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My comments about current police-related events

You Have 1/2 Second to Decide

It’s been a topic in the news lately. A police officer is confronted by a person carrying a gun. The person points the gun at the officer.

The officer has 1/2 second to decide – does he shoot or not?

Is it a real gun? Does it make a difference if the person holding the gun is obviously a teenager?

How would you do in this situation?

While it’s true that police officers are more familiar with firearms than the majority of citizens, the decision is far from easy in many cases. As an example, look at the two firearms in the photo below.  One is a Colt .45 caliber pistol. It fires a slug almost 1/2 inch in diameter, fully capable of killing a person with one shot. The other is a pellet gun. It shoots a small lead projectile propelled by compressed air. It can hurt you, but isn’t likely to kill you.

You’re a police officer facing one of these weapons. Is it a real firearm or a pellet gun? You have 1/2 second to decide.

 

comparison

 

 

A California Highway Patrol officer recently encountered a situation involving one of the weapons shown above. In that case, no one was injured. But that officer still wonders ‘what if?’

Yes, it’s tragic when anyone is needlessly injured by a police action. But when you read about an officer who encountered someone who ‘merely pointed a toy gun‘ at the officer, think about how you would decide if the ‘toy’ looked like one of those weapons above.

 

(The real .45 is the one on the right.)

By |February 1st, 2016|Categories: Current Events, General|Tags: , , |0 Comments

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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.

 

THE COP SHOT FIRST

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.

 

FLEEING FELON

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||0 Comments

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