A Few Answers To Questions You Always Wondered About

June 27, 2018 | No Comments » | Topics: Answers

Why do we hear time and time again about police shooting unarmed people?

I’d like to share this story with you. This happened to me recently:

At about 01:30 in the morning, I pulled up in my cruiser to a medical office building to follow up on a theft case I was working on. The parking lot is not very well lit. As I step out of my cruiser, a man runs towards me, holding something in his right hand. It’s dark, and all I can make out is that it’s thin, about 6″ long, and one half is wrapped in cloth. He starts swinging it around, yelling “I’ll fucking kill you! I’ll eat you! I’ll fuck you!”

I draw my firearm, point it at him, and start giving loud verbal commands. At the same time, I radio dispatch for help. He’s not responding to my commands. He’s still yelling, swinging the item, making stabbing motions, making threats. He starts approaching slowly, I back off to keep distance. We start moving into the street. About that time my backup shows up. Other officers draw down on the man, start giving verbal commands. He’s still not responding.

At this point, it would have been prudent to tase him, but my department doesn’t equip us with tasers.

We finally end up in a well lit area across from a restaurant (and boy oh boy, were the cell phones out.) As we’re continuing to go back and forth with this guy, one of my backup units gets in close enough to see that what he’s holding isn’t a knife, and doesn’t look like a shank, either. He hits the guy with OC spray to no effect, and then moves in with a baton, striking the hand holding the object. The guy finally drops the object, we all move in and take him down. Bonus: He’s covered in feces and urine.

So what was the object? All that time? A ninja turtles toothbrush.

Here’s the thing: At any time during that encounter, from the time he initially approached me aggressively to the time we were finally able to see what the item was, had he charged at me or another officer, or a bystander, I (we) would have shot and killed him. Now I did have the presence of mind during the encounter to wonder if the item was in fact a knife, because I’ve had similar experiences before. But given his behavior, and the way he was brandishing it, I had perfectly good reason to believe that it was a weapon. More importantly, I’m not going to let my own doubts get me killed.

So what if I had killed him?

Well, the cell phone videos would be out. The media would report, initially, the most simple version of the story:

Townsville Metro Police Kill Man Wielding Toothbrush.

Reddit is pretty quick with things like this, so shortly thereafter on the front page:

Police officer MURDERS man over ninja turtles toothbrush.

The initial news headline would play out for a bit, until they got a few more details.

Townsville Metro Police Shoot Young Black Man Wielding Toothbrush.

Another media outlet, upset that they didn’t get the initial scoop, goes with something a bit more sensational to grab the media consumer’s attention:

Townsville Police Kill Unarmed Young Black Man.

There you have it. The average media consumer’s opinion has already been formed by the headline – many won’t even bother to read the story. Even if they did, the story will contain the most basic of details. Cops shoot guy, guy only has toothbrush.

Here’s what the stories won’t contain: My thoughts and feelings upon the initial encounter. The things that I can (or can’t) see. My fear. My wondering if I’m about to kill a man, and how I’m going to deal with that. Am I going to break down like so many others? Become an alcoholic? What if it doesn’t stop him? What if he kills me? I need help. Where are they? What’s taking them so long? Who is this man? Why does he want to kill me? What if a bystander walks into this? I can’t let him take a hostage. Goddamnit where is my backup?!

And then later: My god, I almost killed a man over a toothbrush. Would it have been justified? Maybe the courts would have exonerated me, but would I still get fired? Could I forgive myself? Great, I’ve got someone else’s shit and piss all over me for the third time this week.

And then, much later…well, just imagine, after all that, how it feels to see someone watch a massively abbreviated news report on the incident, form an entire opinion based upon that miniscule amount of information (and their complete lack of qualified expertise or experience) and condemn me for my decisions. As weird as it sounds, this is my job – my expertise. Criticizing me for how I deal with a shit covered maniac is no different than you walking in on an open heart surgery and telling the surgeon he’s using the wrong scalpel.

Don’t let the media form your opinions. Understand that investigations can take a very long time. Most importantly, understand that these situations are often so massively complicated that no journalist could ever truly convey all of the details – especially what’s going on in my head when I have to make that critical, life altering decision.

 

 

Why don’t police just shoot the arms or legs or fire a warning shot to dissuade an armed suspect?

