Brennan: Is overkill always necessary?

By Tom Brennan |

“One riot, one ranger” is often considered the unofficial motto of the Texas Rangers, the state police force in Texas.

The practices of some Alaska public safety organizations suggest a different approach, one you might call, “Throw everything you’ve got at the problem.

There is something to be said for both ways of dealing with public safety matters, but the Alaska way sometimes seems wasteful, inappropriate and not in the public interest.

The “One Riot, One Ranger” guideline for the Texas state police organization stemmed from an incident in the early 1900s. Texas Ranger Captain W. J. McDonald was summoned by the mayor of Dallas to deal with an illegal prize fight and an angry mob that was assembling.

When McDonald stepped off the train by himself, the flustered mayor asked “Where are the others?” McDonald had long experience in dealing with such situations single-handedly and replied, “Hell, ain’t I enough? There’s only one riot isn’t there”

McDonald had frequently faced down mobs of hundreds of would-be troublemakers and consistently played his lonely hand well, with the miscreants going away abashed and without bloodshed.

Though McDonald’s approach seems unique, many modern police officers say they have had similar experiences. An unruly mob will often react positively to a single courageous officer than it will to multiple officers coming at them from different sides. The latter approach will often trigger a mob response, the seasoned officers report, and the crowd will become unruly when it otherwise would stand down as directed by the single officer.

Alaska motorists often encounter the “throw everything you’ve got at the problem” approach on the Seward and Glenn highways, sometimes getting into hours-long traffic snarls caused by large numbers of emergency response vehicles dealing with what appears to be a minor highway accident.

I ran into one of those deals earlier this fall while driving to a restaurant in Peters Creek. Traffic started jamming up when I passed Eagle River and stayed jammed all the way to Peters Creek, about ten miles. A friend who drove in from the opposite direction said the problem was a vehicle with its engine on fire a few miles up the highway from Peters Creek. The Chugiak Fire Department had sent what appeared to be every vehicle and firefighter on its roster and the highway was jammed.

Now, determining the size of any emergency response is a judgment call and the situation may have been more dangerous than it appeared. But it sure looked to a guy with long experience in such matters like a problem that could have been handled by pushing the vehicle off the road and putting out the flames with a fire extinguisher.

Years ago, one of the highest priorities for responders to highway emergencies was to clear the road and get traffic moving again. Now it seems to be to investigate the accident scene at great length, with the maximum count of vehicles and personnel, no matter the inconvenience to the public.

Perhaps this is one of those problems that can’t be resolved with today’s operational guidelines. But it seems public safety leaders might want to seek guidance from the older men and women in their fields.

And maybe even look at the “One riot, one ranger” way of doing things.

4 Responses to Brennan: Is overkill always necessary?

  1. Ed Martin Jr December 3, 2017 at 10:17 am

    Now Tom that article is worth the screen its printed on …Thanks!

  2. Will Gay December 3, 2017 at 12:12 pm


  3. A.M. johnson December 4, 2017 at 2:50 pm

    Will Gray- ‘Nailed it’

    • Joe December 6, 2017 at 10:00 am

      Will Gay’s cynical response may have a point, but the specific example pointed out in the article was the Chugiak VOLUNTEER Fire Department. Probably no one was getting any pay at all.

      I’m not sure what the explanation is for so many first responders, Brennan probably could have emailed the chief and asked why they responded with so many vehicles. While he shouldn’t take the chief’s response at face value, it would have made the editorial more informed.


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