Recently our agency experienced an officer-involved shooting. The suspect in this case used a knife to attack two police officers and as a result was shot several times by one of the officers. As of this writing, the suspect is recovering, and is expected to face serious criminal charges for his actions. No police officers were hurt in the attack.
For the most part our department enjoys widespread community support. There will always be those who don’t support us, even hate us, and as much as we would like to, we won’t be able to change their minds about this. My job is to provide the same service to everyone regardless of their feelings toward us.
Generally speaking, there is a small percentage of people who speak negatively about the police after a deadly force incident and the same is true for our agency. Even more so when the suspect “only” uses a knife. We get some negative comments after using deadly force on a knife-wielding attacker, such as:
- “I thought the police were supposed to disarm people with knives.”
- “The police should have used a Taser or martial arts, not a gun.”
- “Why did they shoot him so many times?”
And one of my favorites:
- “Why didn’t they shoot him in the leg?”
My first response to these comments is: Thanks, Hollywood!
Bruce Willis, Matt Damon and Steven Segal are actors and when they shoot people in movies, special effects are used. Shooting victims fly backward and almost always die instantaneously. Sometimes these actors shoot people in the arm or leg and the results are dramatic. Real life is different. Real life is…real.
Police officers are trained to shoot until the threat stops. Once the situation deteriorates to the point of using deady force, only three things can stop a suspect once an attack has begun:
- The attacker must receive an injury that disrupts electrical activity in the brain or spine. When this occurs, the person will stop.
- The attacker must receive an injury that causes loss of blood pressure. When he passes out, he will stop.
- The attacker must decide to stop the attack, i.e. receives an injury or realizes he’s been shot and changes his mind.
Based on this, aiming for the arms or legs will be ineffective. There is little hope that martial arts will work. Tasers are only effective if the suspect is within 25 feet and both of the electrodes penetrate the skin of the assailant and the device works properly. Bean bag shotguns only work as well as a baseball bat and can therefore only serve to change the attacker’s mind, mid-attack. The bottom line: All of these alternatives place the officer in greater danger and increase the chances of being seriously hurt or killed.
Police officers are trained in defensive tactics, offensive arrest tactics, use of Tasers, bean-bag shotguns, and firearms. A good portion of the training has to do with technique and accuracy. A larger portion and the more important part of the training centers on WHEN to use force, how much force to use, and which weapon, if any, to use. All of this must be decided under the stress of a rapidly deteriorating situation.
We give police officers training, weapons, communication equipment and protective equipment. We empower them to deal with the element of society that no one else wants to, or is equipped to deal with. We expect them to treat citizens with respect and dignity and act in a professional manner at all times. We expect them to do these things in the heat, the cold, the wind and rain, the snow, during all hours of the day and night including weekends and holidays. Police officers leave their families to go out into the streets to find and eliminate threats to the citizens they are sworn to protect.
Just for the record, and this should really go without saying: I expect those police officers to return to their families, safe and sound. I expect them to stay alive, even if that means taking a life to protect their own.
Knives are deadly weapons. We know this because 13.4% of all murders committed last year were committed with knives. You can believe what you want, but in the final analysis someone attacking a police officer with a knife is taking his own life in his hands, and if the incident cannot be resolved any other way, I expect the police officer to respond in a manner consistent with his or her training.
To the people who expect us to use Kung-Fu on a would-be cop-killer with a knife or other weapon: My police officers’ #1 priority is to stay alive. Their #2 priority is to protect the lives of innocent citizens. Their last priority is to worry about the health and well-being of someone trying to kill them.
For the rest of you, thank you for your understanding and support.