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Do Police ‘Shoot to Kill’?

On TV, you see it all the time.  The suspect is waving a gun or holding it to a hostage’s head or fleeing the scene.  The police draws from the hip and deftly shoots the gun out of the perp’s hand, or shoots him in the leg.  The key phrase here is On TV.  Because that’s not real life.

The short answer to our question – Do Police Shoot to Kill? – in the real world is Yes.  Let’s explore the reasons for that.


Shoot to Kill ?Deadly force
is just what it says — it’s force designed to be lethal.  This is the guiding principle under which all police officers are trained.  If the officer is justified in shooting someone, then the goal is to stop their actions.  The leg is not the target for that.  If the officer only intends to ‘wing ’em’, then the use of the firearm — deadly force — is probably not justified at all.

Yes, it does happen that an officer has shot the gun out of someone’s hand.  There are also documented cases where the bullet has gone down the barrel of the other guy’s gun, thus jamming it.  But those are flukes and not something you can train for.

The only justification for use of deadly force is the immediate defense of life — the officer’s or someone else’s — or to stop someone who is an imminent threat to the public.  Under that criteria, the goal is to stop — read that kill — the perpetrator before he can carry out his harm.  No winging, no warning shots to maybe scare him off, just stop the immediate threat to life.

And any life-threatening situation which meets that criteria is filled with adrenaline, noise, perhaps darkness — any number of things that make fancy shooting unrealistic.  For that reason, police officers are trained to shoot for the largest part of the body, the torso.  Not the hand – not the leg – not the head, the torso.  But remember that if shooting is justified, then shooting at the most vital part of the body – not to mention the largest target – is justified and appropriate.



This issue is often raised by the family or friends of someone killed by police.  “Yeah, he was pointing a gun at the cop, but the cop shot first.”

There is no requirement that an officer wait until a suspect shoots at him, or at someone else, before he can take action.  The criteria is imminent threat to the public or immediate defense of someone’s life.  Imminent means about to happen.  If the officer reasonably believes (and this is a significant part of the justification) that the subject is about to inflict life-threatening injury, the officer is justified in shooting the suspect to stop that action before it happens.



A suspect shoots at a store clerk during a robbery.  The clerk is not hit but the robber flees with the gun.  Are the police justified in using deadly force to apprehend the robber?  While there are several factors in play here, including such considerations as time since the robbery and where the suspect is located, the short answer is yes.

The robber has shown his propensity to use deadly force against a member of the public.  The fact that he missed the clerk and did not kill him does not mitigate the fact that he used deadly force.  Thus, this situation meets the criteria of imminent threat to the public.  The police do not have to wait for the robber to shoot at someone else — and maybe kill that person — before they can utilize deadly force to stop further aggressiveness.  There are some factors that would deter officers from using deadly force in this situation, even if it is justified, that that is beyond the discussion of this post.

The law in this area has changed.  At one time, in the days when I first became a police officer, police were allowed to use deadly force to stop a fleeing felon.  That is, you could shoot someone fleeing from the scene of a felony crime, any felony crime.  However, that view was flawed in that many crimes, while classified as felonies for punishment purposes, do not involve an imminent threat to anyone.  Some felonies may not involve any threat to life at all.  Consider forgery, for example.

The law has changed so that now, the fleeing person must have demonstrated an action which may reasonably believed (there’s that phrase again) to constitute an imminent threat.  And our robbery case illustrates that.



In a future post, we’ll explore the concept of reasonable belief and how that applies to a police officer’s decision processes.


** I must note that I am not a lawyer and that the opinions presented here are a result of my training as a police officer and experience investigating multiple officer involved use of deadly force incidents, both as a criminal investigations commander and as an internal affairs commander.


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By |February 11th, 2015|Categories: Current Events, General, Investigation|Tags: |0 Comments

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Great Author’s Website

I recently discovered a website dedicated to writers and critiquing their work. The site is called Scribophile. The site functions very much like my monthly local face-to-face writers group but has certain advantages.

In the local group, up to four members can bring writing of up to 3000 words and have their work critiqued by the group. While the feedback is great, not everyone can have their work critiqued at every meeting. For a prolific writer (which I am from time to time) that’s just not enough.