The same thing everyone who carrys a firearm professionally has been taught for the last 100 years. Center mass/ upper thoracic. Transition to the skull as a failure drill. Pelvic girdle is the last resort, and generally only really effective if using a rifle. Based off the recent training I’ve had, I’m becoming increasingly fond of the trend to start with the skull and work your way down.

The reasons are numerous (and very well documented), but I’ll sum it up as best I can.

When you pull out a gun to stop someone else with a gun, the goal is to achieve a result as quickly as possible. Everyone agrees on that. But where the confusion comes from is what results look like. Shooting someone in the arm or leg is really, really hard. Hell – shooting someone in the chest is hard, especially when both parties are moving and shooting at each other. But besides hard, the leg doesnt give us what we want.

Despite what we see in TV shows, legs shots and rounds to the extremities don’t typically incapacitate or even slow people down. Especially rounds fired from a handgun… we’re talking small holes punched into the body at relatively slow speeds. Pistol rounds don’t typically break bones, etc. They punch holes. And people with holes in their legs, historically, can still kill you (and anyone else near by). Many people who are shot dont even know about it until after the fact. Leg shots aren’t even less-lethal. They are one of the worst places to get shot… the problem is it takes several minutes to bleed out from that leg shot, and during that time you are still more than capable of inflicting damage. Tldr: leg shots are super difficult (and if you miss, you increase the odds of killing an innocent), don’t stop your threat, and if you pull them off, your threat still dies (just 10 minutes later).

Warning shots fall into a similar category… but are even worse. People dont tend to understand bullets very well. Every round fired from that gun goes somewhere. And as an armed professional, you are responsible for every round you fire. That warning shot can easily ricochet and kill a bystander. It can travel through several walls or vehicles and strike someone you can’t even see. Rounds fired into the air… must come down somewhere. And most importantly, what is the point? If a loud noise was enough to get your criminal to “give up”, something tells me pointing a gun at them and saying “show me your fucking hands!” will achieve a similar result. Warning shots put EVERYONE within a mile of the shooter at risk, and only serve to make noise.

The gun comes out when you need to (or anticipate needing to) incapacitate a threat within a fraction of a second in order to potentially save other lives. The fastest way to incapacitate a threat is to shoot them in the chest or head. Even rounds fired to the chest can be ineffective – as such many departments today teach aiming for the head as either a failure drill (rounds to the chest aren’t working, transition point of aim to the head), or as an initial target (if a round to the head is missed, transition to the larger target of the chest and keep firing until the target falls).

It’s a hard answer no one wants to hear, but it’s why all armed professionals are trained to shoot center-mass (at a minimum).

 

 

Does being a police officer make you hate people?

Yes and no.

Everyone surrounds themselves predominantly with people they like; it’s called having friends. Not so much when you’re at work. You get on with some people, less so with others. But those you don’t like? You know, Steve from marketing. You can’t stand his face. Steve is a dick.

When you work in the police, you’re constantly put into situations with people you will not like. It’s the nature of the job, in that the only reason we’re dealing with someone is because someone has done something wrong. We deal with the stressed victim, the outraged suspect, the camera-phone commentator, the abusive drunk, the remorseless criminal.

And you will hate some of them.

The victim who called you in the first place, who refuses to give a 10 minute statement, expects hours of your time, who tells you you’re useless and unprofessional. You try and sympathise with their situation, but you’re only human.

The suspect stopped on the street; he doesn’t care that he matches the description of a mugging nearby, he shouts and screams at you, demanding names and shoulder numbers, claiming you’ll be out of your job within the week.

The man with the camera-phone in hand, screaming police brutality as you restrain a stabbing suspect. No regard for who, what and why, he hates the police, he hates you, and he wants proof that he’s right in doing so.

The man, who after 12 pints and a brawl, has been arrested for drunk and disorderly. He demands an explanation of how he’s being disorderly, before calling you a piece of shit and threatening to kill you the second his cuffs come off, without even taking a breath.

And of course, those specimens of society whose actions stay in your thoughts for days. Any officer loves telling their civvy mates a good story, with all the excitement and danger. But there’s stories you don’t tell. There’s an ugly side to the world, and sometimes we’re unfortunate enough to get an eyeful.

