that we know of) was at the scene. It’s possible that affected the disclosure reasoning. There could be other reasons as well.

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Additional Reading

Before we get to the comments. we’ll share this one from the original article before we combined ’em.

Discussion comment about the police involved shooting on a transit bus in Dundalk, MD.

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David Reeder

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11 Comments

  1. strych9

    I’ve taken some heat here before for questioning LEO SOP’s but I have no experience with this type of situation and therefore will not question their response to the situation. Personally I think they did pretty well. Others with far more experience than I have already given their opinion on that and I won’t question it. I don’t think it was perfect but under the conditions I think they did pretty well.

    I note two things, one of which was covered in a comment and one of which was covered in the video.

    First is the lack of reloads on that shotgun. IMHO, a rifle or a shotgun being carried in a car, whether carried by a civilian or a LEO is for a “HOLY SHIT WE’RE HAVING A GUNFIGHT!!” type of situation so a set of spare shells for a full reload or two makes sense the same way you’d want an extra mag or two for a patrol rifle. Bandoleer, Side Saddle whatever, just have some spares for that shotgun or however you choose to do it for a rifle where there are some other options.

    Second, the call for scissors at the end where they’re trying to take the leg off of the downed officer’s pants with a knife. I can’t speak for LEO’s nationwide but but around me they carry a TQ, Combat Gauze and some other gear on their patrol belt. Slap a pair of EMT sheers on there FFS! Simply in my car I carry an IFAK/Blowout kit and a major bag. Both have EMT sheers. Grab either one and you’ve got at least one set of sheers. They’re light, they cut real good. Carry them.

  2. Shannon22

    Is it just me or is 15 seconds into a GSW a little premature for tourniquet?

    Why wasn’t she just driving around with it already on her leg?

    • Joe

      Training on when to apply tourniquets has changed a lot recently. It’s still considered a last resort, but the assessment is pretty much “Pressure and elevation ineffective -> tourniquet now.” The risk of limb loss is much lower than was previously believed, so a tourniquet is an efficient, effective, and safe method of controlling blood loss.

    • Jack

      She got hit around the 9:00 mark, when the suspect broke from the bus and ran to the van, so she was bleeding for a minute or two before other officers got to her. The did a good job getting that TQ on in a timely manner.

  3. Dan

    A couple things. We are approaching this from a military mindset. Fighting mindset is fine, military is different. This is downtown USA not Fallujah. Just because you have a lookout on a perp that doesn’t mean the one you have on that bus is the right one. Someone has to go in and check it without Breaching and banging a bunch of civilians on the wrong bus. Cops have err on the side of caution and be right every time. Entering and then fleeing gave EVERYONE the opportunity to flee. If they cordoned off the bus and surround it you have a Law Enforcement initiated hostage situation. That is ALWAYS a bad idea. Once the perp got off the bus only the officers immediately around the bus could see the bad guy. If you look, there is a bit of a defilade between the van and the grass behind the bad guy. Cops approaching from that direction would have no point of reference to look at other than the bus and would not be able to see the perp. Cross fire was potentially an issue but you have to understand on a scene like this help is coming from every direction and not all of them can see where they need to be before they are too close. Lastly cops are not trained in movement to contact. After Dallas that training has started but like active shooter, it takes time. Also the perp was moving from cover to cover seeking to improve his position. The Police Dept has to justify every round fired so fixing him in position using fire and then moving to contact is fine as long as all ends well. If not then they are cowboys and made bad decisions.

    • Jack

      I’m looking at at from the perspective of a cop on the street. If I was looking at this from a military point of view, some things might change. I’m not arguing with you per se, but it seems to me from reading the evaluations that most of them are coming from cops, and I’m assuming from your remarks you are as well. You make some valid point regarding the terrain and cross fire but I think it’s a bit of a stretch to say we (cops) aren’t trained in movement to contact. I’m making a sweeping generalized statement here, but fire and maneuver is fire and maneuver, regardless of .mil or .leo. A rose by any other name, and all that….

      From all the information I know (and I might be wrong, perhaps you have more/better info) the responding officers knew their suspect was on that particular bus. Setting aside their tactics or lack of in how the initial contact was made, once the suspect engaged, the fight was on. We would all love to imagine we will respond well under fire, not all of us always do, fact of life; having said that, screaming and running away might not have been the best course of action or even what we should expect from our officers. Fight’s on, get to fighting.

      If the suspect had decided to start shooting people or simply hold everyone on the bus hostage instead of letting everyone off, we would perhaps not be so forgiving of the officers who ran for cover instead of taking the fight to the bad guy. A fighting mindset is a job requirement whether you’re patrolling Fallujah or Fish Bite Falls, USA.

  4. Kevin

    The initial contact was conducted poorly. Considering they were looking for an armed suspect they should have been clearing the bus from the get go. After first asking and knowing their suspect was in the rear of the bus the front have should have been cleared out. I don’t have an issue with going small arms in the bus because swinging a shotgun or patrol rifle would have been cumbersome to a point with all the handrails.

    Once the situation went sideways, I don’t have a problem with the retreat to cover because the doorways off the bus offered little to no cover and you’re on the low ground. That being said, scene control was poor. They stacked up 4 officers to the front of the bus with nobody taking cover behind the van gen eventually ran to. Cover taken to the rear of the bus was poor as well because the patrol car was parked improperly behind the bus thus not offering adequate cover, as evidenced by the officer taking a round in the leg to the rear.