Scribophile allows the writer to upload their work in 3000 word chunks as often as they like (subject to their participation as a critiquer of other writers’ work). And since the website has an international following, the work can receive a wide variety of helpful comments and suggestions.

So far, I find it one of the most helpful websites in terms of my writing.

By |February 3rd, 2015|Categories: General|Tags: |0 Comments

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Switch to Scrivener

After debating for some time, and working with the trial version about four different times, I decided this weekend to switch to Scrivener. For those not familiar with it, Scrivener is a software program designed to assist the writer with the organizational aspects of writing.

ScrivenerlogoScrivener is not the only such product on the market, but it is the most popular. Scrivener, like similar products, provides a platform which allows the writer to organize most aspects of a writing project in one place.

For couple of years, I’ve been a dedicated user of a competing product called WriteWay. Well WriteWay doesn’t have all of the ‘bells and whistles’ that Scrivener has, it does pretty much the same things. In fact, in my mind, one of the factors that kept me from switching to Scrivener was that some things that are predefined in WriteWay were options that had to be set in Scrivener.

So what made me make the switch to Scrivener? Simply put, it’s the fact that it is the number one program of its type. Other programs are designed to interact with it, which is not the case with some of its competitors. Additionally, I was somewhat concerned that WriteWay has not been upgraded for some time. Conversely, it appears that Scrivener receives fairly regular updates.

Both of these programs are similarly priced — $40 for the Windows version — so cost is not a factor.

Even though I made the switch to Scrivener, I still believe that WriteWay is a fine program for those just looking for some structure to their fiction writing without concern to interaction with other programs.

Additionally, I purchased a development program called Snowflake Pro, and companion programs to Scrivener called Aeon Timeline and Scrapple. I’ll discuss those programs in a later post.

By |November 3rd, 2014|Categories: General|Tags: |0 Comments

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Book Recommendation – Kiss of Salvation

Kiss of SalvationI would like to recommend “Kiss of Salvation” by Waights Taylor, Jr. to all my followers and friends. A hard-boiled detective mystery set in 1947 Birmingham, “Kiss of Salvation” is the story of Detective Joe McGrath’s quest for the killer of an African-American prostitute.  Taylor, a native of Birmingham, does an excellent job of putting the reader in the scenes as the white detective searches for the truth amid the racism and class consciousness of a pre-civil rights Southern city, no matter where it may lead him.

From the book description:

“I’m pretty sure the victim is a prostitute, and the MO looks just like the murder last month,” Joe McGrath said. “The victim was garroted, and the body was arranged like an X. Whoever is killing these women is leaving a calling card behind.”

1947 Birmingham, Alabama, cloaks many mysteries under its segregated shroud: glittering social soirées, secret sexual parties, a Machiavellian civic leader, and multiple murders of black prostitutes in dark alleys. Racist police chief, Big Bob Watson, reluctantly assigns Homicide Detective Joe McGrath to the case. The black community stonewalls the investigation. Joe teams up with Sam Rucker, the city’s only black private eye. Working across the racial boundaries of the day, they take us step-by-step to the city’s heart of darkness in search of an elusive vicious killer.


I had the privilege of reviewing Taylor’s manuscript and commenting on police policies and procedures. Taylor also meticulously researched other aspects of the civic and criminal justice systems in the 1940’s South.  The result is a story that will keep you turning the pages until the end.


By |October 3rd, 2014|Categories: Book Recommendations|Tags: |0 Comments

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Write a Review. Thank an Author – Help a Potential Reader.

write a reviewEspecially in this age of digital publishing, reviews can make a vast difference in the exposure a book receives. This is particularly true on ebook sites such as Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

Even if you don’t think the book merits a “5-star” rating, please take a little time to post a short review on the site where you acquired the book. The author will appreciate it.

Even if you don’t have time to write a review, it only takes a few seconds to click on the ‘star’ rating. And if you think the book only merits 3 or 4 stars? — no problem. After all, no book appeals to everyone and your rating (and especially your written review) can help others decide whether the book might be for their taste.

