Mr Americana, Overpasses News Desk
October 21st, 2017
Time for harsh reality. If you’ve never been a police officer and you see an incident where the police have shot a suspect, odds are, your first reaction is completely wrong.
It’s just a fact, and there’s no need to be offended. Crime scene investigation takes serious education, and that’s why it’s a college course. Because it’s hard and takes specialized knowledge to recreate a crime after the fact.
Having worked in law enforcement for a decade, and taken courses in crime scene investigation, I made the correct call in the Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin cases long before the police released their official reports.
It’s nice to be right, but in most cases, it take training. Crime scene assessment is no different.
Which brings us to this… The New York Post published a very enlightening article by professionals in law enforcement.
Read it, be enlightened.
The woman with the advanced Harvard degree says, “Why did the cops shoot him so many times? Why not just wound him?”
The sophisticated lawyer, describing a mentally ill man charging the police with a knife asks, “Why didn’t they just shoot the knife out of his hand like they used to?” The guy at the gym says, “But he had his hands up!” The “expert” tells an audience of police officers, “It was just a small screwdriver.”
Unfortunately for officers on the line, thousands of comments like these are made by untrained civilians who are educated by what they see in the news, movies, TV and social media. Too often, reporters, politicians, community leaders and activists who assume they know what happened leap to judgment, immediately proclaiming officers as trigger-happy, racist or failing to resolve the situation with less lethal means.
Too often overlooked in all the furor and outrage are the facts of the incident, the reality of human dynamics and how police are trained. Ninety-five percent of officers go through their entire careers without discharging their weapons. Contrary to public image, officers do not wish to be in a deadly-force incident and do everything in their power to avoid it at all costs, often times to their own peril. There are about 34,000 arrests each day in this country and well over 10 million a year, and in many of those arrests suspects are taken into custody safely even when many are extremely violent. Only a very small number result in shots fired.
Is it possible for us to pause and consider the realities for our police officers when they are involved in a shooting incident? Our book “Shots Fired: The Misunderstandings, Misconceptions, and Myths about Police Shootings” was written to provide citizens with a glimpse into the police world and the experience of officers in deadly force encounters.
Among those myths:
Hands up, don’t shoot? Police officers are trained — training that is quickly reinforced by the realities of the job — to be cautious of the subject with hands in the air. What may look like surrender to an untrained observer is frequently a ploy to lure the officer close enough for an attack. Or, when gunshots are exchanged, what looks like surrender may be the involuntary response of a subject who has been shot.
Why not just wound? In the world of policing, officers shoot not to kill and not to wound but to stop the threat. That threat is rarely stopped by a single bullet. Rarely, except in the world of fiction, does a single bullet knock someone down. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the Boston Marathon bombers, had been shot nine times, several of those wounds fatal, and he continued to toss bombs and shoot at the Watertown police. A person who has been knocked down remains a threat. Those who would have the officer “just shoot him in the knee” miss an important fact. Even assuming the officer can successfully hit that small, moving target, the subject still has both hands free to continue shooting.
As for shooting that weapon out of a subject’s hands? Many shooting events are sudden, surprising and evolve in seconds. In those seconds, while the subject has a weapon out and is shooting, the responding officer has to form the intention to respond, draw the weapon, ascertain that there are no innocents in the line of fire and then return fire — often while being fired upon. Those subjects are often fueled by drugs, rage, adrenaline and mental illness. Individuals do not stand there and present themselves like a silhouette. A twisting, turning, violent human being makes it impossible to just shoot someone in the leg or arm.
As for the assertion that an unarmed person isn’t dangerous? ‘Unarmed’ doesn’t have the same meaning to a police officer. Nearly 40,000 police officers were assaulted in 2015 with hands, fists or feet. More than 3,000 people are killed every year by unarmed assailants. Eleven percent of all officers murdered in the line of duty from 2013 to 2015 were killed by unarmed persons. And far too often overlooked? In every encounter with a police officer, unarmed simply doesn’t apply — the officer’s gun is always available.
Let’s bring the facts into clear focus to create better understandings nationwide about the police and the realities they face, often in impossible situations. Before jumping to conclusions about a deadly force incident, consider the police officers’ reality and their perspective.
Joseph K. Loughlin is a former assistant chief of police in Portland, Maine. Kate Clark Flora writes true crime and police procedurals.
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