    Once he exited the bus, their failure to take up good tactical positioning around the bus made an advance on the van tactically unsafe because they had too much open ground between the patrol cars and the van.

    As far as the shotgun, did I count 4 rounds fired from it before it was discarded? No extended tube?

    When the suspect went down, was that an officer running around in the background or a civilian? If that was an officer back there, the cross fire potential made that movement a poor choice with the suspect still in the fight.

    Back to scene control, poor patrol car positioning initially led to that intersection being a danger zone for civilians still turning. Nobody thought to block that intersection and force oncoming cars to turn right, instead of left through the intersection. That same scene control and lack of positioning led to civilians being behind that van when the suspect made his run, putting them in immediate danger instead of them being removed from the scene at the onset.

    Radio discipline was poor, and communication on the ground was extremely poor. Nobody knew where the suspect had retreated to.

    From my experience in law enforcement, there is little to no “unit” training, or training as a shift. So it’s left as a free for all instead of acting as a cohesive unit where everyone’s knows their specific job.

  5. Btroll

    I don’t have any experience or training to speak from but I have question: why wasn’t a LEO behind the front of the van? That may have given them position to cover both doors of the bus.

  6. Richard Steven Hack

    I was surprised to see the shotgun discarded after discharging the first time. You’d think if you’re carrying a shotgun, you’d want to have at least one full reload either on the shotgun stock or in a bandoleer stored with the shotgun.

    Also, the “Officer 42” seemed to be firing at the suspect from some distance, with a building of some sort in the background. The potential here for penetration into a civilian area would seem significant.

    The question to be raised is how did the suspect manage to run some distance from the bus without being interdicted, which made the situation much worse given his mobility and access to cover (the van). As long as he was penned in the bus, he was essentially under control. Losing that control was a major problem.

    As an aside, it appeared to me that he had extended tactical magazines in one or both of his handguns, which speaks to a bit more preparedness on his part than the usual armed robber. He appeared to be relatively in control of himself despite his situation, apparently firing for suppressive effect on the police while he considered his options, eventually opting for abandoning his untenable position.

    All in all, a very interesting video.

  7. TacMed

    I agree with Jack’s assessment. Now here’s my 2 cents. This incident was fueled by a lack of training, and to a lesser extent a lack of experience. Graham v. Conner aside, complete lack of aggression / decisive action / complacency by the first officers on scene gave this guy his opportunity. They knew they were looking for an armed robbery suspect. This lack of aggression, decisive action, complacency is probably driven, at least partially by a lack of training and or unit integrity. By unit integrity I simply mean that maybe these officers may not work / train together often. They may be responding from overlapping shifts or patrol areas and not know each other well. This of course is not an excuse but, if accurate, is a reality.

    Patrol rifles would, of course have been an asset to end this encounter more quickly. Especially once it went sideways. If the initial responding officers had boarded the bus with long arms (rifle or shotgun) and a decisive / aggressive disposition this would have been shut down much earlier with much less risk to the general public, responding officers and possibly even the shooter. They knew they were looking for an armed robbery suspect. More force now = less force later. However, you could make the argument that lack of funding / political will to initiate and maintain a patrol rifle program is the same driving force behind their lack of training in general. Also, just a guess here but I bet the officer with the shotgun wished he had more shells.

    Finally, how much of this extended situation points to the Ferguson effect? The answer, we’ll never know. I am in no way mean to drag the officers involved or the PD as a whole through the mud. Their courage is obvious in this video. Thank you for hanging it all out there to help keep this country safe.

    Just my 2 cents worth, stay tactical.

  8. Jack

    Sustain: Handgun accuracy seemed effective once Erb left the cover of the van. Tourniquets were readily available.

    Improve: Officers did not seem to have a plan for contacting the armed robbery suspect on the bus. When confronted with an armed suspect and then fired upon, officers did not display a fighting mindset, running for cover and leaving potential hostages behind on the bus. Officers went into “bunker mode,” hunkering behind cars and did not seek to improve their positioning at any time. Use of cover was poor or non-existent, especially for the officer who was shot. Patrol rifles would have probably ended this faster and would have been more effective than handguns and a shotgun. Additional shotgun ammo should be available. Radio discipline was non-existent, especially by the air unit, and made the situation worse. Communication and coordination between officers in the fight was poor to non-existent.

    There’s a huge difference between a group of knowledgeable professionals examining an incident with a critical eye in order to gain lessons learned, and MMQ’ing by people who have no relevant scope of knowledge to understand what they’re talking about.

    We owe it to ourselves and our fellow officers to critically examine these types of situations. It’s fine to find room for improvement and it’s fine to point out where performance was lacking. It’s how we learn. There’s quite a difference, however between evaluating the reasonableness of an officer’s use of force and declaring that force was unreasonable when that declaration is based on facts not known to that officer at the time (and personal opinions rather than facts) and examining the same incident by the legal standard of Graham v. Conner.

    Regardless of how we might feel about any one particular incident, I believe in my heart that we all want the same thing: To improve as officers in order to better serve the public and safely go home to our families at the end of shift. To that end, critical self evaluation is a must.

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