So yes, we hate people. We are spat on and screamed at and abused and threatened and attacked, all by the same public we signed up to protect.

But that isn’t everyone.

I didn’t mention the victim who emailed your sergeant, commending you despite not recovering their stolen bike. The bloke who’s out drinking with his mates, but stops for a second to thank you for what you do. There’s the nervous but friendly suspect you’ve just arrested for possession, who you sneak a cigarette with in the yard before booking into custody. And there’s the cute young lady on a night out who asks to wear your hat.

The odds are stacked against us. We are the police, ultimately we are here to fight crime. Shockingly, the people involved in crime are often easy to hate. But in my opinion, there’s just enough exceptions to the rule to at least keep me sane.

 

 

What are some things police officers wish they could tell you, but can’t?

Here is my list, (I went to 20):

  1. “If the average person knew the state of law enforcement in this country, they couldn’t sleep at night” – from one of my academy instructor’s lectures. Nothing has changed in 28 years. There is a reason why I always carry a gun off-duty and try to talk all of my loved ones into at least owning a firearm.
  2. There are a lot fewer of us out on the street than you know. Take your local agency’s head count, lop off about 20 percent for administrative assignments, then divide the remaining amount by three or four (shifts). Then subtract about a quarter for those on days off/sick days/limited duty/training/vacation. Make it a busy night and no cars will be available and the calls pile up… and pile up.
  3. After about three years, most officers become civil service workers. They are not looking to invent new case law or do more paperwork. At five to seven years, most officers think about another line of work. If they pass that hurdle, they can last 20. At 20 plus years, unless you are driving like you are competing in the Indy-500, you’re not getting stopped and you have to really, really work to be arrested.
  4. The job is not nearly as exciting as portrayed on Cops or other television shows. There is an inordinate amount of paperwork – at times it seems like we are glorified secretaries with guns.
  5. When we arrive on scene, we instantaneously know who is going to jail: the guy with no shirt (or wearing a “wife-beater”) with a mullet, usually standing in the middle of the road puffing up.
  6. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, good happens after midnight.
  7. Don’t expect me to fix in under 15-minutes what took you ten years to destroy.
  8. Don’t expect me to raise your kids. You decided for years to raise feral children with no discipline or sense of social responsibility, I can’t do much in a few minutes.
  9. None of us care who you know. If you had any real juice; you’d not say anything, but would just smile and accept the citation or arrest and magically, behind the scenes, things would be fixed. I’ve dealt with the really connected people and have seen how they can manipulate the system – and that obviously ain’t you.
  10. You can’t get our badge. Trust me, we hear that all the time. Just like how you will sue – get in line. Again, if you had power, you’d be as inconspicuous as possible.
  11. Attitude goes a long way. I’ve cited people I originally was going to warn and warned people who I was going to cite. Same with arrests.
  12. If we have to fight you or shoot you, we will be the first to give you medical treatment.
  13. We are not trained as social workers or psychologists but that is a big portion of our jobs. When no one else is available or can help, it seems like a good time to call the police department.
  14. When we are trying to help you and you feel like we are trying to shove a square peg into a round hole – we feel the same way. The laws and policies don’t make much sense to us either.
  15. Law enforcement is one of only two jobs where everyone is an “expert” with no training or experience. The other one is being a head football coach.
  16. I sincerely apologize when we forget to be empathic. While this our 500th burglary, this is your first time being violated. While this is our 200th dead body call, it’s your first.
  17. I don’t care about your prior bad experience with law enforcement. I’m here now. I’ve had bad experiences with plumbers, physicians and barbers, but I don’t stereotype a whole profession off of one experience.
  18. Our cars aren’t much different than yours. Sure we have a snazzy paint job, some special lights and a radio, but we can get as stuck as easily as you, we can have an accident just like you and we can’t stop on a dime. And, we’re limited on how fast we can get to a call. We can’t go warp speed nor get traffic to part, like Moses did with the sea.
  19. We really don’t care what race, sex or ethnic group you belong to, we are trying to get this issue resolved before going to the next call.
  20. We all H-A-T-E when you scare your young kids by threatening them by telling them we will arrest them. Really? Way to make your kids the next generation of cop-haters and they are now petrified to approach us if they’re in danger or lost.