By |October 2nd, 2014|Categories: General|Tags: |0 Comments

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Where Do You Draw Inspiration?

How much does your selection of where you write impact your writing?  Do you draw inspiration from your writing locale or does it serve only as a place to allow you to put your ideas coherently on paper?

In my case, I think my two favorite locales do both – and they’re quite different places.

My old standby is one particular Starbucks location in Louisville.  It’s fairly large, as Starbucks stores go, but most importantly, it has an area with well cushioned seats and small tables. While I know that some people don’t like to write in a ‘noisy’ atmosphere, I find the coffee shop atmosphere to be a little stimulating, but not so much so that it overwhelms my concentration.  On a side note, I’ve overheard a few conversations that have found their way into background information in one of my books.

The back deck helps me draw inspiration in the fall and spring.

Lately, I’ve also found the quiet of mornings on my back deck as being a good place to write.  The clear air, at least in the fall and spring, and pleasant temperatures provide their own brand of inspiration.  Unfortunately, the weather here can turn rainy quickly, and the summers are exceedingly humid.  But for me, it’s a great new place to work when conditions are right.

I won’t give up on Starbucks, but having an alternate location to work can also help that attack of writer’s block that happens to all of us on occasion.


I’d like to hear your comments.  If you are a writer, where do you like to write, and why?

By |September 29th, 2014|Categories: General|Tags: , , , , |1 Comment

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Why Santa Rosa?

A friend recently asked why I chose to set my novels in Santa Rosa, California. After all, I’ve never lived there, having spent most of my working life in Boise, Idaho, before moving to Louisville, Kentucky. It’s a fair question but one with a fairly straight-forward answer.

santarosaThe primary reason I picked Santa Rosa is its similarity as a city to Boise. Although Boise has grown faster than Santa Rosa in recent years, at the time of most of the Angela Masters novels — the 1980’s — the two cities were of similar size and demographics. Thus, I am able to apply police organizational and operational structure with which I am most familiar to my fictional investigators, even though the real Santa Rosa Police Department may not do things exactly as I describe them in the book. In many ways, that’s good, so that there is some disconnect between the fictional world of Angela Masters and the real world of the men and women of SRPD.

So why not just use Boise? There are a number of reasons, including not wanting to unintentionally project too much of the real Boise Police Department into the story. But the most compelling reason is that Boise, as wonderful and beautiful city as it is, is extremely isolated. For the depth of the story, I needed the characters to be able to travel to other large, but relatively nearby, population centers. That ability just doesn’t exist in the environs around Boise.

Santa Rosa, on the other hand, is only a short distance from the San Francisco metropolitan area, with its dozens of suburban cities, many of which are large population centers in their own right. Additionally, Santa Rosa is just a mountain range away from the Napa Valley. In years past, I spent a considerable amount of time in the Napa Valley, and have always enjoyed my experiences there. It seemed like a perfect getaway for my protagonist.

So, I’m asked, is Angela Masters patterned after a real Santa Rosa, or Boise, detective? The answer is no, and kind of. At the root level, Angi does not represent any one detective, female or male, that I know. However, she has traits that I’ve observed from a number of detectives I’ve known over the years. So her story is a composite of experiences from many different people. And, like any good fictional work, some of it is purely made up, but I hope it all fits together to an evolving picture of a complex and driven, yet occasionally vulnerable, human being.

I have a few friends in Santa Rosa area, and I’m looking for more contacts to make the scenes more true to life. Although I’ve visited the city numerous times, I am not, of course, as familiar with the city in general as someone who lives there. But that’s all part of research. And again, I don’t want the fictional story to cross too much into the reality of actual locations, or the people in them. I’m looking for just enough realism to make it interesting.

And I hope that I have succeeded in crafting interesting stories in the Angela Masters Detective Novel series. The reader is the final judge of that.


This post originally appeared on November 7, 2013 and is re-posted for new readers’ information.

By |September 23rd, 2014|Categories: General|Tags: , , , |0 Comments

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The Trials of English

The English language.  It is at once beautifully complex and maddeningly complex.

As writers, it is our job to practice what Stephen King calls telepathy – not the science-fiction kind, but getting the reader’s mind in sync with our thoughts. We do that through words. But it can’t happen if we use the wrong word.

