Our “video everywhere” society has benefited police training in many cases.  By seeing what went wrong on a traffic stop or in a SWAT callout, we can learn from the mistakes that have been made.  To improve ourselves, we have to keep an open mind and ask “What could be done better?” and not blindly defend our brethren in uniform “…cause you weren’t there.”

Take the below video.  Officers responded to a 911 call from a motorist who said a man walking down the road with a pistol, pointed the gun at her.  Officers located the man, and a resident in the area, filmed part of the incident with his camcorder.

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So, what do you think?

What do you think about the tactics used by the officers who were on this call?  Were there things that could have been done better?  Safer?

What about the use of cover?  Where are the shotguns and rifles?

If you have an armed suspect refusing your commands to drop a weapon, do you have to wait until he points the gun at you?

You always have to follow your state’s laws and department policies, but the Supreme Court has been pretty plain about the use of force.  In the 1989 court case, Graham v. Connor, the Supreme Court said:

…whether the officers’ actions are “objectively reasonable” in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivation. The “reasonableness” of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, and its calculus must embody an allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second decisions about the amount of force necessary in a particular situation.

Further:

The “reasonableness” of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight….

Not every push or shove, even if it may later seem unnecessary in the peace of a judge’s chambers…violates the Fourth Amendment.

The calculus of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments — in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving — about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.

It should be plainly obvious that the Supreme Court recognizes that our job is dangerous and that we are required to use force to (1) effect arrests, (2) protect ourselves and (3) protect the general public.

So, given the circumstances of:

  • you have responded to a felony crime (man pointed gun at citizen placing her in fear of being killed),
  • you have located the suspect,
  • the suspect is plainly armed, and
  • the suspect refuses to drop the gun or otherwise cooperate

can you shoot him without waiting for him to actually point the gun at you.  Chances are, yes.

I’ve run a drill where an officer will point a training gun at a second officer playing a suspect.  The suspect will stand with a training gun in his hand, but down at his side.  The first officer is instructed to shoot the suspect only when the suspect begins to point the gun at him.  Almost every time, the first officer is shot before he can shoot the suspect.  Those few times that the first officer gets off a shot, it is a tie, and both officer and suspect are shot.  Neither option is acceptable.

I’ve talked with other officers who have run this drill and the results are the same.  The point being: if you wait for the suspect to point a gun at you, you will likely get shot, or at least shot at.

I’m not taking cheap shots at the officers on scene.  But, if we fail to learn from our mistakes, we are doomed to repeat them.  The next time, the suspect may be more willing to kill, and frankly, I’m tired of officer funerals.

Stay safe!

Notes:

It may not be plainly obvious from the video, but no officers were injured in the incident.  The man was shot by three officers when he pointed the pistol toward them.  The suspect survived the shooting.

Every situation is completely different, and this is not legal advice.  Always consult your department’s legal advisors for clarification on any policy, especially those involving the use of force.

Richard is a police officer with a medium sized, central Florida department, and previously worked for a Metro-Atlanta agency.  He has served as a field training officer, court officer, corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, watch commander, commander of a field training and evaluation program, and general pain in the butt to management-types looking to cut training hours.

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Richard

Publisher at BlueSheepdog
Richard Johnson is a gun writer, police trainer and really bad joke teller. Check out his other writing on sites like Human Events, The Firearm Blog and Police & Security News.

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