Opinion

Unarmed Alaska police officer protected by armed citizen

Nineteen-year-old Brian Nicolai of Kwethluk, Alaska (some 388 miles west of Anchorage), armed himself with rifles, donned a helmet and ballistic vest, broke into the village public safety building, set off the fire alarm, and then waited to ambush responding police officers. He had one huge advantage; the village police officers (VPO) do not carry firearms. Some carry batons and pepper spray but others only have handcuffs.

Albeit cliché, the first officer on scene, Tiger Lee, dodged a bullet. The officer lived to tell the tale. Officer Lee said, as he entered the building, he came face to face with Nicolai who was pointing a rifle at him. Nicolai pulled the trigger, but the gun did not fire. According to Law Enforcement Today (LET) reporting, the gun wasn’t loaded.

Regardless, he apparently got one of the other rifles and began shooting at Lee and another officer who’d also arrived. Outgunned, the officers got lucky when Casey Thompson, a nearby resident, responded with his own rifle.

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According to a report by the Anchorage Daily News, “Thompson, armed with a rifle, was able to get the shooter to drop his weapon. Thompson declined to speak about the incident.”

Now, this is where the story takes a somewhat peculiar path. Officer Lee, who faced the rifle that didn’t fire, said he believes village police officers should be able to carry firearms. I bet he does. However, Deputy Chief David Berezkin said he only partially agrees with his officer.

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DC Berezkin said it would be better for officers to carry sidearms but only “for certain cases.” He believes in most cases officers don’t need firearms. He added that “Sometimes a [cop’s] gun can escalate a confrontation.” But wouldn’t you rather your officer have a gun and not need it than the other way around?

What kind of argument is this against arming cops? That officers don’t need guns for most calls is true in every jurisdiction in America, large and small. Officers don’t deploy their guns on most calls. No kidding.

Officers don’t carry guns because of the calls where firearms are not needed. I don’t use my car, health, or homeowner’s insurance every day either. Is this an argument not to have insurance? Cops carry guns for those rare cases when they are needed—like an insurance policy.

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Continuing on our peculiar path, apparently, Officer Lee believes he could have handled the situation even if Thompson hadn’t shown up and used his gun to get Nicolai to surrender. He said he’s responded to similar calls, but he indicated in those cases people were threatening to hurt themselves, and he was able to calm the person and defuse the situation.

I don’t want to second-guess another officer, but I do want to know what Officer Lee has for breakfast every morning that gives him such confidence. According to the report, Officer Lee said he “would have asked Nicolai questions to calm him down.” What? Hey, Tiger, maybe you forgot, but you told us the first thing that happened is he pointed a rifle at you and pulled the trigger. If the gun had been loaded, this would be a terribly different story.

From the article, Officer Lee sounds like a nice guy and a passionate and dedicated police officer. But I think he may have adopted a leftist version of “de-escalation” at all costs.

To be fair, “[T]he reason Kwethluk VPOs don’t carry firearms is lack of funding.” DC Berezkin explained the training can take several months in the lower 48. That’s expensive. Also, Administrative Chief Nicholai Joseph added “The city can’t afford to be sued for improper use of force.”

LET reports they’ve initiated an alliance of companies that have come forward to help equip the officers. Sons of Liberty Gun Works owner, Mike Mihalski said his company Primary Arms and Inforce plan to supply the department with guns and optics. Mihalski said, “We’re sending those guys four bad ass rifles.”

I was glad to hear it. I don’t want to have to write about a “rare” Kwethluk Village Police Department VPO who was killed in the line of duty.

meet the author

Steve Pomper is a retired Seattle police officer. He's served as a field training officer and on the East Precinct Community Police Team. He's the author of four books, including "De-Policing America: A Street Cop's View of the Anti-Police State." He's also a contributor to the National Police Association.

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