In a recent article in Time Magazine, Jeff Haden discusses “30 Incorrectly Used Words.”

Of those he lists, my favorites are it’s and its. I cringe every time I see something like “The book was in it’s proper place on the shelf.” It’s is a contraction of it is. A simple test is to un-contract the word — “The book was in it is proper place on the shelf.” Obviously sounds pretty dumb that way.

The same can be said of you’re and your.  You’re is a contraction of you are.  Your is a possessive.  Try this sentence: “Your really making progress with that book.” So, since I own it, I can probably store my ‘making progress with that book’ on a shelf somewhere? How about substituting the un-contracted alternative:  “You are really making progress with that book.”  Makes more sense, huh.


By |August 31st, 2014|Categories: General|Tags: |0 Comments

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How I Came to the World of Fiction Writing

Many of my fellow novelists say something like “I always wanted to be a (fiction) writer” or “I’ve been writing stories since I was in grade-school.”

But for me, fiction writing was never something I imagined myself doing.  In high school, I wrote a few (bad) poems and had penned a couple of equally bad short stories.  Most of my writing life was spent in the world of non-fiction, specifically police investigative reports.  Over the years I also sold a dozen or so magazine and journal articles, but again, these were descriptions of real-world situations.

Then, in the early 1980’s, my partner and I were assigned to assist another agency on a murder / kidnapping case.  Our role in the case was rather small, but we followed the progress after it left our jurisdiction and the outcome was not what an investigator hopes it would be.  Perhaps because the case involved two young girls, my sense of injustice was piqued and I started to write a story.  It was based on the case but would be different from the start.  And, it would have a very different outcome.  In fact, the epilogue was the first thing I wrote.

However, after about eight chapters, the story — the redefined story — was settled in my mind and I no longer felt a drive to write it.  From the beginning, I never had any intention of publishing what I had written.  The unfinished manuscript languished on my computer — actually two or three computers as I moved files during upgrades.

Over the years, my son, who had read the initial draft, often pestered me to finish the manuscript.  I brushed off his entreaties as I occupied my time with other matters.  Then, in 2012, an old friend, retired Boston Police Deputy Superintendent Margot Hill, published a fictional work called Esplanade.  She had published the book for Kindle, something unavailable when I wrote my initial story draft, even if I had considered publication.

I too was retired at that time and I decided that perhaps the time was right to see if I could craft a complete fictional work.  I edited the initial manuscript and fleshed out the story as it had unfolded in my mind.  The epilogue remained unchanged from my first draft.  Within four months, I had my first book, which I titled Retribution.

As many who have done it know, self-publishing through Amazon is very easy, and to my surprise, the book sold reasonably well and received very good reviews.  It also brought me requests from friends and other readers to do another book.  The Angela Masters Detective Novel series was born.

I discovered that I enjoy the process of developing a fictional work, and learning the process of crafting fiction.  Three additional books have followed and a fifth is currently in development.

By |April 12th, 2014|Categories: General|Tags: |0 Comments

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Demise of the Comma

What do you think about advocating the demise of the comma?  Click on the title and post your comment.

demise of the commaIn a recent New Zealand newspaper article, Derek Burrows laments suggestions that we do away with the comma as a punctuation mark.  Professor John McWhorter an associate professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, notes the inconsistency in usage of the comma in his support of advocating the demise of the comma.

Mr. Burrows doesn’t agree, and neither do I.  I will be the first to admit that the comma is often over-used, and improperly used. Usually, it is employed too often.  But that doesn’t justify its total elimination.  Burrows points out the proliferation of “Let’s eat Grandma” t-shirts, and even a Facebook page.  (Actually, when I tried to look up the page he’s talking about on Facebook, so I could post the link, I found at least SIX such pages, dedicated to ‘punctuation saves lives.’)

The article makes several references, including the use of the ‘Oxford comma,’ in a comprehensive look at the use of this venerable mark.

I’d like to hear your thoughts.  Click on the title of this post and let us know how you feel.

By |February 19th, 2014|Categories: General|Tags: |0 Comments

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